US Senate referee says Democrats cannot include $15 minimum wage in COVID bill
WASHINGTON - In a blow to Democrats, the Senate parliamentarian ruled the chamber cannot include President Joe Biden's proposed $15-an-hour minimum wage in a $1.9 trillion coronavirus bill the party aims to pass without Republican votes, lawmakers said on Thursday.
Democrats and progressives had hoped to include the minimum wage hike in the legislation to help cushion the economic blow of the coronavirus pandemic and better compensate low-wage workers who have spent months on the front lines of the health crisis as essential workers.
"We are deeply disappointed in this decision," Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said in a statement.
"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.
But Senator Lindsey Graham, the top Republican on the Senate Budget Committee, welcomed the decision. "Very pleased the Senate Parliamentarian has ruled that a minimum wage increase is an inappropriate policy change in reconciliation," he said on Twitter.
The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Biden and many of his fellow Democrats want to more than double the minimum wage by 2025 to $15 per hour. They included the increase in his coronavirus relief bill to help tackle the heavy human and economic toll of the pandemic, which has killed more than 500,000 Americans and thrown millions out of work.
Democrats are trying to advance the COVID-19 bill under a special "budget reconciliation" process that would allow them to pass it in the Senate using a simple majority, so they will not need Republican support.
But there are rules that limit what can be included using that process, and it is the job of Senate parliamentarian Elizabeth MacDonough to determine what is allowed.
"This decision reinforces reconciliation cannot be used as a vehicle to pass major legislative change - by either party - on a simple majority vote," Graham wrote on Twitter.
The negative ruling does not mean the idea of raising the minimum wage is dead. Proponents could seek to pass a separate bill without using the reconciliation process, but they presumably would need Republican support.
Two Senate Republicans, Tom Cotton and Mitt Romney, on Tuesday proposed increasing the minimum wage to $10 an hour.
Not all Democrats favor a $15 wage. Senator Joe Manchin, a Democrat, has suggested raising the wage to $11 over two years.
The current federal minimum wage is $7.25 an hour. It was last raised in 2009.
A Reuters/Ipsos poll released on Thursday showed 59% of respondents saying they supported raising the minimum wage to $15, with 34% opposed.