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Progressive Democrats push for $15 minimum wage as House set to consider stimulus bill

Progressive Democrats on Sunday argued to keep the $15 minimum wage increase in President Joe Biden’s stimulus package, as the provision faces skepticism on Capitol Hill over its place in the $1.9 trillion relief effort.

Washington Rep. Pramila Jayapal, the chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, told CNN’s Dana Bash on “State of the Union” that raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour “is absolutely essential and I believe the Senate will do it.” California Rep. Ro Khanna, meanwhile, defended the wage hike as a “very reasonable” increase in an interview with CNN’s “Inside Politics” earlier Sunday morning.

House Democrats on Friday unveiled their full stimulus bill, which is expected to move through the House Budget Committee and to a House floor vote this week, and Senate Democrats are preparing to tackle the bill with the narrowest of majorities. The proposed wage increase stands as the biggest obstacle to getting it across the finish line.

Some congressional Democrats doubt the provision will be allowed under the guardrails of reconciliation, a budget process that requires each provision to adhere to a strict set of rules, while a handful of moderate members have made it clear privately and in public statements that they can’t support legislation that includes it.

“I know there are questions about whether or not the Senate can get it through. But I can tell you, Dana, this $15 minimum wage increase would mean 30 million Americans would get a raise. A million Americans would come out of poverty, and 30% of those minimum wage workers are Black; 25% are Latinx,” Jayapal told Bash.

The congresswoman added that she’s spoken “pretty regularly” with Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, as well as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the White House, about the proposal. Sanders, who chairs the Senate Budget Committee, has remained confident the provision does not violate the Byrd Rule, which keeps “extraneous” measures out of the budget.

“I’m very proud of the strong arguments our legal team is making to the parliamentarian that raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour is not ‘incidental’ to the federal budget and is permissible under the rules of reconciliation,” the Vermont independent told CNN on Saturday.

Senate parliamentarian Elizabeth MacDonough, who enforces the Byrd Rule, has yet to determine whether the minimum wage measure is within the rules of reconciliation. Senators can challenge the parliamentarian’s decisions and vote to waive the Byrd Rule, but they would need a 60 vote majority to do so.

CNN previously reported that the parliamentarian was “stoic” during a meeting this week with Democratic aides about whether the minimum wage provision would be permissible through reconciliation and did not tip her hand one way or the other, according to a Democratic aide familiar.

Asked Sunday if she would support the Covid-19 relief package without the minimum wage increase in the package, Jayapal said she thinks it will be included.

“I think it’s going to be included so I don’t think we’re going to have to make that decision, and I think we’re going to have to fight hard for it,” she said.

Khanna told CNN’s Abby Phillip he plans to vote for the final relief package but argued that it’s always progressive Democrats who are asked to compromise.

“I will vote for the final package. But my question is, why isn’t this question asked of the moderates? Why don’t they have to compromise sometimes?” he said. “I mean, I have voted for every single CARES package to date in the Congress. And there are many times there were provisions I didn’t like. … Now, my question is, why not have the same question for the moderates? Maybe they disagree with the minimum wage, but the overwhelming — Americans agree with it. So they can vote for the final package even if they disagree with some of those provisions.”

The minimum wage portion of the Covid-19 relief package has been a point of contention from the beginning. Sanders and progressive Democrats believe including it is necessary and would provide them an important legislative victory early on in the Biden administration. But Republicans are very much opposed to its inclusion and if it were included in the final package it would destroy any slim hope of bipartisan support for the plan.

Biden has said on multiple occasions that while he supports a $15 minimum wage, he’s skeptical it can be passed through reconciliation, and two moderate Democrats, Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, have made clear they will not support the final deal if the minimum wage hike is part of it.

This story has been updated with additional details Sunday.

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