Calling on the Senate Democratic majority to disregard the advice of the unelected parliamentarian, Sen. Bernie Sanders late Monday announced he will force a vote this week on an amendment to include a $15 minimum wage provision in the pending $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package.
"At a time when millions of workers are earning starvation wages, when the minimum wage has not been raised by Congress since 2007 and stands at a pathetic $7.25 an hour, it is time to raise the minimum wage to a living wage," Sanders, the chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, said in a statement.
The Vermont senator's announcement came as the White House and Senate Democrats signaled a retreat from the effort to include a minimum wage increase in the coronavirus relief package after the parliamentarian advised last week that the measure would run afoul of the Byrd Rule, which requires provisions of reconciliation bills to have a direct — not "merely incidental" — impact on the federal budget.
Citing two anonymous Democratic aides, the Washington Post reported Monday that "Senate Democrats will move forward with a version of the relief bill that does not attempt to raise the minimum wage." Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said in a floor speech Monday that the chamber will begin voting on the sprawling relief package this week, with an initial procedural vote expected as early as Wednesday.
In his statement Monday night, Sanders said he was "extremely disappointed by the decision of the parliamentarian, who ruled that the minimum wage provision was inconsistent with the Byrd Rule and the reconciliation process."
Echoing the calls of progressive House Democrats and dozens of grassroots advocacy groups representing millions of people across the U.S., Sanders said his "own personal view is that the Senate should ignore the parliamentarian's advice, which is wrong in a number of respects."
"I am not sure, however, that my view at this point is the majority view in the Democratic caucus," the Vermont senator added, alluding to opposition from Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.). "Obviously, as soon as we can, we must end the filibuster that currently exists in the U.S. Senate. Given the enormous crises facing working families today, we cannot allow a minority of the Senate to obstruct what the vast majority of the American people want and need."
Progressives in recent days have pushed Vice President Kamala Harris to overrule the parliamentarian's advice, which she has the constitutional authority to do. Should the vice president opt to use that authority, it would take 60 votes in the Senate to overrule her.
But White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki was adamant during a Monday briefing that Harris will not attempt to overrule the parliamentarian, the official tasked with interpreting Senate rules.
Asked by NBC News reporter Geoff Bennett why the White House appears to be fighting harder to salvage the collapsing nomination of budget office pick Neera Tanden than to keep the minimum wage increase in the coronavirus relief package, Psaki accused Bennett of "mixing a few things kind of irresponsibly."
Sanders made clear Monday that he will continue pushing to raise the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour if his coronavirus relief amendment fails to pass this week.
Following the parliamentarian's advisory ruling against the proposed pay raise last week, Sanders and Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) began crafting a backup plan that would impose tax penalties on large corporations that don't pay their employees $15 an hour. But Sanders and Wyden reportedly dropped the plan after it became clear that the measure would be too difficult to implement and that there wouldn't be sufficient support to include it in the emerging Covid-19 relief package.
Speaking to the press about his new $15 minimum wage amendment, Sanders said Monday that "there will be a roll call vote, and we'll see who votes for it and doesn't."
"I would suggest that those who vote against it from a political point of view, that's a mistake. The American people want to see that minimum wage raised," Sanders continued. "Let me be very clear—if we fail in this legislation, I will be back."