The $15 an Hour Minimum Wage Goes Down to Defeat in Pandemic Relief Bill -- For Now

(AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)

The Senate wrestled with dozens of amendments to the $1.9 trillion pandemic relief bill in a session that lasted all night. In the end, after 41 votes, Vice President Harris cast the tie-breaking vote to pass the stimulus measure. The “vote-a-rama” considered amendments designed to make Democrats look bad and, in a couple of instances, bipartisan support for some issues won the day.


Senator Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) offered an amendment to prevent an increase in the $15 an hour minimum wage during the pandemic. While the measure passed with the help of Democrats, the increase may be restored in the final version of the bill.

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But some amendments did pass with bipartisan support. By a voice vote, for example, the senators approved an amendment from Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) to “prohibit the increase of the federal minimum wage during a global pandemic.” Raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour is one of the heavy lifts in Biden’s proposal.

“A $15 federal minimum wage would be devastating for our hardest-hit small businesses at a time they can least afford it,” Ernst argued on the Senate floor. The measure’s biggest proponent, Budget Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), shrugged off the vote, noting that his plan raised the minimum wage over five years, starting after the pandemic. “We need to end the crisis of starvation wages in Iowa and around the United States,” he said, adding that he “will do everything that I can” to make sure the measure “is included in this reconciliation bill.”

But Sanders’ eagerness to price young people out of the labor market may yet run afoul of the Senate parliamentarian, who will decide whether the new wage is germane to the budget bill. Chances are, he will toss it because it violates the “Byrd Rule” that determines if a measure can be included in budget reconciliation.


The Byrd Rule, named for former Senate legend Robert Byrd (D-W.V.) who came up with the idea of reconciliation, determines which parts of a reconciliation bill can be voted on and which can’t. One of the requirements is that it must produce changes in outlays and revenue that are not merely incidental to its nonbudgetary effect. No federal spending is involved in raising the minimum wage, so there’s a pretty good chance it will be nixed.

But never fear. Nancy Pelosi says if they can’t use reconciliation to pass the wage hike, they’ll use some other legislative vehicle.

It really won’t matter. With a unified Republican caucus ready to vote down a wage hike and Democrat Joe Manchin opposed, it’s not likely to pass this session of Congress.


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