Progressives push back after Biden predicts COVID relief won't include minimum wage increase

Progressive lawmakers warned that increasing the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour 'can't wait'

President Biden is risking an early clash with progressive Democrats over a proposed minimum wage hike.

Progressives who have tried for years to raise the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour viewed Biden's nearly $2 trillion COVID-19 relief package as the best avenue to do so — but the president cast doubt last week on whether the higher wage will be included in the final bill.

“I put it in, but I don’t think it's going to survive,” Biden told CBS’ Norah O’Donnell during an interview that aired in full on Sunday. “My guess is it will not be in [the relief bill].”

Congressional Democrats are moving to advance the emergency aid measure using a procedure known as budget reconciliation, which allows them to pass the legislation using their slimmest-possible majority. But Biden said the "the rules of the United States Senate" probably mean that the minimum wage hike will have to be dropped, though he maintained that he's committed to eventually increasing the wage to $15 per hour.


"I do think that we should have a minimum wage, stand by itself, $15 an hour," Biden said.

Biden's comments drew a swift rebuke from some lawmakers, who warned that more than doubling the minimum wage from $7.25 to $15 per hour "can't wait."

"Let's be clear. We will never get 10 votes from Senate Republicans to pass a $15 an hour minimum wage," Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt. tweeted on Sunday. "The ONLY way we can do it now with 51 votes is through the reconciliation process."

Sanders, the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, said a "room full of lawyers" is working to make the case that the inclusion of a minimum wage increase in the stimulus measure does not violate budget reconciliation rules.

Established by the Congressional Budget Reconciliation Act of 1974, reconciliation can be used on certain tax, spending and debt limit bills. It effectively prevents a legislative filibuster, a Senate rule that requires legislation to receive 60 votes in order to be brought up for a final vote (meaning Democrats would need to secure the support of at least 10 Republicans).

Still, there are limits on what legislation qualifies for reconciliation and how frequently the process can be used.

For instance, the bill could be subject to the so-called "Byrd rule," which limits what can be included in reconciliation legislation. The rule, which was adopted in 1985, is named for former Sen. Robert C. Byrd, D-W.Va. It prevents "extraneous" provisions from being included in reconciliation so that only items affecting the federal budget can be included.

"We have a room full of lawyers working as hard as we can to make the case to the parliamentarian that, in fact, raising the minimum wage will have significant budget implications and, in fact, should be consistent with reconciliation rules," Sanders told CNN's Jake Tapper on "State of the Union."

Sanders has previously argued that raising the federal minimum wage would affect the budget because minimum wage workers who are currently receiving some form of public assistance may no longer require that federal aid.


"They'd be able to stand on their own two feet, which means it would have a very positive impact on the federal deficit," Sanders told reporters at the end of January. "That is one of the major arguments we will be making."

Sanders is not the only progressive lawmaker to push back against Biden.

"We need to pass the $15 minimum wage immediately," Rep. Cori Bush, D-Mo., said. "Then we need to get right back to work to raise it to an actual livable wage."

Rep. Ro Khanna, D-Calif., said that 31% of Black workers and 26% of Latino workers would receive raises if the minimum wage rose to $15 per hour.

"We're in the worst crisis of our lifetime," Khanna said. "$15 can't wait."


Biden's proposed American Rescue Plan would gradually raise the minimum wage, which has remained at $7.25 an hour for the past decade, to $15 an hour by 2025.

“There should be a national minimum wage of $15 an hour. No one working 40 hours a week should live below the poverty line,” Biden said at the beginning of January when he first outlined the spending package. “If you work for less than $15 an hour and work 40 hours a week, you’re living in poverty.”

But the White House would not commit to its inclusion last week.

"We're literally dying while politicians are playing political football with our lives," Fight for 15, an advocacy group for increasing the minimum wage, said in a statement. "We need a $15 minimum wage in the COVID relief package."