As House Democrats work to pass President Biden’s $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill, Biden has started promoting his next massive recovery package which will center on a major investment in infrastructure.
Senior Democratic officials told The Washington Post this week that the next bill – the foundation of Biden’s “Build Back Better” program – will likely be a wide-ranging job and infrastructure package that could cost $3 trillion or more and could address other priorities such as clean energy, domestic manufacturing and child and elder care.
Work on this next package assumes Biden is able to get his COVID-19 relief bill through a Congress with narrow Democratic majorities. Though congressional Republicans are not likely to support the bill, House Democrats are confident it will pass the chamber next week. A provision in the bill to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour is still a flash point and Biden said this week he is open to phasing in the minimum wage hike gradually. A recent report by the Congressional Budget Office said raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2025 would cost 1.4 million jobs and increase the deficit by $54 billion over 10 years. But it also estimated that the change would lift 900,000 people out of poverty and boost incomes for 17 million people.
The COVID-19 relief bill also includes a new round of $1,400 stimulus checks, and hundreds of billions of dollars for schools, state and local governments, COVID testing and vaccine manufacturing and distribution. The bill would also increase emergency federal unemployment benefits from $300 to $400 a week and extend them into the fall. Expanded unemployment benefits are set to expire March 14, lending urgency to congressional action.
“We can’t spend too much,” Biden said this week. “Now’s the time we should be spending. Now’s the time to go big. Between six months and a year-and-a-half, we can come back. We can come roaring back.”
If it passes the House next week as expected, the bill will have no margin for error in the Senate absent Republican support. Democrats are using the reconciliation budget process to pass the bill with a simple majority and can’t lose even one Senate Democrat vote in the 50-50 chamber. Senate Budget Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders (I-VT) is leading the effort to ensure the minimum wage increase survives what is known as the “Byrd Rule,” a process in which the Senate parliamentarian determines which provisions are eligible for a reconciliation bill. But at least two Senate Democrats, Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ), have expressed opposition to raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour.