Biden's $1.9 trillion stimulus plan is set to collide with Republicans – and it could force Democrats to scrap measures like a $15 minimum wage

Joe Biden

  • Biden unveiled a large new aid plan, but it may have to be modified substantially to gain Republican votes and faces a difficult road ahead.
  • The president-elect is seeking GOP support for his rescue package to enact it more quickly and make good on his promise of bipartisanship.
  • “I see no way this gets 10 Republican Senate votes in its current form,” a conservative budget expert said in an interview.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

President-elect Joe Biden rolled out a $1.9 trillion federal rescue package on Thursday, a measure aimed at helping individuals, businesses, and local governments weather the economic shock of the pandemic.

It contains an array of relief provisions that Democrats have championed for months in past proposals. They include a $1,400 boost to stimulus checks, $400-per-week federal unemployment benefits, a major expansion of the child-tax credit, assistance to state and local governments, and a $15 minimum wage.

It also sets aside funds to boost food stamps, dramatically ramp up vaccine distribution, and renew a paid leave program through September among other measures. The package is over twice the size of the stimulus law approved by President Barack Obama at start of his term in 2009, reflecting a shift among Democrats on their approach to emergency spending during a crisis.

Biden is seeking to garner 10 Republican votes for the plan and approve it through “regular order,” the usual path for legislation. But it’s already running into early Republican opposition ranging from Rep. Kevin Brady, the top Republican on the House Ways and Means Committee, to Sen. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, the ranking Republican on the Senate Banking Committee.

“Republicans have made it clear they’re not going to go for something of this size,” Jim Manley, a former senior Democratic aide and now a political strategist, told Insider. “I can’t imagine Republicans going for a package like this that includes minimum wage.”

Democrats wield slim majorities in both the House and Senate. The new administration’s attempt to court Senate Republicans may force them to scrap key parts of the plan or shrink its overall size to collect their votes. They could use a special budgetary process to pass it with only Democratic votes, but that creates another set of challenges.

“You’re either left with sitting down to negotiate a package with Senator McConnell or using reconciliation, which is viable but it would take a lot of time,” Manley said.

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Reconciliation may not allow every provision in the Biden plan because it’s restricted to budget matters. Some experts say the $15 minimum wage would not be allowed under rules governed by Senate parliamentarians. It could also be a time-consuming process at a moment the new administration wants to act swiftly to forestall ongoing job losses and thwart the coronavirus.

The GOP fiercely opposed a fresh round of federal spending for many months last year, citing the growing budget deficit after Congress approved $4 trillion in relief spending. 

“I see no way this gets 10 Republican Senate votes in its current form,” Brian Riedl, a budget expert at the conservative-leaning Manhattan Institute in touch with GOP offices, said in an interview. “There are too many poison pills.”

“The danger in going this big for Biden is you might scare off Republicans who could harden in opposition rather than see it as a legitimate starting point,” Riedl said. He added a targeted package with new stimulus checks, funds for vaccines, and reopening schools may amass substantial Congressional support.

Republicans have long opposed a $15 minimum wage. In his relief plan, Biden did not lay out a timetable for how quickly the wage bump would be phased in. The federal minimum wage has not been increased from $7.25 in over a decade.

Biden’s advisors are expressing confidence the president-elect can cut deals with Republicans on a range of difficult issues that have divided both parties for years.

“I don’t want to suggest that Joe Biden and Mitch McConnell are going to see eye to eye on tax policy or healthcare reform or a lot of things,” Ronald Klain, Biden’s incoming chief of staff, said at a Washington Post Live event on Friday. “These are two men who have very different philosophies, but I do think that there are areas where they can work together.”

Some Republicans suggested they would be willing to cooperate with Biden, such as Sen. Lindsay Graham of South Carolina. It remains to be seen whether other GOP lawmakers in Congress express a similar viewpoint.

“I look forward to working with President Biden to get another COVID package. We need it,” Graham told reporters in South Carolina on Friday. “There’s many things in this package I can support. Some of which I can’t. We’re not going to bail out a bunch of poorly run blue states.”

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