The Senate parliamentarian may be the best friend taxpayers have in Washington. Elizabeth MacDonough may not be a household name, but her rulings on what can be included in the pandemic relief bill under the rules are saving taxpayers billions of dollars.
She ruled against adding a $15 an hour minimum wage last week, upending the whole Democratic agenda. Now, MacDonough has ruled against two big-spending projects that could save the taxpayers up to $3 billion.
The Seaway International Bridge connects New York to Ontario and is a vital artery. But it has nothing to do with the pandemic, so the $1.5 million dedicated to it has been axed from the relief bill.
Also, an extension to the BART subway system in San Francisco which would have cost taxpayers $1.45 billion was nixed for the same reason. The extension is known as “Pelosi’s subway” on the Hill, although the speaker’s district is miles from where the extension would be.
The removal of the wage hike and several of these extraneous spending projects, as well as a phase-out in eligibility for the individual stimulus checks, have cleared the way for a united Democratic Party to pass Joe Biden’s pandemic relief bill.
Biden signed off on moderate Democrats’ demand to phase out the checks more quickly, the aide said. The bill’s $1,400 payments will now phase out completely at $80,000 per year for individuals and $160,000 for joint filers; the phase-outs will start at $75,000 and $150,000 respectively. But the bill will retain $400 in extra weekly unemployment payments through August rather than cut them to $300, as suggested by Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.).
That breakthrough has Democrats ready to press forward on Biden’s bill as soon as possible. Biden urged the party to “swallow” provisions they don’t like during a virtual lunch meeting on Tuesday, according to one Senate Democrat. Moderate senators could offer their $300 weekly proposal as an amendment later this week, while Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) said he plans to force a vote on a $15 hourly minimum wage.
Sanders will seek approval on a plan that would penalize large corporations for not paying their employees the $15 minimum wage and give a tax incentive to small businesses that pay it. Although the proposal has attracted some Republican support its success isn’t guaranteed.
Meanwhile, Republicans are plotting to see just how painful they can make this vote for Democrats.
Senate Republicans are debating how painful to make things for Democrats, possibly by dragging out the marathon of unlimited amendments overnight. That would likely happen late on Thursday and run into early Friday morning.
“I’m hoping for infinity. There are people talking about trying to set up a schedule and having it go on and on,” said Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.).
Paul said some in his party want to push the debate well past Thursday and keep adding amendments into Friday, while he has suggested to Schumer to spread the pain over two days.
The bill seems destined to pass some time during the second week of the month.