House

Progressives push White House to overturn $15 wage ruling

Nearly two dozen House progressives on Monday called on President Biden and Vice President Harris to overturn the Senate parliamentarian's ruling that a $15 minimum wage could not be included in Democrats' sweeping $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package.

"Eighty-one million people cast their ballots to elect you on a platform that called for a $15 minimum wage," the progressives wrote in a letter to Biden and Harris that was spearheaded by Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.), a leader of the Congressional Progressive Caucus. 

"We urge you to keep that promise and call on the Presiding Officer of the Senate to refute the Senate Parliamentarian's advice ... and maintain the $15 minimum wage provision in the American Rescue Plan."

Progressives are furious over Senate Parliamentarian Elizabeth MacDonough's ruling last week that a provision to hike the federal minimum wage to $15 per hour could not be part of the coronavirus stimulus package under the budget reconciliation process.

That process would allow Democrats to push through their massive COVID-19 relief package with a simple majority rather than the usual 60 votes, but the Senate's Byrd Rule requires provisions to impact federal spending or revenue. 

MacDonough, essentially the Senate's chief referee, said the wage hike did not pass that test.

Progressives now want Harris - who as vice president serves as president of the Senate - to overrule the parliamentarian. Some progressives are going even further, saying MacDonough should be fired over her decision, something Republicans did back in 2001 after they didn't like a ruling of the parliamentarian. 

But Biden and top White House officials have said they respect the ruling and are not entertaining either idea. 

Over the weekend, the House passed a version of Biden's $1.9 trillion package that included the $15 wage hike.

But based on MacDonough's ruling, the Senate this week is poised to strip that provision out and send it back to the House. Senate Democrats also have decided to drop their "Plan B" on the minimum wage, saying a provision authored by Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) to tax big corporations that do not pay their workers a higher wage will not be added to the package as it moves through the upper chamber.

But progressives see attaching the wage hike to the COVID-19 package as the best way to get the popular policy signed into law. And they argue that voters handed Democrats the White House, House and Senate last fall in part because of their promises to raise the minimum wage, which has been stuck at $7.25 per hour for the past 12 years.

"We must act now to prevent tens of millions of hardworking Americans from being underpaid any longer," the progressives wrote. "The outdated and complex Byrd rule rooted in restricting progress must not be an impediment to improving people's lives. You have the authority to deliver a raise for millions of Americans."

In addition to Khanna, the letter was signed by Progressive Caucus Chairwoman Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.); veteran progressives like Reps. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.) and Barbara Lee (D-Calif.); progressive stars like Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) and Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.); and first-term Reps. Cori Bush (D-Mo.), Jamaal Bowman (D-N.Y.) and Ritchie Torres (D-N.Y.).

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