Adam S. Olsen- Washington, D.C.
February 12, 2021

The House met at 9:30 a.m. in a pro forma session while budget reconciliation markups continue as the groundwork is laid for the COVID relief package.  A dozen House committees are working on different elements of President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion rescue proposal and the committees plan to complete their work on Friday, with the full House voting on the overall package the week of February 22nd.  The Energy and Commerce Committee begins its markup at 11 a.m. and the Oversight and Reform Committee markup begins at 12 p.m.  Yesterday, the House Ways and Means Committee advanced legislation that would infuse households with hundreds of billions of dollars of cash through direct payments and tax credits, a key plank of President Biden’s relief package.  The panel on Thursday approved measures providing $593.5 billion in benefits, most of which is made up of $1,400 stimulus payments, along with advance tax credits for children that will be sent to households on a monthly basis. The measures passed on a 24-18 party-line vote, and despite bipartisan support for Democrats’ effort to pass the relief for struggling Americans, Republicans on the Ways & Means Committee introduced an amendment to cut benefits for millions of unemployed Americans.

As the budget process plays out in the House, Democrats are confronting a growing intraparty dispute over whether the relief bill they are crafting should include a $15-an-hour federal minimum wage, a top progressive priority for years.  Two disagreements are brewing between Democrats: first, a procedural dispute over whether Senate rules even allow them to include it in the coronavirus relief bill. And second, a policy division over whether a nationwide wage floor of $15 an hour is too high.  The Democratic-controlled House Education and Labor Committee approved a COVID relief bill early Wednesday that includes a wage hike from $7.25 an hour to $15, slowly over four years.  Senator Kyrsten Sinema (D-Arizona) said that she does not support increasing the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour as part of the relief package that Congress is considering.  Opposition to the $15 minimum wage provision from Sinema and Senator Joe Manchin (D-West Virginia) — another moderate Democrat who has huge influence in a 50-50 Senate — is a major blow to President Biden’s hope of passing it via budget reconciliation, which would allow the Senate to circumvent the usual 60-vote threshold.  Negotiations continue, and the likelihood of COVID relief passing by reconciliation remains excellent.  NYT: What to Tell the Critics of a $15 Minimum Wage.

At noon, the impeachment trial of former President Donald John Trump resumes in the Senate.  Lawyers for the former president will kick off his defense arguments Friday, one day after House managers wrapped up their case.  They argued that Trump’s statements prior to and at the January 6 “Stop the Steal” rally directly motivated the rioters to storm the Capitol and that his lack of remorse for the violence necessitates his conviction. They warned that acquittal risks Trump or a different future president again stoking political violence.   Trump’s legal team plans to use only one day for arguments and to wrap up its presentation by Friday evening.  Trump lawyer David Schoen said his team’s arguments could be as short as three to four hours, or less, meaning that the trial could move to its question-and-answer phase as early as Friday afternoon.  In that phase, senators are able to question the two sides for four hours by submitting written questions to Senator Patrick Leahy, (D-Vermont), the Senate president pro tempore, who is presiding over the trial and who will read them aloud.  The short allotment used by the Trump legal team means the trial is likely headed to a quick conclusion. And because neither side is expected to request witnesses, closing arguments — and a final vote on conviction — could happen before the weekend is over, a quick resolution as we are just 24 days into the Biden Administration.

Adam S. Olsen, Washington, D.C.