Democrats: Use Your Power. Make $15 the Floor.
The U.S. Senate is currently debating passing President Biden’s American Rescue Plan, a legislative package designed to provide funding for vaccinations, public health resources, state and local aid, and economic assistance. While the plan is imperfect, it contains several critical priorities that will reduce poverty, food insecurity, and healthcare insecurity. The component most in contention is the Raise the Wage Act amendment which would increase the minimum wage to $15/hour by 2025. This amendment has overwhelming public support including by nearly a majority of Republican voters. Unfortunately, zero Republican senators are in support of this bill, and in fact two Democratic senators have voiced their opposition as well.
Let me clear: the $15 minimum wage is the floor. If the minimum wage had risen at pace with productivity since the 1960s, it would be $24/hour. We have among the lowest minimum wages in the industrialized world as well as some of the weakest union and labor protections. American workers deserve a $15 minimum wage and nothing less.
Under normal circumstances, the Senate must acquire 60 votes to overcome the filibuster to pass legislation, but Congress is working to pass the American Rescue Plan under what’s known as budget reconciliation. This process can only be used once or twice a year and must contain legislation that pertains to taxes, spending, and budgeting. These narrow rules make it difficult to include many key priorities on President Biden and Congress’ agenda. The Senate Parliamentarian, an unelected bureaucrat, gets to decide whether or not amendments in a reconciliation package are acceptable under the rules.
Last week, the Parliamentarian, in spite of a strong case made by Senator Sanders and the Congressional Budget Office, rejected the $15 minimum wage for the reconciliation process. She asserted that it didn’t impact the budget enough to qualify despite the fact that higher wages inevitably would lead to higher income tax receipts and, thus, significant budgetary increases. Whether or not you agree with her assessment of the reconciliation act, it’s absurd to give up on a fight so critical to the economic recovery and so popular with the American people. President Biden ran on raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour. He must deliver for the people who fought to get him in office. Luckily, there are several options we can take to pass the Raise the Wage Act and increase the salaries of over 30 million Americans.
Option 1: Overrule the Parliamentarian
Vice President Kamala Harris has the power to overrule the parliamentarian’s decision and make sure that the American Rescue Plan includes the $15 minimum wage. The Senate would have to garner 60 votes to overrule that decision and those votes do not appear to be there. Overruling the Parliamentarian has been done by Democrats and Republicans multiple times in recent history. It’s not unprecedented. Allowing an arcane and nonsensical Senate rule to sink an unpopular bill is far more radical than simply overruling the Parliamentarian.
Option 2: Majority Leader Schumer can replace the Parliamentarian.
Option 3: The Senate can abolish the filibuster, but that requires every Democrat to vote unanimously.
In the long run, abolishing the filibuster is a crucial step Democrats must take as soon as possible to advance the agenda they ran on. Several critical policies from voting rights to immigration reform to gun control to LGBTQ rights do not qualify for reconciliation and face zero chance at getting enough Republican support to reach 60 votes. “Democratic” Senators Manchin and Sinema are insisting in preserving the filibuster despite its long history of being used to sustain Jim Crow era institutions and white supremacist policies. It’s an absurd position that would be a slap in the face to the 81 million people who voted for Joe Biden. It’s up to Majority Leader Schumer and President Biden to do whatever it takes to pressure these hold-outs and any others hiding behind them to get on board with eliminating the filibuster and passing the $15 minimum wage. This is about doing right by the American workers and demanding that all jobs pay a living wage.