House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and other top Democrats are keeping a minimum wage hike in the latest COVID-19 relief package even though the Senate’s parliamentarian ruled Thursday that the raise should not be included in the bill.
“The ruling from the Senate parliamentarian is disappointing, because raising the minimum wage would give 27 million Americans a well-deserved raise and pull nearly one million Americans out of poverty in the middle of a once-in-a-century devastating pandemic and economic crisis,” Pelosi said in a statement late Thursday.
“House Democrats believe that the minimum wage hike is necessary. Therefore, this provision will remain in the American Rescue Plan on the Floor tomorrow. Democrats in the House are determined to pursue every possible path in the Fight For 15.”
The House plans on voting for the relief package, which mainly draws from a proposal President Joe Biden released before entering office, on Friday.
Elizabeth MacDonough, the chief Senate parliamentarian, said the minimum wage couldn’t be part of the package because Democrats are using a budget process known as reconciliation to ram through the bill since virtually all Republicans oppose it. The process enables Democrats to pass the package in the Senate with a simple majority, avoiding the typical 60-vote threshold.
Republicans note that Congress has passed five relief packages in the past year on a bipartisan basis and argue the $1.9 trillion package includes a number of measures not related to the pandemic, including the wage raise. They cheered MacDonough’s ruling.
“Workers and small businesses face devastating days ahead if a radical $15 federal minimum wage is enacted, hurting most the people Democrats claim it will help. This radical provision will destroy millions of jobs while Americans are desperate to reenter the workforce, redistribute—not reduce—poverty, and significantly increase costs for families at a time when many are forced to tighten their belts,” Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.), ranking member of the House Education and Labor Committee, said in a statement.
“Now that the Senate Parliamentarian has stopped Democrats’ unprecedented efforts, it’s time for House Democrats to do away with this partisan scheme and start working across the aisle to deliver meaningful, bipartisan relief to the American people.”
Some Democrats posited that MacDonough’s ruling wasn’t binding and said Vice President Kamala Harris, as president of the Senate, should overrule her.
“I’m sorry—an unelected parliamentarian does not get to deprive 32 million Americans the raise they deserve. This is an advisory, not a ruling. VP Harris needs to disregard and rule a $15 minimum wage in order. We were elected to deliver for the people. It’s time we do our job,” Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) said in a tweet.
“The White House and Senate leadership can and should still include the minimum wage increase in the bill. We can’t allow the advisory opinion of the unelected parliamentarian to stand in the way,” added Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Calif.).
The White House has signaled it wouldn’t interfere, though.
“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,” White House chief of staff Ron Klain said earlier this week when asked if Harris would try overruling MacDonough.
Biden “respect’s the parliamentarian’s decision and the Senate’s process,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki added in a statement on Thursday.
Biden told CBS earlier this month that he expected the wage hike wouldn’t end up in the final bill because of Senate rules.
Senate Budget Chairman Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) said he disagreed with the ruling, alleging the Congressional Budget Office “made it absolutely clear” that the wage hike should be allowed under reconciliation because of its “substantial budgetary impact.”
While Democrats enjoy a cushion in the lower chamber, with the party holding 220 seats to the GOP’s 211, losing even one Democrat in the Senate, which is divided between 50 Republicans and 50 Democrats or nominal independents who caucus with Democrats, means the party could only pass a bill with support from one or more Republicans.
But no Republican had signaled support for the wage hike, and several Senate Democrats recently announced opposition. The huge hike—the current minimum wage is $7.25 an hour—would drive countless small businesses out of business and make it difficult for others to compete with large corporations, critics say.
Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) this week proposed an increase to $11 an hour.
Sanders claimed that there would have been majority support in the Senate for the hike before MacDonough’s ruling. He said he’d now get to work on adding an amendment that would take tax deductions away from corporations that don’t pay workers at least $15 an hour and provide small businesses “with the incentives they need to raise wages.”