Senate Dems: Maybe that $15 per hour plan B won't work after all

Over the weekend, we looked at the rejection of the minimum wage hike in the House pandemic relief bill by the Senate Parliamentarian and the Democrats’ ideas for a “Plan B” in terms of jamming the idea through. One such proposal, originally floated by Bernie Sanders, was to impose penalties on employers who failed to pay workers the desired amount. At the time, I noted that it seemed legally problematic (to say the least) to levy fines on companies for breaking a law that you failed to pass. Now, after having a couple of days to mull it over, it seems as if more Democrats in the upper chamber have come around to a similar line of thinking. Unless something changes radically, the push to jam through a $15 per hour minimum wage as part of this relief bill may now be dead in the water. (KYMA News)

Senate Democrats decided Sunday to abandon an alternative proposal to penalize companies for not providing a $15 minimum wage to their employees, the latest indication that boosting the federal minimum wage in this Congress remains an extremely tall order, according to a person involved in the talks.

After the House passed President Joe Biden’s Covid-19 relief bill early Saturday morning — with a provision raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour in stages by 2025 — the bill is expected to hit the Senate floor this week, but without that same provision, which the Senate parliamentarian ruled doesn’t fall within the rules of budget reconciliation, a process that allows Senate Democrats to pass the $1.9 trillion relief plan with just 51 votes.

Senate Democrats had a difficult time crafting the tax provisions in their alternative minimum wage proposal, sources said, so they are looking at other potential avenues to boost the rate.

This is definitely going to be a source of frustration for Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, along with all of their socialist supporters. The language being used to describe this failure to launch is rather amusing, though. We’re being told that the Democrats “had a difficult time” writing the language of the proposed penalty. They’re also looking for “an alternative rate hike” to address the issue.

The Democrats’ collective problem here is that they’re talking about something that can only be done by passing an actual law to change the federal minimum wage. It can’t be done by executive fiat and no amount of foot-stamping and pouting is going to miraculously make it happen. If they really want to raise the minimum wage in that fashion, there is an obvious path to do so. Craft the measure in a way that you can gain some bipartisan support and bring it up for a vote on the Senate floor. Someone should have explained all of this to them during freshman orientation.

It would be refreshing to see at least some of the Democrats (maybe Joe Manchin) take a stand and point out that punishing employers as part of what is supposed to be a pandemic relief bill is about as backward as you can get. At least in theory, the idea was supposed to be a measure to help workers impacted by all of the government shutdowns. Employers worry that if you suddenly drive up their labor costs by a huge margin they will end up having to lay off more workers. If your alternate plan is to impose financial penalties on companies who fail to comply with the law you failed to pass, you’re still driving up their costs. And that would still lead to more workers heading to the unemployment lines.

The minimum wage hike was only one of many items having little or nothing to do with actual pandemic relief in this $1.9 trillion pork party. There are items in there dealing with climate change, energy policy and almost everything else on the Democrats’ wishlist. Right from the beginning, there’s been a way that Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi could have attracted enough GOP support for this package to get it over the finish line through the regular order. Strip out all of the unrelated bells and whistles and just include stimulus checks along with loans and grants for small-business employers who were forced to close down. Put in funding for vaccine distribution and extend the enhancements for unemployment insurance for those still unable to return to work. (Unable does not mean unwilling by the way.) Have reasonable income caps on both the stimulus checks and the unemployment benefits so nobody is being incentivized to stay at home when they’re able to return to work.

If they’d just managed to put a package together like that the Senate GOP would have tossed in at least a dozen votes, if not more. Heck, I’d have been showing up on these pages to call out the Republicans who didn’t support it. But it’s still “My Way or the Highway” as far as Chuck and Nancy are concerned. So the bill has to be passed through some murky sleight of hand and chicanery. And we’re about to set another two trillion dollars from the Magical Money Tree on fire. Welcome to the return to normalacy.