The Senate parliamentarian on Thursday ruled against including a boost to the minimum wage in a $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief bill, arguing that it runs afoul of budget rules.
The decision from the parliamentarian, Elizabeth MacDonough, is a significant blow to progressives, who viewed the plan to increase the minimum wage to $15 per hour as one of their top priorities in the massive coronavirus relief plan.
Because Democrats are trying to pass the coronavirus bill through reconciliation — a fast-track process that lets them bypass the 60-vote legislative filibuster — every provision has to comply with arcane budget rules.
But Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said on Thursday night after the ruling that the House will pass the coronavirus bill with the $15 minimum wage intact — effectively letting progressives vote for it even though it will be stripped out in the Senate.
“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,” Pelosi said in a statement.
But in order for the minimum wage language to survive the Senate, Democrats and Vice President Harris would need to effectively sideline the parliamentarian.
Though some House progressives immediately called for action from Harris on Thursday night, the White House has said it isn’t supportive of that option and Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) has pledged that he won’t vote to effectively blow up the budget rules.
Democrats will instead need 60 votes to overcome an inevitable GOP challenge in the wake of the parliamentarian’s ruling, support that it doesn’t have, if they want the minimum wage hike to survive the Senate.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (S.C.), the top Republican on the Budget Committee, immediately declared victory following the ruling.
“Very pleased the Senate Parliamentarian has ruled that a minimum wage increase is an inappropriate policy change in reconciliation,” he said.
No GOP senator has suggested that they would be supportive of a $15 per hour minimum wage, instead arguing that the topic wasn’t related to the coronavirus relief legislation.
The ruling caps off weeks of behind-the-scenes efforts by both sides to try to sway the parliamentarian in their favor.
Though progressives have argued that the wage hike complied with the budget rules, some congressional Democrats and President Biden have appeared skeptical that it would make it in the final bill.
“I put it in, but I don’t think it’s going to survive,” Biden told CBS News earlier this month, citing Senate rules on reconciliation.
If the parliamentarian had ruled in Democrats favor, it was expected to set off a fierce intra-party fight over what the minimum wage hike would look like.
House progressives have drawn a red line on including a rate of $15 per hour, with some threatening to vote against the coronavirus bill if it was watered down. But a $15 per hour minimum wage doesn’t have 50 votes in the Senate, with Manchin and Sen. Krysten Sinema (D-Ariz.) opposed to the amount.
Manchin had been expected to try to lower the wage increase to $11 per hour once the Senate takes up the coronavirus bill next week.
Staffers for both parties had a final meeting with the parliamentarian Wednesday morning to try to make their case for a final time.
Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), whose staff helped make the case to try to include the wage hike, said he was “deeply disappointed” by the decision but pledged to keep fighting to try to pass it.
“We are not going to give up the fight to raise the minimum wage to $15 to help millions of struggling American workers and their families. The American people deserve it, and we are committed to making it a reality,” he said.
Senate Budget Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who had said he was optimistic that the parliamentarian would side with him, said that the Congressional Budget Office made it “absolutely clear” that raising the minimum wage “had a substantial budgetary impact and should be allowed under reconciliation.”
“I strongly disagree with tonight’s decision by the Senate Parliamentarian,” he said.
Sanders added that he will now try to get language added to the coronavirus bill that takes away tax breaks from large corporations that do not have a $15 per hour wage, and to try to incentivize small businesses to increase their wages.
“That amendment must be included in this reconciliation bill,” he said.