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$1,400 stimulus checks are coming, but the $15 minimum wage is dead

Published Feb 26th, 2021 11:01AM EST
Stimulus checks update
Image: Kevin Dietsch - Pool via CNP/MEGA
  • The Senate parliamentarian ruled on Thursday that President Biden’s $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package would not be allowed to include a minimum wage hike.
  • The bill had a provision that would have gradually raised the federal minimum wage to $15 between now and 2025, but Democrats will have to find another way forward.
  • Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) will introduce an amendment that will penalize large companies for not paying workers $15 an hour and provide incentives to small businesses to raise their pay.

Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion COVID-19 stimulus package should receive a vote in the House of Representatives on Friday, bringing millions of Americans one step closer to receiving the $1,400 stimulus checks that they were promised over a month ago. The bill also enhances federal unemployment insurance by $400 per week, provides additional funding for vaccine development and distribution, and offers aid to state and local governments. Nearly everything that President Biden asked for is in the bill, save for one vital provision that will have to be removed.

On Thursday evening, Senate parliamentarian Elizabeth MacDonough ruled that an increase to the federal minimum wage could not be included in the reconciliation bill. By using the budget reconciliation process, the Democrats will be able to pass Biden’s relief package through both chambers of Congress with a simple majority, but in turn, everything in the bill has to directly impact the budget. The Senate parliamentarian decides whether or not that it is the case for each provision in the bill, and MacDonough doesn’t believe a minimum wage hike qualifies.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said in a statement on Thursday night that President Biden “is disappointed in this outcome,” but it also likely clears the way for the massive relief package to get the 50 votes it needs in the Senate without receiving pushback from moderate Democrats. Both Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) had made it clear that they did not believe a minimum wage increase should be included in the bill, with Sinema going as far to say that altering the minimum wage was “not appropriate for the reconciliation process.”

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi says that Democrats plan to keep the provision in the bill anyway, but all that means is that the Senate will have to strip it from the legislation and the House will vote on the bill again. President Biden made it clear that he intended to respect whatever decision the parliamentarian made, which means that there is no path to saving the $15 minimum wage in the American Rescue Plan, barring a major reversal.

“I strongly disagree with tonight’s decision by the Senate Parliamentarian,” said Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT). “The CBO made it absolutely clear that raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour had a substantial budgetary impact and should be allowed under reconciliation. It is hard for me to understand how drilling for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge was considered to be consistent with the Byrd Rule, while increasing the minimum wage is not.” Sanders says he’ll introduce an amendment to “take tax deductions away from large, profitable corporations that don’t pay workers at least $15 an hour and to provide small businesses with the incentives they need to raise wages.”

As Sanders points out, 60% of the American people want the federal minimum wage — which has been stagnant for over a decade — to be raised. The good news is that many states are not waiting on the federal government to take action, with 20 states increasing their minimum wages at the beginning of 2021.

Jacob Siegal
Jacob Siegal Associate Editor

Jacob Siegal is Associate Editor at BGR, having joined the news team in 2013. He has over a decade of professional writing and editing experience, and helps to lead our technology and entertainment product launch and movie release coverage.