By Kristina Peterson and Andrew Duehren
WASHINGTON -- The Senate prepared to move ahead this week with
Democrats' sweeping coronavirus relief proposal without an increase
in the minimum wage, after a backup plan to raise the wage through
tax penalties and incentives fizzled over the weekend.
Senate Democrats had tried late last week to see if they could
fashion a way to penalize large companies through the tax code if
they didn't pay workers at least $15 an hour after the Senate
parliamentarian said an across-the-board minimum-wage increase
didn't comply with the chamber's rules. But Democrats decided late
Sunday to scrap the tax plan as its complexity and limitations
emerged and it became clear that some Senate Democrats were
skeptical of it.
President Biden on Monday began a blitz of meetings with
Democrats in both chambers, as the minimum wage looked increasingly
unlikely to be part of the coronavirus relief package.
"I support an increase in the minimum wage, but it clearly
cannot be on this reconciliation bill," said Senate Majority Whip
Dick Durbin (D., Ill.).
The relief package would provide a $1,400 payment to many
Americans; extend and enhance federal unemployment assistance;
expand a child tax credit, send $350 billion in aid to state and
local governments; and pour new funding into vaccine distribution,
food stamps and schools.
The decision to move forward without the minimum-wage increase
will intensify divisions among Democrats. The House already passed
the $1.9 trillion coronavirus package early Saturday morning with
the minimum-wage increase and progressive Democrats made clear they
didn't want to see the Senate strip it out. Liberal Democrats have
been urging Senate leaders to ignore the parliamentarian's advice
and retain the wage boost, a step that the White House and several
Senate Democrats have indicated they don't want to take.
"We can't let a parliamentarian decision stop a wage increase
for Americans," Rep. Ro Khanna (D., Calif.) said on a call with
reporters Monday. "We respectfully are asking that they disregard
the parliamentarian, allow this vote." Mr. Khanna was one of nearly
two dozen House Democrats to sign a letter Monday urging Democratic
leaders to keep the minimum-wage increase in the bill, despite the
The White House made clear Monday it wouldn't support taking
"The president and vice president both respect the history of
the Senate and that's not an action we intend to take," White House
press secretary Jen Psaki said Monday of overruling the
The Senate appeared ready to begin debate later this week on the
package without the minimum-wage increase. The boost faced
opposition from some centrist Democrats, including Sens. Joe
Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona. Democrats
are using a process known as reconciliation to try to pass the aid
package, which enables them to pass it with just a simple majority,
rather than the 60 votes most bills need. That would allow them to
clear the bill without GOP support, so long as they don't lose even
a single Democrat in the evenly-divided Senate, with Vice President
Kamala Harris casting the tiebreaking vote.
Using the reconciliation process requires that measures be
closely tied to the budget. The Senate parliamentarian on Thursday
ruled that Democrats' initial proposal to raise the federal minimum
wage to $15 an hour over four years didn't comply with those
The parliamentarian is also expected to weigh in on healthcare
subsidies, an expansion of paid leave and support for multiemployer
Some lawmakers may press to force a vote on boosting the minimum
wage to $15 as an amendment during this week's debate, but it would
likely fail, given the opposition from centrist Democrats.
If the Senate passes the bill later this week without the
minimum-wage increase, it will return to the House, where liberals
could imperil its passage if they refuse to vote for the aid
package without it. Democrats hold a narrow majority in the House,
where they can lose no more than four Democratic votes if all
Republicans vote against the bill. On Saturday, two Democrats
joined all Republicans in opposing it.
Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D., Wash.), chairwoman of the
Congressional Progressive Caucus, hedged Monday about whether she
would vote for the relief bill without the minimum wage increase,
saying she would need to review the bill in its final form.
"We have to look and make sure it is not weakened in any way,"
she said. "We have made it clear that the minimum wage is a
priority for us," as well as the current income thresholds for the
direct checks, she noted. Some Democrats have pressed to pare back
the payments so fewer upper-middle-class families get money.
Republicans have said the aid package is too broad and pressed
Democrats to wait to see where more funds are needed, after
Congress passed nearly $4 trillion in relief efforts since the
"The Democrats' spending bill is too costly, too corrupt, and
too liberal for the country," House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy
(R., Calif.) said before the House vote. "To those who say it is
urgent, I say it is unfocused. To those who say it is popular, I
say it is entirely partisan and has the wrong priorities."
But Democrats would face immense pressure to not derail Mr.
Biden's inaugural legislative accomplishment and thwart the
delivery of many other forms of aid for Americans.
"The bill that we are passing cuts child poverty in half and
people on here are saying almost nothing about that and I think
that's a mistake," Sen. Brian Schatz (D., Hawaii) said on Twitter
over the weekend.
Democratic leaders haven't yet said what their plans are for
addressing the minimum wage. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D.,
Calif.) has indicated that if it wasn't part of the Senate's bill,
she would move to bring up stand-alone legislation increasing the
wage to $15 an hour. But that would need 60 votes in the Senate,
where Republicans have shown some willingness to increase the wage
from its current level of $7.25, but most have balked at the $15
The prospect of a stand-alone bill could spark negotiation with
Republicans to see if a compromise could be reached on adjusting
the federal wage, potentially at a level below $15 an hour.
"I am very, very optimistic that we will find another path,"
Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D., Conn.) said Monday. "Even though we
may not have the votes right now, there will be another path."
If a bipartisan agreement can't be reached, liberal Democrats
signaled they will intensify their push to eliminate the 60-vote
threshold most legislation still requires.
"The only reason that we're in this mess is because of the
filibuster," said Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D., Mass.), who has called
for scrapping the filibuster for years. "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."
Alex Leary contributed to this article.
Write to Kristina Peterson at firstname.lastname@example.org and
Andrew Duehren at email@example.com
(END) Dow Jones Newswires
March 01, 2021 15:52 ET (20:52 GMT)
Copyright (c) 2021 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.