'This isn't Bernie's first rodeo': Senate Republicans tried to force Democrats to take a tough vote on a $15 minimum wage, but it did not go as planned

'This isn't Bernie's first rodeo': Senate Republicans tried to force Democrats to take a tough vote on a $15 minimum wage, but it did not go as planned
A protester holds a sign in Upper Senate Park during a rally on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, July 22, 2015, to push for a raise to the minimum wage to $15 an hour.Al Drago/CQ Roll Call
  • The Senate unanimously voted to not raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour during the pandemic.
  • The vote was in response to an amendment proposed by Republican Sen. Joni Ernst of Iowa.
  • Gradually raising the minimum wage is part of Democrats' $1.9 trillion stimulus package.

The Senate unanimously passed a Republican amendment Thursday that seeks to prevent Democrats from doing something they never wanted to do: double the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour during the coronavirus pandemic.

In effect, Democrats, as well as the independent Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, joined with Republicans to drive the fact home during a so-called vote-a-rama.

Rather than double the minimum wage before the pandemic ends, President Joe Biden and congressional Democrats are proposing to raise it gradually to $15 an hour by 2025 as part of their $1.9 trillion stimulus package.

The amendment from Sen. Joni Ernst, an Iowa Republican, seemed intended to miscast Democrats' position - to enact a $15 minimum wage "during a global pandemic" - and put centrist Democrats on the spot to highlight divides within the party on the wage-hike plan.

Specifically, the amendment would grant the chair of the Senate Budget Committee the right to nix a wage increase as part of the reconciliation process - a legislative maneuver that allows the Democratic-controlled Senate to pass bills in the upper chamber with a simple majority instead of the 60 votes usually required.


Sanders, who is chair of the Senate Budget Committee, said during the floor debate that he would do "everything I can to make sure that a $15 minimum wage is included in this reconciliation bill." He rejected Republican framing that Democrats were seeking to double the wage during the pandemic.

"It was never my intent to increase the minimum wage to $15 an hour immediately during the pandemic," Sanders said. "My legislation gradually increases the minimum wage to $15 an hour over a five-year period, and that is what I believe we ought to do."

Sanders put the amendment on a non-recorded voice vote in a move that most likely deflected criticism of his drive to increase the minimum wage. The measure is nonbinding.

"We need to end the crisis of starvation wages in Iowa and across the United States," he added.

A senior Democratic aide, granted anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly, argued that Republicans had bungled the effort to force moderate Democrats to take a politically difficult vote.


"This isn't Bernie's first rodeo," the aide said. "No one has to take a tough vote on a messaging amendment, and we can still try to pass minimum wage through the reconciliation bill."

It remains unclear whether Democrats will be successful in approving the minimum-wage increase through the strict budgetary rules governing the reconciliation process. The federal minimum wage was most recently raised in 2009, to $7.25 an hour.

Earlier this month, Ernst spoke out against including a wage increase as part of any stimulus package, saying such "liberal priorities" would hurt small businesses.

Ben Zipperer, an economist at the liberal Economic Policy Institute, told Insider such an impact would be minimal, at worst, and arguably beneficial to businesses as well as workers, with higher wages reducing costly employee turnover.

Despite Republican opposition, however, raising the minimum wage is popular among voters. A recent poll from Quinnipiac University found that 61% of Americans supported Democrats' effort to hike it to $15 an hour.


Twenty states have already raised their own minimum wages in 2021.

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