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U.S. Senate votes to stave off federal wage increase during the pandemic

The legislative body also boosted the chances of Congress passing President Biden’s $1.9 trillion aid package.
Photograph: Shutterstock

The Senate last night derailed President Biden’s effort to double the federal minimum wage to $15 as part of his $1.9 trillion COVID relief measure, voting just before dawn to forego any increase during the pandemic, according to multiple media reports.

The legislative body also upped the chances of Congress passing Biden’s aid package, which includes billions of dollars in funding for K-12 schools and colleges. Also included in his proposal is $25 billion in direct relief aid for restaurants, according to Democratic leaders and industry associations.

By a 51-50 vote, with Vice President Kamala Harris casting the deciding yea, the Senate approved a resolution right before dawn to treat the act as a budget reconciliation measure. Under Senate rules, reconciliation requires the approval of a simple majority of lawmakers, not the two-thirds majority otherwise needed for legislation of that sort.

The resolution now moves to the House of Representatives, where it is virtually certain to pass because Biden’s Democratic Party controls the chamber. The aid plan would then be subject to a straight up-or-down vote in both chambers.  

Because Democrats control 50 of the Senate’s 100 voting seats, and Harris is able to cast a tie-breaking vote, the measure would likely pass. President Biden has given every indication that he would sign a measure into law.

Proponents of a big hike in the federal minimum wage said their efforts would not end with the resolution vote, which was conducted by voice rather than in the usual recorded form. Vermont independent Sen. Bernie Sanders gave an impassioned plea right before the final vote, noting that the current $15 proposal calls for phased-in increases that might not start until the pandemic is over, according to multiple media reports.

Last night’s dramatic developments also do not preclude consideration of a standalone bill raising the pay floor. One measure, the Raise the Wage Act, has already been introduced.

The surprising no-go on the wage hike was the result of an amendment proposed by Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa. It was one of an estimated 800 amendments proposed for what would become the budget reconciliation measure.

Lawmakers dubbed it a “vote-a-rama.” The session ran all night, or for about 15 hours.

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