BREAKING: Senate parliamentarian rules minimum-wage hike out of bounds in reconciliation

A mild surprise and an early win for Senate Republicans, but this might do some Senate Democrats a favor too. The attempt to shoehorn a minimum-wage hike in the COVID-19 relief/stimulus bill has come to an abrupt halt, thanks to the parliamentarian’s ruling on reconciliation:

The Senate parliamentarian ruled Thursday that Democrats would be deemed out of order if they include a $15 minimum wage hike in their coronavirus relief package, a major blow to Senate Budget Committee Chair Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and progressives.

Democrats for weeks have argued that the minimum wage hike could be included in the package through the so-called reconciliation process, citing analysis from the Congressional Budget Office that found the boost would increase the deficit by reducing reliance on social services. But Republicans highlight that the same report suggests the increase would result in the loss of 1.4 million jobs and say it’s an extraneous provision.

The parliamentarian’s ruling means that any senator could raise a point order against the minimum wage increase, which would force the provision to be axed from the bill.

That means an end to the Fight for 15 in this entire session. Even if Chuck Schumer pulled together another budget reconciliation mechanism, the minimum-wage hike simply won’t qualify. Any attempt to pass such a hike would require normal order and a 60-vote threshold for cloture, and Schumer doesn’t even have 50 for it now.

That’s why this might end up being a blessing in disguise for Schumer. Now he gets to avoid enraging the progressives by losing Joe Manchin and possibly others in his caucus on the Fight for 15 (Kyrsten Sinema might balk as well), and also avoid risking the overall relief bill by forcing that vote. The parliamentarian is a kind of deus ex machina in that sense; it’s out of Schumer’s control and in the hands of the gods, so to speak. It now leaves room for a negotiation on a compromise position for raising the minimum wage; Manchin suggested a national cap at $11 after few years ramping up, which might get some Republicans on board if it starts after a full reopening of the economy. That would still give Biden and Schumer a win on the issue, even if it’s not the big demand progressives have made — and ridiculously so in a 50/50 Senate.

Progressives want Schumer and Kamala Harris to override the parliamentarian, but that would set off a big fight and would end up taking down the whole bill:

Biden chief of staff Ron Klain dismissed this option yesterday as well. And if they’re not going to drop that nuke on the upper chamber, you can bet your bottom dollar they won’t test a rule change on the filibuster, either. It’s over.

The win here for Republicans is more obvious, but they might also benefit from a smaller raise over the next few years. The GOP has gotten a lot more populist than doctrinaire market-conservative, after all, and they want to keep competing for the blue-collar votes that would be more impacted by a minimum wage hike. If they can hold down the cap and let it roll out over the next few years, it takes that issue off the table in the next couple of cycles while (hopefully) avoiding a massively inflationary spike with large-scale job losses.

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