Senate Democrats passed a budget resolution early Friday, the latest step toward approving President Joe Biden's $1.9 trillion Covid stimulus plan by a simple majority without Republican votes.
Not all of Biden's proposal remained intact. On the chopping block, at least for now, is a $15 federal minimum wage.
The plan to raise the federal minimum wage, which has been $7.25 an hour since 2009, was removed after senators backed an amendment from Sen. Joni Ernst, a Republican from Iowa. She proposed prohibiting the increase in the federal minimum wage during the pandemic, when many small businesses are suffering.
"A $15 federal minimum wage would be devastating for our hardest-hit small businesses at a time when they can least afford it," said Ernst on the Senate floor.
"We should not have a one-size-fits-all policy set by Washington politicians," she said. "We all support higher wages, but a $15 federal minimum wage would be counterproductive."
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In a surprise, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., supported Ernst's amendment, which is nonbinding. He spoke on the amendment to clarify that his plan, detailed in the Raise the Wage Act, is to gradually raise the federal minimum wage to reach $15 an hour in 2025 — not immediately increase wages during the pandemic.
"I will support this amendment because nobody is talking about doubling the federal minimum wage during the pandemic," he said. "We're talking about gradually phasing it in over a five-year period."
He also said that he will do everything he can to make sure that a $15 federal minimum wage is ultimately included in the budget reconciliation bill. To pass in budget reconciliation in the Senate, however, it would require the unanimous support of all 50 Democratic senators. Currently, it does not have all the votes it would need to pass — Democrat Sen. Joe Manchin from West Virginia opposes it.
Still, the push to approve legislation raising the federal minimum wage is far from over. On Thursday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said during a news conference that a $15 minimum wage is a very high priority for Democrats.
"It doesn't mean it won't happen just because it won't happen there," she said. "There's so much in the package that has to be done right now, and we'll do the best we can."
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