Pelosi Vows to Pass Minimum Wage Increase

February 25, 2021 Updated: February 25, 2021

WASHINGTON—House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said on Feb. 25 that there’s a “very strong argument” to include the minimum wage increase in President Joe Biden’s economic rescue package. She expressed confidence that the $15 national minimum wage will pass Congress despite growing objections.

“I feel that we have a very strong argument and we have a very big need in our country to pass the minimum wage,” Pelosi said during a press conference.

“We will pass a minimum wage bill,” she said, adding that Democrats have been “working on this fight” for years and the increase is “long overdue.”

The Senate parliamentarian on Feb. 25 ruled that the minimum wage increase is not eligible to be included in Biden’s economic rescue package. Pelosi’s comments came before this ruling. 

The decision by Elizabeth MacDonough, the chief Senate parliamentarian, makes it hard for Democrats to pass the minimum wage hike through budget reconciliation under the Byrd Rule—a procedural step for determining the eligibility of a provision to be included in a reconciliation bill.

To fast-track Biden’s $1.9 trillion relief package, Democrats in both chambers of Congress passed a budget resolution early this month to start the reconciliation process that would allow legislation to move forward with a simple majority instead of reaching a 60-vote threshold to break any possible filibuster before coming to a vote.

Democrats can choose to ignore the ruling and go ahead to fulfill a long-standing ambition. A major hurdle, however, still remains to get the wage boost across the finish line. Democrats lack enough votes in the Senate as moderate Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) have expressed concerns about the provision.

Manchin has opposed the $15 minimum wage and proposed to change the amount to $11 per hour. Sinema has also disputed the wage provision, specifically because it doesn’t appear to be a budget item eligible for reconciliation.

The federal minimum wage has sat at $7.25 since 2009. Biden’s relief plan includes a proposal to increase the minimum wage to $15 an hour over five years.

During a town hall on Feb. 16 in Wisconsin, Biden claimed that the minimum wage would have been $20 per hour today if it was indexed to inflation. Fact-checkers hammered Biden for his false claim.

“Today’s federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour, which took effect in 2009, would not be even close to $20 per hour if Congress had decided to link it to inflation. Adjusted for inflation, $7.25 in January 2009 was equal to $8.98 in January 2021,” according to CNN.

“The President included an increase in the minimum wage because he believes it should be—it’s long overdue, and American workers should not be struggling to make ends meet,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said during a press conference on Feb. 25.

Her comments came after White House Chief of Staff Ron Klain said on Feb. 24 that Vice President Kamala Harris wouldn’t attempt to overrule the Senate parliamentarian if she rules that a federal minimum wage increase can’t be enacted through budget reconciliation.

“Certainly, that’s not something we would do. We’re going to honor the rules of the Senate and work within that system to get this bill passed,” Klain told MSNBC.

Manchin earlier indicated that he would support an increase that’s “responsible and reasonable.”

He suggested in his state, West Virginia, the minimum wage could be $11 per hour and this rate could be adjusted for inflation. West Virginia’s state minimum hourly wage rate currently stands at $8.75.

The votes of Manchin and Sinema are pivotal. Without their support, Biden’s rescue plan will fail in the Senate, which is divided 50-50 between the parties, assuming that Republicans all vote to reject it.

Opponents of raising the minimum wage argue that any increase should take into account regional differences. The figure will more than double in states such as Mississippi and Georgia if the nationwide minimum wage floor is applied, potentially harming small businesses and jobs in those states.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) has long championed the $15 hourly federal minimum wage.

“Raising the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour would benefit 32 million workers and would give low-wage workers an extra $3,300 a year,” Sanders said on Feb. 25 on Twitter. “Let’s get it done.”

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