The U.S. House of Representatives is expected to pass a $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief plan with $1,400 stimulus checks for most Americans on Friday before sending the legislation to the Senate for consideration.
The legislation includes $1,400 direct payments for individuals making up to $75,000 a year and married couples earning up to $150,000 a year. The new plan has a faster phase-out than in previous proposals, capping payments at $100,000 for individuals and $200,000 for couples.
The House bill would also extend the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance and Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation programs through Aug. 29 and increase weekly federal benefits from $300 to $400.
Democrats are hoping to pass the stimulus deal into law before Mar. 14, the day that $300 weekly unemployment benefits approved in December's coronavirus package expire. That timeline has added to lawmakers' desire to use the reconciliation process, which allows for "expedited consideration" of legislation on spending, taxes and debt.
Around 11.4 million workers could lose their unemployment benefits between Mar. 14 and Apr. 11 unless Congress passes the bill before the mid-March deadline, a study by The Century Foundation found.
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, a Maryland Democrat, said the House will vote on President Joe Biden's stimulus package on Friday. The legislation is expected to pass along party lines; Democrats hold a 221-211 majority in the chamber.
"The American people strongly support this bill, and we are moving swiftly to see it enacted into law," Hoyer tweeted on Wednesday. If the bill passes the House as expected, it will then head to the Senate.
Minimum wage hike runs into roadblock
But one of the most debated portions of the bill ran into a roadblock after Elizabeth MacDonough, the Senate parliamentarian, ruled on Thursday that the stimulus deal including a federal minimum wage increase to $15 per hour can't be passed in the Senate under reconciliation.
That ruling says a deal including a minimum wage hike would require 60 votes in the Senate - where Democrats hold a narrow 50-50 majority with Vice President Kamala Harris serving as a tiebreaker.
Once passed in the House, reconciliation would have allowed Democrats in the Senate to bypass the 60-vote requirement for advancing the legislation including a minimum wage hike without a filibuster. Instead, under the process, they could have passed that deal with a simple majority - paving a path for the bill to become law without needing any Republican votes. The bill without a minimum wage increase can still pass under reconciliation.
The Byrd rule, which is interpreted by the Senate parliamentarian, outlines that the reconciliation process can only be used for provisions related to the federal budget. MacDonough ruled the minimum wage increase didn't apply under the rule.
The minimum wage hike is one of the main points of contention in the stimulus deal and has faced opposition from many Republicans - and Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, who has said he supports raising the minimum wage to $11, and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, who has signaled opposition to raising the minimum wage through the reconciliation process instead of requiring 60 votes for passage.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a California Democrat, said the minimum wage provision would be kept in the House's version of the stimulus plan regardless of MacDonough's ruling, as it only applies in the Senate.
"House Democrats believe that the minimum wage hike is necessary. Therefore, this provision will remain in the American Rescue Plan on the Floor tomorrow," Pelosi said on Thursday. "Democrats in the House are determined to pursue every possible path in the Fight For 15."
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, a New York Democrat, also expressed his disappointment in MacDonough's decision.
"We are deeply disappointed in this decision. We are not going to give up the fight to raise the minimum wage to $15 to help millions of struggling American workers and their families. The American people deserve it, and we are committed to making it a reality," Schumer said.
Some Democrats, including Reps. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota and Pramila Jayapal of Washington state, have voiced support for overruling the parliamentarian's decision - or firing her, as happened in 2001 when Senate Republicans were told they couldn't pass tax cuts under the reconciliation process.
But White House press secretary Jen Psaki said that Biden "respects the parliamentarian's decision and the Senate's process," The Washington Post reported.
"He will work with leaders in Congress to determine the best path forward, because no one in this country should work full time and live in poverty," Psaki said. "He urges Congress to move quickly to pass the American Rescue Plan."
Strong opposition from Republicans
Some Republicans have balked at the cost of the package and called for more "targeted" relief for families during the pandemic, while others have criticized the legislation for being "partisan."
"The partisan bill Democrats are preparing is stuffed with non-COVID-related liberal goals and more band-aid policies as if the country were going to stay shut down another year," Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, said on Monday.
Sen. Mitt Romney, a Utah Republican, called the legislation a "clunker" in a Wall Street Journal op-ed.
"It would waste hundreds of billions of dollars, do nothing meaningful to get kids back to school, and enact policies that work against job creation," Romney wrote.
Other GOP senators have indicated they won't vote for the legislation.
"What we're looking at now is whether there are changes that we could make. But I would be surprised if there was support in the Republican caucus if the bill comes out at $1.9 trillion even if we're able to make some beneficial changes," Sen. Susan Collins, a Maine Republican, said on Tuesday, according to The Hill.
Romney and Collins were part of the group of Republicans who met with Biden to propose a $618 billion counteroffer to his stimulus deal.
Biden has urged Republicans to support the relief deal.
"Critics say that my plan is too big, that it costs $1.9 trillion," Biden said last week during a speech in Michigan. "Let me ask them: What would they have me cut? What would they have me leave out? Should we not invest $20 billion to vaccinate the nation? Should we not invest $290 million to extend unemployment insurance for the 11 million Americans who are unemployed so they can get by?"