Washington: The US Senate rejected a bid by Democrats to advance an increase in the federal minimum wage as part of President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion stimulus plan, with senators in both parties registering their opposition to the move.
As of late Friday afternoon, the vote on the proposal, which would advance a provision raising the wage to $15 an hour by 2025, had stalled, as Democrats haggled among themselves over a separate provision in the package related to the size and duration of federal unemployment payments.
At 9.12pm, it appeared to become the longest open vote in modern Senate history, beating out a 2019 vote on an amendment to prohibit the president from attacking Iran without authorisation. It finally closed at 10.53pm, nearly 12 hours after it began at 11.03am.
All signs pointed to the minimum wage increase provision being doomed, long before the 42-58 vote closed well short of the 60 votes it would need to be advanced. Seven Democrats and one independent aligned with them joined all 50 Republicans in opposing the increase.
The Democrats voting against the proposal were Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, Jeanne Shaheen and Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire, Tom Carper and Chris Coons of Delaware, and Jon Tester of Montana. Sen. Angus King, Independent-Maine, who caucuses with the Democrats, also voted no.
The vote remained open for hours as Democrats struggled to reach an agreement on jobless aid. On Friday evening, lawmakers reached a compromise that would keep supplemental unemployment benefits at $300 per week through September 6, an agreement that will allow the voting to continue.
While Biden included the minimum wage increase in his stimulus proposal and the House passed it as part of its version of the package, a top Senate official, Elizabeth MacDonough, ruled that it could not be included in the bill under the strict rules governing the reconciliation process, which protects legislation from filibusters and allows it to pass with a simple majority. Democrats are using reconciliation to fast-track the bill through the Senate.
Liberal lawmakers and activists argued that Democrats should overrule MacDonough’s guidance and push through the proposal anyway over Republican opposition. But the margin of defeat showed that they would not have had the votes to pass it unilaterally even if they had tried to do so.
Instead, Sen. Bernie Sanders, Indendent, Vermont, chair of the Budget Committee, offered an amendment to add the provision during a marathon of rapid-fire proposals, known as a vote-a-rama, that began late Friday morning.
Moderate Democrats who rejected the increase signalled that they would be willing to negotiate once the stimulus package became law.
“Senators in both parties have shown support for raising the federal minimum wage, and the Senate should hold an open debate and amendment process on raising the minimum wage, separate from the COVID-focused reconciliation bill,” Sinema said in a statement.
Sinema became an immediate target of progressive ire after her vote, which she signified with a dramatic thumbs-down motion, evoking a similar gesture made by Sen. John McCain, in 2017 when he cast the decisive vote to kill a proposal by his party to repeal parts of the Affordable Care Act. Sinema has previously described McCain as one of her political idols.
Sanders, a longtime champion of raising the federal minimum wage, which has not been changed since 2009, vowed to keep pressing on the legislation.
“If anybody thinks that we’re giving up on this issue, they are sorely mistaken,” Sanders told reporters. “If we have to vote on it time and time again, we will - and we’re going to succeed.”