Senate Parliamentarian Nixes Federal Minimum Wage Hike in COVID-19 Relief Bill

The Senate parliamentarian on Thursday ruled against including a boost to the minimum wage in a $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief bill, arguing that it runs afoul of budget rules.

The decision from the parliamentarian, Elizabeth MacDonough, is a significant blow to progressives, who viewed the plan to increase the minimum wage to $15 per hour as one of their top priorities in the massive coronavirus relief plan. Because Democrats are trying to pass the coronavirus bill through reconciliation — a fast-track process that lets them bypass the 60-vote legislative filibuster — every provision has to comply with arcane budget rules.

Democrats will instead need 60 votes to overcome an inevitable GOP challenge in the wake of the parliamentarian’s ruling, support that it doesn’t have, if they want the minimum wage hike to survive the Senate.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (S.C.), the top Republican on the Budget Committee, immediately declared victory following the ruling. “Very pleased the Senate Parliamentarian has ruled that a minimum wage increase is an inappropriate policy change in reconciliation,” he said.

Senate Budget Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who had said he was optimistic that the parliamentarian would side with him, said that the Congressional Budget Office made it “absolutely clear” that raising the minimum wage “had a substantial budgetary impact and should be allowed under reconciliation.”

“I strongly disagree with tonight’s decision by the Senate Parliamentarian,” he said.

Sanders added that he will now try to get language added to the coronavirus bill that takes away tax breaks from large corporations that do not have a $15 per hour wage, and to try to incentivize small businesses to increase their wages.

“That amendment must be included in this reconciliation bill,” he said.