Sanders amasses budget arsenal to enact $15 minimum wage

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The Congressional Budget Office is expected to soon release a report at the behest of Sen. Bernie Sanders that will make a persuasive fiscal case for hiking the federal minimum wage within President Joe Biden’s pandemic aid package, according to a senior Democratic aide.

The incoming Budget Committee chair is building a cache of outside opinion to bolster his argument for muscling through a minimum wage increase on a 51-vote margin in the Senate. It is unclear if CBO’s forthcoming projections will be enough, however, to sway moderate lawmakers such as Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), who told reporters on Tuesday that he does not support the $15 increase in the next tranche of aid.

“I’m supportive of basically having something that’s responsible and reasonable,” Manchin said. “In my state that would be $11“ with inflation.

The House and Senate plan to pass a budget resolution later this week to unleash the reconciliation process, which would allow Democrats to forgo Republican support and pass Biden’s pandemic plan with a simple majority in the Senate.

Over the next two weeks, a dozen committees will pull together the pieces of that legislation and decide how to approach the minimum wage increase — a priority for Biden and progressives.

Among the questions Democrats must work through is whether the minimum wage hike will pass muster with so-called Byrd Rule restrictions on what can be included in reconciliation legislation, limiting items in the bill to those that have a significant effect on federal spending, revenues or the debt.

The Senate parliamentarian ultimately decides which provisions will make the cut. But Democrats can always try to persuade or overrule the parliamentarian on the minimum wage boost, or add provisions that might enhance its eligibility for reconciliation.

“It’s a tough piece of legislation to move,” said Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), a senior Republican appropriator and long-time budget member, of a reconciliation bill. The parliamentarian “becomes close to a god.”

Some Senate Democrats have been talking to Bill Dauster, a deputy chief of staff for former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, about how to approach the issue.

In a recent interview, Dauster said a minimum wage hike should qualify for reconciliation because it would reduce the amount of federal assistance that people with low incomes receive and increase their taxable income.

CBO has previously only estimated how changes to the minimum wage would affect the federal budget by increasing hourly pay for certain federal workers. Republicans have used those estimates to warn of job losses that might stem from a minimum wage hike.

Top Senate Democrats argue that there is “a strong case that there’s clear, non-incidental budgetary impact, both in terms of directly raising wages for some federal workers, as well as the reduction in welfare utilization and increase in tax receipts, for a $15 minimum wage,” a senior Senate Democratic aide said in a statement.

The White House demurred on Manchin’s opposition to including a minimum wage boost and whether it’s a “must-have“ for the president.

“There are a lot of points of view,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Tuesday in response to a question about handling Manchin’s stance. “We’re happy to hear them. But we’re not going to negotiate in public about what’s in the package.”

Sarah Ferris contributed to this report.

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