After a bruising week for progressive Democrats that ruled out including a minimum wage hike in the $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill, Congressional business on the legislation will continue next week. This is your Washington Week Ahead for the week of March 1.
Former President Donald Trump will speak at the Conservative Political Action Conference, commonly referred to as CPAC, in Orlando on Sunday. It will be his first major public appearance since leaving office and comes after a series of high-profile rebukes from Democrats, including an impeachment trial, while the Republican Party seems divided on how it moves forward. Plus, Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) keeps flip-flopping in his support, pledging to support Trump if he runs for the White House again in 2024, just days after holding him responsible for the January 6 insurrection on the Capitol building. Trump has pledged a return of his Make America Great Again movement and CPAC will provide a friendly platform for that exact messaging, further highlighting the hold he still has on his party.
The Senate will begin debate on the American Rescue Plan on March 1, marking the first time the chamber is officially taking up the latest round of coronavirus relief spending. The nearly $2 trillion rescue package includes $1,400 stimulus checks for Americans, billions in federal relief for state, local, and tribal governments, and a huge bucket of money for vaccine rollout. Because the Senate has a legislative filibuster, the bill must adhere to the Byrd Rule, a parliamentary procedure that allows budget reconciliation legislation to pass without being subject to the filibuster. One thing we know for sure is that the final Senate version of the bill, expected to pass next week, will not include a federal minimum wage increase after the parliamentarian determined it would be against the rules. The current federal minimum wage is $7.25 and has remained unchanged since 2009.
Voting Rights in the Spotlight
Now that the House of Representatives has finished with COVID relief, it’s on to other priorities. In the last Congress, House Democrats passed H.R. 1, the For the People Act, a sweeping election reform bill. It languished in a Republican-controlled Senate. This is a chance for the chamber to try again — but expect a lot of amendments from Republicans, looking to strike down provisions like universal vote-by-mail and extended early voting periods, as well as a national holiday for Election Day. At the same time, the United State Supreme Court will hear arguments on a pair of Voting Rights Act cases that could further erode protections for disadvantaged voters. So in the first week in March, 20 months before the 2022 midterm elections, all eyes in Washington will be on voting rights.