Senate ruling sinks US min wage hike in Covid aid bill

Senate ruling sinks US minimum wage hike in Covid aid bill

Republicans in the evenly split Senate are largely opposed to the relief package

US President Joe Biden. Credit: Reuters Photo

A key US Senate official ruled Thursday that President Joe Biden's $15 per hour minimum wage measure cannot be included in the huge Covid relief bill as written, imperiling Democratic efforts to fulfill a progressive priority.

The Senate parliamentarian, Elizabeth MacDonough, told lawmakers that the minimum wage language is not eligible to be in the $1.9 trillion coronavirus package if Democrats seek to pass it through a filibuster-proof bill.

The process, known as reconciliation, allows lawmakers to pass a budget-related bill with just a simple 51-vote majority in the 100-member chamber, rather than the 60 votes normally required for major legislation.

Republicans in the evenly split Senate are largely opposed to the relief package, meaning Democrats would need to shelve the national minimum wage hike to $15 an hour from $7.25 if they want any chance at passing the Covid aid.

"We are deeply disappointed in this decision," Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said.

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"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."

The blow comes one day before the House of Representatives is expected to vote on the plan aimed at providing relief to millions of struggling American families, along with businesses and communities hurt by the pandemic.

The ruling affects only the Senate. But because any bill must pass both chambers before the president signs it into law, the partliamentarian's decision effectively strips the wage hike out of the package.

The decision "reinforces reconciliation can not be used as a vehicle to pass major legislative change -- by either party -- on a simple majority vote," Republican Senator Lindsey Graham said on Twitter.

"This decision will, over time, reinforce the traditions of the Senate."

Senator Bernie Sanders, a self-described democratic socialist who is also chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, issued a statement blasting the decision.

He noted that most Americans support a minimum wage hike, "yet because of the archaic and undemocratic rules of the Senate we are unable to move forward to end starvation wages and raise the income of 32 million struggling Americans. That fight continues."

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