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House to Vote on Virus Bill            02/26 06:14

   Democrats are ready to shove a $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package through 
the House on Friday, despite a setback that means a minimum wage boost is 
unlikely to be in the final version that reaches President Joe Biden.

   WASHINGTON (AP) -- Democrats are ready to shove a $1.9 trillion COVID-19 
relief package through the House on Friday, despite a setback that means a 
minimum wage boost is unlikely to be in the final version that reaches 
President Joe Biden.

   A near party-line vote seemed certain on the measure, Biden's first crack at 
his initial legislative goal of acting decisively against the pandemic. In the 
year since the coronavirus has taken hold, it has stalled much of the economy, 
killed half a million Americans and reshaped the daily lives of virtually 
everyone.

   The relief bill would provide millions of people with $1,400 direct 
payments. It contains billions of dollars for vaccines and COVID-19 testing, 
schools, state and local governments, the ailing restaurant and airline 
industries and emergency jobless benefits while providing tax breaks to lower 
earners and families with children.

   Republicans oppose the sweeping measure, saying it's too expensive, not 
targeted enough at the people and businesses that most need it and a grab bag 
of gifts for Democratic allies. Not one has publicly said they will support the 
legislation, an ominous sign that the partisan gulf that has enveloped 
Washington for decades shows no sign of closing.

   The House bill would also hoist the federal minimum wage to $15 hourly by 
2025, more than doubling the current $7.25 floor that's been in effect since 
2019.

   But that proposal seemed highly likely to die in the Senate after that 
chamber's parliamentarian said Thursday that the cherished progressive goal 
must be dropped from the relief legislation, Senate Democratic aides said.

   The finding by Elizabeth MacDonough, the chamber's nonpartisan arbiter of 
its rules, means Democrats face an overwhelmingly uphill battle to boost the 
minimum wage this year in the face of solid Republican opposition.

   Biden, a supporter of the $15 increase, was "disappointed" in the outcome 
but respected the parliamentarian's ruling, White House press secretary Jen 
Psaki said. The Senate has a long tradition of heeding the parliamentarian's 
decisions with few exceptions, a history that is revered by traditionalists 
like Biden, a 36-year Senate veteran.

   "He will work with leaders in Congress to determine the best path forward 
because no one in this country should work full time and live in poverty," 
Psaki said.

   Democrats are pushing the massive coronavirus relief measure through 
Congress under special rules that will let them avoid a Senate filibuster by 
Republicans, a tactic that Democrats would need an unattainable 60 votes to 
defeat.

   But those same Senate rules prohibit provisions with only an "incidental" 
impact on the federal budget because they are chiefly driven by other policy 
purposes. MacDonough said the minimum wage provision didn't pass that test, 
according to aides who described her decision on condition of anonymity because 
it hadn't been released.

   House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said the minimum wage plan would 
remain in that chamber's legislation anyway, saying, "House Democrats believe 
that the minimum wage hike is necessary."

   She probably had little choice --- many House Democrats are progressives who 
are insistent that the party fight for the wage boost. Rep. Pramila Jayapal, 
D-Wash., a leading sponsor of the minimum wage increase, said Democats 
shouldn't be bowed by "the advisory opinion of the parliamentarian and 
Republican obstructionism."

   Democrats can afford little dissension over the minimum wage or anything 
else in the COVID-19 relief bill. They have just a 10-vote edge in the House 
and no votes to spare in the 50-50 Senate.

   Despite their paper-thin congressional majorities, Democratic leaders were 
hoping that House approval of the package would be followed by passage in the 
Senate, where changes seem likely. Democrats are aiming to get the legislation 
to Biden's desk by mid-March.

   Republicans oppose the $15 minimum wage target as an expense that would hurt 
businesses and cost jobs.

   MacDonough's decision might actually make passage of the overall relief bill 
easier because efforts to find a minimum wage compromise between progressives 
and moderate Democrats who'd prefer a more measured approach could have been 
contentious.

   Democrats have said they could still pursue a minimum wage boost in 
free-standing legislation or attach it to legislation expected later this year 
that is to be aimed at a massive infrastructure program. But they'd still face 
the challenge of garnering 60 Senate votes, a hurdle that has upended 
Democratic attempts to boost the minimum wage for over a decade.

   In a study that's been cited by both sides in the clash, the nonpartisan 
Congressional Budget Office estimated that the $15 minimum wage would increase 
pay for 27 million workers and lift 900,000 people out of poverty by 2025, but 
also kill 1.4 million jobs.

   Twenty-nine states and the District of Columbia have state minimum wages 
that exceed the federal $7.25 hourly floor, with only the District of Columbia 
currently requiring a $15 minimum.

   Seven states have laws putting their minimums on a pathway to $15 in a 
future year, according to the nonpartisan National Conference of State 
Legislatures.

 
 
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