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The U.S. House of Representatives is on the verge of passing a $1.9 trillion COVID relief bill, even after Democrats suffered a setback on one of their key priorities, including a federal increase in the minimum wage. NewsHour's Daniel Bush joins Judy Woodruff with the latest on where things stand and what comes next.
The U.S. House of Representatives is on the verge of passing a $1.9 trillion COVID relief bill, even after Democrats suffered a setback on one of their key priorities.
Our Daniel Bush is here with the latest on where things stand and what comes next.
So, hello to you, Dan.
First of all, where do things stand with regard to this COVID economic relief?
Judy, the House is now one step closer towards passing this bill.
We're waiting now for a vote that is going to happen at some point later tonight. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is a master at keeping her conference together, even in tough votes. It's expected that this bill will likely pass.
There are, of course, some contentious issues, like minimum wage, as you just mentioned. But there are a lot of things in here that Democrats do want. Let's take a look at some of those big-ticket items, $1,400 in direct payments. Individuals making less than $75,000, couples making less than $150,000 would get the full amount.
An additional $400 a week in unemployment assistance. That is up from $300 a week currently. That would extend to the end of August, as well as $350 billion in local and state aid, and $14 billion for vaccine research. So, there's a lot in this very, very big bill here.
Now, if the House passes it later tonight, the action would shift to the Senate. I'm being told that the Senate is preparing to introduce its own version of this bill. Sources are telling me that could happen as early as next week. And Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer wants to get this done by March 14.
That's when the current unemployment benefits included in the last COVID bill are set to expire, and he is confident, I'm being told, that he can make that deadline.
So, Dan, meantime, as we have mentioned, an officer of the Senate, the parliamentarian, has ruled that the minimum wage cannot be included in this COVID relief bill.
So, where does minimum wage go from here?
That was a blow to Democrats and to President Biden, no question.
A lot of criticism from all quarters in the party for that ruling. Bernie Sanders, senator from Vermont, he will play a role in this going forward in the negotiation with the Senate, came out with a Senate, saying: "Because of the archaic and undemocratic rules of the Senate, we are unable to move forward to end starvation wages in this country and raise the income of 32 million struggling Americans. The fight continues."
The question now is, how does that fight continue? One option Democrats are looking at is finding a way to essentially do a work-around, including a different provision that would penalize businesses that don't pay workers more money. They think, Democrats think that they can get this bill passed through budget reconciliation — that measure, rather, through budget reconciliation.
It remains to be seen whether or not they can do that. That is the plan, though. And it does point to these — this division in the party, Judy, between moderate Democrats in the House, who are a little uneasy about this minimum wage increase — they think it might hurt small business owners in their districts — and the progressives in the party, who are putting a lot of pressure on leadership, both in the House and the Senate, to include some form of a minimum wage increase in this COVID relief legislation.
Watching it very closely.
Daniel Bush, thank you very much.
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Daniel Bush is PBS NewsHour's Senior Political Reporter.
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