coronavirus relief
February 27, 2021

President Biden on Saturday praised House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and her fellow Democrats who backed his administration's $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill in the wee hours of the morning. Now, "there's no time to waste" as the package heads to the Senate, Biden added. "If we act now decisively, quickly, and boldly, we can finally get ahead of this virus, we can finally get our economy moving again," he said. "And the people of this country have suffered far too much for too long. We need to relieve that suffering."

The president didn't address the minimum wage issue in his comments, but his call for speed seems to be in line with his previous rhetoric on the matter. Biden has made it clear he'd prefer an item gradually increasing the federal minimum wage to $15 per hour to remain in the bill, but he's also reportedly not interested in rewriting Senate rules or ignoring the parliamentarian who ruled against its inclusion in the package under budget reconciliation, the tool Democrats are using to push the bill through without Republican support. Biden has also previously said he didn't expect the measure to make it through with the rest of the bill. Tim O'Donnell

February 27, 2021

The House passed President Biden's $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package in a 219-212 vote nearly along party lines early Saturday. Two Democrats, Reps. Jared Golden (D-Maine) and Kurt Schrader (D-Ore.) voted against the bill with Republicans, who consider the package too expensive, taking particular opposition to measures like funding for state and local governments.

The legislation, which includes $1,400 direct payments for individuals earning up to $75,000 per year (as well as couples earning a combined $150,000) and extends enhanced unemployment benefits through August, will now head to the Senate, where its contents could change, The New York Times reports.

The bill includes a proposal that would raise the federal minimum wage to $15 per hour by 2025, but Democrats, who narrowly hold the Senate, are using reconciliation, a process that will allow them to pass the bill with a simple majority and avoid Republican obstruction. Reconciliation comes with strict limits on what can be included in a measure, and the Senate's nonpartisan parliamentarian ruled against the wage hike.

Several congressional progressives, who are prioritizing the increase, criticized the decision and called for Senate Democrats to move forward anyway, but the White House said Biden, while disappointed, respects the ruling. Meanwhile, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and his colleagues are exploring alternatives, including an escalating tax on the payrolls of large corporations whose employees earn less than a certain hourly wage. It's unclear if that will qualify under the rules of reconciliation. Read more at The Associated Press and The New York Times. Tim O'Donnell

February 3, 2021

The Monday night White House statement that appeared to take some air out of bipartisan COVID-19 relief bill negotiations didn't sound like President Biden, an anonymous longtime adviser to the commander-in-chief told Politico.

"I think it sounded like more like [White House Chief of Staff] Ron Klain," the adviser said. "The GOP plan wasn't a joke. I looked at it and said, 'OK the midpoint between $600 billion and $1.9 trillion is about 1.2 or 1.3.' I was a little surprised we hit back that hard. It's not like our plan is perfect and there's nothing we can approve. Vintage Biden would not have been that harsh."

The adviser suggested that while Biden has a penchant for bipartisan deal-making, Klain, an Obama-era holdover, doesn't have fond memories of working with Republicans after unsuccessful talks with GOP lawmakers about the stimulus in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis and the Affordable Care Act. "Ron has this whole thing: 'Remember how they rat-f---ed us on the ACA!," the adviser told Politico.

It's worth noting, however, the White House statement did say Biden wants to keep talking with the group of senators going forward, so the idea of a bipartisan resolution hasn't been completely shot down, even if the possibility is shrinking. Read more at Politico. Tim O'Donnell

February 2, 2021

During a private call with Senate Democrats on Tuesday, President Biden went over the elements of his $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief proposal, letting lawmakers know that this is not the time to put forward a smaller package, several people familiar with the conversation told The Washington Post.

"President Biden spoke about the need for Congress to act boldly and quickly," Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) told reporters after the call. "He was very strong in emphasizing the need for a big, bold package."

Biden met with a group of Senate Republicans on Monday night, and they discussed his plan and their $618 billion counter proposal. Biden is calling for $465 billion in direct aid payments, $350 billion for unemployment insurance, and $350 billion to help local governments, while the GOP plan offers $220 billion in direct payments, $132 billion for unemployment insurance, and no money to local governments. Schumer said Biden told the Democrats he let the Republicans know "that the $600 billion that they proposed was way too small."

The president was joined on the call by Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, who also stressed the importance of a substantial relief plan. "I think it is his belief, it is Secretary Yellen's belief, it is our belief, that if we did a package that small, we'd be mired in the COVID crisis for years," Schumer said.

Biden also warned against "targeting" the aid, people familiar with the matter told the Post, saying that middle class Americans also need assistance, and said a lesson was learned during the Great Recession, when Congress approved a $787 billion relief bill; experts later said the United States would have recovered faster had that amount been higher. Catherine Garcia

February 1, 2021

The details of the COVID-19 relief package proposed by Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and nine other Republican senators as a counter to President Biden's plan are out.

The bill would cost a total of $618 billion, far below Biden's $1.9 trillion proposal. The two do find common ground on COVID-19 containment efforts like vaccine distribution and testing — both would allocate $160 billion in that category. But, there's not a lot of overlap elsewhere. The GOP package contains direct stimulus checks, but they begin at $1,000 per individual and begin phasing out for people who earn $40,000 per year with a cap at $50,000. The Biden plan, meanwhile, would provide $1,400 that begin phasing out at $75,000 per year with a $115,000 cap for individuals and $206,000 for couples.

The GOP bill would also extend enhanced unemployment insurance through June at $300 per week, compared to Biden's $400 per week, which would last through September. Funds for school reopening, rental and landlord support, and state and local government aid are other areas that are either diminished or cut entirely from the GOP plan.

Biden has agreed to sit down with the senators behind the bill, but earlier reports indicated Democratic lawmakers don't believe it's worth entertaining, so the meeting may just be a formality. Tim O'Donnell

December 29, 2020

Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) joined Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) on Tuesday in preparing to delay a vote to override President Trump's veto on a defense spending bill. Their opposition comes after Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) blocked Sanders' request to vote immediately on increasing stimulus checks to $2,000 from the $600 included in Congress' $900 billion relief bill.

Markey and Sanders both took Republican senators to task for supporting the "bloated" $740 billion defense bill while remaining hesitant about giving more money to "working families," some of whom are "struggling to survive" amid the pandemic. Markey said the situation amounted to a "moral failure for our country."

Sanders has previously said he intends to make sure lawmakers don't head home until the direct payment increase is brought up for a vote, even if it means they're stuck for New Year's Eve. Tim O'Donnell

December 29, 2020

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) on Tuesday blocked Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer's (D-N.Y.) motion to increase, by unanimous consent, stimulus checks for qualifying Americans to $2,000 from the $600 included in Congress' $900 billion COVID-19 relief bill. McConnell also blocked a request to vote on the issue immediately from Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) who then followed through on his threat to delay a Wednesday vote to override President Trump's veto on a military defense defense spending bill, CNBC notes.

McConnell's actions weren't the end of the debate around increasing the checks, a measure already passed by the House that is supported by Trump, Senate Democrats, and a handful of Republicans. He said the upper chamber will in fact "begin a process" to bring the direct payments "into focus," along with unrelated complaints from Trump, including unfounded allegations of widespread voter fraud and the repeal of Section 230, which provides liability protections for tech companies.

But, as Bloomberg notes, Congress adjourns Sunday, so the chances of actually voting on and passing the legislation between now and then are dwindling. Read more at Bloomberg and CNBC. Tim O'Donnell

December 29, 2020

The Senate faces an "uphill battle" in passing legislation that would increase direct COVID-19 relief payments for individuals from $600 to $2,000, but Republican lawmakers are facing more pressure to back the measure, Axios reports.

The House on Monday narrowly reached the two-thirds majority needed to pass the proposal — which is separate from a larger $900 billion relief bill approved by both chambers of Congress last week and subsequently signed into law by President Trump after a few days deliberation Sunday — but it's unclear if Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) will even let it come to a vote in the upper chamber.

Its passage similarly requires a two-thirds majority vote in the Senate, and while most Democrats are seemingly on board, many Republicans have appeared more hesitant because of concerns about mounting debt. But with Trump and their constituents calling for larger checks, there's a chance enough GOP senators will wind up backing the proposal, Republican sources told Axios. One source said if McConnell does bring the measure to the floor, "it might get 60" votes.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) made it clear Monday night he will vote for the increase despite concerns about the debt, so a handful of like-minded colleagues would turn the tide. Read more at Axios. Tim O'Donnell

See More Speed Reads