Budget Committee chair pledges to raise minimum wage: ‘Hold me to it’

Rep. John Yarmuth (D-Ky.)
Greg Nash

The head of the House Budget Committee said Friday in no uncertain terms that Democrats will find a way to hike the minimum wage over the next two years.

“I guarantee you there’ll be a raise in the minimum wage before the election,” Rep. John Yarmuth (D-Ky.) told reporters in the Capitol. “Hold me to it.”

Yarmuth and other Democratic leaders had sought to increase the minimum wage to $15 per hour — a priority of President Biden’s — as part of their $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief bill, which is expected to pass through the lower chamber late Friday or early Saturday.

But while House Democrats are sticking to that draft, the minimum wage provision will have a short lifespan in the Senate, where the parliamentarian has ruled that the chamber guidelines don’t allow the wage hike to move under the budget procedure, known as reconciliation, that’s governing the COVID-19 relief package.

That means the minimum wage provision will be stripped out of the Senate bill, and the relief package sent back to the House, raising some questions as to whether liberal proponents of the minimum wage increase will support a stimulus package that excludes it.

Yarmuth said Friday that there’s no indication liberals like Reps. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) or Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) would sink the larger stimulus bill just to protest the absence of the minimum wage.

“I have not talked to one member who said they were going to vote against the bill if this didn’t get in,” Yarmuth said.

And Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) delivered a similar prediction moments earlier, telling reporters that House Democrats will “absolutely” pass the coronavirus bill even with the wage provision stripped out.

Pelosi, like Yarmuth, also vowed to make the wage increase a reality this Congress.

“This is a value, this is a priority,” she said. “We will get it done.”

It’s unclear how Democrats intend to make good on their promise to raise the wage this Congress, given the 50-50 split in the Senate. Yarmuth noted that House Democrats are prepping another reconciliation package in the months to come, although it’s unclear why the parliamentarian would rule any differently on the topic the next time around.

Yarmuth said the surest strategy would be for Senate Democrats to eliminate the chamber’s 60-vote threshold, which allows the minority party to block virtually all controversial proposals.

“The way we do it is to do away with the filibuster,” he said.

Bolstering the Democrats’ effort, public opinion polls indicate overwhelming support for the wage hike. A Reuters/Ipsos survey released Thursday found that 59 percent of voters support the $15 level, versus 34 percent who opposed it. Such numbers might make it difficult for Senate Republicans to oppose an update to the minimum wage, which Congress has not increased since 2007, when it went up to $7.25 per hour.

Democrats are already warning that if Republicans block the wage hike, it’ll be used against them on the campaign trail heading into the 2022 midterms.

“I think the more important question is: what kind of price are the Republicans — both in Congress and outside who have opposed this … what kind of price are they going to pay?” said Yarmuth.

Tags Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Joe Biden John Yarmuth Minimum wage Nancy Pelosi Pramila Jayapal
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