U.S. Sen. Maggie Hassan is keeping her options open when it comes to supporting certain priorities of President Joe Biden, including raising the minimum wage to $15 and canceling some amount of student debt.
Biden’s $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief bill would raise the minimum wage to $15, just one of many elements aimed at boosting the economy. Speaking on NHPR's The Exchange on Wednesday, Hassan says she instead supports an increase to $12.
(To listen to the full conversation, visit here. Excerpts from the show were edited slightly in this piece for clarity and brevity.)
“I want to understand more about why the minimum wage proposal is included as part of this package. And I'll listen to both sides about this, because we also know businesses have been struggling during the pandemic.”
Still, Hassan agrees with Biden that the economy needs a big boost – beyond the $600 billion package 10 Republicans recently proposed as an alternative to President Biden’s stimulus bill.
“We want the economy not only to rebound from the depths of the deep recession that the pandemic caused, especially at the end of last year,” Hassan said. “But we want it to grow in 2022, 2023, and 2024. And as the economy grows, that then allows us to address our deficit and debt.”
Biden’s package includes many elements the country needs to both defeat the pandemic and revive the economy, Hassan says, including an extension of unemployment benefits through September and substantial aid to state and local governments.
In a party-line vote, Senate Democrats voted yesterday to move Biden’s package forward through the budget reconciliation process, allowing it to pass with a simple majority vote. However, Hassan said, there are still opportunities for compromise. She is hoping to craft a bipartisan solution.
”There's nothing that precludes Republicans from voting for parts of this package or all of this package through the budget reconciliation process,” she said.
“But what is really important here is that we meet the moment with the urgency that it demands and we know that we need to get to work on it now. And that's why we started the process,” she said.
Although not included in his stimulus plan, President Biden has called for forgiving $10,000 in student debt per borrower. Some Democratic leaders, including Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, have pushed for $50,000 of debt relief per borrower. Hassan is not yet sold on either plan.
“I want to make sure that we're targeting it as effectively as possible. But I do understand the burden it places on so many young people and the drag that burden has on economic growth,” she said.
“I want to understand better from President Biden how his particular proposal would work and who would be getting the student debt relief. And I want to make sure that we approach this in as bipartisan a way as we can.”
On Vaccines: More Help on the Way
Hassan said there is a lot more to do when it comes to providing adequate supplies of vaccines but the Biden Administration did get to work quickly and recently secured 200 million more vaccine doses.
“They're also planning to set up 100 hundred sites run by the Federal Emergency Management Agency across the country. And they are recruiting, for instance, retired doctors and nurses to come out of retirement to help administer the vaccines. So there is a lot more they need to do, but they have hit the ground running.”
Hassan said prioritizing front-line essential workers and health care workers is the right thing to do. But others, too, should be prioritized, including teachers.
“There are other essential workers. I believe teachers are essential workers, and I believe that if they were vaccinated, it will help us accelerate the reopening of schools. And so I think that that should be a priority. And I know that in some states it is.”
In New Hampshire, teachers did not make it into the early phases of the vaccine rollout, prompting complaints from the state’s largest teachers’ union, which called for prioritizing teachers among the state’s high-risk first responders.
On Upcoming Impeachment Trial in the U.S. Senate:
Hassan called the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol by pro-Trump extremists a “really serious insurrection.”
And she said reports and videos of the incident led her to believe that President Trump instigated the attack and violated his oath to the Constitution. But she wants to hear arguments from both sides on whether or not to convict Trump of inciting the riot on the Capitol and to bar him from holding office again.
House impeachment managers delivered an article of impeachment against former President Donald Trump to the Senate on Jan. 25, and this week Trump’s legal team filed a brief denying he had instigated violence and challenging the Senate’s constitutional authority to put a former president on trial.
The trial is expected to begin next week.
Hassan dismisses the notion that holding such a trial sets a dangerous precedent, as some legal experts have warned.
“It is really important to protect our Constitution moving forward, because future leaders should understand that they'll be held accountable for what they might do in the last days of office themselves. So this is not only about holding a former president accountable, but it's making clear that we will move to protect our Constitution and our democracy from future attacks as well.”