Minimum wage may not go up, but expect stimulus checks in April

Jon Lieber, Managing Director of the United States for the Eurasia Group, shares his insights on US politics in Washington, DC:

Is the minimum wage going to $15 an hour?

Probably not. The House of Representatives did include it in the stimulus bill that they're going to pass as soon as next week, but when it gets over to the Senate it's likely to either be stripped out altogether because of a provision of the reconciliation process known as the Byrd Rule, or you could see some moderate Senate Democrats try to push a compromise measure which would raise the minimum wage from $7.25 an hour to something closer to $10 or $11 an hour.


$15 an hour minimum wage at the federal level was considered unthinkable just five years ago, but since that time you've seen a lot of states and many cities adopt $15 an hour as a minimum wage. However, for a lot of rural areas of the country where wages tend to be lower, $15 an hour is considered quite expensive for a number of small businesses. So, you've got the senator from Arizona, Kyrsten Sinema, and the senator from West Virginia, Joe Manchin, who remain opposed and may try to push a compromise if they can get it through the procedural hurdles.

When will my stimulus check get here?

Probably in mid-April. If you are one of the Americans who's filed your taxes electronically with the IRS, they have your bank account information on file. And as soon as the Biden stimulus plan passes, which we think will happen probably sometime early March, it'll take Treasury a couple of weeks to get the systems up and running, get those checks out the door. You should see a nice little bonus payment in your pay in your bank account in April.

Does anyone care about the federal deficit?

With President Biden and most congressional Democrats rallying around $1.9 trillion in new deficit finance stimulus this year, that'll bring the total of deficit finance stimulus to about $5 trillion over the last 12 months, which is roughly a quarter of the US economy. Again, unthinkable amounts of money that could never have happened in a previous political era. But when the US government is borrowing around 1% on the 10 year note, that gives a lot of fiscal space for Congress to reply to the emergency of the coronavirus in unprecedented ways. Politics here could shift, however, this year. The Republican party is back in the minority, and as the opposition party, they successfully made a big deal out of the deficits that were being run up early in the Obama administration and came into power on the Tea Party wave as a result. We'll see if that evolves this year. I think the politics really have shifted over the last 10 years with the Fed providing easy money and no inflation in sight.

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University of British Colombia professor Edward Slingerland says drinking makes us feel good and has historically encouraged socializing. But there are negative implications, as well. We now have the problem of "distillation and isolation": getting as much booze as you want and drinking alone, especially during the pandemic. There's a gender issue too: the "bro culture" associated with alcohol can exclude and even be dangerous for women. Not all regions have the same problems, though, as drinking habits vary widely. Watch Slingerland's interview with Ian Bremmer on GZERO World.

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An Olympian refuses to return home to Belarus and an anti-Lukashenko activist has been found dead in Ukraine. What's going on?

Yeah. That anti-Lukashenko activist was found hanged in a park in Kiev. Once again, not exactly likely a suicide. These anti-Lukashenko activists have a way of turning up injured or dead. It's a horrible regime. Their friends are limited largely to the Russians. That's about it. The economic pressure is growing from Europe, from the United States, very coordinated. But the problem is a very hard to do much to Lukashenko when he has not only support of his military, but also the support of most of the workers in the country who aren't prepared to strike because they want to ensure they still have jobs. I expect this is going to continue, but human rights abuses are stacking up. It is nice to see that the Americans and the Europeans are coordinating policy as well as they have been.

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Since then, Lebanon's already-dire economic and financial crises have only intensified. The Lebanese pound, the national currency, has plummeted, losing 90 percent of its value since 2019, when the country's economic crisis erupted. And more than 50 percent of the population is now living below the poverty line.

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The flurry of activity comes after earlier concerns that President Joe Biden was neglecting Southeast Asia, the region where US-China rivalry is the most intense. To understand better what Austin's visit meant, and what comes next, Eurasia Group's lead Southeast Asia analyst Peter Mumford spoke to us from Singapore.

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