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There Has to Be a Better Way

Progressives Believe Kamala Can Resurrect the Fight for 15

AP Photo/Susan Walsh

Twenty-three progressives on Monday sent a letter to President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris demanding that Harris use her power to force the $15 minimum wage increase to stay in the latest pork-filled COVID relief bill. 


Senate Parliamentarian previously ruled that including the minimum wage increase violated the budget reconciliation process. House progressives, however, believe Harris can overrule the decision. They cited prior precedent that where two former vice presidents ignored the Senate Parliamentarian rulings.

Below is the full letter (emphasis mine):

Dear President Biden and Vice President Harris: 

As the United States continues to battle dual economic and public health crises, it is more important now than ever that we deliver relief to Americans. Eighty-one million people cast their ballots to elect you on a platform that called for a $15 minimum wage. We urge you to keep that promise and call on the Presiding Officer of the Senate to refute the Senate Parliamentarian’s advice on a Byrd Rule point of order and maintain the $15 minimum wage provision in the American Rescue Plan.

This has significant historical precedent. In 1967, Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey disregarded the Parliamentarian’s advice while pushing to reduce the filibuster threshold from two-thirds of those present to three-fifths. Vice President Humphrey did the same again in 1969. Ultimately, Republican Vice President Nelson D. Rockefeller partnered with future Vice President Walter Mondale and succeeded in 1975 while again refuting the parliamentarian.

For the last twelve years, working Americans have struggled to get by under a federal minimum wage that remains stuck at $7.25 per hour. Since its establishment in 1938 as part of the New Deal, the federal minimum wage has never gone this long without a boost. In fact, its purchasing power has fallen by nearly twenty-five percent due to inflation since its last increase in 2009. As you know, this policy has disproportionately hurt women and Black and Brown workers. Women make up nearly sixty percent of hourly workers making less than $15 per hour despite comprising only fifty percent of the overall hourly workforce. The disparate impact is even starker among Black and Brown workers, who make up only thirty-six percent of the hourly workforce yet work in nearly half of all jobs earning less than $15 per hour. 

We must act now to prevent tens of millions of hardworking Americans from being underpaid any longer. The outdated and complex Byrd rule rooted in restricting progress must not be an impediment to improving people’s lives. You have the authority to deliver a raise for millions of Americans. Thank you for your consideration.


The letter was signed by Cori Bush (MO), Rashida Tlaib (MI), Ilhan Omar (MN), Jamaal Bowman (NY), Mondaire Jones (NY), Mark Pocan (WI), Bennie Thompson (MS), Earl Blumenauer (OR), Alan Lowenthal (CA), Marie Newman (IL), Veronica Escobar (TX), Raúl Grijalva (AZ), Gerald Connolly (VA), Mark DeSaulnier (CA), Betty McCollum (MN), Andy Levin (MI), Pramila Jayapal (WA), Jesus Garcia (IL), Barbara Lee (CA), Debbie Dingell (MI), Ritchie Torres (NY), Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (NY) and Ro Khanna (CA).

The problem with progressives' demands, however, is the votes aren't there. Every single Democrat in the Senate would need to agree to having the minimum wage increase in the bill plus the White House would have to be on board as well. Moderate senators, like Joe Manchin (WV) and Kyrsten Sinema (AZ) have repeatedly indicated they would not support a COVID relief bill that has the minimum wage hike attached to it. Even if the White House decides to allow Harris to bypass Parliamentarian's ruling, the Democrats still lack the votes.

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