With the impeachment trial over, President Joe Biden and Congressional Democrats have moved to refocus on passing the administration’s new stimulus bill — the “American Rescue Plan.” Biden traveled to Milwaukee today and will make a major speech pushing the plan’s passage. Also today, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer told lawmakers he aims to have the bill ready to be voted on next week.
Democrats are preparing to move forward using a legislative maneuver called budget reconciliation. That would allow them to pass a bill in the Senate with a simple majority, rather than the 60 votes necessary to avoid a filibuster.
One of the biggest unanswered questions regarding the stimulus package is whether or not it will include a provision to increase the minimum wage to $15 an hour.
After years of hard work and organizing, the labor movement and its many supporters saw the long-awaited and desperately-needed minimum wage increase included in the $1.9 trillion relief plan. But now Biden is signalling that we can anticipate him under-delivering on that front. “I don’t think it is going to survive,” Biden said on CBS Evening News Feb. 5, “My guess is it won’t be [included].” Biden more or less dismissed the possibility out of hand, saying that the wage increase was “not going to occur because of the rules of the United States Senate.” This was an allusion to the requirement that provisions included in a bill passed through reconciliation must be determined to have a substantial impact on the country’s budget. That determination is made based on a recommendation from an unelected official called the Senate parliamentarian.
Biden’s press secretary later covered the President’s cynical remarks by claiming that he pledges to fight to raise the minimum wage through channels other than budget reconciliation. How likely is that? Bernie Sanders earlier this week remarked, “Let’s be clear. We are never going to get 10 Republicans to increase the minimum wage through ‘regular order.’ The only way to increase the minimum wage to $15 an hour now is to pass it with 51 votes through budget reconciliation.”
Sanders, chair of the Senate budget committee, argued in light of a recent Congressional Budget Office (CBO) report regarding the wage increase proposal, “We can clearly raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour under the rules of reconciliation.” The CBO reported last week that the minimum wage has a significant effect on the national budget by increasing the deficit, undercutting Biden’s claims about “the rules of the United States Senate.”
Biden does not actually want to increase the minimum wage, even at the snail’s pace prescribed by the Coronavirus relief package. Why else would he speak to the national media casting doubt on his own proposal? If the Senate parliamentarian doesn’t kill the measure, then Biden could also blame intransigence by right wing members of his own party like Senators Joe Manchin of West Virginia or Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, and argue that with the Senate split 50-50 he has no choice but to back down. But some Democrats in the House of Representatives are hinting that they would not vote for a stimulus bill without the minimum wage increase.
The broad movement for a $15 minimum wage has made many gains at the local and state level. It is clear that the capitalist politicians in Congress and the White House are plotting to cut them down as the movement nears the finish line. But just as the struggle has brought us this close to victory, it can confront and overcome these final obstacles by responding with an intensification of the fight.