Joe Biden’s hopes of including a federal minimum wage hike in his $ 1.9 billion stimulus package were thwarted when the Senate parliamentarian ruled that he could not be approved by a simple majority. upper house of Congress.
The long-awaited decision comes on the eve of a vote in the House of Representatives on Friday to approve the US president’s package, which will cause a big tax shake to the American economic recovery.
The House’s version of the relief legislation includes an increase in the federal minimum wage from $ 7.25 an hour to $ 15 an hour, one of Bidenthe top priorities he shares with many progressive Democratic lawmakers.
But even if the full plan goes through the House, the minimum wage increase will have to be removed from legislation in the Senate, complicating political calculations for the White House and Democrats in Congress.
An increase in federal minimum wage has been championed by the White House and many Democrats as a matter of economic fairness, especially in helping low-wage workers on the front lines of the Coronavirus pandemic because of their employment in essential services. Republicans hesitated over the increase, saying it would have a negative effect on jobs.
The decision of Elizabeth MacDonough, the Member of Parliament for the Senate, who advises on the interpretation of the rules and precedents of the house, on the minimum wage was crucial because Biden and his Democratic allies in the Senate want to use a maneuver called “budget reconciliation” so they can pass the stimulus bill with a simple majority that would avoid the need for Republican support.
The upper house is currently split evenly, with 50 Democrats and 50 Republicans. Kamala Harris, the US vice president, would vote for the tiebreaker. Ordinary legislation requires bipartisan support and 60 votes to move forward – an insurmountable obstacle for much of Biden’s agenda.
However, only measures having an effect on public revenue can be included in a “budget reconciliation” bill and the parliamentarian of the Senate decided that the minimum wage was a foreign provision.
“We are deeply disappointed with this decision. 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, ”said Chuck Schumer, Democratic Senator from New York and majority leader in the Upper House, in a statement.
In a statement Thursday night, Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, said Biden was “disappointed” by the decision but “respected” it. “He will work with the leaders of Congress to determine the best way forward as no one in this country should be working full time and living in poverty,” Psaki said.
The move threatens to escalate tensions between the White House and the Democratic left, as some progressive lawmakers, particularly in the House, have called on Biden to overturn the parliamentarian – a move the new administration is unwilling to make. to do.
However, he will be relieved by some conservative Democrats, including Senators Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, who are skeptical of raising the minimum wage to $ 15, which could facilitate passage of the stimulus bill in the upper house. .
Republicans were thrilled. “This decision which strengthens reconciliation cannot be used as a means to pass a major legislative change – by either party – on a simple majority vote. This move will strengthen the traditions of the Senate over time, ”said Lindsey Graham, senior Republican on the Senate Budget Committee.