No. 2 Senate Democrat says minimum wage can be increased with simple majority vote

Senate Majority Whip Dick DurbinDick DurbinDemocrats up ante in risky debt ceiling fight Democrats reject hardball tactics against Senate parliamentarian  Biden to raise refugee cap to 125,000 in October MORE (D-Ill.) said Tuesday that Democrats can use a special process known as budget reconciliation to increase the minimum wage to President Biden’s proposed target of $15 an hour without any Republican votes.

Durbin, who has served in the Senate since 1997 and is a veteran of many budget and procedural battles, said a minimum wage increase falls within the parameters of budget reconciliation.

That means Democrats would be able to pass it in the Senate with a simple majority vote, instead of the 60 normally needed to advance legislation.

ADVERTISEMENT

“It’s being discussed. I don’t know that a final decision has been reached,” Durbin said of the possibility of increasing the minimum wage through the budget reconciliation process.

He affirmed that Democrats think it’s a possible avenue.

Biden's push for a $15 minimum wage is part of his $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief bill that he has made his top legislative priority. Democrats in both chambers also reintroduced a bill Tuesday to raise the federal minimum wage for the first time since 2009, setting a $15 an hour target by 2025.

Republicans used budget reconciliation to pass former President TrumpDonald TrumpTrump takes shot at new GOP candidate in Ohio over Cleveland nickname GOP political operatives indicted over illegal campaign contribution from Russian national in 2016 On The Money — Dems dare GOP to vote for shutdown, default MORE’s signature tax reform initiative in 2017. They also used it that year in an attempt to repeal the 2010 Affordable Care Act but fell one vote short after the late Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainBiden falters in pledge to strengthen US alliances 20 years after 9/11, US foreign policy still struggles for balance What the chaos in Afghanistan can remind us about the importance of protecting democracy at home MORE (R-Ariz.) opposed the effort.

To increase the minimum wage with a simple majority vote, which Democrats could do without any Republican support in the evenly divided upper chamber if they all stick together, Democrats in both chambers would first have to pass a concurrent budget resolution with a special reconciliation instruction covering minimum wage.

The procedural tactic would also have to pass muster with Senate parliamentarian Elizabeth MacDonough.

ADVERTISEMENT

Asked about the possibility of Democrats moving a budget resolution next week, Durbin responded: “There are a lot of possibilities. I don’t know that anything has been firmly decided."

“We have a looming deadline of March 14 on unemployment compensation and I know we’re anxious to make sure that there’s no interruption of benefits for those millions who depend on it. So there is a sense of urgency,” he added, citing the looming expiration of unemployment benefits.

Incoming Senate Budget Committee Chairman Bernie SandersBernie SandersPelosi says House members would not vote on spending bill topline higher than Senate's Groups push lawmakers to use defense bill to end support for Saudis in Yemen civil war Congress must address the looming debt crisis MORE (I-Vt.) echoed the sentiment, saying that if Democrats could not secure Republican support, they should use budget reconciliation to increase the minimum wage.

"If the Republicans could use reconciliation to pass trillions of dollars for tax breaks," he said referring to the 2017 GOP tax law, "we must use reconciliation to protect the needs of working families."

Most budget watchers are skeptical that the procedure could be used for increasing the minimum wage, given the rigid restrictions of the Byrd Rule that limits what's eligible for the reconciliation process.

Sanders's House counterpart, Budget Committee chairman Rep. John YarmuthJohn Allen YarmuthDemocrats face full legislative plate and rising tensions The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Alibaba - Democrats return to disappointment on immigration Yarmuth and Clyburn suggest .5T package may be slimmed MORE (D-Ky.), said he didn't expect the minimum wage would be compliant with the Byrd Rule as recently as Monday.

"To be very candid with you, I think that is a stretch," he said in a CNN interview.

The Byrd Rule states that any provision included in a budget reconciliation bill must have a budgetary impact. It also stipulates that any policies in reconciliation cannot be "merely incidental" to the budgetary changes, another tough barrier for a minimum wage increase to overcome.

An estimate by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office of the Raise the Wage Act, from the previous Congress, found that the legislation would have a minimal impact on the budget, with increased costs linked to pay for some federal workers.

Biden has already moved to increase the minimum wages of federal workers and contractors.

Sanders said Democrats are not considering completely restructuring the minimum wage bill to comport with the budget reconciliation process, rejecting the idea of creating a tax on companies that paid below $15 an hour.

Instead, he said, Democrats were preparing to argue to MacDonough that raising the minimum wage would help millions of people reduce their dependence on government support, thereby reducing the deficit.

ADVERTISEMENT

Sanders said they had been in touch with the Congressional Budget Office, which he said had not taken an expansive enough view when scoring the most recent minimum wage bill.

"I think we can absolutely make the case to the parliamentarian that it can pass the Byrd Rule," he said.

Democrats are expecting to put a budget resolution, which kicks off the reconciliation process, on the floor as soon as next week.

Updated at 1:50 p.m.