Democrats are taking a final push to include minimum wage legislation in Biden’s stimulus package.
But one of the party’s most conservative senators, Joe Manchin doubled down on his opposition.
14% of workers in West Virginia, the state of Manchin, could see an increase if the legislation is passed.
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Congressional Democrats scramble to have their $ 15 federal minimum wage proposal included in President Joe Biden’s $ 1.9 trillion stimulus package this week as they face an unlikely hurdle: Members centrists of their own party.
Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Senator Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, two of the party’s most moderate Democrats, have both said they are opposed to the use of budget reconciliation – a move that allows the majority party to ” accelerate the passage of high priority tax legislation without support from the minority party – to pass the minimum wage hike.
The proposal was formerly known as the Wage Raise Act of 2021 and would gradually increase the federal minimum wage from $ 7.25 to $ 15 by 2025.
Progressive party members like Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont have expressed confidence that the legislation will be included in Biden’s first COVID-19 stimulus package, but Manchin, in particular, has doubled down on his opposition the last days.
Today, the former governor of West Virginia faces criticism from voters and activists across the country 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 data from the US Census Bureau. According to the West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy, about 278,734 West Virginia residents – 16% of the population – lived in poverty in 2019.
Data from the Economic Policy Institute indicates that a quarter of a million West Virginians, or about 14% of state workers, would benefit directly from a minimum wage of $ 15.
These affected workers would earn an average of nearly $ 4,000 more each year, according to the Institute for Economic Policy. The total annual wage increase for all affected workers in West Virginia would be $ 987 million per year.
Manchin reaffirmed his opposition last week in a virtual meeting with West Virginia Poor People’s Campaign, a progressive group fighting for the state’s working-class residents.
Although the meeting was closed to media, attendees told reporters at an online press conference immediately after Manchin “refused to budge,” according to The Guardian.
“I get the feeling he’s got his head in the clouds and doesn’t understand what’s happening to the poor in West Virginia,” said Brianna Griffith, a restaurateur and rafting guide.
Manchin says worried about how increase could hurt small businesses
West Virginia’s current minimum wage is $ 8.75 an hour, more than a dollar above the federal minimum wage, but still far less than the $ 24 that would be in place if the federal minimum wage were tracked productivity growth, according to a report from the Center. for economic and political research.
But Manchin, along with other moderates and most conservatives, worries the incremental increase may end up doing more harm than helping.
A Congressional Budget Office report estimated that the legislation, if passed, would increase the cumulative budget deficit by $ 54 billion over the next decade. Prices of goods and services would rise due to workers’ compensation and 1.4 million jobs would be lost, according to the report.
But the CBO also estimates the hike would lift 900,000 workers out of poverty and put $ 333 billion back into the economy.
Others believe the benefits of a hike would far outweigh the potential negative impacts
The Economic Policy Institute has conducted its own investigation into the possible outcomes of the increase and estimated that increasing the federal minimum wage to $ 15 an hour by 2025 would raise the wages of nearly 32 million workers across the country, or nearly 21% of the US workforce.
The increase would be particularly beneficial to people of color and women. Almost a third of African Americans and a quarter of Latinos would get a raise if the proposal was successful. Almost 1 in 4 of those who directly benefited are black or Latin American women, according to the study.
Sanders has stepped up his support for the legislation in recent days, saying the Congressional Budget Office report provided ample evidence that raising the minimum wage would directly impact the federal budget – a requirement for any legislation passed through reconciliation.
Lawmakers are now awaiting a final ruling from the parliamentarian, the Senate’s official adviser on procedural matters, on whether the pay increase can be passed through reconciliation. Politico reported that Democrats and Republicans are both expected to meet with the parliamentarian on Wednesday to present their separate cases and that his decision may follow soon.
Elizabeth MacDonough has served as a Senate parliamentarian since 2012, when Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer appointed her to the post. She is only the sixth person to hold this position since its inception in 1935.
Even if MacDonough votes in favor of the Democrats, the party will still face Manchin. In order to pass a law through reconciliation, the party will need every member plus Vice President Kamala Harris, a tiebreaker, to vote in a synchronized fashion.
Manchin has indicated he is ready to compromise on the issue
Manchin has publicly stated that he will support something “responsible and reasonable” regarding the increase in the federal minimum wage and has repeatedly proposed a smaller increase of $ 11 an hour.
Insider has reached out to Senator Manchin for comment.
Senator CNN Congress correspondent Manu Raju told Monday evening that if the parliamentarian authorizes the adoption of the salary increase by reconciliation, he will try to modify the law at $ 11 an hour.
“We can make $ 11 in two years and be in a better position than they will be with $ 15 in five years,” he told Raju.
He argued that this move would allow the party to compromise and successfully pass the stimulus package. But for progressive Western Virginians returning home, that may not be enough.
“You are just exhausted,” Pam Garrison, a member of the West Virginia Poor Campaign, told The Guardian after meeting Manchin. “If you’ve never lived in poverty, you have no idea what it does to you.”
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