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$1.9 Trillion COVID-19 Relief Package Likely To Pass In House On Democrat Votes Alone

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

The House is on track to pass a $1.9 trillion COVID relief package tonight. The bill is filled with Democratic priorities and expected to pass on Democratic votes alone. It will deliver another round of stimulus checks to millions of Americans, extend additional unemployment benefits to $400 each week through the summer and provide new child tax credits to parents. NPR congressional correspondent Susan Davis is following this story. Hi, Sue.

SUSAN DAVIS, BYLINE: Hey, Ari.

SHAPIRO: So one thing this package won't include is a $15 minimum wage...

DAVIS: Yeah.

SHAPIRO: ...Because last night the Senate parliamentarian said it can't be in the bill. Explain that.

DAVIS: So Democrats are using a very specific set of budget rules to try to pass this bill, so they only need a simple majority of support. And those very specific rules outline what can and cannot be put into this specific type of legislation. Think of the Senate parliamentarian like the umpire who gets to call the balls and strikes on what's in and out of order. And the parliamentarian basically said a wage hike is not an order based on Senate budget rules that require policies to have a major impact on the federal budget.

So we don't really know the exact details of her ruling. This is a very opaque process. It plays out behind closed doors. There's not much disclosure on it. But budget experts say it's likely because a minimum wage hike obviously would have a major impact on businesses and on workers. It doesn't primarily affect the government's budget.

SHAPIRO: And so how have Democrats responded to this ruling?

DAVIS: Not good. Not good. They're not - they're angry. There's a lot of anger, especially from progressive Democrats. This is a very common reaction we heard today from Pramila Jayapal, who's the chair of the House Progressive Caucus.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRAMILA JAYAPAL: The issue here is we made a promise to raise the minimum wage. We now have to deliver on that promise to 27 million Americans who are not going to be much convinced when we go back in two years and say sorry, the unelected parliamentarian told us we couldn't raise the minimum wage.

DAVIS: The challenge Democrats have is there's really not much they can do about it. You know, Senate Democrats could go so far as to try to fire the parliamentarian. That's happened in the past. Or they could vote to overrule her. But there appears to be no interest for either of those extreme measures from either Senate leaders or the White House. Speaker Pelosi has said the House will take up a standalone minimum wage hike, but, you know, we believe Democrats can pass in the House. But again, it's going to hit this wall in the Senate because it doesn't have the 60-vote supermajority it would need to pass as a standalone bill.

SHAPIRO: All right. Well, this bill, even without the minimum wage hike, has a lot in it. And it's going to the Senate after the House vote. What is the timeline there?

DAVIS: You know, the irony here is taking the wage hike out of the bill probably has made it easier to get it through the Senate because there had been resistance to it from more moderate Democrats, like Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, who are otherwise on board for the package. So without it, the bill appears to be on a glide path to a vote next week. It'll probably have to go back to the House for a final vote. There's no indication any Republican's going to vote for it, so it's probably going to be a squeaker on a 50-50 margin and require Vice President Harris' vote to break the tie. Democrats want to get it to Biden by March 14 because that's when current extended unemployment benefits expire.

But, Ari, like, look at the big picture here, right? Like, this is a nearly $2 trillion bill filled with Democratic spending priorities. It's one of the most expensive spending bills in American history. It's the top priority for the Biden administration. So on the whole, I think Democrats see this bill as a major victory, especially early in this new Democratic-controlled Washington. And many policies in this bill, like those stimulus checks and like money to get those schools reopened, are very, very popular with the public right now.

SHAPIRO: NPR congressional correspondent Susan Davis. Thank you.

DAVIS: You're welcome.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.