Sen. Kyrsten Sinema on Friday joined fellow conservative Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin in opposing the inclusion of an overwhelmingly popular $15 federal minimum wage bill in the coronavirus relief package, falsely claiming that the proposed pay raise for 32 million workers is "not a budget item" and thus should not be part of the reconciliation measure.
"What's important is whether or not it's directly related to short-term Covid relief. And if it's not, then I am not going to support it in this legislation," Sinema (D-Ariz.) told Politico for a profile published Friday. "The minimum wage provision is not appropriate for the reconciliation process... And it shouldn't be in there."
"There is no basis in economics or common sense for blocking this long overdue wage increase. She is practicing obstruction for its own sake as political posturing."
—Shannon Stagman, Empire State Indivisible
Sinema's comments come days after the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimated that hiking the federal minimum wage from $7.25 to $15 an hour by 2025—as proposed by the newly reintroduced Raise the Wage Act—would add $54 billion to the federal budget deficit over the next decade, a finding progressives welcomed as further evidence that the pay increase would have a direct budgetary impact and therefore should qualify under reconciliation rules.
"She is incorrect," Rep. Brendan Boyle (D-Pa.) tweeted in response to Sinema's remarks. "It has a budgetary impact, and it was verified by CBO. Let's get it done now."
Other critics argued that Sinema's invocation of Senate rules is nothing more than a cover for her opposition to a $15 federal minimum wage, a proposal that 86% of Democratic voters support.
"The process concerns around a $15 minimum wage are a head fake," said Lindsay Owens, interim executive director of the Groundwork Collaborative. "The real issue is that Sinema and Manchin are not on board for $15. The question is whether they would really take down the president's rescue package over this or if they are bluffing."
Everyone’s been too focused on Manchin, but Sinema seems even more extreme. There is no basis in economics or common sense for blocking this long overdue wage increase. She is practicing obstruction for its own sake as political posturing. https://t.co/ixk5yI5Ejg
— Shannon (@TheStagmania) February 12, 2021
Given Democrats' extremely narrow majority in the Senate, Sinema and Manchin's (D-W.Va.) opposition could further complicate the progressive push to include the $15 federal minimum wage bill in the $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package currently being assembled in congressional committees. To achieve the simple majority required to pass the package through reconciliation, Senate Democrats cannot afford to lose a single vote from their caucus.
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Speaking to reporters on Thursday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) affirmed that the final House version of the coronavirus relief package will contain the Raise the Wage Act. As Common Dreams reported earlier this week, members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus secured inclusion of the $15 minimum wage bill in the House Education and Labor Committee portion of the relief package, which the panel passed on Tuesday.
"Half of our people are living paycheck to paycheck. Inequality is growing. It is a moral imperative to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour. We must act now."
—Sen. Bernie Sanders
Progressive activists and labor unions, meanwhile, are training their focus on the Senate, where Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.)—chairman of the chamber's budget committee—is working with his team to convince the parliamentarian that the proposed wage increase complies with reconciliation rules mandating that all provisions have a direct budgetary impact.
"Millions of Americans are trying to survive on starvation wages," Sanders tweeted Thursday. "Half of our people are living paycheck to paycheck. Inequality is growing. It is a moral imperative to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour. We must act now."
As Politico reported earlier this week, "union heads, alongside local 'Fight for $15' leaders, are pressuring the White House and Congress to keep the [minimum wage] provision in the relief bill. Rev. William Barber, co-chair of the Poor People's campaign, will visit West Virginia to press Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), a skeptic of a $15-an-hour minimum wage. Services Employee International Union (SEIU) members will also phone bank and potentially hold events in key states to pressure lawmakers."
SEIU and other unions, according to Politico, "have had conversations with, or are reaching out to, other Democrats like Sens. Catherine Cortez Masto of Nevada, Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, and Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire."
Amid growing pressure on Congress to act, fast-food workers in 15 cities across the U.S. are expected to walk off the job on Tuesday to demand higher wages and collective bargaining rights from their employers.
"For decades, McDonald's has made billions in profit off the backs of workers like me, paying us starvation wages," Taiwanna Milligan, a McDonald’s worker from Charleston, South Carolina, told The Guardian on Friday. "I need at least $15 an hour to survive and... I know the only way to make change is to stand up, speak out, and demand it."