• Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

What’s stopping the $15 minimum wage? Reconciliation and the ‘Byrd Rule’: Yahoo News Explains

  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

Right now there’s a $1.9 trillion COVID relief package being drafted, and it’s going to be President Biden’s first big legislative push. However, the American Rescue Plan that Biden previewed in January is likely to go through some big changes before it goes to a vote — including the possible removal of an increase in the minimum wage to $15. Yahoo News explains why obscure Senate rules could dictate what ends up in the next round of stimulus.

Video Transcript

[MUSIC PLAYING]

SAM MATTHEWS: Right now there's a $1.9 trillion COVID relief package being drafted. And it's going to be President Biden's first big legislative push. The American Rescue Plan was actually announced about a week before Biden took office. But what we see go to the floor will likely be drastically different and several thousand pages longer than what was proposed in January. One of the biggest changes we're going to see is that an increase in the federal minimum wage to $15 per hour likely won't be included. And here's why.

Right now there's an even split between Democrats and Republicans in the Senate. And while Vice President Harris does have a tie breaking vote, Senate rule 22 actually requires at least 60 votes to end debate on most legislation. But there are two exceptions-- confirming judges and what's called reconciliation. See, back in the 1970s, Congress decided that they needed to pass a budget each year. But they didn't want it to be a total nightmare each time.

So as part of the 1974 Congressional Budget Act, they included a provision for reconciliation, a process in which committees can work out different aspects of a bill in parallel with instructions on how to reconcile their measures into a single omnibus package at the end. The ins and outs are still really complicated. But the main takeaway here is that once a piece of legislation goes through reconciliation, it only needs 51 votes to pass in the Senate.

However, there are limits to how often reconciliation can be used and what kinds of things can be included. In the mid-80s, the Senate adopted the Byrd rule, named after Senator Robert Byrd of West Virginia, which allowed senators to block provisions they deemed to be extraneous to the basic purpose of implementing changes to the budget. The Byrd rule also specifically prohibits making changes to Social Security or increasing the deficit beyond the year that a reconciliation bill is passed.

If senators disagree, it's up to the parliamentarians to interpret the rules. And that brings us back to COVID relief and the minimum wage increase. In order to get passed quickly, the American Rescue Plan will need to go through reconciliation. And it's not clear if a minimum wage increase could pass the bar to be included in that process. And it seems that there are more arguments against it than for it. So even though a $15 minimum wage was a Biden campaign pledge, it may not actually be possible-- at least for now.