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Senate ruling sinks US minimum wage hike in Covid aid bill

WASHINGTON, Feb 26, 2021 (AFP) – 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 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.

“President Biden is disappointed in this outcome, as he proposed having the $15 minimum wage as part of the American Rescue Plan,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said in a statement.

“He urges Congress to move quickly to pass the (bill), which includes $1400 rescue checks for most Americans” and other funding to help control and eliminate the pandemic.

Republicans voiced support for the ruling, with Senator Lindsey Graham saying “this decision will, over time, reinforce the traditions of the Senate.”

The blow to Democrats comes one day before the House of Representatives votes 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, parliamentarian Elizabeth MacDonough’s decision effectively strips the wage hike out of the package.

‘Archaic and undemocratic’

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi nevertheless insisted her chamber will go ahead with its vote on the bill — with the wage increase included.

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“House Democrats believe that the minimum wage hike is necessary,” Pelosi said in a statement.

“Therefore, this provision will remain in the American Rescue Plan on the floor tomorrow.

Should that pass, the minimum wage language would likely be stripped out of the Senate version.

With the Senate split 50-50, Democrats would need to remain unified if they get no Republican support, then count on a tie-breaking vote from Vice President Kamala Harris.

If the Senate and House versions are different, as they now appear certain to be, they would need to be reconciled into a single bill and passed again before Biden signs it into law.

Senator Bernie Sanders, a self-described democratic socialist who is also chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, blasted the Senate ruling.

Most Americans support a minimum wage hike, Sanders said.

“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,” he added. “That fight continues.”

Sanders said he aims to offer a countermeasure in the bill: an amendment to strip tax deductions from major corporations that don’t pay above $15 an hour. mlm/bgs Agence France-Presse