An evenly divided Senate plans to begin debate this week on the Biden administration’s $1.9 trillion coronavirus (COVID-19) stimulus bill after the House passed it over the weekend.
The measure could pass the Senate with no Republican votes because Democrats are presenting it in the form of a budget reconciliation measure, which requires only a simple majority, not the filibuster-proof 60 votes.
The bill would send most Americans a direct payment of $1,400 and would increase unemployment benefits by $400 a week. There is also money to pay for vaccine distribution and major funding for state and local governments.
No Republicans in the Senate have expressed support for the measure, calling it too expensive. Some have also said a spending level of this magnitude is unnecessary since the latest economic numbers show rapid improvement.
Minimum wage issue
The House bill also contains a provision to hike the minimum wage to $15 an hour that almost certainly will be dropped from the Senate version of the measure. Last week, the Senate parliamentarian ruled that a budget reconciliation bill could not include an increase in the minimum wage.
A budget reconciliation bill can only address issues that affect the federal budget, such as government spending. The parliamentarian ruled that the minimum wage only applies to businesses and therefore cannot be included in the bill.
Should the Senate pass the stimulus bill without the minimum wage increase -- or any other changes -- the measure would have to go back to the House for another vote. Supporters of the measure are pushing for timely action. They note that expanded unemployment benefits expire on March 14. They hope to have the extension, contained in the proposed legislation, in place by then.
Democrats cannot afford to lose a single vote in the Senate since Republicans and Democrats each hold 50 seats. Vice-present Kamala Harris would cast the deciding vote in what is expected to be a deadlock at 50 to 50.