The Senate passed a $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package Saturday, capping off a marathon overnight session after Democrats resolved internal clashes that threatened to derail President Joe Biden’s top legislative priority.
The final vote was 50-49 along party lines, with every Republican voting “no.” It came after Democrats voted down a swath of Republican amendments on repeated votes of 50-49 to avoid disrupting the delicate agreement between progressive and moderate senators.
Any standalone, substantial minimum wage bill will face a filibuster requiring 60 votes to overcome it. Despite the White House fantasizing that Republicans might support a serious minimum wage increase, there probably are not 10 GOP senate votes to break such a filibuster.
Meanwhile, if Democrats try to attach a minimum wage increase to a bill that Republicans actually really want to vote for — say, the National Defense Authorization Act — Republicans could move to simply strike it out of that underlying bill, which enough conservative Democrats might agree to, and then the GOP would vote en masse for final passage of the stripped-down legislation.
Everyone in Washington knows this script, so a move to attach a minimum wage to a bill like this would likely be a performative gesture, but not a legislative victory.
Money managers are lobbying to scrap a Trump-era rule that makes it difficult for 401(k) plans to invest in socially focused funds.
The Labor Department rule, announced in October, imposed restrictions on what can and can’t be offered as company 401(k) funds. One result is that plans can’t use funds with nonfinancial goals as default investments for employees.
That means 401(k) overseers and managers need to show that environmental, social and governance strategies can boost financial returns—a challenge for the nascent industry. ESG-focused funds are a growing profit center for asset managers.
Lobbyists representing managers, pensions and retirees began making calls to the Biden transition team in the weeks after the rule was announced. Some lobbyists urged the incoming administration to agree not to enforce the rule and place it under review, said people familiar with the matter.
Warren is spending this week talking up her “Ultra-Millionaire Tax Act.” It’s essentially a refreshed version of the same idea she proposed during her failed bid for the Democratic presidential nomination. The current measure, like the old one, would tax the net worth of American households with more than $50 million in assets to the tune of 2 percent annually, with an additional 1 percent tax for households worth more than $1 billion. Warren favored the wealth tax in 2019 when the economy was generally doing pretty well. But now, she says, it’s needed “because of the changes in this country under the pandemic.”
Still, a higher minimum wage puts pressure on smaller businesses that can’t raise wages as easily as large companies, which can adapt by deploying labor-saving technology or modestly adjusting hours for large workforces, said Jonathan Meer, an economist at Texas A&M University.
“It’s a lot harder for Joe’s Hardware,” he said. “We should take note that Amazon — the place with no cashiers — is the one calling for a higher minimum wage.”
Fewer than 250,000 people in the nation’s workforce of 140 million last year were paid exactly the federal minimum wage, which hasn’t changed since 2009, the Labor Department said last week.
The Senate parliamentarian approved provisions in Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion pandemic-relief bill aiding multi-employer pensions and providing laid-off workers with health-care premium subsidies.
Senate parliamentarian Elizabeth MacDonough has found that provisions bailing out multi-employer pensions and providing laid-off workers with health-care premium subsidies are eligible for the simple-majority process Democrats are using to pass the pandemic-relief bill.
“This economic crisis has hit already struggling pension plans like a wrecking ball, and the retirement security of millions of American workers depends on getting this package across the finish line,” Senate Finance Chair Ron Wyden said in a statement after his office said the parliamentarian made the two approvals.
I expect some big institutional changes to be coming our way soon. One favorite debate, at least according to the editorial page of the Financial Times, is the trade-off between efficiency and resilience. Buying all your goods from China, including PPE, may be efficient—but if you have a global pandemic, then it means that you’re not so resilient. Or, if you live in Texas, cheap energy is great when you blast your air-conditioning every August when it’s 110 degrees outside, but if there’s a crazy cold snap and your power gets shut off, you see that your system is actually not that resilient at all.
We already see the Biden administration taking on resiliency, as he is trying to revive domestic manufacturing. And we can expect some soul searching in Texas as well. But I’m not convinced that we’ll get the big overhaul, because the problem with resiliency is that it can be extremely expensive, and once we forget about the shock, we don’t want to pay for it anymore. It’s expensive if you define resiliency as the ability to seamlessly handle a once-in-a-lifetime tail risk that you never saw coming. People like cheap power and goods, and those things help the economy grow.
On Saturday, a measure to give troubled multiemployer pension plans assistance from the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC) passed the House of Representatives, as part of a larger $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package from President Joe Biden.
The federal stimulus package, which includes $1,400 checks for many Americans and increased funding for vaccines, also holds the Emergency Pension Plan Relief Act of 2021 (EPPRA), an update to the Butch Lewis Act. It’s a bill that lawmakers expect will help stabilize the multiemployer pension plans that are in danger of insolvency.
Of the more than 10 million multiemployer plan participants, about 1.3 million are in plans that will soon run out of money.
Aid to states and cities. Cost: $350 billion. This money would offset lost tax revenue and help mayors and governors “mitigate the fiscal effects stemming from the public health emergency,” according to draft legislation. it’s clearly related to the pandemic, so it counts as relief, but it might also be more than states and cities need, since government revenue has held up better than expected during the last 12 months.
Pension relief. Cost: $74 billion. This money would address longstanding problems at roughly 1,400 underfunded pensions covering 10 million workers and retirees, most of them belonging to unions. A government agency called the PBGC is supposed to backstop pensions that run short of money, but it, too, is drastically underfunded and poised to collapse in coming years. The money in the House bill would bail out the riskiest pensions, but it’s controversial because it’s not paired with needed reforms—and it’s not specifically related to problems caused by the pandemic. This could be one provision that doesn’t survive the Senate.
However, herd immunity will take months to achieve, and the sheer scale of infections in America dictates that covid-19 will not be under control for some time. In order to see where the pandemic is currently most severe across the nation, we have created an interactive map of covid-19 cases and deaths. It divides America into 500 areas. For each of these it shows cases and deaths per 100,000 people, so that infection and death rates in, say, New York City and its surrounds (population 40m) can be compared with those in Ironwood, Michigan (population 27,000).