Covid Relief Bill: Bernie Sanders’ attempt to add $15 minimum wage fails


Sen. Bernie Sanders‘ attempt to add a $15 per hour minimum wage to the $1.9 trillion COVID relief bill failed as eight Democrats voted against his effort.

It was a long shot bid by Sanders to get the wage hike into the legislation after the Senate parliamentarian ruled it could not be included. 

‘This legislation is the most consequential and significant legislation for working families that Congress has debated for many, many decades,’ Sanders said on the Senate floor Friday. 

In pushing the amendment, Sanders forced his fellow Democrats to take a stand on the issue, which has divided the moderate and progressive wings of the party.

The Democrats going against Sanders were moderates, many from swing states: Jon Tester, Joe Manchin, Jeanne Shaheen, Angus King, Kyrsten Sinema, Tom Carper, Chris Coons, and Maggie Hassan. 

The White House made clear Friday it that President Joe Biden supports Sanders’ drive to raise the wage.

Press secretary Jen Psaki said to be clear the administration is ‘not engaged in conversations or negotiations about lowering the threshold for the minimum wage, just to be crystal clear on that.’

Some Republican senators are pushing a bill to have an $11 per hour minimum wage.  

Sen. Bernie Sanders’ attempt to add a $15 per hour minimum wage to the $1.9 trillion COVID relief bill failed

Senate parliamentarian Elizabeth MacDonough dealt the death blow to the wage hike when she ruled last week that the provision was not compliant with the rules governing the budget process that Congress is using to pass the bill with simple majorities. 

Her ruling outraged liberals, who called for Democratic leadership to overrule it. Sanders roasted MacDonough in a speech on the Senate floor Friday morning.

‘It is an absurd process that we allow an unelected staffer, somebody who works for the Senate not elected by anybody. to make a decision as to whether 30 million Americans get a pay raise or not,’ the Vermont senator said.

‘If people here want to vote against raising the minimum wage, you have that right. If you want to vote for it, and I hope you do, you have that right. But we should not shovel off that responsibility to an unelected staffer. That’s wrong,’ he added.

Given the parliamentarian’s ruling that the wage hike could not be included, it would take a super majority of 60 senators to overrule that finding so Sanders’ amendment could be added to the COVID relief package. 

Even if all Democrats supported Sanders, his move to include it would have failed given the Republican opposition to it.  

Democrats pushed to have the COVID relief bill passed through a process called reconciliation, which would keep the GOP from filibustering it and allow it to pass with a simple majority.

Senate parliamentarian Elizabeth MacDonough (pictured) ruled their $15 minimum wage could not be included in the $1.9trillion COVID-19 relief bill

Senate parliamentarian Elizabeth MacDonough (pictured) ruled their $15 minimum wage could not be included in the $1.9trillion COVID-19 relief bill

But, by invoking reconciliation, they also invoked what is called the ‘Byrd rule’ –  which limits acceptable provisions in the reconciliation process to taxing and spending.

MacDonough, the Senate’s nonpartisan arbiter of its rules, ruled last week the wage hike does not meet those standards.

Her ruling was not a surprise. Even President Joe Biden predicted the wage hike was likely not to meet the reconciliation requirements for inclusion.

The existing federal minimum wage, at $7.25 an hour, has not been changed since 2009.

The House version of the COVID relief bill contained the wage hike.

But the House, which passed its version last week, will have to vote on the Senate version once it passes the upper chamber. Once both chambers of Congress approve the same bill, Biden can sign it into law.

After the vote on Sanders’ proposal, the Senate will begin a massive vote-a-rama on amendments to Biden‘s $1.9 trillion COVID relief plan as Republicans look to delay a final vote on the legislation.

‘There’ll be a lengthy amendment process, as the rules of the Senate require. The Senate is going to take a lot of votes. But we are going to power through and finish this bill, however long it takes,’ Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said on the Senate floor Friday morning.

Republican senators are expected to offer multiple amendments to the bill, which Democrats claim is necessary to help the economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic. The GOP protests the bill’s cost and claim it’s filled with progressive priorities.

‘Votearama is upon us,’ said Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham. ‘Stay hydrated. Try to keep good cheer. We’re going to have lots of amendments today and kind of talk about where we differ on certain things, which will be good for the country.’

‘It’s going to be a long day,’ he added. 

As part of their objections they are using the legislative process to delay a final vote as long as possible. On Thursday, Republican Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin demanded clerks read the entire 628 page bill aloud. 

Schumer thanked the clerks and staff for working such long hours to read the bill.

And, he added, of Johnson: ‘As for our friend from Wisconsin, I hope he enjoyed his Thursday night.’ 

The process  – in which three clerks took turns reading the text aloud in a monotone that threatened to put lawmakers to sleep – took 10 hours and 44 minutes. It began at 3:20 p.m. on Thursday and ended at 2:04 a.m. in the early hours of Friday morning.

Now senators can proceed to debating the legislation, which includes the vote-a-rama, a series of votes on blocks of amendments that could last well into Friday night.

Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell accused Democrats of ‘ramming through an ideological spending spree packed with non COVID related policies.’

Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer

The Senate on Friday will begin a massive vote-a-rama on amendments from Republicans, led by GOP Senate Leader Mitch McConnell that will challenge Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer’s to keep Democrats together

Amendments come after Republican Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin demanded clerks read the entire 628 page bill aloud - it took them 10 hours and 44 minutes, beginning at 3:20 p.m. on Thursday and ended at 2:04 a.m. early Friday morning

Amendments come after Republican Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin demanded clerks read the entire 628 page bill aloud – it took them 10 hours and 44 minutes, beginning at 3:20 p.m. on Thursday and ended at 2:04 a.m. early Friday morning

Republicans plan to use their amendments to put Democrats in a tough spot, forcing them to vote on-the-record on a series of issues and challenging the party to stay united throughout the votes. 

Asked how long the vote-a-rama could take, Republican Sen. John Thune of South Dakota said: ‘It’s indefinite. You’ve got lots of people who want to offer lots of amendments.’   

Additionally, moderate Democrats are expected to offer an amendment lowering weekly federal unemployment benefits to $300 from $400 but will extend the payments from August until October.

The vote-a-rama is the last hurdle lawmakers face before a final vote on Biden’s sweeping legislation. The final vote is likely to occur sometime this weekend.

Democrats are under pressure to stick together in the evenly-divided 50-50 Senate, where the party cannot afford to lose a single vote and Vice President Kamala Harris will have to break any tie. Harris had to rush up to the Capitol on Thursday afternoon to break a tie vote to allow the Senate to start debate on the relief package.

After she cast her vote, Johnson made his motion to have the bill read aloud.

Bill readings are almost always dispensed with at the start to allow for debate, but Johnson saw it as way to register his frustration over the massive outlay of federal spending.

‘I feel bad for the clerks that are going to have to read it, but it’s just important,’ said Johnson, who has already faced criticism this week for suggesting the deadly January 6 US Capitol riot was not an ‘armed insurrection.’

‘Why are we authorizing another $1.9 trillion when we still have a trillion dollars sitting on the sidelines’ unspent from the previous pandemic relief bills? he told reporters.

‘It’s actually hard to spend this much money.’ 

VP Harris' vote may be needed several more times as senators debate amendments and then hold a final vote on the relief package, which is not expected to get any Republican support

VP Harris’ vote may be needed several more times as senators debate amendments and then hold a final vote on the relief package, which is not expected to get any Republican support

The final version of the $1.9 trillion plan could look different after the amendment process wraps up – or not. In a legislative catch, Schumer, at the end of the amendment vote, can offer an amendment that would revert the bill back to its original form. 

There have already been some changes, which President Biden agreed to, including cutting off stimulus checks to Americans who make more than $80,000 a year.   

He told reporters in the White House on Thursday he was comfortable with his decision cap the limit on those receiving checks.  

Biden made the move to sooth Senate moderates, who worried about the cost of the legislation. But the change infuriated progressives – although they are expected to still support the bill.

The compromise means that 9 million fewer households would receive a stimulus payment than in the last tranche of payouts, which came out from President Donald Trump. It also lowers the cost of the legislation by $12 billion, according to Senate Democrats.

Democrats also increased minimum payments to states with smaller rural populations to match the $1.25 billion minimum contained in last year’s CARES Act. 

And they added $10 billion for infrastructure, $8.5 billion for health providers and expanded health-care subsidies for those who lose their jobs. 

The relief package contains several provisions that have made it popular in opinion polls, even while attracting virtually no Republican support in Congress.

The House passed the COVID relief bill last week with no GOP support. Senate Republicans also are not expected to vote for it. Not a single Republican senator voted to proceed to debate on the legislation Thursday, indicating Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell is keeping his senators in line in objecting to the legislation.

After the Senate passes its final, amended version of the legislation, the House will have to vote on it before Biden can sign it into law. 



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