By: Nikita Vandrangi — Political Editor
Just this past December, Congress passed a $900 billion COVID-19 relief bill, bringing aid to the American people after months of deliberation. The bill included $600 stimulus checks, unemployment assistance, rental assistance, aid for small businesses, and money to help vaccine distribution costs. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) stated that while the bill was significant, it wasn’t everything the Democrats wanted, and they were to negotiate with the new administration for a more substantive bill.
President Joe Biden introduced his own COVID-19 relief plan totaling at about $1.9 trillion. This bill includes stimulus checks of $1,400, which combined with the previous $600 would add up to the promised $2,000. It would also raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour, and about $400 billion would go directly to combating the virus, while the rest is dedicated to specific states and local towns and cities.
However, tensions are high in Congress. The upcoming impeachment trial seeks to steer away the focus from passing the relief bill, though the president has stressed his confidence in Congress’ ability to fulfill all of their duties. With President Biden’s theme of unity, emphasized in his inauguration speech, many Republican officials are demanding he live up to that promise and pass a bill reflective of the values of both parties.
This past Monday, February 1, 2021, a group of ten Republican senators met with President Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris with a relief proposal of their own. The senators included Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Todd Young of Indiana, Jerry Moran of Kansas, Susan Collins of Maine, Thom Tillis of North Carolina, Rob Portman of Ohio, Mike Rounds of South Dakota, Mitt Romhey of Utah, Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, and Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia.
Their plan totals to about $618 billion, which is around a third of Biden’s original plan. These senators have cited concerns with the stimulus checks, wanting more targeted aid, so that the checks are going only to families in need. The plan calls for $1,000 to individuals making under $40,000 a year, $500 for dependent adults and children, and individuals making over $50,000 as well as couples making over $100,000 would not be eligible for the checks. It had some of the same elements with regards to COVID-19 funding, but included less unemployment assistance and virtually no state and local aid.
This past Friday, February 5, 2021, Democrats moved ahead with a process called reconciliation to push the relief bill through. Reconciliation is a process by which only a simple majority is required to pass certain types of legislation. It is only permitted once per fiscal year and can only be used to change laws related to taxes and spending. The Senate and the House both have to pass the budget resolution and instruct committees to begin crafting the legislation. The House passed the budget resolution, followed by the Senate, with Vice President Harris casting the tie breaking vote.
President Biden is not confident the $15 minimum wage will make it through the bill, though he has promised to negotiate that at a separate time in a separate bill. He is also currently willing to negotiate who gets the $1,400 checks, though he has not expressed any desire to decrease the amount.
image from newscentermaine.com