Ilhan Omar leads calls to fire Senate official who scuppered $15 wage rise

Photograph: Leah Millis/Reuters
Photograph: Leah Millis/Reuters  

The progressive Democrat Ilhan Omar has called for the firing of the government official who effectively blocked the party's plans to raise the minimum wage.

Democratic plans to include a gradual raise to $15 in Joe Biden's $1.9tn coronavirus stimulus bill were effectively ended on Thursday when the Senate parliamentarian ruled it should not be part of the package.

The decision by Elizabeth MacDonough, who has held the non-partisan position since 2012, dashed hopes of including the raise in the bill - the first increase in over a decade.

"Abolish the filibuster. Replace the parliamentarian," Omar said in a tweet. "What's a Democratic majority if we can't pass our priority bills? This is unacceptable."

Biden campaigned on a pledge to increase the minimum wage to $15. Low-wage workers and unions have campaigned for a rise since 2012, and its inclusion in the coronavirus stimulus bill had been seen as a major victory.

While the proposal faced universal opposition by Republican senators and skepticism from some Democrats, Senator Bernie Sanders and others were confident that it could be pushed through with a simple majority in the Senate, where the Democrats hold a slim majority.

In order to achieve this, the proposal would have to be passed by "budget reconciliation" - a mechanism that allows legislation to bypass the 60% vote bills need to get through the Senate.

Late on Thursday, MacDonough ruled that the wage increase did not meet the standards for budget reconciliation.

The parliamentarian acts as an impartial judge and has only been removed from office once. MacDonough is well respected by many members of both parties, and the Biden administration seems unlikely to push for her removal.

Other progressive Democrats have proposed a less drastic solution - overruling her.

"The Senate parliamentarian issues an advisory opinion," congresswoman Pramila Jayapal said in a tweet. "The VP can overrule them - as has been done before. We should do EVERYTHING we can to keep our promise, deliver a $15 minimum wage, and give 27 million workers a raise."

Sanders, one of the most ardent supporters of a minimum-wage increase, has proposed an alternative plan - imposing penalties and incentives to push companies toward higher wages.

"I will be working with my colleagues in the Senate to move forward with an amendment to take tax deductions away from large, profitable corporations that don't pay workers at least $15 an hour, and to provide small businesses with the incentives they need to raise wages," Sanders said in a statement. "That amendment must be included in this reconciliation bill."

Sanders' comments come after a Senate hearing on Thursday where he lambasted the low wages paid by McDonald's, Walmart and others. Sanders pointed to a government report that found nearly half of workers who make less than $15 an hour rely on public assistance programs that cost taxpayers $107bn each year.

The American people are "sick and tired" of subsidizing "starvation wages" at these companies, Sanders said.


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