1. Effort to Include $15 Minimum Wage in Relief Bill Poses Test for Democrats
WASHINGTON — As Senator Bernie Sanders, the Vermont independent, prepares to take control of the Senate Budget Committee, he is mounting an aggressive campaign ahead of what will be one of his first tests as chairman: securing the support needed to increase the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2025 in a pandemic relief package.
Whether he succeeds will not only affect the jobs and wages of millions of American workers, but also help define the limits of Democrats’ willingness and ability to use procedural maneuvers to shepherd major policy proposals past entrenched Republican opposition in an evenly divided Senate.
President Biden and top Democratic leaders have repeatedly said their first choice is to pass Mr. Biden’s sweeping $1.9 trillion stimulus proposal with bipartisan support. But Republicans are already balking at the scope of the proposal, and raising the minimum wage to $15 is a particularly contentious part of the bill, a progressive priority that draws intense opposition from many Republicans.
So Democrats are barreling toward using a fast-track process known as budget reconciliation to avoid the 60-vote threshold typically needed to overcome a filibuster and approve legislation. That would allow them to pass the measure with no Republican support and Vice President Kamala Harris casting the tiebreaking vote. Both chambers are expected to vote on a budget resolution — a measure that will formally direct committees in the House and the Senate to begin drafting the relief package, kicking off the reconciliation process — in the coming days.
“If that is the case, if that is what we do, we will surely be a minority in two years,” Mr. Sanders said. “We have to keep the promises that we made.”
But Republicans have said that failing to compromise would jeopardize future bipartisan negotiations for a president who has repeatedly called for unity, with a group of 10 Republican senators moving to unveil their own $600 billion proposal as early as Monday in an effort to negotiate with the administration.
And the minimum wage poses a particularly polarizing test: Including it in the package would be an aggressive use of reconciliation, one some lawmakers fear will not be allowed by the Senate parliamentarian. That could force Democrats into even more contentious tactics if they want the minimum wage to pass, setting up a battle between a priority championed by liberals like Mr. Sanders and the further fraying of Senate norms.
“Minimum wage is probably the most controversial of those proposals,” Mr. Sanders acknowledged. “I’m sure every Democratic senator will have some problem with some aspect of reconciliation, I do, others do — I am absolutely confident that people will support our new president and do everything we can to help the working families of this country.”
Other lawmakers, including some Republicans, have argued that the pandemic relief package should be scaled down, with items like the minimum wage provision left for another legislative battle later in the year. Most House Republicans voted against a stand-alone minimum wage bill in 2019, pointing to a Congressional Budget Office report that estimated the provision would put an estimated 1.3 million Americans out of work. Senate Republicans, in control of the chamber, did not take it up.
“That’s an agenda item for the administration, so be it,” Senator Lisa Murkowski, Republican of Alaska, told reporters. “Should it be included as part of a Covid relief package? I think it takes the focus off the priority, which is what is the immediate need today.”
“Hey,” she added, “you get the keys to the car now. And so let’s get some legislation done, but you don’t need to think that you need to get it all in one package.”
Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, bluntly told reporters in January that “we’re not going to do a $15 minimum wage in it” and that Mr. Biden was better off reaching out to Capitol Hill and negotiating a compromise.
Mr. Sanders and Democrats have argued that with jobless benefits set to begin expiring in mid-March, there is little time to win over their Republican counterparts, who embarked on similar reconciliation efforts in 2017 to repeal portions of the Affordable Care Act and pass a sweeping tax overhaul.
But to secure the first increase in the federal minimum wage since 2009, even under reconciliation Mr. Sanders and liberal Democrats can afford to lose little, if any, support from the rest of the caucus.
Several lawmakers, including Representative John Yarmuth of Kentucky, the chairman of the House Budget Committee, have voiced skepticism that the minimum wage provision can prevail through the rules of the reconciliation process, which imposes strict parameters to prevent the process from being abused. Under the so-called Byrd Rule, Democrats cannot include any measure that affects the Social Security program, increases the deficit after a certain period of time set in the budget resolution or does not change revenues or spending.
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3. Can FM rejuvenate the Indian economy? Here are some possibilities
Finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman presents her third budget today—one that she’s said will be unlike any other in a hundred years.
Will she be able to provide the spark that can turn the recovering economy into an engine of growth? ET looks at the possibilities:
1. STEPS TO BOOST GROWTH
- Loosen purse strings to push capital expenditure
- Tax incentives to boost consumption
- Capital injection, bad bank to address NPAs
- Attention to sectors still under stress to avoid K-shaped recovery
2. NEW FISCAL ROADMAP
- Unveil a countercyclical roadmap to give room for fiscal boost
- Continue fiscal relaxation
3. BOLDER FUND-RAISING
- Big-ticket privatisation; a bold PSE policy
- A firm plan for monetisation of govt assets
- No new taxes If needed, monetisation of government deficit
4. MEASURES TO BOOST CONSUMPTION
- Higher exemption limit for all taxpayers, rationalisation of income tax slabs
- Incentives for housing
- Cash vouchers, scheme similar to LTC plan to encourage purchases
5. NEW PLAN FOR BANKING SECTOR
- Create a framework to deal with NPAs
- Create bad bank or asset mgmt co to tackle NPAs
- Dilute govt shareholding in PSBs
- Provide capital; reduce number of PSBs
6. RURAL UPLIFT
- Increase rural spending; more money for key schemes
- More for farm sector; steps for farm to fork
- Lower interest rates for farmers
- DBT for fertiliser
7. MEGA PLAN FOR INFRASTRUCTURE
- Higher infra spending
- Announce large projects
- Infrastructure bonds
- Development finance institution to address funding gap
- New scheme to address discom woes
8. BOOST FOR STRESSED SECTORS
- Relief measures for services sectors
9. HEALTH COVER
- New fund to address health exigencies
- Vaccine distribution plan for all
- Plan to upgrade countrywide health infra