(CNN) — Unemployment benefits for millions of Americans will begin to expire in less than a month, putting direct pressure on Congress – and Democratic leaders – to pass the $ 1.9 trillion economic stimulus bill.
The next four weeks will test the unity of the Democrats and demand that progressives and moderates in the party put aside their clear philosophical differences over the scope of what is needed for recovery at this time. It will also cement a reality for President Joe Biden: His first big push in Congress, the economic stimulus package, will not be bipartisan. Instead, a process is already underway that will allow Democrats to pass this bill in the Senate with just 51 votes.
The conclusion: Congress is not in session this week, but the quiet work of gathering Democrats’ initial offer on COVID-19 relief continues this week, as the House of Representatives is on track to approve its share of the $ 1 proposal. , 9 billion next week.
In the coming days, the House Budget Committee will draft the final economic stimulus bill based on the sections that the committees approved last week. This will ensure that Democrats will be in a position to win the caucus’ support and pass the bill next week.
The immediate obstacles
The Speaker of the House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, has a margin of five votes on this bill. The current situation is not the same as it was in the spring of 2020, when the economy was sinking and the uncertainty of the virus was so paralyzing for the country that lawmakers rallied within weeks to pass the largest stimulus bill. of history with unity.
Scrutiny of this package is more intense, even from some Democrats. That doesn’t mean some Republicans aren’t going to cross the party line and vote for it, which will give Pelosi perhaps more room to move the legislation forward in plenary, but watch the comments from members over the next few days, while they’re still there. at home during recess, to get a clue of how uphill it’s going to be for the Speaker of the House.
The Senate problem
In recent weeks, House Democrats have not been isolated as they worked to transform Biden’s proposal into legislative text. Democratic aides to the Senate Finance Committee have been consulting with the Ways and Means panel of the House of Representatives. The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Commission (HELP) has been working closely with the House Education and Labor panel. Attendees have been in close contact and Democratic senators have made clear, through both private and public comments, what they need in the House bill to make it workable on their side.
Still, House and Senate Democrats are not in complete unity at this time. There is an expectation that there will be changes to the House bill in the Senate, but not in a formal commission review like last week in the House. Instead, the Democrats’ current plan is to take their bill – with some potential changes that have been worked out privately – directly to the full Senate. That could happen in the week of March 2. Democrats in the Senate will have two weeks to pass their bill before unemployment benefits expire. And, if they pass a different economic stimulus bill than the House of Representatives, the House will have to pass it again before March 14.
For those who are doing the accounts from home, that means 27 days – less than a month – to figure this out.
What are the internal debates on the economic stimulus?
In that time, Senate Democrats are going to have to resolve a series of internal debates about the scope of this bill. This includes, for example, if everyone is willing to spend $ 1.9 trillion and if they are willing to raise the minimum wage to $ 15 an hour. Also if they are satisfied with the House limits on stimulus checks that give people who earn $ 75,000 and couples who earn $ 100,000 the full $ 1,400 and gradually reduce the amount of the check for Americans with greater income.
Democrats have largely tried to discuss these issues in private, and the majority is likely to vote for what goes to plenary, given the expectation that giving Americans additional financial benefits will be a popular move. A Democratic senator told CNN last week, “Look, I’m going to vote for this no matter what.” However, the next three weeks could test Democratic unity in a way we haven’t seen in a long time.
The fight for the minimum wage
When Senator Bernie Sanders, an independent from Vermont, was about to become the top Democrat on the Senate Budget Committee, no one in the leadership necessarily expected Democrats to control a 50-50 Senate where what Democrats want and what they have to do to legislate is potentially in conflict.
The events of January 5 turned the dynamics of the Senate upside down. And Sanders’ role on the commission, now as chairman, has inevitably pushed the Senate Democratic group of lawmakers further to the left on some key issues. Its staff has expanded to include Senate veterans who specialize in navigating that chamber’s arcane rules such as conciliation. Add to that the fact that Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer is running for re-election in New York State next year and aware of potential opponents (including a energetic member of the Chamber with a track record of toppling powerful members of the leadership) and well, the dynamic of who has power in these negotiations looks very different from two years ago.
At this time, nothing sums up that dynamic more clearly than the fight for the minimum wage in the new economic stimulus package.
People to watch out for: Senator Kyrsten Sinema has made clear that he will not vote for a Senate COVID-19 relief bill that includes raising the minimum wage to $ 15 an hour.
“Kyrsten is working to ensure that an upcoming aid bill is focused on addressing Arizona’s immediate needs and believes that all proposals that are not related to those immediate needs – like raising the minimum wage – should be excluded from the package.” his spokesman said in a statement to CNN last week.
Without Sinema, the Senate cannot pass the economic stimulus bill even if it appeals to the budget process that allows them to pass it with just 51 votes. Schumer has no margin for error. And the threat from Sinema could jeopardize all legislation. Not to mention, she’s not the only one who has privately raised concerns about a minimum wage increase on this proposal. Sen. Joe Manchin, a moderate Democrat from West Virginia, also objects to including this point. It is not so clear if that would jeopardize his vote.
What if it falls outside the stimulus package?
While Schumer has repeatedly said he’s working closely with Sanders to move him forward, other members of the Democratic leadership are more sober on the dynamics.
When asked what it would take to include the minimum wage in the bill, majority whip Dick Durbin, a Democrat from Illinois, told reporters last week: ‘I don’t know what it will take, but I heard serious questions asked. by some Democratic members that are going to have to be resolved.
In other words, at this time the issue of increasing the minimum wage could seriously endanger this relief proposal against covid-19. If they include it, they lose at least one moderate senator. If they leave it out, they risk losing progressives.
A possible way out of the fight for the minimum wage in the economic stimulus
It is quite possible that the issue of raising the minimum wage does not meet the standards required by the Senate MP. That could save Democrats the pain of having to make the decision for themselves.
To advance a bill using conciliation, the Senate MP reviews each provision with staff to make sure it meets a specific set of criteria. One of those criteria is that it should not have an incidental impact on the budget. In other words, the proposal cannot do otherwise and then turn out to have a budgetary impact. It’s only supposed to be in the bill if its purpose is to affect the budget. During the fight to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, many provisions on the right to abortion were removed from the Republican Party bill because the MP argued that they had no direct budget impact.
Who will have the last word?
But again, the MP allowed it to be included in the GOP tax bill in 2017 drilling at the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. In other words, we shouldn’t be predicting one way or another whether the $ 15 minimum wage would survive. Sanders has specifically hired staff to help you navigate this review by the MP known as the Byrd bathroom, named for the late Democratic Senator Robert Byrd of West Virginia. This legislator devised the rule to prevent either party from abusing the conciliation process and trying to use it to pass legislation that bypasses possible obstruction processes.
Those conversations are already underway. But it is possible that the Senate MP is the one who really puts a stop to the issue, avoiding that the Democrats have to make the decision themselves and risk losing votes.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism