House to vote on virus bill; arbiter says wage hike a no-go

Brunilde Fioravanti
Febbraio 26, 2021

On Thursday, following the decision by the Senate parliamentarian to rule the $15 an hour minimum wage increase out of order as part of the budget reconciliation process for COVID-19 stimulus, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) announced that her chamber will be holding a vote on the relief package tomorrow as is - with the minimum wage provision still in it.

The Senate parliamentarian ruled that a plan to gradually increase the federal minimum wage to $15 by 2025 does not fit the complicated rules that govern budget bills in the Senate. Senate Republicans are nearly uniformly opposed to the plan and a stand-alone bill to increase the minimum wage, introduced by Senate Budget Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., has 37 co-sponsors, meaning a number of Democrats may not back the idea.

Sen. Ron Wyden of OR, chair of the tax-writing Senate Finance Committee, also said in a statement: "I'm looking at a tax penalty for mega-corporations that refuse to pay a living wage". The current federal minimum wage for tipped employees is $2.13 per hour. Raising the minimum wage will allow Americans filling those jobs to better support their families. To suggest we should raise the minimum wage to only $10 in four year is ridiculous. "These are some of the most fundamental jobs in our Commonwealth, yet because they earn our current minimum wage, they can not afford basic necessities such as rent, transportation, food and prescriptions". There would be a more gradual phase-in for businesses with fewer than 20 employees. That rate would rise to $6 per hour in 2021 under the House bill.

Economists have for years hotly debated the issue of raising the minimum wage, with advocates arguing that raising salaries will boost purchasing power and the added spending will lift the economy, while opponents argue it will hurt businesses and lead to higher unemployment.

Finally, disabled workers would also get a pay increase under the reconciliation bill before the House.

While Vice President Kamala Harris has the authority to overrule the parliamentarian should she rule against the minimum wage increase, the White House has signaled that Harris would not be willing to take such a step. They were hoping the Senate, where changes seem likely, would follow quickly enough to have legislation on President Joe Biden's desk by mid-March.

But those same Senate rules prohibit provisions with only an "incidental" impact on the federal budget because they are chiefly driven by other policy purposes.

"If congressional Republicans want to oppose all that, my response is: Good luck", Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said on the Senate floor. That's why for the Democratic causes the two most important priorities were making sure we had survival checks that went to the same, you know, group of people that got them last time and that we kept the thresholds the same and also minimum wage.

House Minority Leader Brian King, who ran a bill in 2018 that attempted to raise the minimum wage to $12 an hour, said he wanted to see Collard's legislation move forward and joined the committee's two other Democrats in voting against the motion to table the proposal. A standalone minimum wage bill could also be introduced in the near future. Sen. Perhaps a minimum wage increase will be included in that proposal.

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