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Democrats are gearing up to pass President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion stimulus package, but all signs are pointing to a much-anticipated minimum wage hike not being included in the bill.
Increasing the federal minimum wage from its current rate of $7.25 an hour to $15 is a major priority for Democrats, who now control the Senate for the first time since 2015, and is something Biden has also stressed in his campaign and in his presidency.
But in a recent call with governors of both parties, Biden told them not to get their hopes up about the wage increase being included in the stimulus package because of procedural rules, Politico reported.
The Senate will likely pass the stimulus package through a process known as budget reconciliation, which allows the Senate to pass budget-related legislation with just a simple majority of 51 votes instead of the usual 60-vote majority required in the Senate to get past the filibuster.
The Senate is currently divided between 50 Democrats and 50 Republicans, with Vice President Kamala Harris serving as the tie-breaking vote.
Specifically, Biden expressed doubt that a minimum wage increase being included in the reconciliation package would pass muster under the Byrd rule, saying, “doesn’t look like we can do it,” according to Politico.
Named for legendary former West Virginia Senator Robert Byrd, the rule stipulates that matters “extraneous” to the budget process cannot be passed through reconciliation.
It’s ultimately up to the Senate parliamentarian, Elizabeth McDonough, to determine what can be included under the parameters of the Byrd rule. But Biden, who served in the Senate for 36 years from 1973 to 2009, doesn’t seem optimistic that the process would survive a so-called Byrd bath, a review of the provision’s permissibility through reconciliation.
It would take a two-thirds majority of the body to overrule a decision made by the Senate parliamentarian. And while some have suggested that Harris could simply ignore the parliamentarian’s rulings, it would be an unprecedented and potentially risky move that could risk the entire package being derailed and losing support.
And powerful Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, who holds Byrd’s former senate seat, has also privately conveyed to Biden that he won’t support any legislation that violates the Byrd rule on reconciliation, CNN reported on Wednesday.
“My only vote is to protect the Byrd Rule: Hell or high water,” the senator told CNN. “Everybody knows that. I’m fighting to defend the Byrd Rule. The President knows that.”
Manchin conveyed the same sentiment in an interview with the Washington Examiner.
“I will defend the Byrd rule the same way I defend the filibuster. I am not going to just set back and say, ‘Oh, well, he really didn’t mean it,'” Manchin said of Byrd. Manchin, for his support, supports raising the federal minimum wage to $11 an hour.
Another key moderate, Democratic Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, has also appeared to put the kibosh on passing a wage hike through reconciliation.
“What’s important is whether or not it’s directly related to short-term Covid relief. And if it’s not, then I am not going to support it in this legislation,” Sinema recently told Politico. “The minimum wage provision is not appropriate for the reconciliation process.”
House Budget Chairman Rep. John Yarmuth has also expressed doubts, telling CNN, “I think the minimum wage is a stretch to get through the Byrd Rule,” adding. “I’m just not aware of how they do that.”