- Sen. Bernie Sanders’ attempt to include a $US15 ($20) minimum wage provision in the COVID-19 relief looks likely to fail.
- Eight Democrats, including centrist Sen. Joe Manchin, voted against the legislation’s inclusion.
- 250,000 workers in West Virginia, Manchin’s home state, could see a raise under a $US15 ($20) minimum wage.
- Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.
Sen. Bernie Sanders’ attempts to include a $US15 ($20) minimum wage provision in the $US1.9 ($2) trillion COVID-19 relief bill looks likely to fail on Friday in the Senate – with bipartisan opposition.
Last week, Senate parliamentarian Elizabeth MacDonough, the chamber’s official advisor on procedural matters, ruled the minimum wage hike could not stay in the massive coronavirus spending bill, arguing the provision’s effect on the federal budget was “merely incidental.”
Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, two of the party’s most moderate Democrats, had both voiced strong opposition to using budget reconciliation – a maneuver that allows the majority party to speed through high-priority fiscal legislation without support from the minority party – to pass the minimum wage hike, and following MacDonough’s decision, Manchin doubled down on his refusal to sidestep her ruling.
Still, Sanders and fellow progressives called on Democrats to ignore the parliamentarian’s decision and include the provision anyway, which would have required all 50 Democrats’ support plus Vice President Kamala Harris’s tie-breaking vote.
The proposal was formerly known as the Raise the Wage Act of 2021 and would incrementally increase the federal minimum wage from $US7.25 ($9) to $US15 ($20) by the year 2025.
But Friday’s vote revealed that even though Manchin had been the loudest Democratic critic to the increase, he was not the only member of the party to oppose the legislation.
Eight Democrats – Manchin, Sinema, Sen. Jon Tester of Montana, Sen. Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire, Sen. Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire, Sen. Angus King of Maine, Sen. Tom Carper of Delaware, and Sen. Chris Coons of Delaware – joined with all 50 Republicans to vote against the bill’s inclusion.
Still, Manchin’s passionate and public hostility toward a minimum wage increase has drawn criticism from constituents and activists back home in West Virginia who support the proposed increase.
West Virginia is one of the poorest states in the country
Even before COVID-19, West Virginia had the 6th highest poverty rate in the country, according to US Census Bureau data. An estimated 278,734 West Virginians – 16% of the population – lived in poverty in 2019, according to the West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy.
Data from the Economic Policy Institute indicates that a quarter of a million West Virginians, about 14% of the population in the state, would directly benefit from a $US15 ($20) minimum wage.
Those impacted workers would take home, on average, nearly $US4,000 ($5,215) extra dollars each year, the economic policy institute estimated. The total annual wage increase for all affected West Virginia workers would be $US987 ($1,287) million annually.
During a February virtual meeting with West Virginia Poor People’s Campaign, a progressive group fighting for working-class residents in the state, Manchin reaffirmed his opposition.
Though the meeting was closed to the media, attendees told reporters in an online press conference immediately afterward that Manchin “refused to budge,” according to The Guardian.
“I feel like he’s got his head in the clouds and he doesn’t understand what’s happening to poor people in West Virginia,” Brianna Griffith, a restaurant worker and rafting guide, told the outlet.
—Poor People’s Campaign (@UniteThePoor) February 16, 2021
Manchin says he’s worried about how the increase could hurt small businesses
West Virginia’s current minimum wage is $US8.75 ($11) an hour, more than a dollar above the federal minimum wage, but still much less than the $US24 ($31) that would be in place had the federal minimum wage kept up with productivity growth, according to a report from the Center for Economic and Policy Research.
But Manchin, along with other moderates and most conservatives, is worried that the incremental increase could end up doing more harm than help.
A Congressional Budget Office report estimated the legislation, if passed, would increase the cumulative budget deficit by $US54 ($70) billion in the next decade. Prices for goods and services would increase as a result of paying workers more and 1.4 million jobs would be lost, the report said.
But the CBO also estimates the hike would pull 900,000 workers out of poverty and pump $US333 ($434) billion back into the economy.
Others think the benefits of a hike would far outweigh potential negative impacts
The Economic Policy Institute conducted its own investigation into the possible outcomes of the increase and estimated that raising the federal minimum wage to $US15 ($20) an hour by 2025 would lift pay for nearly 32 million workers across the country – almost 21% of the US workforce.
The raise would be particularly beneficial to people of color and women. Nearly a third of African-Americans and a quarter of Latinos would get a raise if the proposal was employed. Nearly 1 in 4 of those who directly benefited would be Black or Latino women, the study found.
Sanders has been one of the longest and loudest supporters of the increase. Earlier this week, Sanders told reporters that even if Friday’s vote failed, he wouldn’t give up.
“But let me be very clear: If we fail in this legislation, I will be back. We’re going to keep going and, if it takes 10 votes, we’re going to raise that minimum wage very shortly.”
Manchin has signaled he’s willing to compromise on the issue
Manchin has publicly said he would support something “responsible and reasonable” when it comes to raising the federal minimum wage and has proposed a smaller increase of $US11 ($14) an hour numerous times.
Insider reached out to Sen. Manchin for comment but did not receive a response.
Before the parliamentarian made her final decision, Manchin told reporters he would try to amend the bill to an increase to $US11 ($14) an hour if she had ruled in favor of its inclusion.
“We can do $US11 ($14) in two years and be in a better position than they’re going to be with $US15 ($20) in five years,” he told CNN congressional correspondent Manu Raju last month.
—Manu Raju (@mkraju) February 23, 2021
He argued the more gradual move would allow the party to compromise and successfully pass the stimulus package. But for progressive West Virginians back home, that may not be enough.
“You’re just frazzled,” Pam Garrison, a member of West Virginia Poor People’s Campaign told the Guardian after meeting with Manchin. “If you’ve never lived in poverty, you have no idea what it does to you.”