March began with a Senate showdown over the third stimulus COVID-19 bill. President Biden’s goal for his first 100 days in office was to tackle the monstrous COVID-19 pandemic. However, there seems to be more controversy regarding the current bill—the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021—than any previous stimulus package. This controversy could cause a delay in distributing the third stimulus check and renewing federal unemployment benefits set out to release on March 14.
The bill itself has various components, including a $1,400 stimulus check to individuals, an extension of unemployment benefits and tens of billions in aid for small businesses and nonprofits. The American Rescue Plan of 2021 also includes increases in the minimum wage, bringing it to $15 an hour by 2025. The stimulus bill had passed the Demcract majority house, so why is there any controversy in the Senate over a bill that seems beneficial to everyone?
The Senate argues that the chamber forbids inclusion of a minimum wage increase in the relief measure. Members argue that the relief bill does not align with the reconciliation process, which was first designed to reduce federal budget deficits by changing taxes and mandatory spending. The process involves Congress using fiscal policy to reach budget targets. A reconciliation process cannot be filibustered, so only a simple majority of Senate votes are required to pass the resulting reconciliation bill. Currently, the Senate plans to remove the federal wage increase out of the stimulus package.
The president, on the other hand, is requesting that the Senate initiate the reconciliation process to include the hike in the federal minimum wage.
Aside from the wage debate, there is much more at stake; the controversy could impact the delivery of aid to many individuals. In the House of Representatives, the Democrats have set the stimulus bill to roll out on March 14. This is marked to be the day when unemployment insurance from the previous stimulus bill is set to expire. However, the wage debate will trigger another vote in each of the two chambers on the reconciliation bill. This process could take weeks, leaving people without unemployment insurance indefinitely. Additionally, there are more complicated debates surrounding the roll-out of stimulus checks and the taxation process by the Internal Revenue Service. These components could also affect the delivery of aid.
It is evident that there are so many moving parts to a stimulus bill that need to be addressed urgently.
History has repeatedly shown us how the divide between political parties can interrupt emergency assistance. Yet again, this bill illustrates that there seems to be no middle ground between both parties even in times of crisis, and the American people are paying the cost of it. America’s only hope is to wait and monitor the legislative process.
As March 14 quickly approaches, people are depending on the federal government to act swiftly and effectively. It is up to our representatives to put aside their differences and come to a conclusion, rather than debate a multicomponent bill. Politicians and citizens need to realize what is more urgent at this moment. An increase in the wage would be impeccable; however, individuals who can not even make ends meet need a simple solution—a stimulus check.