Veterans to Get Billions in Health-Care Funding: Stimulus Update
(Bloomberg) -- A House committee voted to back $13.5 billion in health-care funding for veterans. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said he is “working hard” to include President Joe Biden’s minimum-wage hike in the coming Covid-19 relief bill. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said her chamber will advance the $15 an hour proposal.
Democrats are using a legislative procedure called reconciliation that allows them to proceed without Republican support. But it’s not clear the minimum-wage boost can qualify under Senate rules.
Five House committees are planning to move on their components of the aid package Thursday and Friday, after others -- including the Transportation and Small Business panels -- already advanced their parts. Republicans have blasted the emerging Democratic bill for proposals they say don’t target help to those who need it, give incentives for people to avoid seeking work and drive up the fiscal deficit.
House Advances Veterans’ Health-Care Funding
The House Veterans Affairs Committee approved a bill providing $13.5 billion for veterans health care services, sending another piece of the $1.9 trillion Biden stimulus package en route to a floor vote in the chamber the week of Feb. 22.
Committee Chairman Mark Takano, a California Democrat, said the money would help Veterans Affairs deal with a surge in people seeking care after they held off during the pandemic. The vote was 17 to 12, along party lines.
The measure contains $272 million to process backlogged benefit claims, $750 million for state home facilities such as nursing-home and adult care centers, $100 million for VA information-technology upgrades, and $400 million for retraining programs for veterans.
Republicans said Democrats haven’t explained how, exactly, the funds would be disbursed.
“There is nowhere near the justification needed before giving nearly $20 billion,” Representative Mike Bost of Illinois. “It is writing like a blank check.”
Bost said that some $10 billion from the March 2020 stimulus bill for the VA has yet to been spent, and that much of the proposed new funding would end up being used in 2022 and 2023. -- Erik Wasson
Schumer ‘Working Hard’ to Include Minimum Wage (11:38 a.m.)
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said Thursday he is “working hard” with Budget Chairman Bernie Sanders to ensure that a minimum wage increase to $15 an hour is allowed to be included in the $1.9 trillion package under Senate fast-track rules.
The duo is working with the Senate parliamentarian to ensure the wage hike complies with the chamber’s Byrd rule, which bars non-fiscal measures and items that increase long-term debt in a budget reconciliation bill. Reconciliation is the process Democrats are using to pass the bill without Republican votes, as it has a simple majority threshold in the Senate.
“That is our first step,” said Schumer.
The minimum wage proposal would increase the deficit over 10 years by $54 billion according to the Congressional Budget Office, and Sanders, who caucuses with the Democrats, argues that this shows it’s a fiscal matter. Opponents say it only has a “merely incidental” impact, disqualifying it for inclusion. The CBO also found that the proposal increases long-term debt and would thus need offsetting spending cuts or revenue increases to be included.
Even if the wage increase meets the rules, Schumer may not have the votes to pass it. West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin, a moderate Democrat whose vote would be needed, has said he opposes a $15 wage, and Montana Senator Jon Tester said the phase-in of the hike may need to be adjusted.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi reaffirmed Thursday that the House will include the wage increase in the bill it plans to pass the week of Feb. 22.
Schumer also told reporters that the House proposal to phase out $1,400 stimulus checks entirely for those individuals with $100,000 in income is “in the ballpark” of what needs to be done to target the payments.
Appearing with newly installed Georgia Senators Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock, whose victories last month have made the giant stimulus bill possible with only Democratic support, Schumer highlighted funds in the bill aimed at getting Georgia to expand Medicaid, as well as funds for Black colleges and farmers. -- Erik Wasson
Transport, Small Business Advance Biden Aid-Bill Components (9:18 a.m.)
The House Transportation and Infrastructure, Agriculture and Small Business committees late Wednesday advanced their components of President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion Covid-19 relief proposal.
The Transportation panel voted 39-25 in favor of more than $40 billion in aid. The measures would provide $30 billion for transit, $8 billion for U.S. airports, $3 billion for aviation manufacturing jobs and $1.5 billion for Amtrak.
The Small Business Committee approved $50 billion in emergency pandemic aid for small businesses. “Surveys show that one in three small business owners will not survive the next few months without additional financial support,” the committee’s chair, Nydia Velázquez, a New York Democrat, said in a statement.
The Agriculture Committee approved by a vote of 25-23 a $16 billion measure focused on food purchases, nutrition aid, and supply chain assistance.
The House Energy and Commerce Committee on Thursday will consider $5 billion in assistance for utility payments for needy ratepayers. The provision would direct $4.5 billion for home energy help and $500 million for aid related to drinking water payments and wastewater expenses.
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