Senate Democrats and the White House pledged to continue fighting for an increase of the federal minimum wage to $15 after a bid to add the measure to President Joe Biden's $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill failed Friday.
On the Senate floor Friday, Senate Budget Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders (I-VT) introduced an amendment to the COVID-19 relief bill that would reintroduce the $15 minimum wage, which he said has 38 Senate co-sponsors.
Last month, the Senate's nonpartisan parliamentarian, Elizabeth MacDonough, ruled that an increase of the federal minimum wage to $15 could not be included in the bill because it does not meet the strict set of guidelines required for the budget reconciliation process, which would allow Democrats to bypass the 60-vote threshold – and Senate Republicans – to pass the relief measure.
Progressives have aggressively pushed for an increase to the minimum wage since taking the Senate and White House, but moderate Democrats – namely Sens. Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) – had previously objected to including the minimum wage hike in the $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill.
"I think the parliamentarian was dead wrong," Sanders said Friday of the ruling that $15 minimum wage could not be included in the COVID-19 relief bill due to the Senate's arcane budget rules.
"It is an absurd process that we allow an unelected staffer, somebody who works for the Senate not elected by anybody, to make a decision as to whether 30 million Americans get a pay raise or not," Sanders added. "I don't care how the parliamentarian rules, no parliamentarian should have that power."
"If people here want to vote against raising the minimum wage, you have that right," Sanders went on to say. "If you want to vote for it, and I hope you do, you have that right. But we should not shovel off that responsibility to an unelected staffer. That's wrong."
The amendment was defeated soundly after a number of Democrats and moderate Republicans defeated the measure – no votes included both of Maine's senators, Angus King (I-ME) and Susan Collins (R-ME), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Jon Tester (D-MT), Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Joe Manchin (D-WV), Maggie Hassan (D-NH) and both of Delaware's Democratic Sens. Tom Carper and Chris Coons.
Sen. Hassan told CNN that she has "long been supportive of increasing the minimum wage," but did not answer CNN reporter Manu Raju's question about why she did not support this measure. She followed up in a statement that "we need a path forward that is appropriate for workers and small businesses and could actually pass."
Lawmakers and advocates criticized the Democrats who voted against the measure.
"There is not one state in our country where you can make ends meet on the current federal minimum wage," Sanders wrote on Twitter. "Not one! How quickly would Congress raise the minimum wage if they were forced to live on $7.25 an hour? Outrageous."
"It is despicable and unacceptable that there is not unanimous support among Democrats in Congress for a $15 minimum wage," Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-NY) wrote on Twitter.
Rep. Ro Khanna (D-CA) called it "abysmal that the minimum wage is $7.25/hour," adding that "it’s even more abysmal that we can’t find 60 Senators who agree with that sentiment."
"It is unconscionable that Senators Tester, Manchin, Shaheen, Hassan, King, Sinema, Carper, and Coons would tell millions of essential workers earning poverty wages that they are ‘heroes’ but they don’t deserve a $15 minimum wage,” a Justice Democrats spokesperson said in a statement. “President Biden and Vice President Harris must now present their plan for delivering on their campaign promise of a $15 minimum wage before the midterm election cycle gets underway."
Democrats, including the president, pledged to continue fighting for a $15 minimum wage.
"We agree with Sen. Sanders and the President is going to be standing right alongside him fighting for an increase in the minimum wage to $15 an hour," White House Press Sec. Jen Psaki said at Friday's press briefing.
Sen. Jon Ossoff (D-GA), who voted in favor of Sanders' amendment, pledged that "the Fight for 15 continues."
"I will keep fighting for Americans who are forced into financial precarity, debt, stress, ill health, overwork, and low wages," he said on Twitter.
"If any Senator believes this is the last time they will cast a vote on whether or not to give a raise to 32 million Americans, they are sorely mistaken," Sen. Sanders said after the vote. "We’re going to keep bringing it up, and we’re going to get it done because it is what the American people demand and need."
"It is not acceptable to me that half of our people are living paycheck to paycheck," Sen. Sanders added in a subsequent post. "We need an economy that works for all of us. To do that, we must increase the minimum wage to $15 an hour and give 32 million Americans a raise."
"We are not done fighting for a $15 minimum wage," Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA) wrote on Twitter. "American workers need and deserve a raise."
A study from the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office found that increasing the minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2025 would cost the US 1.4 million jobs by 2025, but also increase wages for 17 million Americans directly and lift 900,000 Americans out of poverty.