Sinema: "I am not going to support" a minimum-wage hike in reconciliation bill

Nancy Pelosi says yes to including the “fight for $15” minimum-wage hike in the COVID-19 relief/stimulus bill. Kyrsten Sinema says not just no, but hell no. And unless Senate Democrats follow Sinema’s lead, Joe Biden’s first major policy initiative might crash and burn before it ever gets off the ground:

“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 said in a telephone interview this week. “The minimum wage provision is not appropriate for the reconciliation process. It is not a budget item. And it shouldn’t be in there.”

Sinema’s opposition is a blow to Democrats’ hopes of bumping up the federal minimum wage through budget reconciliation to avoid a GOP filibuster, complicating follow-through on a campaign promise from Democrats and President Joe Biden. And her defense of the Senate’s age-old rules is likely to frustrate progressives eager to use every tool at their disposal to advance their priorities in a Senate where one wayward Democrat can mean the difference between a policy breakthrough and utter failure.

Allow me to be the first to welcome Senate Democrats to the Reconciliation Backfire of the ObamaCare repeal. Remember in 2017 when the GOP rushed a reconciliation package through without any unanimity on the actual plan for repeal-and-replace? Good times, good times. In the end, that got torpedoed by a senator from Arizona, too.

It might not even come to that. The Senate parliamentarian has to decide whether Sinema’s correct on the budget-item point. Reconciliation has gotten stretched in recent years, but not quite that far. ObamaCare and its repeal got through because it involved budget-funded government operations. The minimum-wage hike doesn’t fit within that stretch, however, which is why Biden himself was pessimistic about its inclusion in the final bill.

Sinema’s opposition also indicates that the CBO score won’t make a difference, either. Some had wondered whether Democrats could rejigger the relief/stimulus bill’s finances to cover the $54 billion hit to the deficit from the wage hike. Sinema is making it clear that it’s not a money issue, but a railroad issue — ie, attempts to railroad major policy changes down the minority’s collective throat. And that means she’s also a hard no on the other way to get this passed:

Her breaks with her liberal colleagues are both a reflection of her state, which she won by a narrow margin in 2018, and her temperament. But the former state legislator, House member and now first-term senator has literally never served in the majority before — so she feels the minority’s pain. …

Despite being one of the youngest, and let’s face it, hippest members of the chamber, Sinema’s views can be as old-school as any of the Senate’s long-timers. Not only does she want to keep the filibuster, she wants to rebuild it. And the end-around idea of overruling the parliamentarian to jam whatever Democrats want to in a budget reconciliation bill is not going to happen on Sinema’s watch either.

“There is no instance in which I would overrule a parliamentarian’s decision,” Sinema said. “I want to restore the 60-vote threshold for all elements of the Senate’s work.”

Combine that with Joe Manchin’s opposition to both filibuster repeals and the inclusion of a $15 minimum-wage hike in this bill, and it might mean that Pelosi will have to go back to the drawing board on this relief/stimulus bill. And if progressives start beating up Sinema and Manchin over their positions, they might find themselves back in a Senate minority … one way or the other.