House progressives may delay Congress in passing Joe Biden‘s $1.9 trillion stimulus package—which includes the highly-anticipated $1,400 relief checks—to keep the $15 minimum wage hike in the sprawling bill.
Progressive lawmakers on Friday warned Democratic leadership that they could withhold their vote for the legislation if the Senate removes the wage increase. Their opposition could send the package back to be renegotiated, which would further stall the passing of the bill.
“There are progressive Democrats that have that muscle in the House. If we as a party decide to stand down on our promise of elevating the minimum wage, I think that’s extraordinarily spurious and it’s something that as a party we could have a further conversation about how to fight for it,” Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez said, after suggesting that progressives should pressure party leaders by withholding their votes in the same way that moderate Democrats have done in opposing the package.
In the early hours of Saturday morning, the House of Representatives passed the relief bill largely along party lines in a 219-212 vote. Two Democrats—Jared Golden of Maine and Kurt Schrader of Oregon—broke with the party to oppose the legislation that Republicans in the lower chamber were unanimous in voting against.NEWSWEEK SUBSCRIPTION OFFERS >
The aid legislation now advances to the Senate, where the $15 minimum wage hike is expected to be amended. It will then be sent back to the House for another vote.
The House bill includes increasing the federal minimum wage by 2025, a measure strongly opposed by Republicans and a few moderate Democrats. However, Senate Parliamentarian Elizabeth MacDonough, a nonpartisan interpreter of chamber rules, recently said that it did not meet the requirements of reconciliation.
Senate Democrats had paved the way to use the budget process to push through the legislation with a simple majority, as the chamber is evenly divided with Vice President Kamala Harris having the tie-breaking vote. But with MacDonough’s ruling, the party’s members are now spending the weekend exploring other avenues to pass the measure.NEWSWEEK SUBSCRIPTION OFFERS >
Representative Pramila Jayapal of Washington, chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, indicated to reporters that Democrats could lose support from progressives if they fail in finding a way to include the wage hike.
“I don’t think we can go back to voters and say, ‘Look, I know Republicans, Democrats, independents support this; we promised it, but because of an unelected parliamentarian who gave us a ruling, we couldn’t do it,'” she said. “There’s a lot of great things in the package, but if it’s watered down, that’s a whole different issue. So we just have to see what it ends up as.”
On Friday, Ocasio-Cortez also warned the Biden administration that the minimum wage debate “sets the stage for how effective we’ll be for the rest of the term.”
Jayapal has pushed for Harris to overrule MacDonough. While the vice president has authority to override the parliamentarian’s decision, she is not expected to do so.
On Thursday, Senator Bernie Sanders, chair of the Senate Budget Committee, said he will introduce an amendment that will “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.”
Newsweek reached out to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi‘s office for comment.