- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 28, 2021

Congressional Democrats guaranteed they will find a way to raise the minimum wage even if a straight increase is left out of President Biden’s $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package.

Senate Democrats are reportedly planning to set aside a nascent plan to force a wage hike through the tax code as part of the package, likely kicking the debate down the road again.

Still, the marker sets up a showdown with both the White House and liberal activists who say there will be hell to pay for the party in the 2022 midterms if lawmakers don’t increase the wage.

“We are going to raise wages. We are going to find a way … it’s just too important not to,” Senate Banking Committee Chairman Sherrod Brown, Ohio Democrat, said Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

House Budget Committee Chairman John Yarmuth said Friday it will happen before the 2022 midterms.

“How many months do we have left, 20-something months?” said Mr. Yarmuth, Kentucky Democrat. “I’ll guarantee there’ll be a raise in the minimum wage before the election. Hold me to it.”

The Senate this week will begin to work in earnest on its version of the $1.9 trillion legislation after the Democrat-led House passed its bill shortly after 2 a.m. Saturday.

The Senate parliamentarian ruled last week that increasing the federal minimum wage from $7.25 per hour to $15 would not pass muster under the fast-track budget process Democrats are using to thwart a possible GOP filibuster on the broader relief package.

House Democrats included the $15 minimum wage in their bill anyway.

Senate Democrats had floated a Plan B - hiking taxes on companies that don’t pay their employees a given wage - but are apparently shelving that plan for the time being.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki would not guarantee that Mr. Biden will raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour by the end of his term.

“He can’t do it on his own, but he is absolutely committed to raising the wage to $15 an hour,” Ms. Psaki said Sunday on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

The White House also said Vice President Kamala Harris won’t use her authority as president of the Senate to overrule the parliamentarian.

A coalition of liberal advocacy groups delivered an implicit threat about future elections if the White House doesn’t follow through.

“As you know, women and people of color were the deciding force in electing both the president and the Senate in the 2020 elections; a $15 minimum wage was one of the top reasons they voted and will determine whether they vote again,” said the letter to Mr. Biden and Ms. Harris.

But even before the parliamentarian’s ruling, Senate Democrats did not have the votes to raise the wage to $15 per hour.

Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin III of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona had said they did not support including the $15 minimum wage in the $1.9 trillion relief package.

That essentially doomed the item’s prospects in the 50-50 split chamber, with Republicans unified in opposition and opponents saying the higher minimum wage would be a death blow to struggling small businesses.

The House would have to vote again on any changes the Senate sends back.

The Congressional Budget Office concluded that increasing the hourly minimum wage from $7.25 to $15 per hour by 2025 would kill 1.4 million jobs, though it would also lift 900,000 people out of poverty.

Sen. Mark R. Warner, Virginia Democrat, had said he wasn’t sure about using the tax code to muscle through a wage hike.

“In terms of the $15 for corporations penalty, I’d be concerned there about those corporations then outsourcing that work to small enterprises that wouldn’t [pay] a penalty,” Mr. Warner said on “Fox News Sunday.” “I want to see that proposal.”

Democrats are rushing to pass the broader package before mid-March, when expanded unemployment benefits from an earlier relief bill are due to expire.

Mr. Biden said over the weekend that he’s hoping for “quick action” from the Senate.

“We have no time to waste,” the president said. “If we act now — decisively, quickly, and boldly — we can finally get ahead of this virus. We can finally get our economy moving again.”

The House voted 219-212 to approve the package, which includes direct payments of up to $1,400 for millions of Americans, $130 billion for K-12 schools, $25 billion for hard-hit restaurants, and expanded unemployment benefits through the end of August.

Ms. Psaki said the White House is open to hearing Republicans’ ideas on how to change it.

The GOP scoffed at that notion.

“The Biden administration’s become the most partisan administration in modern history,” House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California said on Fox News’ “Sunday Morning Futures.” “The real focus here should be putting [people] back to work, back to school, and back to health. This bill does not do it.”

The package that ultimately gets to Mr. Biden’s desk is unlikely to win support from a single Republican in the House or Senate.

Sen. Mitt Romney, a Utah Republican who sometimes bucks his party, called the plan a $1.9 trillion “clunker.”

Mr. Romney and other Senate Republicans who made a $618 billion counteroffer and met with Mr. Biden at the White House now say the president’s staff isn’t interested in negotiating.

The White House insists the package has bipartisan support because of public polling and backing from state and local Republican leaders.

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