EMA Congressional Update: Federal Budget; Minimum Wage; Infrastructure Funding

Congressed passed budget resolutions last week, which will allow Democrats to leverage the budget reconciliation process to pass priority legislation, in this case a COVID-relief package, without Republican support.

President Biden and the White House voiced preference to move a bipartisan agreement package under “regular order,” but maintained that reconciliation remains on the table.

President Biden met with ten Republican Senators to discuss their $600 billion relief proposal. The White House will continue pursuing parallel strategies of negotiations with Senate Republicans and continuing the budget reconciliation process as necessary.

Last week, various House Committees began an approximate two-week process of holding markups to advance reconciliation measures and approve their portion of the Democratic $1.9 trillion COVID relief proposal.

On Wednesday, the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee finalized their $96 billion portion on a largely party-line vote, with only three Republicans joining Democrats.

Republicans offered 60 amendments, including one to showcase the importance of the Keystone XL pipeline, but all amendments were opposed.

Upon each committee advancing their budgets by February 16, the House Budget Committee will incorporate all bills into a large package, which will receive a House floor vote the week of February 22.

The legislation will then be delivered to the Senate for approval. Democrats are working under an expedited timeline to finish the reconciliation process before unemployment benefits expire in mid-March.

Minimum Wage

Minimum wage remains a Democratic priority but faces challenges in the Senate where Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) opposes an increase to $15/hour.

Sen. Manchin said inclusion of a wage increase would cause him to vote against the overall COVID package, thus preventing Democrats from meeting the 50-vote threshold under reconciliation.

The wage increase may not meet certain Senate rules that require reconciliations provisions to be “budgetary in nature.”

The White House has publicly supported an increase to $15/hour, and the House Education and Labor Committee’s approved portion of the budget reconciliation process included this increase.

Infrastructure Funding

While Congressional attention remains COVID relief, Congressional leaders acknowledged the necessity of funding for America’s infrastructure.

Apart from President Biden’s broad infrastructure package priority, Congress must extend surface transportation reauthorization and the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) before the programs expire September 30, 2021.

The U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairman Tom Carper (D-DE) said he plans to pass two major infrastructure bills out of his Committee by June, which many agree will target surface transportation reauthorization and extension of WRDA.

Chairman Carper plans to hold an initial surface transportation hearing in February and will simultaneously be soliciting priorities from Committee members.

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