The attention of the Fight for $15 movement and its allies turned to Vice President Kamala Harris Thursday night after the Senate parliamentarian opined—erroneously, according to progressives—that a wage hike proposed as part of the emerging coronavirus relief package runs afoul of budget reconciliation rules and should be removed from the aid legislation.
While the parliamentarian's advice is typically honored on Capitol Hill, progressive lawmakers and advocacy groups emphasized that the unelected official's opinion is not binding and that Harris, as presiding officer of the Senate, has the constitutional authority to ignore the recommendation.
"If Vice President Kamala Harris decides to use her constitutional power to disregard the decision of the parliamentarian and tell the clerk to call the roll for the vote, the only way her decision could be overruled is with 60 votes," Morris Pearl, chair of advocacy group Patriotic Millionaires, said in a statement Thursday night.
"Because there is no possibility of 10 Democrats breaking ranks, if the vice president of the United States decides to use the power that is granted to her in the Constitution, every lawmaker in America would then have to publicly vote to either support working people or continue to exploit human beings for profit," said Pearl. "This is not a difficult decision. Use your power. Keep $15 in."
Should Harris opt to exercise her authority to keep the pay hike in the coronavirus relief bill, the two Democratic lawmakers who have publicly opposed the $15 minimum wage provision—Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Krysten Sinema (D-Ariz.)—would face a choice: Either abandon their opposition to the popular wage proposal, or vote to sink the entire $1.9 trillion aid package over its inclusion.
Let's be real—an unelected parliamentarian does not get to deprive 32 million Americans of the raise they deserve.
The federal minimum wage has been stuck at a measly $7.25 for 12 years and it's past time to raise it.
VP Harris must disregard & rule a $15 minimum wage in order.
— Patriotic Millionaires (@PatrioticMills) February 26, 2021
Though Harris herself has not spoken publicly about the parliamentarian's decision or what she intends to do in response, the Biden White House has thus far signaled that she would not be willing to disregard the official's recommendation, which accepts Republican arguments that the proposed wage increase would not have a sufficient budgetary impact to comply with Senate rules.
In an interview Wednesday ahead of the parliamentarian's decision, White House Chief of Staff Ron Klain said that Harris would "certainly" not override the advice, adding, "We're going to honor the rules of the Senate and work within that system to get this bill passed."
But Klain's suggestion that disregarding the parliamentarian's opinion would somehow be inconsistent with Senate rules was swiftly refuted by Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.), who pointed out that "there is no provision in the Constitution that says that the Senate parliamentarian has any power."
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Rep. Cori Bush (D-Mo.) added late Thursday that "people don't care about listening to the parliamentarian."
"People care about getting the relief they need," Bush tweeted. "Do what it takes to raise the minimum wage to at least $15."
Bolstering the progressive case for Harris to step in and prevent an unelected official from quashing a popular and much-needed wage increase, a confidential memo circulating on Capitol Hill and obtained by The Daily Poster details precisely how Harris and Senate Democrats could team up to overrule the parliamentarian's decision and keep the pay raise in the relief package.
"It would take 60 votes to overturn the ruling of the chair [Harris] on a Byrd Rule point of order, regardless of what the parliamentarian advises," reads the memo obtained by The Daily Poster. "What would probably happen is a senator would appeal the ruling of the chair and then the full Senate would vote on whether to sustain the appeal."
"The chair's ruling would be upheld as long as there are not 60 affirmative votes to sustain the appeal," the memo continues. "So, if the majority could hold enough members together (less than 60 affirmative votes to sustain the appeal), the ruling that runs counter to the parliamentarian's advice would be upheld."
The thing to understand: The parliamentarian is wrong but the parliamentarian is effectively an adviser to VP @KamalaHarris.
Harris can ignore the advice. Or she can accept the advice and kill the $15 min wage.
This is on Harris. It’s her choice. https://t.co/7rubZmmTzU
— David Sirota (@davidsirota) February 26, 2021
As progressive advocacy group RootsAction put it Thursday night, "A $15 federal minimum wage is now in the hands of Kamala Harris."
"There is a path to get it done," the group said. "Refusing to step up will be seen as a huge failure."