$15 federal minimum wage: Can Senate Democrats keep it in the bill? What you should know

March 4, 2021 0 By boss

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Will minimum wage workers see a pay raise anytime soon?


Sarah Tew/CNET

The Senate will begin debates soon on the $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill that passed in the House of Representatives on Friday. Included in the legislation are a third stimulus check, $400 bonus unemployment checks and an increase to the federal minimum wage. That provision, however, might have to be removed as the Senate parliamentarian ruled last week that the $15-an-hour pay bump doesn’t comply with budget rules. House Democrats continue to apply pressure on Senate Democrats and Vice President Kamala Harris to not give up on increasing the federal minimum wage. 

While the parliamentarian does provide a ruling on legislation, that decision acts as guidance for the Senate and doesn’t immediately shut down a bill. The Senate can decide to ignore the judgment and continue on with the bill, which is what some House Democrats are suggesting. 

“Our two options are realistically this: Override the parliamentarian or eliminate the filibuster,” Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a Democrat from New York, said Monday on MSNBC. “Those are the only two paths we have to create substantive change.” 

There is also a third option, and that is to replace the Senate parliamentarian. It has been done in the past, most notably in 2001 when the official at the time was removed for his ruling against then-President George W. Bush’s tax cuts. Rep. Ilhan Omar,  a Democrat from Minnesota, called for the replacement of the parliamentarian in a tweet on Feb. 26. 

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said Monday during a press briefing that President Joe Biden was committed to raising the minimum wage, but ruled out overriding the parliamentarian. 

“That’s not an action we intend to take,” Psaki said. 

Sen. Bernie Sanders, an Independent from Vermont, said Monday he intends to continue pushing for the federal wage increase and will add an amendment to the bill to make it happen. 

“My personal view is that the idea that we have a Senate staffer, a high-ranking staffer, deciding whether 30 million Americans get a pay raise or not is nonsensical,” he told reporters, according to The Hill. “We have got to make that decision, not a staffer who’s unelected, so my own view is that we should ignore the rulings, the decision of the parliamentarian.”

The proposed increase to the minimum wage in the plan would gradually bump the hourly pay from the current $7.25 to $15 over the course of years. Democrats, who currently control the Senate, would make use of budget reconciliation, a parliamentary tool Congress can use to pass legislation with a simple majority as long as the contents affect the federal budget. 

If the Senate Democrats don’t override the Senate parliamentarian’s ruling, it will lower the chance of the federal minimum wage hike staying in the bill. Here’s what’s going on.


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What’s happening with the $15 federal minimum wage increase?

Increasing the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour has been on Biden’s agenda since Day 1. House and Senate Democrats introduced the Raise the Wage Act of 2021 on Jan. 26, which would begin annual increases until 2025. 

But although the $1.9 trillion stimulus plan passed the House with the wage provision, two major things stand in the way of the plan becoming law with the wage change included — and either could sink this attempt. The first is that the parliamentarian has said that the minimum wage provision doesn’t fit the strict rules for passing the bill through budget reconciliation. The second is that Senate Democrats would need 50 votes to pass, and two party members are opposed to the minimum wage hike in the package. That means the entire bill would fail unless two Republicans voted in favor of the package.

“If it doesn’t prevail because of Senate rules, we will persist,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said on Feb. 26. “But we will not stop until we very soon pass the $15 minimum wage.”

Biden, too, said he is “disappointed in this outcome,” according to a White House press release, and will work with Congress on the “best path forward because no one in this country should work full-time and live in poverty.”

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There may be more than one path forward to raising the minimum wage.


Sarah Tew/CNET

What other options are available for increasing the minimum wage?

Other lawmakers have developed their own plans to increase the minimum wage in the past month. 

Republicans Sen. Mitt Romney, from Utah, and Sen. Tom Cotton, from Arkansas, proposed their own minimum wage bill Tuesday. The Higher Wages for American Workers Act would gradually increase hourly pay from $7.25 to $10 over the course of five years. Then after every two years, pay would increase to match the rate of inflation. The legislation would also raise civil and criminal penalties for employers who hired unauthorized workers and require employees’ eligibility to work to be confirmed with E-Verify

Sen. Josh Hawley, a Republican from Missouri, also plans to introduce legislation to increase wages, but it has a few more provisions. With his Blue-Collar Bonus Tax Credit, workers would receive quarterly payments from the IRS if they make less than $16.50 an hour. In the example provided, a person making $12 an hour would receive a $2.25 per hour credit that would equal to $4,680 a year and would be paid out in four payments of $1,170.  

How much would the minimum wage increase annually if the plan passed?

Biden’s plan called for an increase to the federal minimum wage between now and 2025, and to end the “tipped minimum wage” (for people whose income is based largely on tips, like restaurant servers) and subminimum wage for people with disabilities. Workers who receive at least $30 in tips a month qualify for the “tipped wage,” which is split between a $2.13 minimum cash wage and a $5.13 maximum tip credit with both combining to $7.25. 

According to the Fair Labor Standards Act, certain groups qualify for a wage below the minimum, which is currently $4.25. This includes student workers, those under the age of 20 and workers with a physical or intellectual disability. 

While legislation is required to raise the national minimum wage, Biden can increase the wage for federal workers via executive order. On Jan. 22, he signed an order to have the Office of Personnel Management provide recommendations for a $15 an hour wage for federal workers, as a starting point.

The Raise the Wage Act of 2021 in the House and Senate lays out how the gradual increase will look from now until 2027. Here’s a breakdown of how the bill would affect the minimum wage, the tipped wage, the youth wage for workers under the age of 20 and the 14(c) subminimum wage for workers with disabilities.

Minimum wage raise proposal by year (Raise the Wage Act)

Minimum wage Tipped wage Youth wage 14(c) wage
Current $7.25 $2.13 $4.25 $4.25
2021 $9.50 $4.95 $6.00 $5.00
2022 $11.00 $6.95 $7.75 $7.50
2023 $12.50 $8.95 $9.50 $10.00
2024 $14.00 $10.95 $11.25 $12.50
2025 $15.00 $12.95 $13.00 $15.00
2026 $15.00 $14.95 $14.75 $15.00
2027 $15.00 $15.00 $15.00 $15.00

What is the current minimum wage? Is it the same in every state?

The federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour was decided in 2009. States and cities, however, can dictate their own hourly minimum, based on local economics, for example. Washington has the highest among the states at $13.69, and Seattle is the major city with the top minimum wage of $16.69 for most workers, beginning Jan. 1, 2021. 

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A minimum wage raise would happen gradually over the course of years.


Sarah Tew/CNET

Why increase the minimum wage over five years instead of all at once? 

Raising the federal minimum wage all at once could create the risk of bankrupting small businesses by requiring them to immediately double each employee’s pay. A gradual increase also gives employers and the economy an opportunity to catch up to changes in ways more prone to keeping pace with inflation. 

Biden and other backers of the $15 national minimum wage will likely need to address it in a bill or package that’s separate from Biden’s $1.9 billion American Rescue Plan. The Senate voted 99-1 on an amendment to not raise the wage during the pandemic, which had the support of Sen. Bernie Sanders, the Senate Budget Committee chairman.

“I will support this amendment because nobody is talking about doubling the federal minimum wage during the pandemic,” Sen. Sanders said on Feb. 5. “We’re talking about gradually phasing it in over a five-year period.”

Although the pay increase wasn’t included in the package, the vote to prevent wages from going up during the pandemic was nonbinding, which means it could be added at a later date. 

Biden reiterated this gradual phase-in idea during his town hall Feb. 16.

For more information about bills in Washington aimed at bringing households more money, here’s how a proposal to expand the Child Tax Credit could send families a check every month for a year, and the latest stimulus check timeline, payment limits and qualifications.



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