In a fateful and long-awaited ruling, Senate parliamentarian Elizabeth MacDonough has decided that a bill to implement Joe Biden’s COVID-stimulus legislation cannot include a boost in the minimum wage to $15 per hour. At this juncture, it’s unclear whether MacDonough’s ruling encompasses any minimum-wage hike or only the version promoted by congressional Democrats. But either way it’s a major procedural blow to implementation of Democrats’ plan to pass relief through budget reconciliation since Republican filibusters will almost certainly preclude any minimum-wage hike pursued outside the charmed circle of a reconciliation package that can’t be filibustered.
On the one hand, the ruling saves Democrats from an internal battle between the vast majority of their House and Senate members who favor the $15 minimum wage and the few who don’t, such as Senators Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema. It is not at all likely that any Democrat is interested in alleged Republican compromise proposals for a much lower minimum wage hike married to restrictive immigration provisions. Still, pressure for the higher minimum wage could buttress those inclined to overturn the parliamentarian’s ruling. At the same time support for keeping with Senate tradition and letting the parliamentarian have the final say reportedly includes Biden and Kamala Harris.
We may yet see how far the impetus for raising the minimum wage advances, both in Congress and in the states, but the relief that was in sight for low-income workers just got further away after tonight.