President Biden on Tuesday prodded lawmakers to “think big and move big” on his $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package as House Democrats started to advance key parts of his plan, including a minimum wage hike to $15 per hour.
Congressional Democrats insisted that a minimum wage increase is a vital part of the package despite a report this week that found the proposal, which is championed by Senate Budget Committee Chairman Bernard Sanders of Vermont, would cost the economy 1.4 million jobs.
“I think we are in a position to think big and move big,” Mr. Biden said at a meeting at the White House with major business leaders, including the CEOs of Walmart, Lowe’s and JPMorgan Chase.
Under the plan, the current $7.25 federal minimum wage would go to $9.50 this year and then increase annually until it hits $15 in 2025. The federal minimum wage would then be indexed to inflation.
Republicans and business leaders have called it a job killer.
Republicans offered to strike a deal on a narrower package but Mr. Biden said Democrats need to press forward without GOP support.
“I know I have found some common ground with some of my Republican friends — a lot of Democrats as well — so I’m optimistic,” the president said.
The package boasts roughly $1 trillion in direct aid, including direct payments of up to $1,400 for millions of Americans, more than $400 billion to combat COVID-19 and $350 billion for cash-strapped states and localities.
The House Education and Labor Committee on Tuesday took up its portion of Mr. Biden‘s proposal that included $170 billion for K-12 schools and colleges, health subsidies for laid-off workers, and the minimum-wage increase.
“Why in the world would we vote to reduce employment when so many Americans are suffering from the pandemic and desperate to get back to work?” said Rep. Virginia Foxx of North Carolina, the top Republican on the panel.
The Congressional Budget Office concluded this week that the minimum-wage hike would cost 1.4 million jobs, though it would also lift roughly 900,000 people out of poverty.
“Increasing the minimum wage is a way to ensure that workers are pulled out of poverty, that millions of workers who are doing honest work and making an honest living are not living on the poverty line,” said White House press secretary Jen Psaki.
It’s still an open question as to whether the minimum wage hike will survive Senate rules, which limit the kind of legislation that can pass under the fast-track budget tool Democrats are using to thwart a possible filibuster.
“We’re trying to work as well as we can with the parliamentarian to get minimum wage to happen. That’s all I’m going to say,” said Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat.
Mr. Biden‘s activity this week reflects the White House strategy to essentially ignore the impeachment trial of former President Donald Trump — to the extent that’s possible.
Ms. Psaki said Mr. Biden doesn’t plan to follow the trial closely or weigh in on questions like whether impeaching a former president is constitutional.
“A lot of families are food insecure. They are in trouble. That’s my job,” Mr. Biden said at the White House meeting. “The Senate has their job I’m sure they are going to conduct themselves well. That’s all I am going to have to say about impeachment.”
Mr. Trump stands accused of inciting the deadly Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol.
Mr. Biden is expected to make trips to the Pentagon and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) this week as senators hear additional arguments.
Mr. Biden will travel to Wisconsin on Feb. 16 when the trial could be wrapping up.
“His view is that his role should be currently focused on addressing the needs of the American people — putting people back to work, addressing the pandemic,” Ms. Psaki said.