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No. 2 Senate Democrat shoots down overruling parliamentarian on minimum wage

The Hill logo The Hill 3/1/2021 Jordain Carney
a man wearing a suit and tie: Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) © Greg Nash Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.)

Sen. Dick Durbin (Ill.), the No. 2 Senate Democrat, is shooting down calls from progressives to overrule the chamber's parliamentarian and include a minimum wage hike in the $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief bill.

Asked about talk of teaming up with Vice President Harris to overrule Parliamentarian Elizabeth MacDonough, Durbin said Democrats should instead look for another piece of legislation to use as a vehicle for trying to increase the minimum wage.

"I don't think that's going to work. I hope that we think very seriously about dealing with the minimum wage in a different venue," he said.

It's the latest sign that the clean increase of the minimum wage to $15 per hour won't survive the Senate.

Because MacDonough advised that it doesn't comply with arcane budget rules that determine what can be included under reconciliation - the process Democrats are using to bypass the 60-vote filibuster in the Senate - Durbin noted it would need 60 votes to stay in the bill, support it doesn't have.

After the ruling, House progressives and outside groups have urged Democrats to put Harris in the chair presiding over the Senate and ignore advice from the parliamentarian.

But Harris does not have the support of the 50 senators she would need to back her up on such a move, a fact to which the White House alluded Monday.

"The decision for the vice president to vote to overrule or to take a step to overrule is not a simple decision. It would also require 50 votes ... and the president and the vice president both respect the history of the Senate. They both formerly served in the Senate, and that's not an action we intend to take," White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters.

Top Democrats floated late last week trying to increase the wage by another route: using tax penalties against large corporations that don't pay their workers a certain amount.

The idea was backed by Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Budget Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), and has even garnered interest from Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.).

But two sources told The Hill on Sunday night that they were pulling the plug on trying to get the so-called plan B into the coronavirus bill over concerns that it could slow down the overall package.

Democrats want to get the relief bill signed into law by mid-March and because the Senate will make changes it is going to have to go back to the House for a second vote.

Even if the parliamentarian had said the minimum wage language complied with budget rules, it was facing likely changes in the Senate because a $15 per hour minimum wage does not have 50 votes.

Durbin acknowledged that not having the minimum wage provision in the bill makes passing it "less complicated," but reiterated that he thought the decision was "disappointing."

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