The $15 federal minimum wage is back in the House Covid aid package. Here's what you need to know

The $15 federal minimum wage is back in the House Covid aid package. Here's what you need to know

February 9, 2021

The push for a $15 federal minimum wage continues.

Just days after the Senate voted on a nonbinding amendment to prohibit raising the minimum wage during the pandemic, the House of Representatives has included the provision in its most recent version of the$1.9 trillion coronavirus pandemic relief package.

On Monday, the House Education and Labor Committee released a first draft of its contribution to Biden's American Rescue Plan, which Democrats intend to pass through a sped-up process called budget reconciliation. The Committee's proposal includes funding for safely reopening schools, expands affordable health care and gradually increases the minimum wage, giving a raise to millions of workers.

"In the midst of a deadly pandemic, millions of American workers are risking their lives for poverty wages that haven't been raised in over a decade," said Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., and chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus in a Monday statement. "It's long past time for Congress to right this wrong and enact a minimum wage that allows families to live with dignity."

What happens next

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said the House wants to pass the aid package in the next two weeks, which would send it to the Senate where it faces its final test.

To be eligible for budget reconciliation in the Senate, legislation must have a direct impact on the federal budget. While a few studies have shown that raising the minimum wage would do that, it's still unclear that the Senate parliamentarian, lawyer Elizabeth MacDonough, will approve the Democrats' bill. (The parliamentarian is the Senate's advisor on the interpretation of its rules and procedures, according to Senate.gov.) 

Democrats are doing what they can to make the case that the wage hike should be included in reconciliation.

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"We're trying to work as well as we can with the parliamentarian to get a minimum wage to happen," said Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer, D- N.Y., in a Tuesday briefing. On Sunday, Bernie Sanders, the independent senator from Vermont, said in an interview with Jake Tapper of CNN that a room full of lawyers are working on making the case.

If the parliamentarian says that the $15 minimum wage boost isn't eligible to be included in reconciliation, Vice President Kamala Harris could overrule her advice. Then, the legislation could be passed with support from 50 Democrats and Harris casting the tie-breaking vote.

"Before we get to what the vice president is going to do, I've got to get through the parliamentarian and then I've got to get 50 votes in support of raising that minimum wage to $15 an hour," Sanders said Sunday. "I am working as hard as I can to make that happen."  

When workers might see a bigger paycheck

To be sure, it's still unclear if Democrats will be able to include the boosted minimum wage in reconciliation and pass it with unanimous support. Currently, Sen. Joe Manchin, the Democrat from West Virginia, opposes a hike to $15 an hour but has said he'd support a lesser amount.

Still, Democrats are working to pass the coronavirus aid package by early March, meaning that if a $15 federal minimum wage were included in the final bill, workers could possibly see a raise later this year.

The bill wouldn't increase pay to $15 an hour from where it currently sits at $7.25 overnight, however.

The first jump, according to the latest version of the Raise the Wage Act, would raise the federal minimum wage to $9.50 an hour and the so-called tipped wage to $4.95 an hour in 2021.  

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