House Democrats call for Senate parliamentarian to be ignored after ruling against minimum wage hike

Kamala Harris won't overrule Senate parliamentarian, so a minimum wage increase can't be part of the stimulus bill

By Jon Skolnik

Staff Writer

Published February 26, 2021 12:09PM (EST)

Kamala Harris and Joe Manchin (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)
Kamala Harris and Joe Manchin (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)

After the Senate parliamentarian ruled against the Democratic-backed minimum wage hike provision in President Biden's COVID-19 relief bill, Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., called her ouster.

"Abolish the filibuster. Replace the parliamentarian," Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) tweeted on Thursday, urging her colleagues in the Senate to defy the parliamentarian's objection. "What's a Democratic majority if we can't pass our priority bills? This is unacceptable."

Senate Parliamentarian Elizabeth MacDonough specifically ruled on Thursday that the wage hike does not comply with the rules surrounding budget reconciliation since all reconciliation provisions are required to address matters of federal spending. The hike, she said, would be "merely incidental." 

The decision proves a fatal blow for progressives, such as Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who have been backing a months-long effort to raise the minimum wage for Americans economically burdened under the weight of the pandemic.  

"President Biden is disappointed in this outcome," said White House press secretary Jen Psaki, "as he proposed having the $15 minimum wage as part of the American Rescue Plan. He respects the parliamentarian's decision and the Senate's process."

"He urges Congress to move quickly to pass the American Rescue Plan," Psaki continued, "which includes $1400 rescue checks for most Americans, funding to get this virus under control, aid to get our schools reopened and desperately needed help for the people who have been hardest hit by this crisis."

Over Twitter, Rep. Omar also harkened back to when Republicans fired the presiding parliamentarian for attempting to nix former President Bush's tax cuts in 2001. "Republicans go for their agenda and don't let anyone stand in their way as they fight for corporations over people," she said. "We have to fight hard for the American people and not hide behind a ruling from an unelected parliamentarian."

Although Omar has not been joined by many in her call for MacDonough's termination, several progressives have called upon Vice President Kamala Harris to overturn the Senate parliamentarian's ruling, pointing to the political absurdity of one unelected official being able to block a bill that has strong populist support

"I'm sorry—an unelected parliamentarian does not get to deprive 32 million Americans the raise they deserve," Rep. Ro Khanna, D-Calif., tweeted on Thursday. "This is an advisory, not a ruling. VP Harris needs to disregard and rule a $15 minimum wage in order."  

Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., echoed Khanna: "The Senate parliamentarian issues an advisory opinion. The VP can overrule them—as has been done before."

However, White House chief of staff Ron Klain said Wednesday night that the vice president intends to let the provision fail if the Senate parliamentarian ruled against it, enraging progressives. There are just two Democratic Senators –– Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona –– who have expressed disapproval with the minimum wage increase.  

So Senate Democrats are now proposing new amendments that aim to incentivize corporations into paying their employees at $15/hr and punish those that do not.

Senate Democrats' unwillingness to eliminate the 60-vote filibuster is, in large part, what forced them into budget reconciliation –– a process that allows them to push bills through despite an obstructionist GOP, however, under very strict conditions. The filibuster could be scrapped with just a simple majority vote in the Senate, finally disallowing the GOP from vetoing populist policies that demand swift ratification. 

"It is long past time that Senate Democrats eliminate the filibuster and do what they were elected to—deliver bold solutions to address this nation's problems," said Rahna Epting, executive director of MoveOn. "The American public can not afford more obstruction or half measures."

By Jon Skolnik

Jon Skolnik was a former staff writer at Salon.

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