Vice President, Labor Policy
March 09, 2021
As observers of the legislative process in Washington know, the Senate recently finished debating a massive, 628-page spending bill, some of which is meant to provide relief for the economic damage caused by the ongoing Coronavirus pandemic. The same observers doubtlessly are familiar with the old adage about legislating being like sausage-making, so it comes as little surprise that some members of Congress sought to use such a bill to curry favor with one constituency or another by adding completely irrelevant provisions.
One such proposal has been the topic of much discussion in recent months, and that would be the attempt to enact an inflated $15/hour minimum wage. The effort to do so is not exactly new, but following the change of presidential administrations, supporters of the notion have elevated their hope that it might be able to pass.
Naturally, those supporters reckoned that a good way to achieve their objective would be to roll it into the spending bill. However, they hit a snag when the Senate parliamentarian, who provides advice regarding rules and procedures, concluded that even a massive spending bill has to abide by the rules and declared that a minimum wage provision was not germane enough to include in this one.
The new chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, Senator Bernie Sanders, expressed his displeasure in no uncertain terms with a statement denouncing the parliamentarian’s advice, which he apparently decided to ignore. He did so by offering an amendment to the spending bill anyway, so it went into the hopper with over 100 others for consideration. Unfortunately for him, things did not go his way.
Sanders’ amendment was a procedural motion that would have waived the Byrd Rule—a rule that limits the types of proposals that can be tacked onto a spending bill under the so-called reconciliation process. Under the rules for that process, the Senate needs only a simple majority to pass the bill
Waiving the Byrd Rule, which required sixty votes, would have then allowed the Senate to consider Sander’s minimum wage amendment. However, when it came time to tally the numbers, Sander’s attempt to circumvent the Byrd Rule failed by a vote of 42-58.
In addition to all fifty of the Republican senators voting against Sanders’ amendment, eight Democrats broke ranks and voted against it as well: Sens. Joe Manchin (W.Va.), Kyrsten Sinema (Ariz.), Jon Tester (Mont.), Jeanne Shaheen (N.H.), Maggie Hassan (N.H.), Chris Coons (Del.) Tom Carper (Del.) and Angus King (Maine.). Their reasons for voting no may have varied, but the end result was the same..
Two major things to consider are the fact that the economy has not yet recovered from the extraordinary events of the last year, which have put many businesses on the brink of failure and closed many others. A sudden spike in wage expenses would not exactly facilitate their recovery.
In addition, the Congressional Budget Office has already determined that raising the minimum wage to $15 would result in approximately 1.4 million lost jobs as well as an additional $58 billion in annual budget deficits as well as higher prices for goods and services.
While the result of the Senate vote merely prevented the minimum wage from being increased through the recovery bill, it surely will not be the last word on the issue. Nevertheless, it is a good sign that there remains bipartisan support for taking time to carefully consider the many issues surrounding the proposal for a $15 minimum wage and determine what the right level should really be. It has been a long time since Congress raised the minimum wage, but this bill was the wrong place and $15 was the wrong number.