Liberals on fire over failure on $15 minimum wage

Liberal senators and outside pressure groups are steaming over the Senate’s seeming failure to move a COVID-19 relief package with a provision hiking the federal minimum wage to $15 per hour.

An adverse decision from the Senate parliamentarian means Democrats can’t move the $15 minimum using special budgetary rules meant to sidestep the filibuster.

That is leading to calls to overrule or fire the parliamentarian, or to get rid of the filibuster, which essentially requires legislation to secure 60 votes to proceed through the Senate.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), the Senate’s leading proponent of a $15 minimum wage, on Monday called on Democratic colleagues to “ignore” the parliamentarian’s ruling and pledged he would force a vote on the issue his week.

“My personal view is that the idea that we have a Senate staffer, a high-ranking staffer, deciding whether 30 million Americans get a pay raise or not is nonsensical,” he said. “We have got to make that decision, not a staffer who’s unelected, so my own view is that we should ignore the rulings, the decision of the parliamentarian.”

The problem for Sanders and other liberals is that it does not appear Democrats have even the 50 votes in their caucus to pass the $15 minimum wage or end the filibuster using the so-called nuclear option.

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) opposes the $15 minimum wage, though he does support raising it to $11 an hour and indexing it to inflation. Without his vote, Democrats don’t even have 50 votes in the Senate.

When it comes to the filibuster, both Manchin and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) oppose doing away with it.

Manchin on Monday signaled growing frustration with questions about his position.

Asked if he might change his mind on the filibuster at some point, he turned around and yelled at reporters: “Never!”

“Jesus Christ! What don’t you understand about never?” he grumbled.

Liberals appear to want to raise the pressure on Manchin, Sinema and their own leaders to take some kind of action given the party’s control of the House, Senate and White House.

They want to force a vote on the $15 minimum wage, daring Manchin to oppose it.

And they are calling for Democrats to overrule Senate Parliamentarian Elizabeth MacDonough, who last week determined that the COVID-19 relief package cannot pass with a simple-majority vote under special budgetary rules if it includes a provision to raise the minimum wage to $15 by 2025.

Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and the White House both pushed back against the idea of overruling MacDonough on Monday.

“I don’t think that’s going to work. I hope that we think very seriously about dealing with the minimum wage in a different venue,” Durbin said. 

White House press secretary Jenn Psaki separately reiterated White House chief of staff Ron Klain’s dismissal of a vote to overrule the parliamentarian.

The battle over the minimum wage put a spotlight on Democratic divisions on Monday.

Nearly two dozen House progressives called on President Biden and Vice President Harris to overturn the parliamentarian’s ruling, something that would require the support of all 50 Senate Democrats plus Harris’s tie-breaking vote.

“Eighty-one million people cast their ballots to elect you on a platform that called for a $15 minimum wage,” the progressive lawmakers wrote in a letter to Biden and Harris.

“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,” they wrote.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), another influential progressive who ran a strong campaign for president in 2020, said Monday she supports a vote to overrule the parliamentarian but said the bigger problem is the Senate’s filibuster rule, which requires that legislation pass with 60 votes if it faces procedural objections.

“If we would get rid of the filibuster, then we wouldn’t have to keep trying to force the camel through the eye of the needle. Instead, we would do what the majority of Americans want us to do, and in this particular case, that’s raise the minimum wage,” Warren added.

Outside groups are increasingly irritated by what they see as impotency on the part of the party.

“The Democratic Party, they should do whatever in their power they need to do to deliver on this. It’s a signature promise,” said Joseph Geevarghese, executive director of Our Revolution, a political action group that grew out of Sanders’s 2016 presidential campaign.

“It should be full-bore ahead,” he said, adding that a vote to overrule the parliamentarian or to replace her should be on the table. “If there’s a will, there’s a way to get this done.”

Geevarghese said if Democrats abandon the push for a $15 per hour wage, “they do so at their peril.”

“What you’re seeing is the progressive wing of the Democratic Party coalescing around signaling this is critically important,” he said.

Brian Fallon, the executive director of Demand Justice, another progressive advocacy group, is also urging Senate Democrats to overrule the parliamentarian.

“Overrule the parliamentarian or end the filibuster. Senate process is not an excuse for failure to get results,” he tweeted.

“If it’s the considered position of the Democrats to just take what they can get now on a major COVID relief package and settle for the parliamentarian’s ruling on minimum wage, OK, but to me that means that they have to be willing to follow through, ultimately, and get rid of the filibuster to pass the minimum wage and a bunch of other things,” he said.

It’s unclear how Democrats can get the $15 minimum wage to Biden’s desk without some dramatic change.

Republicans who have offered support for raising the federal minimum wage have backed smaller increases over lengthier time periods.

Without protection from the budget rules, Democrats need the support of 10 Senate Republicans to pass minimum-wage legislation with the 60 votes needed to overcome a filibuster. 

Tags $15 minimum wage Bernie Sanders coronavirus relief COVID-19 Dick Durbin Elizabeth Warren Joe Biden Joe Manchin Ron Klain

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