A group of nearly two dozen House Democrats sent a letter Monday calling on Vice President Kamala Harris to override recent Senate parliamentarian guidance deeming a proposed minimum wage hike in violation of the upper chamber's reconciliation rules—a non-binding opinion that progressives say is inaccurate and should not be allowed to tank the much-needed pay raise.
"Eighty-one million people cast their ballots to elect you on a platform that called for a $15 minimum wage," the 23 House Democrats, led by Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.), wrote in a letter (pdf) addressed to both Harris and President Joe Biden. "We urge you to keep that promise and call on the presiding officer of the Senate to refute the Senate parliamentarian's advice on a Byrd Rule point of order and maintain the $15 minimum wage provision in the American Rescue Plan."
"While we live in unprecedented times, disregarding the advisory opinion of the Senate parliamentarian would not be an unprecedented step—it has been done before, and we should do it now."
—Rep. Cori Bush
The coalition of progressive Democrats—which includes Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (N.Y.), Ilhan Omar (Minn.), Rashida Tlaib (Mich.), Cori Bush (Mo.), and Barbara Lee (Calif.)—noted that the growing chorus urging Harris to disregard the parliamentarian's advice has "significant historical precedent" on its side.
"In 1967, Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey disregarded the parliamentarian's advice while pushing to reduce the filibuster threshold from two-thirds of those present to three-fifths," the letter reads. "Vice President Humphrey did the same again in 1969. Ultimately, Republican Vice President Nelson D. Rockefeller partnered with future Vice President Walter Mondale and succeeded in 1975 while again refuting the parliamentarian."
The new letter comes days after the House of Representatives passed a sweeping $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package containing a measure to raise the federal minimum wage—which has been stuck at $7.25 an hour for more than a decade—to $15 by 2025, a move that would boost the pay of around 30 million U.S. workers. The House and Senate must ultimately pass identical legislation for the relief bill to become law.
"If we don't overrule the Senate parliamentarian, we are condoning poverty wages for millions of Americans," Khanna said in a statement Monday. "That's why I'm leading my colleagues in urging the Biden administration to lean on the clear precedent and overrule this misguided decision. Give America a raise."
Now it’s on the Senate to #RaiseTheWage. There are a number of tools they can use. Americans are counting on us to get this done. Failure to deliver is not an option.
— Ro Khanna (@RoKhanna) March 1, 2021
Last week, the Senate parliamentarian sided with Republican senators who argued that raising the national minimum wage would not have a sufficient budgetary impact to comply with the so-called Byrd Rule, which requires provisions of reconciliation bills to have a direct—not "merely incidental"—impact on federal spending and revenue.
Progressive lawmakers and grassroots advocacy groups responded with outrage to the unelected official's advice and stressed that Harris, in her capacity as presiding officer of the Senate, has the constitutional authority to overrule the parliamentarian's recommendation and keep the $15 minimum wage provision in the relief package.
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Should Harris exercise her authority in an effort to preserve the proposed pay raise, 60 votes in the Senate would be required to overturn the vice president's move. During a press call on Monday, Saru Jayaraman of One Fair Wage said activists have been in "dialogue" with the White House, but the Biden administration has thus far publicly indicated that Harris would not be willing to overrule the parliamentarian.
"The Senate parliamentarian's advice is just that—advice," Rep. Cori Bush (D-Mo.), one of the letter's signatories, said Monday. "While we live in unprecedented times, disregarding the advisory opinion of the Senate parliamentarian would not be an unprecedented step—it has been done before, and we should do it now to maintain the inclusion of the $15 minimum wage in the American Rescue Plan."
"For many in St. Louis, raising the minimum wage to at least $15 is an issue of racial justice, gender equality, and workers' rights," Bush added. "The House is doing its part to protect our workers. The Senate must do theirs. We made a promise to the American people, and we must keep it."
Read the full letter:
Dear President Biden and Vice President Harris:
As the United States continues to battle dual economic and public health crises, it is more important now than ever that we deliver relief to Americans. Eighty-one million people cast their ballots to elect you on a platform that called for a $15 minimum wage. We urge you to keep that promise and call on the Presiding Officer of the Senate to refute the Senate Parliamentarian's advice on a Byrd Rule point of order and maintain the $15 minimum wage provision in the American Rescue Plan.
This has significant historical precedent. In 1967, Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey disregarded the Parliamentarian’s advice while pushing to reduce the filibuster threshold from two-thirds of those present to three-fifths. Vice President Humphrey did the same again in 1969. Ultimately, Republican Vice President Nelson D. Rockefeller partnered with future Vice President Walter Mondale and succeeded in 1975 while again refuting the parliamentarian.
For the last twelve years, working Americans have struggled to get by under a federal minimum wage that remains stuck at $7.25 per hour. Since its establishment in 1938 as part of the New Deal, the federal minimum wage has never gone this long without a boost. In fact, its purchasing power has fallen by nearly twenty-five percent due to inflation since its last increase in 2009. As you know, this policy has disproportionately hurt women and Black and Brown workers. Women make up nearly sixty percent of hourly workers making less than $15 per hour despite comprising only fifty percent of the overall hourly workforce. The disparate impact is even starker among Black and Brown workers, who make up only thirty-six percent of the hourly workforce yet work in nearly half of all jobs earning less than $15 per hour.
We must act now to prevent tens of millions of hardworking Americans from being underpaid any longer. The outdated and complex Byrd rule rooted in restricting progress must not be an impediment to improving people’s lives. You have the authority to deliver a raise for millions of Americans. Thank you for your consideration.