Senate Democrats are growing increasingly frustrated as they try to pressure Republicans into accepting a debt ceiling increase that GOP leaders have forcefully rejected, all while avoiding the political catastrophe of a possible government shutdown next week, according to Politico.
Ane one Democrat, in particular, isn’t mincing words over the stalemate.
“We always do this fucking dance,” Sen. Jon Tester, a third-generation farmer from Montana, told Politico. “I don’t know if people are going to put their sane minds on and do what needs to be done, or shut it down. This is just a ridiculous exercise … I can’t even compare it to anything I do on the farm that’s this stupid.”
If Congress doesn’t act in time to avert the federal default, the financial consequences could send the nation into another recession.
So, while Democrats are eager to keep up their public pressure on Republicans to accept their proposal, in private, the politicians are willing to do whatever it takes to avoid a shutdown. According to Politico, doing so would almost certainly require Democrats to drop a borrowing limit increase from their funding package.
Sen. Mark Kelly of Arizona told the outlet that his party “can’t allow the government to shut down.” Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia echoed his sentiments. And Sen. Ben Cardin of Maryland suggested other alternatives to raising the debt ceiling and securing the spending bill.
“I don’t know which strategy they will use next,” Cardin told Politico. “But I know there are other strategies, if this doesn’t work.”
But time is running out. Democratic sources told the outlet that the Senate is likely to vote on the House-passed funding bill on Monday, where it will almost certainly fail. Just four days later, on October 1, the government is set to shut down.
Sen. Bernie Sanders on Monday said he’s pushing Democrat-only infrastructure package larger than $3.5 trillion, as Senate Democrats kicked off a frenzied legislative period.
“I’m going to fight to make that proposal as robust as it can be,” Sanders told reporters outside the White House after an afternoon meeting with President Joe Biden. He’s pushed for $6 trillion in new spending and shot down a $3.5 trillion price tag that has been floated.
The price tag was pitched by Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia, according to two people familiar with the talks. Both were granted anonymity because they weren’t authorized to speak about the negotiations.
Sanders also said the legislation was a way to show average Americans that the government was capable of improving their lives.
“We want to see a reconciliation bill which shows the working families of this country that government can and must work for them,” Sanders said, referring to the legislative pathway Democrats will use to approve a bill with only a simple majority, skirting Republicans.
He added that the package Democrats are drafting could be among the most transformative since the New Deal era.
“What we are trying to do is transformative,” he said. ‘The legislation that the president and I are supporting will go further to improve the lives of working people than any legislation since the 1930s.”
It comes as Sanders starts deploying a substantial amount of influence as chair of the Senate Budget Committee over the reconciliation process. The Vermont senator has a big role shaping the size and scope of Biden’s tax-and-spending plans, and his committee is tasked with writing instructions on federal spending and taxes to other Congressional committees.
Over the weekend, Sanders told The New York Times he’s pressing for a party-line infrastructure package topping $3 trillion that includes housing, climate, childcare, and paid leave among other new initiatives. That could set up a clash with moderate Senate Democrats like Warner and Joe Manchin of West Virginia who favor a slimmer party-line bill. Manchin has expressed support in the past for a $2 trillion party-line bill that’s fully paid for.
Given talks appear to be in their early stages, several Senate Democrats said they weren’t ready to back Sanders’ large price tag. They are racing to kick off the reconciliation process within the month, but a final bill wouldn’t be passed until sometime in the fall.
Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon, chair of the Senate Finance Committee, deflected when asked if he could support a package of that size. The panel is in charge of drafting the tax components that generate revenue for eventual infrastructure legislation.
“My colleagues and I have been talking all through the break,” Wyden told Insider, referring to the two-week July 4 recess. “We’re going to do some more talking.”
Other Democrats also weren’t ready to throw their support behind the hefty price tag pitched by Sanders.
“Depends on what it’s spent for and how it’s paid for,” Sen. Jon Tester of Montana, a member of the bipartisan group that struck a $1 trillion bipartisan deal with Senate Republicans, told Insider.
Sen. Chris Coons of Delaware, a key Biden ally, demurred as well. “I’m very focused on getting to text on the infrastructure bill,’ he said. “What matters more than the price tag to me is the contents and the details.”
“To me, it’s much more important to try to determine what’s in the package than to start at a topline and work backwards,” Sen. Angus King of Maine, an independent who caucuses with Democrats, said in an interview. “I’d rather say these are the things the country needs and that’s the way I’m going to approach it.”
Democrats hold a 50-50 Senate that relies on a tie-breaking vote from Vice President Kamala Harris. Every Senate Democrat must be onboard the party-line bill or else the effort collapses.
Republicans and Democrats are eyeing a potential increase to the gas tax as both parties entered a chaotic last-ditch effort to strike a bipartisan infrastructure deal after a month of failed discussions between President Joe Biden and Senate GOP
The bipartisan group is in the early stages of assembling a plan they hope will draw at least 60 votes in the evenly-divided Senate. The cohort is equally split between Republicans and Democrats.
It includes Republican Sens. Mitt Romney of Utah and Rob Portman of Ohio, as well as Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona; and Jon Tester of Montana. The group emerged after Biden pulled the plug on negotiations with Sen. Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia, who had been Republicans’ chief negotiator since April.
Romney told Insider on Thursday that the new working group was weighing indexing the gas tax to inflation. The 18-cent levy hasn’t been raised since 1993. “It keeps it at the same value that it has today,” the Utah Republican said.
The White House has previously said bumping the gas tax was off limits given Biden’s pledge to not hike taxes for households earning under $400,000. They did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
But the idea gained some momentum among Democrats when Sen. Dick Durbin of Iowa, second-ranked in the chamber, said he believed it “ultimately has to happen.”
“I look at it as a user fee. We pay taxes on gasoline because we want to drive our cars on safe roads,” Durbin told reporters.
Still, other Democrats in the group like Tester appeared noncommittal. “It’s not one of my favorite things, but we’ll see what the entire deal looks like,” he said in an interview. “I gotta see it in the context of everything, see what stays in and drops out.”
Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia, another Democrat in the group, declined to answer whether he supported it, a sign of the delicate state of the negotiations. “I actually think it’s better … until the cake is fully baked, to keep the ingredients quiet,” he told Insider.
Seth Hanlon, a tax expert and senior fellow at the liberal-leaning Center for American Progress, projected that indexing the gas tax to inflation would generate between $30 billion to $35 billion over a decade.
“It would be borne by consumers,” Hanlon told Insider. “We could get roughly the same revenue by rolling back the 2017 corporate tax cut by a fraction of a percentage point.”
He added that indexing the gas tax could have “modestly positive environmental effects,” though not if it’s only paired with spending focused on physical infrastructure and if it omits climate.
Biden’s two-part economic plans amount to $4 trillion in fresh spending on physical infrastructure like roads and bridges, as well as caregiving, cash payments, universal pre-K, community college, and a wide range of measures.
Both parties remain far apart on the scope of an infrastructure bill and how to pay for it. Other Republicans are increasingly signaling that climate provisions wouldn’t be included in their package.
Biden, along with congressional Democrats, are pushing clean energy tax incentives, a national system of electric vehicle charging stations, and federal funds to retrofit homes.
“If they’re looking for a line item that says ‘climate,’ they’re not going to see that,” Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska said of Democrats.
A few Senate Democrats have stepped up their criticism of the bipartisan talks in recent days, warning that such talks risk omitting measures to combat climate change in an infrastructure deal. Another top Democrat threatened to withhold his vote if climate wasn’t sufficiently addressed.
“On a big infrastructure bill, to pass on climate altogether? No way!” Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon, chair of the Senate Finance Committee, told Insider. “Think I’m blunt enough? No way.”
Although a federal minimum wage increase to $15 an hour didn’t make it into the stimulus bill, Senate Democrats are meeting today to find a way to get it done somehow, a Democratic source told HuffPost.
According to the source, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer will meet with the progressive senators who led the push for the $15 minimum wage increase, including Bernie Sanders of Vermont, Patty Murray of Washington, and Ron Wyden of Oregon. But the meeting will also include all seven moderate Democrats who voted against the $15 minimum wage hike: Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, Chris Coons of Delaware, Tom Carper of Delaware, Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire, Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire, and Jon Tester of Montana.
When the Senate parliamentarian voted against including a minimum wage increase in the stimulus bill, Sanders – who co-sponsored a bill to raise the wage to $15 an hour by 2025 – promised he wouldn’t give up on efforts to get the job done.
“But let me be very clear: If we fail in this legislation, I will be back,” Sanders told reporters on March 1. “We’re going to keep going and, if it takes 10 votes, we’re going to raise that minimum wage very shortly.”
And in a call with reporters on Friday, progressive lawmakers, including Rep. Ro Khanna of California, joined labor leaders and activists to strategize how they could pass a minimum wage increase through Congress, whether by reconciliation or attaching it to a must-pass bill.
“There needs to be a clear plan, a clear strategy,” Khanna told The Washington Post in an interview. “It’s not enough to just say, well, we’re committed to this, we want to get it done.”
Manchin has previously said that a $15 minimum wage increase is too high and advocated for an $11 per hour increase instead. However, Sanders has remained adamant on achieving a $15 per hour increase to lift Americans out of poverty.
“In my mind, the great economic crisis that we face today is half of our people are living paycheck to paycheck,” Sanders said on Twitter on March 5. “And many millions of workers are, frankly, working for starvation wages. Raising the minimum wage is what the American people want, and it’s what we have got to do.”
Eight Senate Democrats broke from the majority and voted on Friday against the $15 minimum wage hike proposed by Sen. Bernie Sanders.
The vote scrapped Sanders’ push for the provision to be added back into the stimulus package being negotiated in Congress, after Senate parliamentarian Elizabeth MacDonough ruled that it should be nixed.
MacDonough ruled that the minimum wage increase violates the “Byrd Rule,” which prohibits “extraneous” policies as part of a reconciliation bill or resolution.
“It is hard for me to understand how drilling for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge was compliant with the Byrd rule, but raising the minimum wage is not,” Sanders said.
President Joe Biden has also expressed support for gradually raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour.
The bill was abandoned in the Senate after eight Democrats voted against the proposal:
Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia
Manchin, a moderate Democrat who holds Byrd’s former Senate seat, had previously expressed disapproval of the minimum wage hike, standing with the Senate parliamentarian MacDonough.
“My only vote is to protect the Byrd Rule: Hell or high water,” the senator told CNN in February. “Everybody knows that. I’m fighting to defend the Byrd Rule. The President knows that.”
Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona
Sinema, another key moderate who had previously thrown cold water on the minimum wage hike, also voted against the proposal on Friday. To represent her “nay” vote, the Arizona senator dramatically voted with a “thumbs-down” to the Senate clerk, sparking backlash from progressive senators.
Despite her “thumbs-down” vote, Sinema said in a statement that she would be open to renegotiating a minimum wage increase “separate” from the relief package.
“Senators in both parties have shown support for raising the federal minimum wage, and the Senate should hold an open debate and amendment process on raising the minimum wage, separate from the COVID-focused reconciliation bill,” Sinema said in a statement.
Sen. Jon Tester of Montana
Tester voted against the proposal on Friday. Manchin said he and Tester hoped the spending in the stimulus package as a whole would be better “targeted” and “helping the people that need help the most.”
Sen. Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire
Shaheen’s office told Boston.com, the news site for the Boston Globe, in a statement that the senator from New Hampshire supports the minimum wage hike, but only with “safeguards” to protect small businesses and restaurants that have borne the economic brunt of the coronavirus pandemic to ensure they “don’t go under.”
“I also think we should work with some of those folks who are affected to help figure out how we can get them through an increase in the minimum wage,” Shaheen told WMUR9. “We have nursing homes in New Hampshire who are having difficulties employing people because of the wage scale.”
Sen. Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire
Another senator from New Hampshire, Hassan, rejected the minimum wage hike proposal. Like Shaheen, Hassan said she supports a separate bill to push the increase through Congress rather than bulking it with the stimulus package.
“Well so there’s isn’t going to be an increase in the minimum wage in this package,” Hassan said in an interview with WMUR9. “That being said, I think it’s really important that we all recognize that people who work 40 hours a week should be able to get by. They shouldn’t be living at or below the poverty level when they’re working hard.”
Sen. Angus King of Maine
King, an independent from Maine who typically caucuses with Democrats, also voted against Sanders’ proposal. He told The Wall Street Journal last week that, while he supports increasing the minimum wage to $15 an hour, he expressed concern that increase labor costs could prompt businesses to make lay off employees.
During the pandemic, “a lot of restaurants are just hanging on by the thread,” he said.
Sen. Tom Carper of Delaware
Two senators from Delaware, Sens. Carper and Coons, were surprising dissenters to the minimum wage hike, especially hailing from Biden’s home state where local Democrats have thrown their support behind such a policy.
Carper threw cold water on the proposal on Friday, citing a need to protect struggling businesses from the increased labor costs.
“I have backed a $15 minimum wage on the federal level for years,” Carper said in a statement to Delaware Online. “At a time when our economy is still slowly recovering, though, policymakers have a responsibility to be especially mindful of the fragile state of small businesses all across this country – many of which are fighting just to stay open during this unprecedented crisis.”
Sen. Chris Coons of Delaware
Like the other senators who dissented, Coons said he was concerned about how the minimum wage increase would impact small businesses.
“Every Democrat and many Republicans agree that the federal minimum wage of $7.25 is too low and has been for too long,” Coons said in a statement to Delaware Online. “It has to be raised. President Biden has called for us to raise it to $15 an hour. I will work with my colleagues on legislation to raise the minimum wage and index it annually.”