Democrats may move forward on coronavirus aid without Republicans: Schumer

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FILE PHOTO: Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) listens during his virtual meeting with retired U.S. General Lloyd Austin, nominated by President-elect Joe Biden to be his Secretary of Defense, at the Capitol in Washington, U.S., December 15, 2020. REUTERS/Al Drago/File Photo

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Democrats in the U.S. Senate will act alone to approve a fresh round of coronavirus stimulus if Republicans do not support the measure, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said on Tuesday, the morning after securing a deal to exert his newly won leadership.

“We want to work with our Republican colleagues to advance this legislation in a bipartisan way. But the work must move forward, preferably with our Republican colleagues, but without them if we must,” Schumer said on the Senate floor.

President Joe Biden has made addressing the COVID-19 pandemic, which has killed more than 420,000 Americans, thrown millions out of work and is currently infecting more than 173,000 people per day, a major focus of his first week in office. He’s calling on Congress to approve $1.9 trillion in spending, on top of the roughly $4 trillion authorized over the past year to address the heavy human and economic toll.

Schumer’s comment comes the morning after top Senate Republican Mitch McConnell, the chamber’s former majority leader, agreed to dropped his blockade of a deal for a power-sharing agreement in the Senate, where each party controls 50 seats. The Democrats have control of the chamber because Vice President Kamala Harris holds the tie-breaking vote.

Biden has called for unity and has urged bipartisan support of his plan, but Republicans have balked at the high price tag and senators of both parties have said they want the package to be more targeted.

The White House has scheduled a call with members of the bipartisan group of lawmakers known as the Problem Solvers Caucus on Tuesday, according to a source familiar with the negotiations. The White House is expected to detail how much money remains in the coffers after previous stimulus packages, in a follow-up to a weekend meeting.

Meanwhile, congressional Democrats are introducing on Tuesday a bill that would raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour, one of the components of Biden’s coronavirus package, raising the possibility that lawmakers could take a more piecemeal approach to the legislation.

Congressional Republicans have traditionally been opposed to such measures. In 2019, only three Republicans voted for a similar minimum wage hike in the House of Representatives. The federal minimum wage has not been changed since 2009, when it became $7.25 an hour.

(Reporting by Makini Brice and Lisa Lambert; Additional reporting by Jarrett Renshaw; Editing by Scott Malone and Alistair Bell)

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