The Senate passed a budget resolution Friday morning, clearing the way for Democrats to pass a COVID-19 relief bill without Republican support.
Within the budget resolution are reconciliation guidelines that instruct committees to draft COVID legislation. Through this process, the bill would only have to pass by a simple majority in the Senate, meaning Democrats wouldn’t need any GOP votes.
Prior to its passage, several amendments were attached to the resolution, including direct funding for restaurants and the rejection of the $15 minimum wage during the pandemic. It’s important to note that amendments are non-binding, meaning they don’t carry any real weight. The amendments are more about lawmakers forcing others to vote on the record about particular issues.
The amendment to prevent the $15 minimum wage during the pandemic was brought forth by Republican Sen. Joni Ernst. A vote on this amendment potentially could’ve been troublesome for some Democrats who oppose that large of an increase. However, Sen. Bernie Sanders stepped in and noted that Ernst’s amendment prevents the $15 minimum wage “during the pandemic,” a measure that Sanders never suggested. Instead, his proposal calls for an increase over five years.
Sanders said he would vote for Ernst’s amendment because “nobody is talking about doubling the federal minimum wage during the pandemic.” Because of that distinction, the amendment passed, select Democrats were able to avoid a controversial vote, and the war over a minimum wage increase was kept alive.
The other key amendment for restaurants is The Restaurant Rescue Plan proposed by Republican Sen. Roger Wicker and Democratic Sen. Krysten Sinema. The measure passed 90-10 and calls for direct relief to the restaurant industry.
“The Senate made it clear today: it’s time to save restaurants and bars,” said Erika Polmar, Executive Director of the Independent Restaurant Coalition, said in a statement. “There is undeniable bipartisan support across the country for a dedicated restaurant relief fund. The Senate knows that the only way we can fully recover our economy is to ensure neighborhood restaurants and bars can survive and continue employing over 11 million people. We are grateful to Majority Leader Schumer and Sens. Wicker and Sinema for standing with us and tirelessly advocating for our industry. There is more work to be done to make relief a reality, but today’s vote proves that our voices are being heard.”
The amendment confirms Congressional support for direct relief. The budget resolution already included instructions to create a $25 billion grant for restaurants.
The House of Representatives passed the budget resolution on Wednesday, which kickstarted the amendment voting in the Senate on Thursday. Now, the resolution will go back to the House for a final vote.
Separate from the budget resolution, the $120 billion RESTAURANTS Act was reintroduced into the new Congress. The bill, debuting last year, calls for direct relief to small chains and independents. Because the budget resolution includes the creation of a $25 billion grant, it is unlikely that the legislation will be taken up for a vote or included in the upcoming COVID relief bill.
“The bill introduced today finally reflects the unified view that all small restaurants should have access to relief—regardless of whether they are an independent or a franchise of a regional chain,” said Sean Kennedy, EVP of public affairs for the National Restaurant Association, said in a statement. We appreciate the strong bipartisan leadership of Sens. Roger Wicker and Kyrsten Sinema and Reps. Earl Blumenauer and Brian Fitzpatrick, in creating and improving this bill. Their willingness to work with us has strengthened it and ensures that the support it creates will reach into every community across the country.”