Biden's minimum wage push faces uphill battle with GOP

President-elect Joe BidenJoe BidenLawmakers, activists remember civil rights icons to mark 'Bloody Sunday' Fauci predicts high schoolers will receive coronavirus vaccinations this fall Biden nominates female generals whose promotions were reportedly delayed under Trump MORE's proposal to boost the minimum wage to $15 an hour is emerging as an early source of partisan division in his broader COVID-19 relief plan.

Biden won plaudits from progressives for including a policy to increase the federal minimum wage for the first time in over a decade in his $1.9 trillion relief package unveiled on Thursday.

But some lawmakers on the other side of the aisle were quick to criticize that component of his plan, arguing it would hamper, rather than help, the recovery.


“Forcing a $15 minimum wage into a coronavirus relief bill would do nothing but shutter the millions of small businesses already on life support and would force those that survive to lay-off employees,” said Sen. Tim ScottTimothy (Tim) Eugene ScottFloyd family attorney knocks qualified immunity for officers Why paid internships matter for foreign policy careers The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Virus relief bill headed for weekend vote MORE (R-S.C.).

Pennsylvania Sen. Pat ToomeyPatrick (Pat) Joseph ToomeySasse rebuked by Nebraska Republican Party over impeachment vote Philly GOP commissioner on censures: 'I would suggest they censure Republican elected officials who are lying' Toomey censured by several Pennsylvania county GOP committees over impeachment vote MORE (R), who is not seeking reelection, said COVID-19 relief should focus on vastly expanding vaccinations, not raising the minimum wage.

“If the federal government mandates a universal $15 minimum wage, many low income Americans will lose their current jobs and find fewer job opportunities in the future,” he said.

Biden, who has staked out a goal of passing the relief package with bipartisan support, appeared to anticipate some of the subsequent GOP backlash by noting on Thursday that increasing the minimum wage is popular, even in red states.

“People tell me that’s going to be hard to pass. Florida just passed it, as divided as that state is, they just passed it,” he said.

President TrumpDonald TrumpUS, South Korea reach agreement on cost-sharing for troops Graham: Trump can make GOP bigger, stronger, or he 'could destroy it' Biden nominates female generals whose promotions were reportedly delayed under Trump MORE won Florida in the past two elections, and the state has a Republican governor and two GOP senators.


Yet voters in the Sunshine State approved a ballot initiative in November raising the minimum wage to $15.

“The rest of the country is ready to move as well,” Biden said.

Twenty states and numerous localities increased their own minimum wage rates on Jan. 1.

Nationwide polling indicates broad support for a $15 minimum wage. A 2019 Pew poll found that 67 percent of Americans backed a $15 rate, while a more recent Ipsos poll from August showed 72 percent of respondents supported raising the minimum wage by some amount, including 62 percent of Republicans.

But getting 10 Senate Republicans to back Biden’s COVID-19 proposal and avoid a GOP filibuster will likely prove challenging.

Moderates such as Sens. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsSenate rejects Sanders minimum wage hike Murkowski votes with Senate panel to advance Haaland nomination OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Interior reverses Trump policy that it says restricted science | Collins to back Haaland's Interior nomination | Republicans press Biden environment nominee on Obama-era policy MORE (R-Maine), Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiGOP senator defends Cheney, Murkowski after Trump rebuke Trump promises to travel to Alaska to campaign against Murkowski GOP votes in unison against COVID-19 relief bill MORE (R-Alaska) and Mitt RomneyWillard (Mitt) Mitt RomneyGraham: Trump can make GOP bigger, stronger, or he 'could destroy it' Democratic centrists flex power on Biden legislation Ron Johnson grinds Senate to halt, irritating many MORE (R-Utah) did not respond to requests for comment from The Hill.

A House-passed bill in 2019 that would have gradually increased the minimum wage until it hit $15 in 2025 was never brought to the floor by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellDemocrats near pressure point on nixing filibuster  We need a voting rights workaround Biden takes victory lap after Senate passes coronavirus relief package MORE (R-Ky.).

Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenSenate rejects Sanders minimum wage hike Philly city council calls on Biden to 'cancel all student loan debt' in first 100 days Hillicon Valley: High alert as new QAnon date approaches Thursday | Biden signals another reversal from Trump with national security guidance | Parler files a new case MORE (D-Mass.), a progressive who praised Biden’s proposal, said Democrats should use legislative workarounds if enough Republicans don’t get on board.

“Let’s be clear: if the Republicans want to drag their feet while working families struggle, the Democratic majority should use every legislative tool available to pass it,” she tweeted, an apparent reference to budget reconciliation, a tool that would allow Democrats to pass some legislation by a simple majority.

But policies that do not have direct budgetary effects, or are only incidental to the budget, are prohibited from reconciliation legislation, meaning a minimum wage hike is likely to remain subject to a GOP filibuster.

While Democrats could get much of Biden’s COVID-19 package through Congress without Republican support, they will have little choice but to secure GOP votes if they want to raise the minimum wage.

In the House, where Democrats can easily pass their preferred policies even with a slim majority, GOP opposition is already clear.


Rep. Jason SmithJason Thomas SmithHouse panel advances Biden's .9T COVID-19 aid bill On The Money: House panel spars over GameStop, Robinhood | Manchin meets with advocates for wage | Yellen says go big, GOP says hold off GOP highlights unspent relief funds in criticizing Biden plan MORE (Mo.), the top Republican on the Budget Committee, called Biden’s proposal a liberal wishlist and decried adding more “rules, costs and burdens for small businesses.”

“Using an economic crisis as an excuse to advance an unrelated agenda is the type of politics that hardworking Americans are tired of,” he said.

A Congressional Budget Office (CBO) report on the Democratic minimum wage bill from 2019 said there was a range of possible outcomes on employment, with job losses ranging from "about zero and 3.7 million."

In the middle scenario, the economy would have 1.3 million fewer jobs, even as 1.3 million would be lifted out of poverty. Some 17 million people would see their income increase, the CBO estimated.

Conservative groups such as the Job Creators Network say changes to the tax code are preferable to increasing the minimum wage.

"A better approach to help entry-level workers and small businesses is the Biden administration's proposal to expand the Earned Income Tax Credit,” said the group’s president, Alfredo Ortiz.


That approach, which Biden included as part of his COVID-19 relief plan, puts the onus on the government to boost the incomes of low-wage workers, rather than on businesses.

Brian Gardner, chief Washington policy strategist for Stifel Financial Corp., said he expects Biden’s proposal to get whittled down through negotiations.

“We view yesterday’s release as an opening bid,” he said, predicting that a final package would carry a price tag less than half what Biden proposed.

Getting a deal on the minimum wage will prove an early test of Biden’s campaign assurances that he would be able to work across the aisle to advance Democratic priorities.

Sen. Chuck GrassleyChuck GrassleyWhite House open to reforming war powers amid bipartisan push Garland's AG nomination delayed by GOP roadblocks National Sheriffs' Association backs Biden pick for key DOJ role MORE (R-Iowa), who until recently chaired the Senate Finance Committee, was skeptical of the package, saying “few of the line items in this proposal seem like they could undermine the bill’s own good intentions,” but also sounded a note of optimism.

“I’m open to more relief in light of this crisis, but I’ll need to more closely review the proposal and perhaps even see changes before I can offer my full support,” he said.