Sen. Lindsey Graham, the South Carolina Republican, explicitly praised two Democratic senators – Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona – for rejecting their party’s efforts to eliminate the Senate filibuster.
The chamber’s filibuster requires 60 votes to pass legislation and both Democrats have pledged to reject pressure from their own party and stand with Republicans to protect the rule.
“I want to thank Sen. Manchin and Sen. Sinema for rejecting the idea of changing the filibuster,” Graham said. “I’m asking no more of them than I ask of myself. So I appreciate what they’re doing for the Senate and for the country.”
But Graham, a close ally of former President Donald Trump, supported Republicans’ successful effort to eliminate the filibuster for votes on Supreme Court nominees.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has urged his caucus to publicly praise the two Democratic lawmakers, Politico reported last week. He was very complimentary of his colleagues in a recent interview.
“What they’ve been very forthright about is protecting the institution against pressures from their own party. I know what that’s like,” McConnell told Politico. “Every time I said no. And it’s nice that there are Democrats left who respect the institution and don’t want to destroy the very essence of the Senate.”
Although a federal minimum wage increase to $15 an hour didn’t make it into the stimulus bill, Senate Democrats are meeting today to find a way to get it done somehow, a Democratic source told HuffPost.
According to the source, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer will meet with the progressive senators who led the push for the $15 minimum wage increase, including Bernie Sanders of Vermont, Patty Murray of Washington, and Ron Wyden of Oregon. But the meeting will also include all seven moderate Democrats who voted against the $15 minimum wage hike: Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, Chris Coons of Delaware, Tom Carper of Delaware, Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire, Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire, and Jon Tester of Montana.
When the Senate parliamentarian voted against including a minimum wage increase in the stimulus bill, Sanders – who co-sponsored a bill to raise the wage to $15 an hour by 2025 – promised he wouldn’t give up on efforts to get the job done.
“But let me be very clear: If we fail in this legislation, I will be back,” Sanders told reporters on March 1. “We’re going to keep going and, if it takes 10 votes, we’re going to raise that minimum wage very shortly.”
And in a call with reporters on Friday, progressive lawmakers, including Rep. Ro Khanna of California, joined labor leaders and activists to strategize how they could pass a minimum wage increase through Congress, whether by reconciliation or attaching it to a must-pass bill.
“There needs to be a clear plan, a clear strategy,” Khanna told The Washington Post in an interview. “It’s not enough to just say, well, we’re committed to this, we want to get it done.”
Manchin has previously said that a $15 minimum wage increase is too high and advocated for an $11 per hour increase instead. However, Sanders has remained adamant on achieving a $15 per hour increase to lift Americans out of poverty.
“In my mind, the great economic crisis that we face today is half of our people are living paycheck to paycheck,” Sanders said on Twitter on March 5. “And many millions of workers are, frankly, working for starvation wages. Raising the minimum wage is what the American people want, and it’s what we have got to do.”
Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, an Arizona Democrat, dramatically indicated her “no” vote with a thumbs-down to the Senate clerk on a measure to raise the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour on Friday.
Some progressives attacked the moderate Democrat for appearing enthusiastic about denying tens of millions of Americans. Sinema’s somewhat theatrical move called to mind Arizona Sen. John McCain’s famous thumbs-down vote on repealing the Affordable Care Act in 2017.
An adviser to Democrat Julian Castro tweeted alongside a video of Sinema’s vote, “Did Sinema really have vote against a $15 minimum wage for 24 million people like this?” Rep. Mark Pocan, a Wisconsin progressive, tweeted out a statement Sinema made in 2014 supporting a minimum wage increase to $10.74.
“A full-time minimum-wage earner makes less than $16k a year,” Sinema wrote. “This one’s a no-brainer. Tell Congress to #RaiseTheWage!”
Pocan commented, “Just wow.” Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the New York Democrat, retweeted the message.
Sinema was one of seven Democratic senators and one independent who voted against hiking the federal minimum wage to $15 by 2025 as part of President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion stimulus package. All 50 Republicans oppose the measure and it appeared to be set to fail on Friday.
But Sinema and other Democratic senators who voted down the measure have suggested they’d be open to passing a higher minimum wage after the relief bill is passed.
“Senators in both parties have shown support for raising the federal minimum wage, and the Senate should hold an open debate and amendment process on raising the minimum wage, separate from the Covid-focused reconciliation bill,” Sinema said in a statement.
More than 800,000 people in Sinema’s home state earn less than $15 per hour and will be impacted by Sinema’s vote, a recent study found.
Senate Democrats want to enact a new $1.9 trillion rescue package within weeks, but one major hurdle stands between them and the bill’s final passage: whether it will include a $15 minimum wage increase.
Once the House approves the legislation and sends it to the Senate, the wage provision is likely to spark some clashes among Democratic senators. The minimum-wage increase in the Biden rescue plan would be phased in over five years and eliminate tipped wages.
Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona have both said they oppose the measure. The resistance of these two lawmakers imperils the measure even if it clears all the hurdles required of a reconciliation package (the strict budgetary procedure that Democrats are employing to bypass Republicans). A looming ruling from the Senate parliamentarian will likely pose obstacles.
“There might be a few other Democrats with pretty significant concerns about the minimum wage increase,” Jim Manley, a former senior Democratic aide, said in an interview. “No matter how the parliamentarian rules, I’m not sure the votes are there in the Senate to increase the minimum wage to $15 an hour.”
The Senate parliamentarian serves as a neutral arbiter of reconciliation, a process that will allow Democrats to approve a bill with a simple majority of 51 votes in the upper chamber instead of the usual 60. Reconciliation requires every provision of a bill to be related to the federal budget, or else the parliamentarian can toss it out.
If the minimum wage doesn’t survive this process, that could complicate Democrats’ swift timeline for approval, targeted for mid-March. But even if it does survive, in an evenly divided chamber where Vice President Kamala Harris can break ties, every Democrat must support the final package.
Sen. Bernie Sanders, chair of the Senate Budget Committee with jurisdiction over reconciliation, told reporters on Tuesday a ruling may come in the next day or two. Progressives like Sanders are championing the measure as a boon to low-paid workers.
$11 an hour versus $15 an hour
The federal minimum wage hasn’t been raised from $7.25 since 2009, and labor advocates say a bill should lift wages for essential workers and others putting themselves at risk in the pandemic.
“To say that we can support jobless workers, teachers, caregivers, and medical professionals without supporting workers earning $7.25 an hour isn’t just bad policy, it’s inhumane,” Elizabeth Pancotti, policy director of Employ America, said on Twitter. “Economic relief must include raising the minimum wage.”
But Republicans argue that raising wages during a pandemic would cause employers to shed jobs. Some Democrats share those concerns as well.
“I think small business has got to be kept in mind, and I think there are a number of different variations that are being proposed that help insulate the impact in terms of small business,” Sen. John Hickenlooper of Colorado told the Wall Street Journal.
A report from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office indicated the $15 minimum wage plan would cause 1.4 million job losses, but lift 900,000 people out of poverty.
There is some GOP support to raise wages. On Tuesday, Sens. Mitt Romney and Tom Cotton introduced legislation to raise the minimum wage to $10 over four years once the pandemic is over. They would also tie it to mandatory use of the E-Verify program so employers can keep tabs on the immigration status of their workers.
“If we don’t have the $15 proposal as part of reconciliation, we’ll need to sit down and work on a bipartisan proposal,” Romney told reporters on Tuesday. “And we’re open to considering other people’s points of view.”
But many Democrats are eager to press ahead on their own without Republican votes. Sanders recently expressed confidence that the pay bump would clear the stringent reconciliation process and garner enough Democratic votes for passage.
“I think we’re going to pass it as it is,” he told reporters on Monday. “The Democrats are going to support the president of the United States and the overwhelming majority of the American people want to pass this Covid emergency bill.”
But that’s not holding back some Democrats from pitching ideas about a lower wage increase in the final legislation. Manchin told reporters on Monday evening he would try to offer an amendment to the legislation.
“I would amend it to $11,” he said. “We can do $11 in two years and be in a better position than they’re going to be with $15 in five years.”
The $15 minimum wage enjoys strong public support. Over 60% of respondents in a new Insider poll published Tuesday would definitely or probably support a $15 minimum wage.
Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont on Saturday expressed confidence that the proposed minimum wage hike to $15 per hour will remain in the $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package that congressional Democrats are aiming to pass through the budget reconciliation process.
President Joe Biden supports the minimum wage hike but has expressed doubt that it would be permissible under reconciliation rules. But, Sanders, the independent chairman of the Senate Budget Committee who caucuses with the Democrats, thinks the measure will pass muster with the Senate parliamentarian.
“Raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour is not ‘incidental’ to the federal budget and is permissible under the rules of reconciliation,” Sanders said in a statement to CNN. “The CBO [Congressional Budget Office] has found that the $15 minimum wage has a much greater impact on the federal budget than opening up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling and repealing the individual mandate penalties – two provisions that the parliamentarian advised did not violate the Byrd Rule when Republicans controlled the Senate.”
He added: “I’m confident that the parliamentarian will advise next week that we can raise the minimum wage through the reconciliation process.”
Joe Biden has been president for over a week, and congressional Democrats haven’t considered much of his agenda yet.
Democrats have control of the Senate for the first time in six years. Georgia runoff winners Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff, along with Alex Padilla, California’s former secretary of state, were sworn in by Vice President Kamala Harris on January 20. The ceremony finally materialized the party’s highly sought-after goal: control of the White House and Congress.
Democrats have so far struggled to take advantage of that newfound power, dawdling somewhat in pushing legislation through. The delay has mainly stemmed from the Senate, which came to standstill because Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and Majority Leader Chuck Schumer feuded over the filibuster.
In a nutshell, McConnell wanted Schumer to promise to preserve the legislative tactic, which essentially functions as the minority’s check on the majority by allowing endless debate on a bill, often to delay or block its passage. Sixty senators are required in order to stop debate and vote on a bill. Many progressives in the Democratic Party have recently renewed calls for eliminating the filibuster.
Schumer was obstinate in the face of McConnell’s demands on the filibuster, but the Kentucky Republican ultimately backed off after two Democratic senators vowed to uphold the tool. Those two lawmakers, Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema, along with several other moderate Democrats, are shaping up to have significant influence over Biden’s legislative priorities.
Besides the filibuster stalemate, the Senate has been busy confirming Biden’s Cabinet picks and is also preparing for an impeachment trial for former President Donald Trump.
Biden, meanwhile, has signed dozens of executive orders, ranging from tackling the COVID-19 pandemic to climate change and racial injustice. Yet the power of the presidency can only go so far without congressional support.
One area that top Democrats have pledged to quickly deliver on is another coronavirus stimulus. Dubbed the “America Rescue Plan,” Biden’s $1.9 trillion package includes $1,400 one-time direct payments, aid for state and local governments, a goal to vaccinate 100 million Americans within his first 100 days in office, among other proposals. White House coronavirus advisor Andy Slavitt said this week that the Biden administration can achieve its vaccination goal without Congress, but added that the legislative body is needed to secure more funding to vaccinate all Americans.
However, Democrats are operating on slim majorities in both chambers and divided sentiment within the party, posing a challenge for Biden to implement his agenda. The president’s major hurdle lies in the Senate because of the filibuster, which if employed would require support from at least 10 Republicans for his legislation to have any shot. Democrats have tools to work around it, such as a procedure known as budget reconciliation that only requires a simple majority of 51 to pass legislation. But that can only happen if Biden is able to unite all 50 senators in the Democratic caucus, which includes two independents – Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Angus King of Maine – to support his policy.
These are the moderate Senate Democrats who could influence much of Biden’s legislation:
Manchin has been thrust into the spotlight in recent weeks after he pledged to McConnell that he would not eliminate the filibuster. The West Virginian is well known for his conservative voice in the party, hailing from one of the reddest states in the country and frequently voting with the GOP. He was the lone Democrat to vote to confirm Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh. Manchin’s stances could threaten some of Biden’s progressive ideas, especially when it comes to climate change. Manchin has also been skeptical of Biden’s stimulus proposal. He’s poised to be a major senator to watch in the Biden era.
Similarly, Sinema has come on the radar in light of her support to maintain the filibuster. She is one of two Democratic senators representing Arizona, a key swing state in the 2020 elections that flipped to Biden. Yet like Manchin, she has a record of voting with the GOP, making her vote crucial under the Biden administration.
Coons is one of Biden’s closest allies in the Senate and represents the president’s home state of Delaware. The senator had been considered to serve as Secretary of State, but Biden chose Anthony Blinken instead. “I need you in the Senate,” Biden told Coons in a November 16 conversation. Coons, who’s built a bipartisan reputation, is expected to wield substantial political power in Biden’s term.
Klobuchar is another moderate to keep an eye out for, as she’s been closely linked to Biden’s circle over the past several months. The former 2020 presidential candidate, who ran on her centrist, Midwestern background, quickly endorsed Biden after she dropped out of the race. Klobuchar was in the running to be Biden’s vice presidential pick, but withdrew her name and said the president-elect should select a woman of color instead. The Minnesota senator had also been floated to serve in Biden’s Cabinet. On Inauguration Day, Klobuchar played a key role in Biden’s ceremony and delivered the opening address.
Tester could become an important “yes” vote on Biden’s legislation. Like Manchin, he also comes from a red state: Montana. Yet unlike Manchin, he hasn’t voted with the GOP as much, despite Montana voting for former President Donald Trump in the 2016 and 2020 elections. Biden may be able to use this to his advantage and secure Tester’s support on many of his policy positions.
Though he dropped out of the race fairly early on, Bennet raised his national profile by running for president in 2020. The Colorado Democrat has garnered a reputation as a lawmaker who seeks to push ideas palatable to both parties, such as criminal justice reform, and could be a strong ally for Biden on the legislative front.
As chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Warner is in one of the most important positions in Congress. The committee oversees the US intelligence community, which the Biden administration is working to repair after four years of relentless attacks from the Trump administration. The Virginia Democrat has a long record as a centrist, and will play a key role in discussions on threats to the US, including domestic terrorism.
Casey could be an ally for Biden on most issues, but has often stood out from others in his party due to his stance on abortion. In the past, the Pennsylvania lawmaker has described himself as a “pro-life Democrat” and in 2019 was one of just two Democratic senators – the other being Manchin – to vote for a permanent ban on federal funding for most abortions. Biden during his campaign supported ending the Hyde Amendment, which bans federal funding from going to most abortions, but any such effort could face opposition from Casey.