Democrats Plotting Another Path for $15 Minimum Wage If It Doesn't Go Into COVID Relief Bill

President Joe Biden is facing push-back on his plan for $15 minimum wage, but removing the proposal may help his $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package through final approval. But Democrats already are creating alternate avenues to push through a minimum wage hike.

"We're at $7.25 an hour," Biden said during a CNN town hall on Tuesday. "No one should work 40 hours a week and live in poverty."

Biden has pushed the minimum wage increase as a piece of his $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package, but it ultimately will be up to the Senate parliamentarian whether it's allowed under the rules that allow a simple majority for Senate passage, commonly referred to as the Byrd Rule. A ruling against could ultimately help save Biden's package and push it through its narrow path to approval in a razor-thin Democrat-controlled Senate, as it likely would ultimately stop Democrats from fighting over the $15-per-hour proposal in the debate over the more unifying issues of stimulus checks and money for schools as the COVID-19 pandemic continues.

Some moderate Democrats, including West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin, already have expressed hesitation about the proposed minimum wage hike and its connection to the farther-reaching relief proposal.

The next stimulus package is currently being negotiated in the House, where House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, has said minimum wage will be included. The final stimulus bill could be on the table for final approval next month.

But Democrats aren't pinning all their hopes on the stimulus package for their minimum wage hike hopes. Congress last increased the minimum wage more than a decade ago.

The bill, House Resolution 603, is currently on the table in the Democrat-controlled House, while the U.S. Senate is awaiting guidance on whether the minimum wage hike falls outside of the scope of what's allowed under the Byrd Rule, as the slim Democratic majority pursues a route to get approval from a simple majority instead of the 60 votes normally needed to pass legislation in the upper chamber.

The separate minimum wage bill sponsored by Democrats in the House and Senate would increase the minimum wage to $9.50 this summer and continue increasing incrementally until reaching $15 an hour in 2025. From there, the measure proposes an automatic increase for inflation, based on the median hourly wage of all workers.

"Throughout this pandemic, Democrats and Republicans alike have joined together in rightly calling our frontline workers 'heroes.' But despite their tireless work and the risk of COVID exposure, too many of these workers are paid wages so low, they can't afford to pay for even their most basic needs," Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee Chair Patty Murray, a Washington Democrat, said in a statement on the proposed separate minimum wage increase legislation. "Democrats are asking for $15 an hour, because no one working 40 hours a week, should be making $15,000 a year. If we're committed to an economy that works for everyone, we need one fair, livable wage for everyone—and that includes workers with disabilities, tipped workers and youth workers. We won't accept carve-outs and we won't accept leaving anyone behind."

An analysis from the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office this month found a minimum wage hike could cost 1.4 million jobs but also would lift nearly a million people out of poverty.

The right-leaning Heritage Foundation released its own report that a minimum wage hike would damage businesses struggling in the coronavirus pandemic.

"If a local government sets its minimum wage above the market wage, at least workers and business owners who lose their jobs and businesses can move to places where it's still possible for them to earn a living," the non-profit wrote in its analysis of the proposal last month. "But if policymakers impose an excessively high nationwide minimum wage across 50 very diverse states and more than 3,000 counties, there will be nowhere else for the harmed to go."

Raise the wage act proposal
June 1, 2021: $9.50
June 1, 2022: $11.00
June 1, 2023: $12.50
June 1, 2024: $14.00
June 1, 2025: $15.00
June 1, 2026 and after: $15.00 plus an adjustment for inflation
minimum wage
Service industry worker Peter speaks in support of the Raise the Wage Act, which includes a $15 minimum wage for tipped workers and is also included in President Biden's American Rescue Plan at the National Mall on January 26, 2021 in Washington, DC. Jemal Countess/Getty