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.
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
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's first legislative push. 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
"I support an increase in the minimum wage, but it clearly
cannot be on this reconciliation bill," said Senate Majority Whip
Dick Durbin (D., Ill.).
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
floor Monday. "Whenever their longtime liberal dreams came into
conflict with what Americans actually need right now, Democrats
decided their ideology should win out."
Using the reconciliation process requires that measures be
closely tied to the budget, and the Senate parliamentarian ruled
that the minimum-wage proposal came up short.
The parliamentarian on Monday ruled in favor of Democrats
including healthcare subsidies for laid off workers and support for
multiemployer pensions as part of the relief bill, according to
lawmakers and aides.
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I., Vt.), chairman of the Senate Budget
Committee, said that Democrats should disregard her ruling on the
minimum wage. He said he planned to force a vote on raising the
wage to $15 an hour.
"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.
If the Senate passes the bill later this week without the wage
increase, it will return to the House, where liberals could imperil
its passage if they refuse to vote for the aid package without it.
Democrats hold a narrow majority in the House, where they can lose
no more than four Democratic votes, if all Republicans vote against
the bill. On Saturday, two Democrats joined all Republicans in
Senate Democrats had tried late last week to see if they could
fashion a way to penalize large companies through the tax code, if
they didn't pay workers at least $15 an hour.
That proposal was floated after the Senate parliamentarian said
that a minimum-wage boost didn't comply with the rules on
reconciliation. The party is using the process to pass the bill
with just 51 votes, rather than the 60 usually required. Democrats
decided late Sunday to abandon the tax plan, as its complexity and
limitations emerged as did skepticism by some senators in the
party. 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
reporters Monday. Mr. Khanna was one of nearly two dozen House
Democrats to sign a letter urging Democratic leaders to keep the
minimum-wage increase in the bill.
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
"We have to look and make sure it is not weakened in any way,"
she said. "We have made it clear that the minimum wage is a
priority for us," as are the current income thresholds for the
direct checks, she said.
Democrats in both chambers will face immense pressure to not
derail Mr. Biden's relief plan, but Democratic leaders haven't yet
said what their plans are for addressing the minimum wage.
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."
Alex Leary contributed to this article.
Write to Kristina Peterson at firstname.lastname@example.org and
Andrew Duehren at email@example.com
(END) Dow Jones Newswires
March 01, 2021 22:35 ET (03:35 GMT)
Copyright (c) 2021 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.