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House nears vote on Biden’s $1.9 trillion COVID relief plan

It's a busy week on Capitol Hill, with a full slate of confirmation hearings on President Biden's nominees and a possible House vote on the COVID economic-relief plan. Congressional correspondent Lisa Desjardins joins Judy Woodruff to discuss.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    It's a busy week on Capitol Hill, with a full slate of confirmation hearings on Biden nominees and a possible House vote on the COVID economic relief plan.

    Here with an update on it all as our congressional correspondent, Lisa Desjardins.

    So, hello, Lisa.

    As the House now getting ready to vote on this big $1.9 trillion package, remind us, what are the big items in this and what are the sticking points still?

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    That's right.

    The House of Representatives is set to vote on this on Friday, just a couple of days from now. And I want to remind people this will affect most Americans if it gets through, as it looks like some parts of this will.

    Here's what's in the House bill, first, $1,400 direct payments to most Americans, also unemployment. Those on unemployment would get an added $400 per week. That's up from the $300 per week that is set to run out in March. Finally, for vaccines and testing, tens of billions of dollars, over $70 billion to help manufacture vaccines, get them out, and also to test Americans and kind of really try and have the first full-throated effort at contact tracing throughout this country.

    So, it is a vigorous, huge bill. But another issue in this bill that we're watching closely this week, of course, is the fight about the minimum wage. Democrats would like to double, some Democrats, double the minimum wage to $15 per hour.

    And right now, that is in this House coronavirus relief measure. But the fate of that probably rests with the Senate. I will tell you, here's what's going to happen. There is a single person who will make this decision, because Democrats in the Senate want to use a 50-vote process called budget reconciliation.

    And that's a way to get around the filibuster that requires 60 votes. But in order to use that process, the Senate parliamentarian, of all people, will decide if the minimum wage hike actually qualifies.

    Well, what's the criteria here? The key issue, Judy, is whether or not the minimum wage hike directly affects the budget. Does it change revenues? Does it add to costs? Therefore, will it qualify? And, today, this morning, Democrats and Republicans held a rare behind-closed-door meetings, staffers, each making their case, almost "Law & Order"-style, to the parliamentarian, whose is name is Elizabeth MacDonough.

    She herself is now deciding what she will do. And the entire Congress is waiting on her decision to see if the minimum wage hike has a good shot in the Senate or not.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    A lot riding on that.

    And, meantime, Lisa, we know the president also very focused on getting his nominees for the Cabinet through, almost halfway through with the confirmation process. Remind us where all that stands right now.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    So far, President Biden has gotten — let me look at my numbers — nine of his Cabinet-level nominees have been confirmed. But there's another 14 still waiting to go through.

    Some of them, like Merrick Garland for the attorney general spot, look like they're on a glide path. And, even tonight, energy nominee also passed a key procedural vote in the Senate easily. But, as you reported earlier, there is one that seems to be having the most trouble.

    That is Neera Tanden, who has been nominated for the Office of Management and Budget, because of her partisan and sharp tweets. Right now, there is a Democrat, Joe Manchin, who says he will not support her. That means they need a Republican to get on board. All eyes on Lisa Murkowski of Alaska.

    One other note, Deb Haaland, up for interior secretary, also is someone there are some doubts about. However, Joe Manchin, the key senator again in the Neera Tanden fight, has said he supports her. So it looks like the Deb Haaland nomination is on a better path than Neera Tanden's.

    But, as you reported, President Biden is not backing down from either one.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And you are watching every bit of it.

    Lisa Desjardins, thank you so much.

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