U.S. House passes historic pandemic relief bill amid republican pushback

This past week, the US House of Representatives passed a pandemic relief bill that included a federal wage increase. In the US Senate, Democrats sought to pass it with a simple majority, but Senate Parliamentarian Elizabeth MacDonough ruled against it and decided that the bill needed 60 senate votes. 

Much-needed support for vaccination rollout and medical supplies is being held up by a debate around the proposed $15 minimum wage, with both sides reluctant to compromise. This is unsurprising, which makes it even more frustrating, especially for the people whose health and safety depend on receiving pandemic relief. This debate in the Senate is also relevant to all minimum wage workers, which includes people who work to pay for their schooling, the majority of college students. As time has passed, and tuition has skyrocketed, earnings from minimum wage pay for less and less of the expenses that college students face. $15 per hour would help most students at Grand Valley State University cover their basic needs.

And again, it’s not just the federal wage increase that’s being held up in Congress; pandemic relief is also being delayed. Without money to pay for more vaccinations, or to support small businesses and local and state governments, Grand Valley is far away from returning to normal. As the pandemic continues, we’ll keep isolating and remotely learning, we’ll risk losing members of our community, and students will have a harder time paying for tuition and housing. 

It’s times like these when it’s easy to get apathetic about politics and government. Jokes about how Congress can’t get anything done are as predictable as Congress itself. But upon closer inspection, the idea that both sides of the debate happening in the Senate are equally guilty doesn’t hold up.

Senate Budget Committee Chair Bernie Sanders is already looking for alternative ways to raise wages that might have a better chance of being passed, like incentivizing small businesses or penalizing large corporations by taking away their tax deductions. And despite some outsider Republicans in the Senate like Mitt Romney and Josh Hawley also proposing alternative means of raising the minimum wage, the party leadership hasn’t made any meaningful attempts at compromise. 

Other than calling our representatives– although Gary Peters and Debbie Stabenow, Michigan’s representatives in the US Senate, both support this legislation– there’s not much we can do to affect the current standoff in Congress. However, when midterm elections come around in 2022, we can make sure to hit the polls, so legislation we support can have an easier time passing through the Senate.