Senate Can’t Vote on Minimum Wage Hike

Parliamentarian said the proposed $15 hourly wage is not allowed in Biden’s coronavirus relief bill.

March 01, 2021

WASHINGTON—President Biden’s proposed $15 hourly minimum wage hike cannot remain in his $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief bill, according to Senate Parliamentarian Elizabeth MacDonough.

The Senate parliamentarian is the Senate's adviser on the interpretation of its rules and precedents. MacDonough was named to the position in 2012, and she is the sixth person to hold the title since it was created in 1935.

The fate of the proposed $15 federal minimum wage is complex due to the method Senate Democrats are pursuing to pass the America Rescue Plan proposal: reconciliation, a process established in 1974 that allows Congress to change existing laws so they can adapt tax and spending levels to the levels set in a budget resolution. The Wall Street Journal writes that MacDonough, the neutral arbiter of the chamber’s rules, issued guidance saying she thought the wage increase provision did not meet the guidelines for reconciliation and would be ruled out of order.

The guidance was received as praise and disappointment from Republicans and Democrats, respectively. NPR writes that Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) said the rule was the appropriate path to protect the rules of the Senate, while Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) pledged to pursue other legislation to increase the minimum wage.

"We are not going to give up the fight to raise the minimum wage to $15 to help millions of struggling American workers and their families," Schumer said in a statement.

Also on the heels of MacDonough’s decision, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) announced “Plan B” to raise the federal minimum wage. The Hill reports that Wyden is proposing a workaround solution: “As chair of the Finance Committee, I’ve been working on a ‘plan B’ that would make big companies pay for mistreating their workers. My plan would impose a 5% penalty on a big corporations’ total payroll if any workers earn less than a certain amount. That penalty would increase over time,” he said in a statement.

The Oregon senator also tweeted, “I’m exploring a tax penalty for mega-corporations that refuse to pay a living wage. This isn’t over.” in response to an NBC News report on the Senate parliamentarian rule.

Meanwhile, Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO) announced his Blue Collar Bonus plan to require companies with revenues of $1 billion or more to pay their employees $15 per hour, a plan that he said would result in an immediate wage increase for millions of workers while avoiding a one-size-fits-all increase that could disadvantage small businesses.

House Advances $15 Minimum Wage

Following the Senate parliamentarian ruling, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) said a provision to raise the federal minimum wage to $15 per hour by 2025 would remain in the House version of the American Rescue Plan (H.R. 1319). The House passed the legislation 219 – 212 early Saturday morning.  

Following the House vote, Pelosi said that efforts will continue to raise the minimum wage: “As we send this legislation to the Senate, the House will continue our Fight for 15, which would give 27 million American workers a raise. …We will seek a solution consistent with the Senate rules, and we will do so as soon as possible.”