(UnitedVoice.com) – In the early hours of Friday, February 5, the US Senate paved the way to pass a controversial $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package on a purely partisan vote. Democrats and Republicans stalemated at 50/50, and Vice President Kamala Harris needed to break the tie. Republicans used what they called a “vote-a-rama” to force Democrats’ votes onto the record regarding highly controversial issues. In total, Republicans forced 40 votes on issues ranging from immigration to the minimum wage.
While many Americans await a $1,400 check, the potential legislation creates concerns among the Federal Reserve and former Obama administration officials. There are no guarantees the House won’t change the bill again as it heads to the lower chamber for approval. Likely, it is far from a final vote.
The process Democrats are using is called “Reconciliation.” It’s a Senate budget tool that only needs 51 votes to pass and eliminates a filibuster. However, the process is meticulous and has limitations. Both House and Senate leaders soon hope to finalize a bill for approval by March, contingent upon Senate Democrats remaining united. That could be a tall order. Sens. Joe Manchin (D-WA) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) say they are opposed to several Democratic measures and want a bipartisan approach.
Bernie Sanders Shocks the Political World – Temporarily Kills Minimum Wage Increase
As the minority party, Republicans were helpless to stop the bill’s passage. However, they succeeded in putting Senate Democrats in an awkward position as they proposed non-binding amendments to the budget package.
The one that passed and is important to small businesses dealt with the minimum wage. Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA) proposed an amendment that would prevent Congress from increasing the federal minimum wage to $15 per hour during the pandemic. Democrats insisted upon raising it immediately.
However, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), who led the push for a $15 minimum wage, said it was not his “intention” to do so “immediately and during the pandemic.” The Democratic socialist said he advocates for a gradual increase over five years. The amendment passed, striking the $15 minimum wage increase from the package.
Federal Reserve Chairman and Former Obama Administration Officials Announce Warnings
According to at least two former Obama administration officials, the COVID-19 relief bill comes with an ominous warning. President Barack Obama’s top economic adviser, Jason Furman of Harvard, and former Treasury official Steve Rattner said the massive $1.9 trillion package could cause serious long-term harm to the US economy.
They advise the Biden administration to hold off on the bill and wait for more evidence to determine what amount of relief is really needed. They also suggested that broad, direct payments wouldn’t help as most people are putting it in savings or paying off debt (which is considered a form of savings). Last week, Federal Reserve Board Chairman Jerome Powell acknowledged the danger. However, he said the Fed would do whatever is needed to combat any reignition of inflation.
Inflation is nearly impossible to stop once it starts. Low-income workers tend to feel the impact most because the prices of goods and services rise significantly faster than wages. Additionally, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) says employment won’t reach pre-pandemic levels before 2025.
Congress Steams Ahead
Earlier in the week, President Biden encouraged Democrats to go big. It appears he isn’t listening to the warning signs, and neither are Democrats.
The process is still in the initial stages, and all eyes are on Manchin, who may be the most influential Senator in Washington, DC. Will he force Democrats to work with Republicans, or will he go against his word and push the bill on a partisan basis? For the moment, the package heads back to the House for approval or revisions to the Senate version.
Stay tuned and hold on tight — this thing may prove to be a roller coaster ride.
Don Purdum, Independent Political Analyst
Copyright 2021, UnitedVoice.com