One idea for trying to boost the $7.25 federal minimum wage could make it harder to pass a filibuster-proof legislative package with President Joe Biden’s economic stimulus proposals, House Budget Chairman John Yarmuth warned.
To get around a procedural roadblock in the Senate — the so-called Byrd rule — one idea reportedly under consideration has been taxing companies that don’t pay a higher wage, rather than a straight increase as Congress has done in the past. Several experts think a simple increase would be ruled out of order.
“I think that’s a very clever idea. It might pose a problem just politically with some our members. It might meet the Byrd rule but it may lose votes,” Yarmuth said in a telephone interview Wednesday with MarketWatch.
Boosting the minimum wage, which Congress hasn’t increased since 2007, was a part of Biden’s $1.9 trillion coronavirus economic aid plan announced Jan. 14. Other elements included aid to states, money for vaccine distribution and a third round of direct payments to households.
Democrats hope to roll many of those provisions into a package of legislation that will be immune to the Senate’s filibuster and that would be enacted by mid-March, using a process called budget reconciliation. But to vote on that reconciliation legislation, the House and Senate need to adopt a budget resolution first. Both the budget plan and the later spinoff legislation would need only 51 votes for Senate approval.
Yarmuth said he anticipated the resolution to be on the House and Senate floors next week and, at least in the House, to pass easily. It will not go through his committee, which has not held its organizational meeting yet, he said. Both chambers would pass the same resolution with placeholder budget target numbers in it, avoiding the need for a lengthy conference committee to hammer out differences.
Yarmuth said he agreed with the need for raising the minimum wage but worried insisting on it could force Democrats in the Senate to choose between it or overruling the Senate Parliamentarian, an act that would be seen by Republicans as tantamount to killing the filibuster.
“I’m all for doing away with the filibuster. I’m sort of in the camp of ‘do what it takes,’” he said. “But that’s not one of the highest priorities I think in terms of urgency, right now.”
Democrats will have another shot at raising the minimum wage, he said, in a second budget resolution and reconciliation cycle later this year.
“We’re going to get another shot at reconciliation in a few months and so we have another opportunity to do it and it’s not the most important thing to get out and get done right now,” he said, citing money for vaccine distribution, state and local government aid, extending enhanced jobless benefits and direct payments as competing needs.
While budget resolutions don’t include the specific policies that will be in the later spinoff reconciliation legislation — it just instructs committees to write legislation to meet certain budgetary targets — Yarmuth expressed confidence the items other than the minimum wage would be on safe procedural grounds and not run afoul of the Byrd rule that governs what can be included.
“I don’t think any of those have a problem,” he said.
The two budget, two reconciliation process this year echoes what was seen in January 2017, when Republicans adopted a similar “shell” budget to make way for an ultimately unsuccessful attempt to repeal the Affordable Care Act and then later a second budget for tax cuts.
Democrats were critical then of adopting two budgets in one year, which had not occurred before, with Yarmuth saying Republicans “rammed through their so-called budget, which was drafted for the sole purpose of repealing the Affordable Care Act and defunding Planned Parenthood by a simple majority in the Senate.”
Yarmuth said Wednesday Democrats were not being hypocritical by using the same playbook this year, in part because much of the Biden economic package had bipartisan support.
“These issues have been debated for almost a year now, all the things we need to do now. Nobody disagrees on the vaccine situation. Trump was even fine with the $2,000 (payments to individuals) and (Missouri senator) Josh Hawley and some others were. So I think there’s bipartisan support for most of the elements of this,” he said.