WASHINGTON—House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said on March 11 that Democrats would continue to fight for raising the national minimum wage to $15 per hour following a failed attempt to include it in President Joe Biden’s economic rescue plan.
Senate Democrats removed the proposal to raise the minimum wage from the rescue plan, after the Senate parliamentarian on Feb. 25 ruled that the provision wasn’t eligible to be included in the relief bill.
“We will persist with the minimum wage,” Pelosi told reporters during a press conference on March 11.
“A low, substandard minimum wage is corporate welfare. It’s subsidizing the private sector not to reward work,” she said.
“The taxpayer is subsidizing the low minimum wage for the private sector” through programs such as Medicaid, food assistance, and housing assistance, she added.
Increasing the federal wage floor was a major sticking point in a push for the $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package, which was signed into law on March 11.
The House earlier passed Biden’s relief package with a federal minimum wage increase to $15 per hour from $7.25, phased in over five years.
Pelosi mocked the Byrd rule, stating that the proposal “did not survive the Byrd rule or the bird lady or whatever it is” in the Senate.
The Byrd Rule, named for late Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va), is a procedural step adopted by the U.S. Senate to determine that all provisions are budget-related to be included in a budget reconciliation bill. Democrats used budget reconciliation for the COVID-19 relief bill, which allowed 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.
In a last-ditch effort, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) sought to insert the minimum wage increase back into the bill but his amendment was defeated last week in a 42–58 vote in the Senate.
The eight senators who voted with Republicans against Sanders’s measure were Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), Chris Coons (D-Del.), Tom Carper (D-Del.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.), Jon Tester (D-Mont.), and Angus King (I-Maine).
The first opposition within Democrats to increasing minimum wage to $15 per hour had come from Manchin, who later proposed $11 instead.
The federal government last raised the minimum wage in 2009, to $7.25 per hour.
“We are not giving up on that,” Pelosi said, adding that Democrats “will find a path” on passing the minimum wage increase.
One-third of small-business owners, however, indicated they would likely lay off workers if the minimum wage increases to $15, according to a recent survey by CNBC-SurveyMonkey.
Opponents of raising the minimum wage argue that any increase should take into account regional differences. Currently, 29 states and the District of Columbia have already adopted minimum wages above the federal wage floor of $7.25, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
In seven states—Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Tennessee, Georgia, and Wyoming—the federal minimum wage of $7.25 still applies.
Small businesses in the Pacific region (California, Oregon, and Washington) and the mid-Atlantic (New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania) are generally supportive of a $15 federal minimum wage, as most of these states already have a wage floor close to that level.
The Congressional Budget Office estimated that a federal $15 minimum wage mandate would lift 900,000 people out of poverty but also result in the loss of 1.4 million jobs nationwide by 2025.