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Wake Up To Politics - March 2, 2021

Wake Up To Politics: What will Democrats do about the minimum wage?
Wake Up To Politics - March 2, 2021

Good morning! It’s Tuesday, March 2, 2021. Election Day 2022 is 616 days away. Election Day 2024 is 1,344 days away.

What will Democrats do about the minimum wage?

Democrats were dealt a blow last week when the Senate parliamentarian knocked down their efforts to raise the minimum wage to $15-an-hour through the reconciliation process. Now, the party is divided over what to do next. Here are the paths Democrats could take in the minimum wage fight:

1. Overrule the parliamentarian. “I regard it as absurd that the parliamentarian, a Senate staffer elected by no one, can prevent a wage increase for 32 million workers,” Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) tweeted Monday night, encouraging his colleagues to “ignore” the decision by the Senate’s referee.

Under the Senate rules, Vice President Kamala Harris — in her role as the chamber’s presiding officer — could technically overrule the parliamentarian’s judgment and allow the minimum wage increase to remain in the coronavirus relief package. 22 House Democrats, led by Rep. Ro Khanna (D-CA), penned a letter on Monday urging her to do so, and Sanders has said he will force a vote on a wage hike amendment to try to force her hand.

But: The Biden administration has already indicated this option is a no-go. “We’re going to honor the rules of the Senate and work within that system to get this bill passed,” White House chief of staff Ron Klain said on MSNBC last week. It is also possible that such a move by Harris would jeopardize the underlying package: experts suggest that Democrats would need only 41 votes to sustain a ruling by the VP, but it could cost them the 50 votes needed to pass the stimulus bill.

Sens. Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) and Joe Manchin (D-WV) both oppose the $15 minimum wage hike and could vote against the package if it is shoehorned in. In the 50-50 Senate, Democrats cannot afford to lose a single vote.

2. Use a backdoor. Democrats have also discussed ways to include the minimum wage increase in the relief legislation that might comply with the Byrd Rule, which prohibits any provisions in reconciliation bills from being “merely incidental” to the federal budget (as the parliamentarian ruled a wage hike was).

Sens. Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Sanders have pushed for a proposal that would levy tax penalties against corporations that pay less than $15 an hour, a way to effectively raise the minimum wage that “likely would be approved” under the reconciliation rules, according to the Washington Post.

But: Democrats seem to be backing away from that plan. According to the Post, “economists and tax experts have said that the tax outlined by Sanders and Wyden could be easily avoided and difficult to implement, with large corporations able to reclassify workers as contractors to avoid potential penalties.” As a result, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and other party leaders have reportedly decided not to move forward with the proposal.

Bernie Sanders is pushing to include a minimum wage increase in the stimulus package. (Carlos Bongioanni/Stars and Stripes)

3. Find a compromise. If the minimum wage increase does not make it through as part of the stimulus package, it can still be passed in a separate bill. In fact, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) has indicated that she will push a stand-alone wage hike through the lower chamber once the stimulus bill is approved. But if Democrats don’t use the reconciliation process, the wage increase will be subject to the filibuster — meaning they will need to find 10 Republican senators to sign on.

According to Politico,  Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE) has already begun having “preliminary” discussions with Republican senators about a potential minimum wage compromise. Sens. Mitt Romney (R-UT) and Tom Cotton (R-AR) introduced a proposal last week that would raise the minimum wage to $10-an-hour while also implementing E-verify, a system to confirm employees’ immigration work status. Coons said their proposal “helped define the floor” for possible bipartisan talks; other Republican senators have also indicated interest in finding a middle ground.

But: Brokering a compromise will be a difficult tightrope for Democrats to walk. Progressive legislators are likely to push for $15-an-hour or nothing: with Democrats unable to lose one member of the Senate or more than five members of the House on any vote, they will need to keep the left flank on board with any deal. And a minimum wage compromise that enough Democrats and Republics agree to might be hard to find, which is why it has remained at $7.25-an-hour for the past 12 years.

However, finding a 60-vote deal might be the party’s best procedural option to raise the minimum wage. “We certainly need enough votes to overcome a filibuster, and that requires 10 more than we have,” Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL) told Politico. “I think that’s the only recourse.” Unless...

4. Abolish the filibuster. The last possibility, of course, is that Democrats ditch regular order entirely and change the rules of the Senate to lower the threshold for ending debate on legislation from 60 votes to 51. In the parlance of the Senate, this is known as going “nuclear,” and it can be done with a simple majority.

“Of course it can happen if we just get rid of the filibuster,” Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) said on Monday night when asked by MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow if the minimum wage could be raised in this Congress. “Americans didn’t send us to Washington to be some kind of debating society,” Warren added. “They sent us here to get things done.”

But: Democrats do not have the votes to end the filibuster. Sens. Manchin and Sinema have both expressed firm opposition to the “nuclear option,” encouraging their colleagues to work within the rules of the Senate and reach across the aisle to enact bipartisan pieces of legislation.

Joe Manchin is one of the filibuster’s lead defenders in the Senate. (Andrew Harnik/AP)

This is the first legislative fight of the Biden era, so the path Democrats take now could have reverberations for the rest of their agenda. The party is preparing for a stream of bills to pass through the House in the coming weeks: the Equality Act, an LGBT rights measure; H.R. 1, a voting rights and anti-corruption bill; the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, a police reform bill.

But each of those measures is likely doomed in the Senate as long as the 60-vote filibuster threshold remains in place, just like the minimum wage hike. And the filibuster is secure unless Democrats can round up enough votes to invoke the nuclear option and abolish it.

And that, Joe Manchin suggested on Monday, is unlikely to happen any time soon. “Never!” the West Virgnia Democrat said when asked by reporters if he was open to changing his stance on the filibuster. “Jesus Christ. What don’t you understand about never?”

The Rundown

CUOMO: A third woman accused Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D-NY) of sexual harassment on Monday. Anna Ruch told the New York Times that the governor put his hand on her bare lower back and asked if he could kiss her when they met for the first time at a 2019 wedding.

  • The new allegation has led to fresh calls for Cuomo’s resignation: Rep. Kathleen Rice (D-NY), became the first Democratic member of the New York congressional delegation to urge Cuomo to step down on Monday.
Anna Ruch says she felt “uncomfortable and embarrassed” when Andrew Cuomo placed his hands on her face and asked to kiss her. (New York Times)

TRUMP INVESTIGATIONS: The Fulton County District Attorney’s office is continuing to probe former President Donald Trump’s January phone call urging the Georgia Secretary of State to “find” enough votes for him to reverse the election outcome. According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, “Fulton County prosecutors are expected to appear before a grand jury this week seeking subpoenas for documents and witnesses” related to the investigation, which is eyeing Trump and some of his top associate for possible election fraud.

  • The New York investigation into Trump’s family business is marching along as well. According to the New York Times, state prosecutors in Manhattan are “sharpening their focus on the company’s long-serving chief financial officer,” Allen Weisselberg.

CONFIRMATIONS: The Senate approved Miguel Cardona’s nomination to be Secretary of Education on Monday, making him the 11th Cabinet-level official to be confirmed in the Biden administration (out of 23). Cardona was confirmed in a bipartisan 64-33 vote.

  • Biden’s pick for Attorney General, D.C. Circuit Judge Merrick Garland, is also advancing toward Senate confirmation: he was approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee in a bipartisan vote on Monday.
Miguel Cardona was confirmed by the Senate as Education Secretary. (Susan Walsh/Getty Images)


All times Eastern.

President Joe Biden will receive the President’s Daily Brief at 10:15 a.m. Later, he will participate in the Senate Democratic weekly lunch by phone at 1:10 p.m. and deliver remarks on the COVID-19 pandemic at 4:15 p.m.

  • Vice President Kamala Harris will join Biden for his daily briefing and COVID-19 remarks. At 6 p.m., she will ceremonially swear in Miguel Cardona as Secretary of Education. At 8:15 p.m., Harris will participate virtually in the House Democratic Caucus’ annual retreat.
  • White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki will hold a press briefing at 12:30 p.m. The Senate will convene at 10:30 a.m. Following Leader remarks, the chamber will resume consideration of the nomination of Gina Raimondo to be Secretary of Commerce. At 12:15 p.m., Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) will be recognized for up to 30 minutes. After Cruz speaks, the Senate will recess until 2:15 p.m. for weekly caucus meetings.

    At 2:15 p.m., the chamber will vote on confirmation of Raimondo and then hold a cloture vote advancing the nomination of Cecilia Rouse to be Chair of the Council of Economic Advisers. The Senate is likely to vote on Rouse’s confirmation later in the day.
  • The Senate Armed Services Committee will hold a hearing at 9:30 a.m. on “global security challenges and security.” Retired Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, who served as national security advisor during the Trump administration, will testify.
  • The Senate Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Committee will hold a confirmation hearing at 10 a.m. for Securities and Exchange Commission Chairman nominee Gary Gensler and Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Director nominee Rohit Chopra.
  • The Senate Budget Committee will hold a confirmation hearing at 11 a.m. for Office of Management and Budget Deputy Director nominee Shalanda Young, who has been mentioned as a possible replacement if OMB Director nominee Neera Tanden falls through.
  • The Senate Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing at 10 a.m. on the January 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol. FBI Director Christopher Wray will testify about the attack for the first time. The House will convene at 9 a.m. for legislative business. Fifteen lawmakers from each party will have one minute each to deliver remarks, and then the House will begin consideration of H.R. 1, the For the People Act. The chamber will hold one hour of debate, equally divided between the two parties, and consider 56 amendments to the measure.

    H.R. 1, the centerpiece of the House Democrats’ campaign agenda, would seek to expand voting rights, reduce the influence of money in politics, limit partisan gerrymandering, and create new ethics regulations for federal politicians.  

    The Supreme Court justices will hear oral arguments in Brnovich v. DNC.

    “Section Two of the Voting Rights Act forbids any state policy which ‘results in a denial or abridgement of the right of any citizen of the United States to vote on account of race or color,’” WUTP legal contributor Anna Salvatore explains. “Today, the Supreme Court will consider whether two of Arizona’s restrictive voter laws violate the Voting Rights Act. One of the state’s laws prohibits Arizonans from casting provisional ballots from outside their precinct; the other allows only certain designated people, such as family and friends, to handle another person’s completed early ballot.”

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