Biden Under Pressure To Include $15 Wage Increase in the COVID Relief Bill

"Rally demanding $15/hr minimum wage" (CC BY 2.0) Fibonacci Blue

Biden said that he does not think a $15 per hour wage increase will make it into the final COVID-19 relief bill. It is also unlikely that his Vice President will push the rules to make it happen. 

Activists, progressives, and union leaders are demanding the Biden administration to use every tool available to ensure that its massive Coronavirus relief package includes an increase in the minimum wage. However, there is already one place where the White House hinted that the amount would not go. 

Meanwhile, Biden’s team are depending heavily against the idea of having Kamala Harris use her powers as president of the Senate to keeping the minimum wage provision intact of the COVID-19 relief package. However, she could only do so if the Senate parliamentarian concludes that increasing the minimum wage to $15 per hour does not match with the budgetary rules that allow a bill to pass with just 51 votes in the Senate. At that point, the Vice President could be the tie-breaking vote to bypass the parliamentarian. 

The reluctance of the White House to consider that step has set up the chance of an early meeting Biden and a progressive base. 

“It’s a test for how we use the power of having all three, the House, the Senate, and the White House,” said Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.). “Let’s not hand wring over this … We should use every tool in our toolbox.”

Biden has taken a historic amount of Executive orders in his presidency. However, the president still looks at himself as an institutionalist, and advisers and allies say he is cautious of using the Harris nuclear option.

Biden has already stated that increasing the minimum wage to $15 might come up in a “separate negotiation” process from the COVID relief package. However, the administration has not yet been clear about how and when will that separate negotiation might take place to affirm their commitment to pushing it. 

Mike Gwin, White House spokesman, said, “the president is firmly committed to raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour — that’s why he championed it on the campaign trail, and it’s why he put it in his first legislative proposal,”

White House spokesman Mike Gwin said. “That commitment will remain unshaken, regardless of what is determined to be feasible through the reconciliation process.”

Meanwhile, progressive groups and activists are not entertaining a separate path for the wage increase just yet. Instead, national union leaders, together with leaders of “Fight for $15” are pressuring the White House and the Congress to keep the provision in the COVID relief bill. 

Service Employees International Union (SEIU) President Marky Kay Henry said, “We’re going to be a gathering storm in the next three weeks because this is a tipping point. It absolutely needs to be in this package.”

SEIU and other unions already had already reached out to other Democrats such as Senators Catherine Cortez Masto (Nev.), Kyrsten Sinema (Ariz.), and Jeanne Shaheen (N.H.). And together with other major labor organization they are also planning to send a letter to the Congress and the White House on Friday, presenting the case for why a $15-an-hour wage is a critical piece of the Covid relief package.

Joe Sanberg, a progressive activist, and entrepreneur who briefed the Biden’s team about the issue of wage increase during the transition process stated, “By deferring the hyper minimum wage hike to another day we’re probably signing the death sentences for more Americans who are going to die because of poverty.