Is A $15 Minimum Wage Dead? Not Necessarily

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Andrew Trunsky Political Reporter
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The Senate parliamentarian ruled late Thursday that a $15 minimum wage proposal could not be included in President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package, but some are still pushing to include the hourly wage increase in the bill.

Many Democrats publicly supported the $15 minimum wage, and the parliamentarian’s decision to exclude it from the bill on technical grounds was seen as an especially tough blow for progressives. But despite the setback, $15 minimum wage advocates have several possible options left on the table.

Several progressive senators have already said they will try to pass a $15 minimum wage through a backdoor, last-minute amendment tied to the relief package. Following the parliamentarian’s ruling, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders said that he would introduce an amendment that takes “tax deductions away from large, profitable corporations that don’t pay workers at least $15 an hour.” (RELATED: Bernie Sanders Blasts Senate Parliamentarian’s Decision)

“That amendment must be included in this reconciliation bill,” Sanders said.

Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden introduced another plan that would impose a 5% penalty on corporations’ entire payroll if they did not pay their workers enough, while simultaneously providing sizable tax credits to small businesses that raise wages for employees.

“Workers have not gotten a federal pay raise in more than a decade,” Wyden said. “We can’t continue to have millions of workers – workers who are disproportionately, people of color, women and essential workers like fast food workers and health home aides – earning starvation wages.”

The provision, which would also provide incentives for small businesses to increase their wages, already has support from several other senators. But it is unclear if such an amendment would garner 50 votes, since some Democratic senators, like West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin, have already said that they are opposed to a $15 minimum wage. (RELATED: Even With The Filibuster, Slim Democratic Control Of Congress Keeps Biden’s Agenda Alive)

Arizona Democratic Sen. Kyrsten Sinema has also said that she is opposed to a minimum wage increase in the relief package, saying that she believed it violated Senate rules and that she would abide by the parliamentarian’s decision.

Sen. Joe Manchin walks through the subway tunnel on his way to the U.S. Capitol on the third day of former President Donald Trump's impeachment trial on February 11, 2021 in Washington, DC. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Sen. Joe Manchin walks through the subway tunnel on his way to the U.S. Capitol on the third day of former President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial on February 11, 2021 in Washington, DC. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Congress could also reintroduce a standalone $15 minimum wage bill, but such legislation would almost certainly fail to get the 10 Republican votes needed to avoid a Senate filibuster.

Some Republicans, however, have called for smaller minimum wage increases, raising the possibility of a compromise. Senators Mitt Romney and Tom Cotton introduced a bill that would raise the minimum wage to $10 while mandating E-verify for workers, and Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley announced Friday that he would introduce legislation requiring billion-dollar corporations to pay a $15 hourly wage.

Such compromises could fail to secure the support of progressives, who have refused to support a minimum wage lower than $15. Their support is critical given the extremely narrow Democratic majority the House and the 50-50 split in the Senate.

“The $15/hr proposal with multi-year phase in is already a deep compromise,” said New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. “$10 an hour is legislated poverty.”

Instead of passing any supplemental amendments or standalone bills, Vice President Kamala Harris could overrule the parliamentarian, which many progressives immediately called for. (RELATED: White House ‘Disappointed’ $15 Minimum Wage Won’t Be Included In Coronavirus Relief)

“I’m sorry – an unelected parliamentarian does not get to deprive 32 million Americans the raise they deserve,” said California Democratic Rep. Ro Khanna. “This is an advisory, not a ruling. VP Harris needs to disregard and rule a $15 minimum wage in order.”

“We cannot allow the advisory opinion of an unelected parliamentarian and Republican obstructionism stop us on delivering on our promise to voters,” the Progressive Caucus said in a statement following the ruling.

Rep. Ro Khanna campaigns with Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders and his wife Jane O’Meara Sanders on March 01, 2020 in San Jose, California. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

The Biden administration, however, has said that it will not overrule the parliamentarian.

Biden “respects the parliamentarian’s decision and the Senate’s process,” the White House said in a statement Thursday.

Senate Democrats could simply fire the parliamentarian like Republicans did in 2001 when the parliamentarian ruled against them. While some, like Minnesota Rep. Ilhan Omar, called for the parliamentarian to be fired, but the vast majority of Democrats are opposed to the idea.

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