State, Vaccine Money Wraps Up House Legislation: Stimulus Update

House committees on Friday wrapped up their work putting President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion Covid-19 relief plan into legislative text. The Senate may seek to change some components, however, with the proposed minimum-wage hike a potential casualty.

The House Energy and Commerce Committee, as well as the Oversight and Reform panel, completed votes on components of the aid package on Friday. Some $350 billion for state and local governments, along with scores of billions more for Covid-19 measures including funding for vaccines and testing, were approved by the panels.

Other committees, including Ways and Means, wrapped up their work on Thursday. The House Budget Committee will then be responsible for assembling the pieces into a single bill that’s expected to go to the floor of the chamber the week of Feb. 22.

House Panels Approve State Government Aid, Vaccine Funding

The House Oversight Committee approved $350 billion in funding to help state and local governments during the pandemic, a key priority for Democrats that was left out of the December pandemic-assistance bill.

The House Energy and Commerce Committee separately advanced funding for vaccine distribution, national testing efforts and aid for health services in low-income communities. Biden’s plan called for $160 billion for such measures, which he said was “necessary to save American lives.”

Both panels’ measures now move to the House Budget Committee, where the various parts of the stimulus legislation that were approved this week will be combined and then sent to the House floor for a vote by the end of the month.

Democrats say both the direct state and local aid and the Covid-19 funding would help states and cities expand their vaccination efforts, which have largely seen a slow start. The new state and local assistance would split the money, with 60% going to states and 40% directed to local governments. The funds must be distributed within 60 days and are deployed based on jurisdictions that have lost revenue as a result of the pandemic.

Most Republican lawmakers opposed the state and local aid late last year, with many saying it would amount to a bailout for mismanaged states. Democrats say keeping local government workers employed is critical to steering the economy out of a recession, a lesson they say was learned in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis -- when layoffs of teachers, police and other municipal employees prolonged the economic fallout. -- Laura Davison

Proposed Minimum-Wage Hike Faces Roadblock in Senate (9:07 a.m.)

Arizona Senator Kyrsten Sinema, a moderate Democrat whose support for the Covid-19 relief bill will be vital to its passage, opposes including President Joe Biden’s minimum-wage increase in the bill, Politico reported.

“What’s important is whether or not it’s directly related to short-term Covid relief. And if it’s not, then I am not going to support it in this legislation,” Sinema said earlier this week, Politico reported, citing a telephone interview. “The minimum-wage provision is not appropriate for the reconciliation process. It is not a budget item. And it shouldn’t be in there,” Politico reported Sinema as saying.

Hannah Hurley, a spokeswoman for Sinema, confirmed the comments.

West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin, another moderate Democrat, has said he opposes a $15 wage, and Montana Senator Jon Tester said the phase-in of the hike may need to be adjusted. The Senate has a 50-50 partisan split, and Republicans have opposed the measure, so every Democratic vote would be needed for passage.

Biden himself last week noted doubts about whether the minimum wage increase could qualify for inclusion in the legislative procedure that Democrats are using for the aid bill. So-called reconciliation bills exclude non-fiscal items, and Biden said in a CBS interview that “apparently” the wage increase wouldn’t make the final package.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said Thursday he’s “working hard” with Budget Chairman Bernie Sanders to ensure that the proposal to phase in a more than doubling in the minimum wage to $15 an hour can win inclusion.

After the House votes on the overall pandemic-relief bill during the week of Feb. 22, the focus will shift to the Senate. Democratic leaders have pledged to enact what will be Biden’s first big legislative package by the mid-March expiration of enhanced unemployment benefits.

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