Senate Democrats are hopeful they can complete action on the COVID-19 relief/reconciliation legislation sometime late this week. The goal is to have a package on the President’s desk before extended unemployment runs out on March 14, 2021.
There was a major setback for advancing a minimum wage increase as part of the package on Thursday evening. The Senate parliamentarian ruled that, as proposed, it would be in violation of the “Byrd” rule. The Byrd rule, named after Senator Robert Byrd (D-WV), narrows what can be included in a Senate version of reconciliation even if included in the House version. Despite the setback, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) kept the provision in the House measure.
Last week was taken up by ongoing negotiations as first the House Budget Committee, and then the House Rules Committee assembled the multiple committee pieces into one bill. The biggest challenge has been assembling a bill that includes all the elements while also not running into roadblocks due to the Byrd rule and other reconciliation process limitations. At the same time, House and Senate Democrats have tried to navigate how to keep all 50 Senate Democrats on board. It appears unlikely any Senate Republican will vote for the legislation. This has resulted in an intensive debate over critical pieces beyond the minimum wage increase, including how to construct the state and local relief.
The House bill could be subject to further modifications during the Senate debate. If all goes as scheduled this week, the Senate will hold their 20 hours of debate this week (ten hours each side) with hours of votes on dozens of amendments once debate time expires. It will likely have to go back to a second House vote once differences are negotiated.