WASHINGTON (AP) — The Senate parliamentarian dealt a potentially lethal blow Thursday to Democrats’ drive to hike the minimum wage, deciding that the cherished progressive goal must fall from a $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill the party is trying to speed through Congress, Senate Democratic aides said.
The finding by Elizabeth MacDonough, the chamber’s nonpartisan arbiter of its rules, means Democrats face an overwhelmingly uphill battle to boost the minimum wage this year because of solid Republican opposition. Their proposal would raise the federal minimum gradually to $15 hourly by 2025, well above the $7.25 floor in place since 2009.
President Joe Biden was “disappointed” in the outcome but respected the parliamentarian’s ruling, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said. The Senate has a long tradition of obeying the parliamentarian’s decisions with few exceptions, a history that is revered by traditionalists like Biden, a 36-year Senate veteran.
“He will work with leaders in Congress to determine the best path forward because no one in this country should work full time and live in poverty,” Psaki said.
Democrats are pushing the massive coronavirus relief measure through Congress under special rules that will let them avoid a Senate filibuster by Republicans, a tactic that Democrats would need an unattainable 60 votes to defeat.
But those same Senate rules prohibit provisions with only an “incidental” impact on the federal budget because they are chiefly driven by other policy purposes. MacDonough said the minimum wage provision didn’t pass that test, according to aides who described her decision on condition of anonymity because it hadn’t been released.
MacDonough’s decision forces Democrats to make politically painful choices about what to do next on the minimum wage, which has long caused internal party rifts.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said Democrats “are not going to give up the fight” to raise the minimum wage to $15.
Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, top Republican on the Senate Budget Committee, hailed MacDonough’s decision. He said it shows the special procedure that Democrats are using to protect the relief bill “cannot be used as a vehicle to pass major legislative change — by either party — on a simple majority vote.”
Republicans solidly oppose the $15 minimum wage target as an expense that would hurt businesses and cost jobs. They also oppose the overall relief bill, saying it’s too expensive, not targeted enough at the people and businesses that most need it and a grab bag of gifts for Democratic allies.