By Kristina Peterson and Andrew Duehren
WASHINGTON -- President Biden and Democratic allies on Monday
worked to iron out the remaining disputes over the coronavirus
relief package that they hope to push through the Senate this week,
despite left-wing frustrations over the exclusion of a minimum-wage
Senate Democrats, who had tried over the weekend to salvage a
more limited wage increase through the tax code, scrapped that
backup plan late Sunday. With that off the table, Mr. Biden spoke
with a group of Senate Democrats about advancing the rest of the
bill, as the party works to pass its agenda with narrow majorities
in both chambers.
Some of the members of the Democratic caucus who met virtually
with Mr. Biden said the discussion focused on targeting some of the
"There really isn't a lot of dispute about the overall size of
the bill, " Sen. Angus King (I., Maine), said after the meeting.
"The question is whether it can be targeted in such a way as to
better serve the people who need the most and perhaps free up funds
for other priorities."
Some Democrats have been focusing on how the $350 billion in
funding for state and local governments is allocated. Others have
pressed to shift the current income thresholds for the $1,400
direct checks that many Americans would get under the bill so that
fewer upper-middle-class families get money. Sen. Jon Tester (D.,
Mont.) said some changes would likely be made through amendments
but would amount to modest alterations to the bill.
Where the minimum-wage issue goes from here is up in the air.
Mr. Biden and Senate Democratic leaders made clear that a gradual
increase in the federal pay floor to $15 an hour from the current
$7.25, passed as part of the $1.9 trillion House legislation early
Saturday, wouldn't happen in this bill. That eased tensions with
Senate centrists who opposed the $15 wage but put new pressure on
progressives to swallow their disappointment and coalesce around
the president. One prominent House progressive hedged Monday about
whether she would vote for the relief bill without the wage boost
when the legislation comes back from the Senate.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D., N.Y.) said on the
Senate floor Monday that he expected "a hearty debate and some late
nights," as the chamber begins its debate on the package this
In addition to the $1,400 payment to many Americans and funding
for state and local governments, the relief package would extend
and enhance federal unemployment assistance; expand a child tax
credit; and pour new funding into vaccine distribution, food stamps
Republicans have said that the aid package is too broad and
pressed Democrats to wait to see where more funds are needed after
Congress passed nearly $4 trillion in relief efforts since the
"Democrats have chosen to go a completely partisan route,"
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) said on the Senate
The Senate parliamentarian said that a minimum-wage increase
didn't comply with the rules on reconciliation, the process that
the party is using to pass the bill. Liberal Democrats have been
urging Senate leaders to ignore the parliamentarian's advice and
retain the wage boost.
"We can't let a parliamentarian decision stop a wage increase
for Americans," Rep. Ro Khanna (D., Calif.) said on a call with
The White House said it wouldn't support taking that step.
Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D., Wash.), chairwoman of the
Congressional Progressive Caucus, said she would need to review the
bill in its final form before voting on it without the wage boost.
"We have to look and make sure it is not weakened in any way," she
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I., Vt.), who as chairman of the Senate
Budget Committee led the effort to persuade the parliamentarian to
allow the wage provision, said Monday that Democrats should
disregard her ruling. He said he planned to force a vote on raising
the minimum wage to $15 an hour, though that effort will likely
fail given the opposition from centrist Democrats.
"The president talks about the soul of the country, this is the
soul of the Democratic Party. The minimum wage has to go to be
raised to a living wage," Mr. Sanders said.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.) has indicated that if it
wasn't part of the Senate's bill, she would move to bring up
stand-alone legislation increasing the wage to $15 an hour. But
that would need 60 votes in the Senate, where Republicans have
shown some willingness to increase the wage from $7.25, but most
have balked at the $15 level.
The prospect of a stand-alone bill could spark negotiation with
Republicans to see if a compromise could be reached on adjusting
the federal wage, potentially at a level below $15 an hour.
"I am very, very optimistic that we will find another path,"
Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D., Conn.) said Monday. "Even though we
may not have the votes right now, there will be another path."
If a bipartisan agreement can't be reached, liberal Democrats
signaled they will intensify their push to eliminate the 60-vote
threshold most legislation still requires.
"The only reason that we're in this mess is because of the
filibuster," said Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D., Mass.), who has called
for scrapping the filibuster for years. "If we would get rid of the
filibuster, then we wouldn't have to keep trying to force the camel
through the eye of the needle."
Alex Leary contributed to this article.
Write to Kristina Peterson at email@example.com and
Andrew Duehren at firstname.lastname@example.org
(END) Dow Jones Newswires
March 01, 2021 20:12 ET (01:12 GMT)
Copyright (c) 2021 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.