Good morning! It’s Friday, February 26, 2021. Election Day 2022 is 620 days away. Election Day 2024 is 1,348 days away.
House poised to pass stimulus package as parliamentarian strips out wage hike
The House is set to vote today on President Joe Biden’s proposed $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package, opening the door for the new Democratic trifecta’s first legislative achievement. But Democratic leaders suffered a pre-emptive blow on Thursday, when the Senate parliamentarian ruled that a minimum wage boost included in the bill will not be able to pass through the upper chamber.
Democrats are using a process known as “reconciliation” to pass the stimulus bill, which makes the package immune to the legislative filibuster — meaning it can be approved with 51 votes in the Senate, instead of 60. But there are limits to what can be included in reconciliation bills: the Byrd Rule requires that the process only be used for budgetary measures and prohibits any provisions that are “merely incidental” to the federal budget to be stripped out in the Senate.
It is up to Senate Parliamentarian Elizabeth MacDonough, a little-known non-partisan official, to decide what can stay in reconciliation bills and what has to go — a process known as the “Byrd bath.” Democrats had hoped to include a provision in the relief package that would raise the federal minimum wage from $7.25 an hour to $15 an hour by 2025, but MacDonough issued her much-awaited ruling Thursday night and said the wage hike did not fit the parameters set by the Byrd Rule.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in a statement that the minimum wage increase will remain in the package that the House will vote on today. That means that the Senate will have to remove the provision when it takes up the legislation next week, and then send back an amended version for the House to approve as well. Democrats are hoping to complete that legislative back-and-forth by March 14, when emergency unemployment benefits are set to expire.
The relief bill will boost the pandemic jobless benefits to $400 a week through August 29; the legislation also provides $1,400 direct payments to most Americans, $350 billion in funding to state and local governments, and $14 billion for vaccine programs, among other measures.
Some House Democrats have urged Vice President Kamala Harris to use a rarely-invoked procedural option to overrule the parliamentarian in her role as president of the Senate and allow the minimum wage increase to stay in the final package. But the Biden administration has already signaled they won’t take that route: White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said in a statement Thursday that Biden was “disappointed” by MacDonough’s ruling, but added that “he respects the parliamentarian’s decision and the Senate’s process.”
There is also one more gambit Democrats will try to include a provision in the package that would pressure companies to raise wages: Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) has announced plans to offer an amendment that would “take tax deductions away from large, profitable corporations that don’t pay workers at least $15 an hour and to provide small businesses with the incentives they need to raise wages.”
However, it is unclear if the amendment will receive enough support to pass. Sens. Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) have expressed opposition to a $15 minimum wage increase, which might have doomed the provision later on regardless of the parliamentarian.
Democrats are operating with the slimmest of majorities in both chambers of Congress: they can’t afford to lose a single member in the Senate (the chamber is tied 50-50, with Harris able to break ties) and can only afford to lose five Democrats in the House. Despite Biden’s hopes of securing bipartisan legislative support for the relief package — which is backed by 76% of Americans, according to a recent Morning Consult poll — no Republicans are expected to vote in favor in either the House or the Senate.
The United States carried out its first known use of military force under President Biden on Thursday. Biden ordered airstrikes in eastern Syria against buildings that the Pentagon said were used by Iranian-backed militias responsible for recent rocket attacks against American personnel. According to unconfirmed local reports, at least 22 people were killed in the U.S. airstrikes.
The House passed the Equality Act on Thursday, approving a sweeping bill that would prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. The measure passed in a 224-206 vote, with three Republicans joining all 221 Democrats in favor. The bill, which has long been sought by LGBT activists, is expected to hit a roadblock in the Senate, where it must receive 60 votes to overcome a filibuster.
Former President Donald Trump will address a major conservative gathering on Saturday. Trump’s speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference, or CPAC, will be his first major address since leaving office last month. According to Axios, he is expected to use the speech to signal his continued control over the Republican Party.
All times Eastern.
President Joe Biden and First Lady Jill Biden will travel to Houston, Texas, in the wake of last week’s winter storms. They will depart at 9:40 a.m. and arrive at 1 p.m. The first lady will visit Houston Food Bank at 1:50 p.m., while the president tours Harris County Emergency Operations Center at 1:55 p.m.
At 3:20 p.m., they will tour Houston Food Bank together and meet with volunteers. At 6 p.m., the president will deliver remarks at the FEMA COVID-19 vaccination facility at NRG Stadium. The Bidens will depart Houston at 7 p.m. and arrive back at the White House at 10 p.m.
Vice President Kamala Harris has no public events scheduled.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken will hold a “virtual trip” to Canada and Mexico. He will hold meetings throughout the day with ministers from both countries, as well as with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Blinken will hold a press conference on the “trip” at 4:20 p.m.
The FDA’s Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee will meet from 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. to discuss the request for emergency use authorization (EUA) from Johnson & Johnson for their COVID-19 vaccine candidate.
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki will hold a press gaggle on the Air Force One flight to Houston with Deputy National Security Advisor Elizabeth Sherwood-Randall.
U.S. public health officials will hold a press briefing on COVID-19 response at 11 a.m. Participants will include Dr. Anthony Fauci, the chief medical advisor to the president; Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; and Andy Slavitt, the White House senior advisor for COVID-19 response.
The Senate is not in session.
The House will convene at 9 a.m. After five one-minute speeches from each party, the chamber will complete consideration of H.R. 803, the Protecting America's Wilderness and Public Lands Act. The House will vote on 29 amendments to the bill and then the bill itself.
The chamber will then begin consideration of H.R. 1319, the $1.9 trillion stimulus package known as the American Rescue Plan Act. A final vote is expected tonight.
The House Oversight and Reform Committee and the House Homeland Security Committee will hold a joint hearing at 9 a.m. on the SolarWinds cyber hack, with testimony from SolarWinds president and CEO Sudhakar Ramakrishna, former SolarWinds CEO Kevin Thompson, FireEye CEO Kevin Mandia, and Microsoft president and chief legal officer Brad Smith.
The Supreme Court justices will meet for their weekly conference today.
The Conservative Political Action Conference, or CPAC, will hold the first day of its annual conference. The day’s speakers will include Sens. Ted Cruz (R-TX), Tom Cotton (R-AR), Rick Scott (R-FL), and Josh Hawley (R-MO); Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL); and Donald Trump, Jr.
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