Democrats are aiming to move quickly on a $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package and give President Biden a legislative accomplishment early in his tenure.
A multitude of House committees advanced portions of the bill last week, and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) told colleagues on Tuesday that the plan is for the bill to be considered on the House floor next week.
The bigger challenge lies ahead when the work shifts over to the Senate. The legislation will need every Senate Democrat to vote for it to pass if no Republicans back it.
Additionally, portions of the bill could run into issues with the Senate parliamentarian, who will be tasked with determining whether the legislation meets the requirements of the budget reconciliation process, which Democrats are using to pass the measure with a simple majority vote.
Here’s where things stand with some of the key components of Democrats’ coronavirus relief proposal.
The bill would raise the federal minimum wage to $15 per hour, a long-sought goal for progressives that has drawn opposition from Republicans, powerful lobbies and some Senate Democrats.
The House Democratic measure would raise the wage gradually from $7.25 to $15 per hour in 2025.
Two Democratic senators, Sens. Joe Manchin (W.Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (Ariz.), oppose the hike. Manchin has expressed support for a smaller increase, while Sinema has said she doesn’t think it’s appropriate for a minimum wage increase to be included in the relief measure.
There are also questions about whether the Senate parliamentarian, Elizabeth MacDonough, will allow the minimum wage increase to be included in a budget reconciliation bill. In reconciliation legislation, every provision has to be directly related to the budget and can’t have a budgetary impact that’s “merely incidental” to its non-budgetary aspects.
Key Senate Democrats are hopeful that MacDonough will rule in their favor, but other lawmakers and budgetary-policy experts are skeptical.
Democrats’ proposal includes payments to most Americans of $1,400 per person. This provision is designed to further Democrats’ goal of providing people with $2,000, in combination with the $600 payments enacted in late December.
Before House Democrats unveiled their proposal, there was a debate among lawmakers over what the income eligibility requirements should be for the payments.
Progressives wanted to keep the requirements from the first two rounds of payments in an effort to ensure that people who lost income last year received their full payments quickly, while Republicans and some moderate Democrats wanted to tighten the requirements in an effort to focus the payments on low- and middle-income households.
House Democrats’ bill addressed this debate by keeping the same phaseout thresholds as the first two rounds, while ensuring that families with income of more than $200,000 aren’t eligible for checks.
Under the bill, individuals with income of up to $75,000 and married couples with income of up to $150,000 would be eligible to receive the full payment amount, as was the case for the previous rounds. The bill then adjusts how the payment amounts are reduced above those thresholds and provides that individuals with income above $100,000 and married couples with income above $200,000 don’t qualify for any payment.
Biden has indicated his support for the income eligibility requirements in the proposal, and Manchin, one of the leading Democratic proponents of targeting the checks, has not come out against them.
The House bill would extend federal unemployment programs set to expire in mid-March through the end of August. It also would increase the federal government’s weekly boost to benefits from $300 to $400 from mid-March through the end of August.
The measure is based on a proposal Biden released in January that called for extending unemployment programs through September — one month longer than the extensions under the House bill. House committees were restricted in how much their portions of the bill could add to the deficit under the budget resolution that was adopted.
Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) has said that he is planning to work to find a solution that will allow the final piece of legislation to extend unemployment benefits through the end of September.
The House bill includes about $14 billion for vaccines and therapeutics.
It would provide $7.5 billion to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to prepare, administer and monitor vaccines, as well as another $1 billion to the CDC to provide information and education about the vaccines and improve vaccination rates.
It also would provide the Department of Health and Human Services with $5.2 billion to support research, development and manufacturing of vaccines and therapeutics, and it would provide the Food and Drug Administration with $500 million for vaccine and therapeutic-related activities.
Vaccine funding is an area with bipartisan support. Some lawmakers had suggested that Congress separate vaccine funding from other aspects of the package and pass that on a bipartisan basis, but Democratic leaders and the White House are instead pursuing one large piece of legislation.
The bill would provide $25 billion in assistance to renters and their landlords. It also includes $10 billion for assistance to homeowners.
The Biden administration announced on Tuesday that it is extending the foreclosure moratorium for borrowers with federally backed loans, which had been set to expire next month, through the end of June.
The White House said in a fact sheet that it’s important for Congress to also approve the homeowner assistance in the relief bill, because that assistance is “critical for homeowners with mortgages in the private market who are not able to take advantage of today’s actions and may face longer-term challenges.”
Aid to state and local governments
The Democratic bill would provide $350 billion for state and local governments, territories and tribal governments.
States and localities would be able to use the funds to respond to the pandemic and the related economic downturn, cover costs incurred as a result of the pandemic and replace revenue that was lost because of the pandemic.