Following a Senate decision that prevents the inclusion of the minimum wage increase proposed in his stimulus package, Joe Biden called on the US Congress last Thursday night to "swiftly" pass his COVID-19 relief package. The Biden administration is calling for the $1.9 trillion economic stimulus to be put in place before the round of unemployment benefits and other aid approved in December expires, which could again leave millions of Americans without help.
"We are deeply disappointed with this decision," Senate Democratic Majority Leader Chuck Schumer reacted in a statement. Despite the rejection of minimum wage implementation in Biden's economic stimulus plan, hope remains. His administration promises to pledge not to give up the fight to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour. Now, the next possible move for the Democrats is to try to pass this increase in a separate bill.
In addition to the $4 trillion already approved by former President Donald Trump, the huge new $1.9 million package attempts to encompass it all. This bill includes everything from direct stimulus payments and extending unemployment insurance to reshaping the airline industry, giving new money for vaccines and helping struggling school districts. Criticism has been equally widespread, with Republicans saying the package is too big and wanting something smaller, and adding their view that Congress should wait to see how the pandemic progresses before deciding to inject additional aid. Democrats, on the other hand, show disparity between the more progressive advocates of raising the minimum wage and the party's more moderate opponents. Biden's calls for unity are being tested in the reconciliation needed for this proposal, which, in form, is split between the White House, House and Senate versions. Progress on this plan has exposed the unwillingness of most Republicans to work with the current Democrats in charge. In particular, Democrats have shown that they are not fully unified among themselves, with control of the Senate resting on the tie-breaking vote of Vice President Kamala Harris.
As part of the pandemic crisis, more than 11 million Americans are expected to lose benefits this March. The Century Foundation argues that about 4 million people would lose their financial support in mid-March and another 7.3 million would lose it by the end of the month. The Cares Act, passed almost a year ago in March 2020 and extended in December, was the first unemployment programme to combat the ravages of the pandemic. According to the US Census, more than a third of US citizens have struggled to make ends meet during this crisis. Even so, forecasts for this year point to a remarkable economic rebound supported by the lifting and easing of restrictions imposed to combat COVID-19, as well as an acceleration of vaccine distribution. Coupled with the expected passage of Biden's new stimulus package, predictions for this year point to an improvement in the situation. The Federal Reserve (Fed) points to an economic expansion in 2021 of 4.2% for the US, while the International Monetary Fund (IMF) forecasts an advance of 5.1%. The US central bank has insisted on maintaining monetary stimulus for an extended period of time to support the country's recovery. Aid to states and local governments has been sharply criticised by Republicans. Current Senator Mitt Romney argues that this decision "makes no sense" because it "would create incentives for the mismanagement that got states into the fiscal trouble they are in today". On the other hand, a fortnight ago, a group of Republicans presented a much more modest alternative proposal worth 600 billion dollars, which the Democrats consider insufficient and currently inconceivable.
This whole situation of little consensus will drag on for the next two weeks, adding to the uncertainty caused by the advancing pandemic. In the meantime, Democrats seem focused on working to find a way to get this stimulus package through before 14 March.