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The battle over whether to keep a minimum wage hike in President Biden’s COVID-19 relief package is heating up, with key players on both sides of the issue digging in for the fight.

The debate is threatening to create deep divisions among Democrats as they move forward with an economic rescue package without GOP support.

Outside groups are also exerting pressure on progressive and moderate Democrats to boost the rate from $7.25, where it’s stood since 2009, to $15 an hour.

Here are the main players to watch on the minimum wage fight.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.)

Sanders, one of the biggest proponents of increasing the minimum wage, is vowing that the final version of the coronavirus relief package will include language raising the rate to $15.

The rescue package will be the result of a budget reconciliation process that sidesteps the 60-vote threshold for legislation, meaning Democrats can pass the measure if they all stick together.

“It’s going to be in reconciliation if I have anything to say about it. The only way we’re going to get it passed — we’re not going to get the 60 votes that we need — the only way we’re going to do it with 50 votes is through reconciliation,” he said this past week.

The reconciliation process gives Sanders a great deal of power from his perch as Senate Budget Committee chairman.

The Vermont senator is author of the Raise the Wage Act, which would gradually increase the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2025.

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.)

Manchin, a pivotal centrist swing vote, has said he opposes a nationwide wage hike to $15 an hour.

The West Virginia Democrat has instead suggested support for a smaller increase, noting that $11 an hour would be more appropriate for his home state.

Manchin’s opposition could prove problematic for Democrats, who need every senator in their 50-member caucus to back a COVID-19 relief plan that’s in line with Biden’s proposal, which includes the $15 wage, in order to get the package across the finish line without any GOP support.

That’s raising the odds that the provision may need to be jettisoned to get the rest of the legislation passed.

President Biden

Biden included the $15 wage increase in his $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan but has recently said the language might have to be dropped.

“I put it in, but I don’t think it’s going to survive,” Biden told CBS News earlier this month, citing the onerous Senate rules on budget reconciliation.

“But I do think that we should have a minimum wage stand by itself, $15 an hour,” he added.

Biden said he is prepared to negotiate separately on raising the minimum wage, an approach that could win over some moderate Democrats.


The AFL-CIO, a key constituency for Democrats, has been one of the loudest groups calling for a $15 minimum wage.

The labor organization is keeping the pressure on Congress to deliver, with President Richard Trumka hitting cable news to tout the benefits of a wage increase.

“It would actually help millions of workers out there right now,” he recently told CNBC.

Trumka added that the economy would also benefit because those workers would boost consumer demand and, in turn, create new jobs.

“Working people have waited long enough. This overdue raise will bolster the economy, reduce poverty, and ensure working families have the baseline economic security we deserve. Whatever it takes, our members expect Congress to get this done,” Bill Samuel, AFL-CIO director of government affairs, told The Hill this past week.

U.S. Chamber of Commerce

The Chamber, a powerful pro-business lobbying group, has advocated against raising the minimum wage, stressing that the COVID-19 relief package should be more targeted toward those hardest hit by the pandemic.

“No, we don’t support a $15 minimum wage and are hopeful that that’s not in the final package. This should be a package that’s about helping American families right now. This should be about a package that’s getting targeted, temporary, timely relief to the people that are most hurting,” incoming CEO Suzanne Clark said on Fox Business this past week.

The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) said this month that raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2025 would lead to 1.4 million lost jobs while adding $54 billion over 10 years to the budget deficit. But it would also lift 900,000 people out of poverty.

“The CBO report confirms that a $15 minimum wage would result in significant job losses,” Glenn Spencer, senior vice president of the Chamber’s Employment Policy Division, told The Hill. “We look forward to working with Congress on standalone legislation that will provide a fair and reasonable increase in the minimum wage.”

Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.)

Coons, a close Biden ally, has not co-sponsored Sanders’s Raise the Wage Act but also hasn’t explicitly said he would oppose including the $15 provision in the final coronavirus relief bill.

The Delaware senator will be closely watched by both opponents and proponents, in part because of his close connection to Biden, with many expecting him to help keep the White House’s priorities intact as Congress moves toward final passage.

Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.)

Sinema is another Democrat who may create headaches for party members who favor a wage hike sooner rather than later.

Sinema recently said the wage increase should not be included in the coronavirus relief package.

“The minimum wage provision is not appropriate for the reconciliation process. It is not a budget item. And it shouldn’t be in there,” the Arizona Democrat told Politico this week.

Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.)

Schumer, a co-sponsor of the Raise the Wage Act, has said he is working to see if it’s possible to pass Sanders’s bill in the COVID-19 relief plan.

On Tuesday, Schumer said Democrats “are trying to work as well as we can with the parliamentarian to get the minimum wage. That’s all I’m going to say.”

In order for the Democrats’ COVID-19 relief plan to pass by reconciliation, all proposals in the final bill have to be directly related to the budget so that it can pass with only a simple majority.

The relief bill is quickly shaping up to be the first big test of Schumer’s ability to keep his caucus united.

Senate parliamentarian

Elizabeth MacDonough, the Senate parliamentarian, will play a decisive role in determining whether the minimum wage increase can be passed as part of the budget reconciliation process.

The main hurdle for Democrats backing the minimum wage increase is whether its inclusion complies with the Byrd Rule. The rule details requirements for protecting what legislation can be passed through the reconciliation process.

MacDonough will soon find herself in an unenviable position, one that led to one of her predecessors getting ousted. In 2001, during the debate over former President George W. Bush’s proposed tax cuts, then-Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.) removed the parliamentarian following a dispute over whether the plan qualified for reconciliation.

Tags Bernie Sanders Charles Schumer Chris Coons coronavirus relief COVID-19 aid Joe Biden Joe Manchin Minimum wage rescue package

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