The House could vote by the end of this week on a third coronavirus relief package that would send a round of $1,400 stimulus checks to millions of Americans during the pandemic.
The House Budget Committee will consider the 591-page bill, based on proposals by at least nine committees, on Monday and put together one plan for Congress. The House will then vote on the legislation, which House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said could happen at the end of this week, before going to the Senate the following week.
“We’re working as quickly and expeditiously as we possibly can,” said House Budget Chair John Yarmuth, a Kentucky Democrat, according to Politico. “We’ll send it over to the Senate and see what happens.”
Democrats are hoping to pass the stimulus deal before March 14, the day that $300 weekly unemployment benefits approved in December’s coronavirus package expire. That timeline has added to lawmakers’ desire to use the reconciliation process, which allows for “expedited consideration” of legislation on spending, taxes and debt.
Reconciliation would also allow Democrats to bypass the 60-vote requirement for advancing the legislation without a filibuster. Instead, under the process, they could pass the deal with a simple majority — paving a path for the bill to become law without needing any Republican votes.
The proposal could face difficulties in the Senate because in order to pass the legislation without GOP support, all Democrats need to vote in favor. The U.S. Senate is split 50-50 between Republicans and Democrats; Vice President Kamala Harris serves as the tiebreaker, giving Democrats a narrow majority in the chamber.
One of the main points of contention is whether a federal minimum wage hike to $15 per hour could be included under the reconciliation process. President Joe Biden reportedly told a group of governors and mayors that he believes the minimum wage increase would not qualify under reconciliation and would instead need a full 60 votes, Politico reported.
Sen. Joe Manchin, a West Virginia Democrat, told The Hill last week that he doesn’t back a $15 minimum wage and is “supportive of basically having something that’s responsible and reasonable,” which he defined as an $11 minimum wage in his home state.
Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, an Arizona Democrat, said she opposes including the minimum wage hike in the reconciliation process.
“The minimum wage provision is not appropriate for the reconciliation process. It is not a budget item. And it shouldn’t be in there,” Sinema said, according to Politico.
House Republicans urged their members not to vote for the bill, saying that it pays “people not to work,” Politico reported.
“We’re definitely going to expose how this is the wrong plan, at the wrong time for all the wrong reasons,” said Rep. Jason Smith, a Missouri Republican and Republican leader of the House Budget Committee. “We’re going to point out all the different items in this legislation that are bad for the working class.”
What’s in the new proposal?
The most recent stimulus bill includes $1,400 direct payments for individuals making up to $75,000 a year and married couples earning up to $150,000 a year — the same income thresholds in Biden’s $1.9 trillion emergency plan released in January. The new plan has a faster phase-out than in previous proposals, capping payments at $100,000 for individuals and $200,000 for couples.
The House bill would extend the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance and Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation programs through Aug. 29 and increase weekly federal benefits from $300 to $400.
Around 11.4 million workers could lose their unemployment benefits between Mar. 14 and Apr. 11 unless Congress passes the bill before the mid-March deadline, a study by The Century Foundation found.
The proposal also includes:
roughly $19.1 billion for state and local governments
expanding the child tax credit to $3,600 for children under age 6 and $3,000 for children under 18
nearly $130 billion for K-12 schools to help reopen schools
$15 billion for the Emergency Injury Disaster Loan program for low-interest loans from the Small Business Administration
$25 billion for grants for bars and restaurants
$14 billion for distribution, research and administration of vaccines
$46 billion for contact tracing, testing and mitigation
Opposition from Republicans
Some Republicans have balked at the cost of the package and called for more “targeted” relief for families during the pandemic, while others have called the $1.9 trillion proposal “totally partisan.”
“Any further action should be smart and targeted, not just an imprecise deluge of borrowed money that would direct huge sums toward those who don’t need it,” said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican.
Speaking about Democrats’ push to advance the bill through reconciliation, McConnell earlier this month said: “We’re off to a totally partisan start. I think that’s unfortunate.”
Sen. Susan Collins, a Maine Republican, said last month in a conversation with White House officials that she suggested lowering the income cap for direct stimulus payments as a way to lower the bill’s price tag.
“I was the first to raise that issue, but there seemed to be a lot of agreement … that those payments need to be more targeted,” Collins said, according to Politico. “I would say that it was not clear to me how the administration came up with its $1.9 trillion figure for the package.”
Biden has urged Republicans to support the relief deal.
“Critics say that my plan is too big, that it costs $1.9 trillion,” Biden said on Friday during a speech in Michigan. “Let me ask them: What would they have me cut? What would they have me leave out? Should we not invest $20 billion to vaccinate the nation? Should we not invest $290 million to extend unemployment insurance for the 11 million Americans who are unemployed so they can get by?”