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WASHINGTON – Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia is perhaps the most outspoken Democrat who shares concerns about the minimum wage increase included in his party’s $ 1.9 trillion coronavirus relief bill – but he is not the only one to have doubts.

As the House prepares to pass the relief bill later this week and send it to the Senate, Democratic leaders will face the calmer but larger group of Senate Democrats who have issues with the legislation . And for Democrats to pass the bill without GOP support, they can’t afford to lose a single vote in their own ranks.

Mr Manchin and Arizona Senator Kyrsten Sinema are the only two Democrats to say categorically they oppose raising the minimum wage to $ 15 an hour by 2025, from $ 7.25 currently. But 10 other Senate Democrats have not signed stand-alone legislation raising the minimum wage to this level, and some have expressed objections to the current structure of the wage increase, paving the way for possible revisions.

“Everyone is going to have things they want to see in the bill, and we’ll work hard to see if we can include those things in the bill, but job number one is to pass the bill.” , said Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer. (D., NY) told reporters Tuesday.

The legislation, which is backed by President Biden and is expected to pass the House later this week, would provide unemployment benefits of $ 400 per week until August 29, send $ 1,400 per person to most households, provide billions of dollars in funding for schools and vaccine distribution, expanding the child tax credit, expanding child care assistance and strengthening tax credits for health insurance.

Democrats broadly back the bill as they wrangle over parts of the legislation, including the length of unemployment benefits and how to target direct payments. But the minimum wage emerged as the most controversial.

Senator John Hickenlooper (D., Colorado) expressed concern about the impact of a $ 15 salary on small businesses and was looking at possible ways to protect small businesses from new labor costs. Some Democrats are considering offering small business tax relief as part of the pay rise.

“I think small businesses should be kept in mind, and I think there are a number of different variations that are offered that help isolate the impact in terms of small businesses,” Hickenlooper said. .

“I think small businesses should be kept in mind,” said Sen. John Hickenlooper (D., Colorado).


Photo:

alexander drago / Reuters

One particularly thorny area is how to raise the minimum wage for workers who earn part of their income from tips, especially waiters and bartenders. The relief bill would raise the minimum wage to $ 15 for all workers and prevent companies from paying tips as low as $ 2.13 an hour, provided those employees earn at least the minimum after the addition of tips.

“If the minimum wage provision is in the bill with the elimination of the tip credit, it would be very difficult for me to support it,” said Sen. Angus King (I., Maine), who is Caucasian with the Democrats and supports the overall increase to $ 15 an hour. He feared that rising labor costs for companies would cause them to downsize. And during the pandemic, “a lot of restaurants are hanging by the thread,” he said.

Worker advocates say the proposed change would mean servers and the like would have more consistent income and less victims of wage theft. The restaurant industry says the current tip structure means many jobs already pay well above minimum wage and the new law would put jobs at risk while restaurants still suffer from the pandemic.

Some Republicans have also shown support for a pay rise, but have not embraced the Democrats’ plan.

“I just want to make sure that what ends up happening doesn’t deter hiring,” said Senator Marco Rubio (R., Fla.).

Democratic Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona may have the most influence with a Senate that is evenly divided between the two parties. Gerald F. Seib of the WSJ explains how they might determine the fate of the Biden administration’s program. Photo: Reuters

GOP Meaning. Mitt Romney of Utah and Tom Cotton of Arkansas on Tuesday introduced legislation that would raise the minimum wage to $ 10 an hour over four years, from the end of the pandemic, and require all employers to use E-Verify, which allows them to verify the immigration status of potential workers.

Meanwhile, Manchin said he would support increasing the minimum wage to around $ 11.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said President Biden supported the $ 15 salary and was waiting to see if it could be included in the package according to Senate rules.

“Senator Manchin and others will have the opportunity to present ideas and proposals, and we will see where this process ends,” she said Tuesday.

To pass the back-up plan, Democrats use a budget-related process, known as reconciliation, which will allow them to move the bill forward with a simple simple majority, rather than the 60 votes that most bills have. law need. This will allow Democrats to pass legislation without GOP Senate votes 50-50, with Vice President Kamala Harris voting for the tiebreaker.

But Senate rules require that measures adopted in the context of reconciliation be directly linked to the budget. It is not clear that the increase in the minimum wage will be considered admissible by the parliamentarian of the Senate, a decision which could be made as early as Wednesday.

Senate Budget Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders (I., Vt.) Said on Monday he was confident the parliamentarian would allow the minimum wage increase and the bill would not be amended to appease more centrist democrats.

“I think we will adopt it as is,” he said. “Democrats will support the President of the United States and the overwhelming majority of the American people want to pass this emergency Covid bill.”

Minimum wage proposal in Covid-19 aid plan divides Senate Democrats

“The overwhelming majority of the American people want to pass this Covid emergency bill,” said Sen. Bernie Sanders (I., Vt.).


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erin scott / Reuters

Some progressive Democrats in the House have said they plan to call on the White House and the Senate to overturn the parliamentarian’s decision if she votes against including the minimum wage in the bill, possibly opening a split within the party. Several Democratic senators, including MM. Manchin and King, are opposed to changing the rules that have historically applied to the process of reconciliation.

Minimum wage isn’t the only area where Democrats are still looking to change the bill. Many Democrats would like to extend improved federal unemployment benefits until September, rather than August, as the House bill does.

“Why would you want to create another cliff in the middle of the August recess?” asked Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D., Ore.)

But making changes to the House bill in the Senate will be tricky, as senators cannot increase the overall price of the bill. Increasing the duration of unemployment benefits by one month would force lawmakers to cut roughly $ 50 billion elsewhere.

“If you were to ask me if I would prefer to extend this unemployment benefit until September, I would say yes,” said Senator Chris Van Hollen (D., Maryland). “But if you told me to get there, I had to reduce the size of the child tax credit, I would say no,” he said.

Write to Kristina Peterson at kristina.peterson@wsj.com and Andrew Duehren at andrew.duehren@wsj.com

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