House Relief Package Heads to Senate With Future of Minimum Wage Hike Uncertain

The House Rules Committee debated the $1.9 trillion package for more than six hours on Friday, which eventually cleared a House vote early Saturday morning.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of Calif., speaks during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Jan. 21, 2021. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

WASHINGTON (CN) — The House voted to approve a $1.9 trillion Covid-19 relief deal in the early hours of Saturday, after a top legislative official said the Biden administration couldn’t jam a raise to the federal minimum wage into the package.

A sticking point between Republicans and Democrats, the Senate parliamentarian said Thursday night a $15 an hour minimum wage would likely be ruled out of order by the Senate’s presiding officer — effectively cleaving the provision from the bill. On Friday, by a 219-212 vote, House Democrats decided to send the bill to the Senate anyway with that provision included.

Before that vote, the House Rules Committee met for over eight hours to discuss the package with the body’s chairman Jim McGovern, a Massachusetts Democrat, saying members have the ability to bring life saving vaccines to the community through the vote. As for the minimum wage hike, the fight was not yet over, he said.

“But I want the American people to know this: we will not stop fighting to make a minimum wage increase a reality,” McGovern said. “No one who works full-time in the richest nation on this planet should live in poverty.”

That committee discussed the bill at length Friday before sending it to the House floor for a vote. A number of panels of lawmakers testified in support of the bill, along with some members opposing the legislation largely because of its price tag.

That cost provides critical support to schools, local businesses, health care workers and other Americans adversely impacted by the pandemic. Along with creating a program to help small businesses apply for Covid-19 relief funds, the bill sends cash infusions to localities for a number of programs, including the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program — along with sending another $1,400 in economic impact payments to eligible Americans.

The House’s Budget Committee chairman and John Yarmuth, a Kentucky Democrat, rebutted a claim from Republicans that Democrats had not introduced enough fail-safes within the measure, to ensure available money was spent immediately. Another claim from Republicans that fell flat, Yarmuth said, was that relief was not targeted to go to those who needed it most — further wasting federal funds.

“That’s undeniably true, I don’t think we will argue that there are people who will benefit who probably get along without this assistance,” Yarmuth said. “But consider what that would take. Everyone in this hearing understands how long it takes to set up a needs-based operation no matter what it is.”

The Biden administration sent its support to House members to pass the bill on Friday, with Andy Slavitt, the White House’s acting administrator of the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services saying during a Covid-19 briefing its passage was critical. Slavitt also urged cooperation from the Senate, asking lawmakers to work quickly to move the bill through that chamber.

“We cannot defeat this virus as rapidly as we need to without action from Congress,” Slavitt said.

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