Politics Democrats short of a backup plan after minimum wage ruling
$15 minimum wage debate: Everything you need to know
House Democrats have included a minimum wage hike in their latest Covid relief bill, although opposition among some Senate Democrats means it is not at all clear they will have the votes to pass it. © Scott Olson/Getty Images Demonstrators participate in a protest outside of McDonald's corporate headquarters on January 15, 2021 in Chicago, Illinois. Improving worker pay is unrelated in that raising the minimum wage has long been a Democratic priority.
Democrats' $15 minimum wage increase isn’t going to survive the Senate. And they don’t have a Plan B yet.
The Senate parliamentarian’s decision to rule the wage hike out of order ahead of debate on President Joe Biden’s coronavirus relief plan saves Democrats from an internal fight over whether to increase it to $15 an hour. But it also leaves Democrats without a clear path forward on fulfilling a key campaign promise.
The problem with a one-size-fits-all federal minimum wage hike
Minimum wages are not a free good. They have tradeoffs. While politicians might not pay much mind to such economic arguments, they are well aware of the regional differences among their constituents. If they listen, they should reject a one-size-fits-all federal minimum wage hike and, instead, let cities and states make decisions that best suit the people in their communities.Ryan Young is a senior fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute and author of the study "Minimum Wages Have Tradeoffs.
“Do we have a plan if she rules that it’s not allowable?” said Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) shortly before the ruling. “The answer is no. We have to come back to the discussions in the caucus about how to proceed.”
Democrats tried to squeeze the minimum wage hike into the so-called budget reconciliation process, which allows them to avoid a GOP filibuster and pass their Covid aid bill with 50 Democratic votes. But unless they can find some workaround or alternative solution, Democrats will need 10 Republicans to support it — an unlikely proposition given the yawning chasm between the two parties on the issue.
Although Republicans have released a bill raising the wage to $10 an hour and strengthening usage of the e-Verify immigration system among employers, Democrats have little interest in cutting a deal right now.
Tom Cotton, Mitt Romney's $10 Minimum Wage Plan Criticized for Being Less than Arkansas' $11
"Incrementally increasing a pitiful 7.25 wage to $10 over 5 yrs is a cruel joke. Poverty cannot be overcome just by $2.75/hour more," Democratic Michigan Representative Rashida Tlaib wrote.The GOP plan, entitled the Higher Wages for American Workers Act, would gradually raise the federal minimum wage from its current rate of $7.25 an hour to $10 an hour by 2025. The plan would also require employers to phase in the use of the federal E-Verify system to ensure that only documented laborers, and not undocumented immigrants, are hired. Lastly, the plan would provide stiffer penalties to employers who hire undocumented workers.
“They don’t want a minimum wage,” said Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio). “The public wants this done and the public wants a lot of things done that [Republicans] are unwilling to do.”
Brown said Democrats have discussed among themselves how they might need to alter legislation to pass the Senate. But at least two Senate Democrats, Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, opposed a wage hike to $15 as part of the coronavirus bill. And Manchin has said that he would like to see the minimum wage increase closer to $11.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said Thursday night that he was "deeply disappointed" by the parliamentarian's decision and vowed to not give up the fight for a $15 minimum wage. But he did not offer any specific detail about how Democrats plan to make the increase a reality.
Schumer's caucus has ruled out an attempt to reject the parliamentarian’s decision, a move that would amount to gutting the filibuster by another means. Sinema and Manchin have both said in recent interviews they will not try and overturn the decision.
Prospects for a $15 federal minimum wage look bleak
But some US senators, including Bernie Sanders and Josh Hawley, are proposing alternatives to raising the wage.Democrats were pushing to include an increase in the federal minimum wage as part of a proposed $1.9 trillion stimulus package, but its fate has likely been determined: On Feb. 25, the US Senate’s parliamentarian said that hiking the minimum wage to $15, as the Democrats sought to do, could not be included in the bill, arguing it falls outside the scope of what the Democrats can do in the budget reconciliation process.
Some Democrats have discussed trying to attach it to a second stimulus package later this year, reasoning that the budgetary impacts of a change in the wage might work better in a jobs bill passed under reconciliation.
Video: Neera Tanden nomination in jeopardy after committees postpone votes (NBC News)
Another option is trying to nudge small businesses to raise their wages using tax breaks, if that passes muster with the parliamentarian.
“I’m not going to say exactly" how the party handles a setback with the parliamentarian, Sen. Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, the No. 4 Senate Democrat, said before the ruling Thursday night. “I really don’t want to get into negotiating that at the moment.”
As senators left Thursday afternoon to head home for the weekend, the chamber remained in a state of uncertainty over the fate of the minimum wage hike. The House was on the precipice of passing its Covid package, and now senators are scattered around the country returning home.
Senate Budget Committee Chair Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) had argued that the hourly increase should be included in the coronavirus relief package because raising the minimum wage would increase the deficit.
Democrats’ remaining options for raising the minimum wage, explained
Democrats haven’t given up on increasing the minimum wage just yet.That decision likely means that the $15 minimum wage is effectively dead — for now. As Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) has said repeatedly, 10 Republican senators are not going to sign on to this type of increase, meaning lawmakers won’t be able to get the 60 votes it needs to pass through regular order.
Senate Republicans countered that the provision was extraneous, would lead to job losses and hurt small businesses and predicted that the parliamentarian would strike it.
House Democratic leaders and the White House have been deferential to the Senate’s arcane rules. But so far they are showing no willingness to change their own priorities in the near-term even if the wonky ways of the upper chamber foul things up.
House Ways and Means Chairman Richard Neal (D-Mass.) vowed on Thursday that the House would vote on an increase “no matter what happens” in parliamentarian’s office.
Raising the federal minimum wage to $15 is a top priority for progressives and labor unions. But the Senate reconciliation process represented the only viable legislative option for a $15 minimum wage to become law without undoing the legislative filibuster in its current form.
“We need to pass a $15 an hour minimum wage,” said Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.). “If we can do it through reconciliation, great. If we can’t, then we need to tackle the filibuster issue and then pass minimum wage.”
The Senate could still try to find a workaround, even if the House strikes any minimum wage increase from its bill. The reconciliation process allows for lengthy amendment offerings from senators in both parties.
Democrats wrong to attack Senate parliamentarian
The path forward on the minimum wage is not procedural wizardry but leveraging the proposal’s broad public popularity.Democrats have known all along that some provisions they wanted to include in the relief bill might not meet the requirements for budget reconciliation. Chief among these was their proposed stepped increase in the minimum wage to $15 per hour. Superficially, that looks more like a regulatory initiative rather than a fiscal one.
And the parliamentarian’s ruling may leave Democrats with one remaining, but less appealing, option: working with the GOP. Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), who is part of a group of Senate Republicans proposing a $10 minimum wage, said Thursday that she thought a bipartisan compromise still could be possible in the Senate.
“It’s obvious that we do need an increase in the minimum wage,” she said. “But I don’t really think it should be part of the Covid package. ... A better way would be to bring a bill to the floor and see if we can work it out.”
The last time the minimum wage got a standalone vote on the Senate floor, it failed in 2014 as Democrats sought to increase the hourly rate to $10.10. That experience has convinced many Democrats that their best course of action is to work toward winning over 50 of their members using a reconciliation bill, as opposed to engaging in what many see as fruitless negotiations with Republicans.
But Democrats insist that they can find another chance to raise the wage, even if it's not on the coronavirus relief bill.
“There’s a million angles to it,” said Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.). “Even though there’s some differences about how much, and how fast, what are the exceptions, it’s such a unifier in our caucus. We’ll figure out a way to get it done. I’m pretty confident about that.”
Lindsey Graham Offers 'Waffle House' Plan to Dems Worried About $15 Minimum Wage .
"I don't mind looking at increasing the minimum wage in a responsible way," Graham said. "That will be easier for business and get us to where we want to go."Graham's plan, suggested to him by representatives from the national restaurant chain Waffle House, would index minimum wage increases to inflation. His plan could also soothe Machin's worries that the Democrats' proposal to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2025 would endanger small businesses already harmed by the pandemic's economic downturn.