- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 7, 2021

Sen. Joe Manchin III, the most conservative Democrat in the Senate, insisted Sunday that the $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package that passed without Republican support is not a one-party bill.

“We had an awful lot of input from Republican friends,” the West Virginia Democrat told ABC’s “This Week.” “They had a tremendous amount of input. They just couldn’t get there at the end.”

Mr. Manchin delayed the Democrats’ COVID-19 relief package for about 12 hours before it finally passed the upper chamber Saturday, forcing his own party to cut the weekly unemployment benefits and eliminate a minimum wage hike.

His efforts failed to get any GOP senators to back the legislative package, but he insisted Sunday that the bill is bipartisan, noting that President Biden called 10 Senate Republicans into the White House at the beginning of COVID negotiations.

Mr. Manchin faced criticism from liberals in his party over his push to cut a $15-an-hour minimum wage hike from the COVID bill. He said he supports a hike to $11.

“Not one senator out of 100 doesn’t want to raise the minimum wage,” Mr. Manchin told CNN, as he made his way through a number of Sunday talk show interviews.

But the red state Democrat said the minimum wage debate didn’t belong in the COVID relief legislation.

“We need to find a way to work together. That’s all I’m trying to do,” Mr. Manchin told Fox News Sunday.

The Senate approved a $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill Saturday in a party-line vote, advancing Mr. Biden’s top legislative priority after an all-night partisan showdown over the massive spending.

The bill could land on Mr. Biden’s desk as soon as next week and allow him to send $1,400 checks to most Americans, dole out $350 billion to states and local governments and enact policy goals such as expanding Obamacare subsidies.

Senate Democrats forced through the bill in a 50-49. They used a process known as budget reconciliation that precludes filibusters and enabled Democrats to pass it without Republican support.

The package made several changes to the House-passed bill, including reducing the boost to unemployment benefits from $400 per week to $300. The package now goes back to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s chamber, where it is expected to pass next week and then to Mr. Biden for his signature.

The rescue package includes the stimulus checks for individuals making under $75,000 and couples making under $150,000. The bill would provide $130 billion for K-12 schools, nearly $40 billion for colleges, $15 billion for loans to small businesses, $14 billion for vaccine programs and $8.4 billion for rural hospitals.

Republicans objected to what they called excessive and scattershot spending. They said just 10% of the money goes to COVID-19 related issues and squanders the rescue spending on an economy that already is rebounding, pointing to Friday’s unemployment report that showed 379,000 jobs added to the economy last month.

They also balked at the $350 billion going to states such as California that have posted budget surpluses despite predictions that the pandemic lockdowns would dramatically shrink state tax revenues.

• Alex Swoyer can be reached at aswoyer@washingtontimes.com.

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