POLITICS

Sen. Joe Manchin Says No To $15 Minimum Wage, Possibly Killing Push In Congress

The West Virginia Democrat left the door open for an $11 minimum wage.

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) said he does not support raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour, throwing a major wrench in Democrats’ already fraught hopes of giving workers a major pay raise.

Manchin, who is among the most moderate of the Senate Democratic Caucus, did, however, open the door to a more narrow increase in the minimum wage from its current $7.25.

“I’m supportive of an increase that’s responsible and reasonable, and in my state that’s $11,” Manchin told congressional reporters, adding that the rate should account for inflation.

Manchin is bucking his own party’s leadership. House Democrats have already passed the Raise the Wage Act, which would phase in a $15 minimum wage over several years. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (N.Y.) is behind the proposal — as is President Joe Biden.

“No one in America should work 40 hours a week making below the poverty line — $15 gets people above the poverty line,” Biden said in late January. The White House’s proposal for COVID-19 relief backs a $15 minimum wage, and Biden issued an executive order last week that took the first step toward increasing the minimum wage for federal workers and contractors to $15 an hour.

Progressives like Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), the lead sponsor of the Raise the Wage Act, have floated the idea of using a procedural maneuver known as budget reconciliation to push the $15 wage through the Senate with no GOP support. Budget reconciliation allows lawmakers to pass some legislation with a simple majority, meaning that move only works if all 50 Democrats climb on board, with Vice President Kamala Harris casting the tie-breaking vote.

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.V.) speaks during a hearing to examine the nomination of Former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm to be s
Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.V.) speaks during a hearing to examine the nomination of Former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm to be secretary of energy, Jan. 27 in Washington, D.C.

But even if Manchin had supported a $15 minimum wage, budget reconciliation was never a sure bet. Senate rules dictate any legislation passed through budget reconciliation must have a direct impact on spending and revenues, and it’s not entirely agreed upon that increasing the federal minimum wage would have such significant effects.

Sanders has brushed off those concerns. Last week, he told reporters that his office had spoken with the congressional budget office, which measures the budgetary impact of legislation, noting that previous analyses of the legislation were too narrow in scope. 

But now it seems Senate rules aren’t Sanders’ only obstacle.

“Raising the minimum wage to 15 bucks per hour is a pay raise for over 30 million Americans. That’s what we should do,” Sanders told HuffPost on Tuesday when asked to respond to Manchin’s remarks.

Asked how Democrats can achieve a $15 minimum wage given Manchin’s opposition, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) said simply, “We have to.”

“That’s our job. The American people are counting on us,” she added.

Manchin’s balk at $15 shows just how much of an uphill climb Democrats face on their minimum wage plan. Although $15 is now formally a piece of the party platform, several Democratic senators still have not endorsed the number. So far, only 37 have co-sponsored the minimum wage bill reintroduced in the Senate last week, while a handful facing reelection in 2022 have kept their names off the legislation. 

Democrats in the House also reintroduced their $15 minimum wage bill last week. A previous version passed mostly along partisan lines in 2019, but the Democrats’ majority has shrunk since then, leaving less room for error. The bill’s backers say enough votes are still there, but some moderate Democrats could hesitate now that the proposal could actually have a chance of becoming law. 

Already, House Budget Chairman John Yarmuth (D-Ky.) has expressed reservations about including the minimum wage bill in the COVID-19 relief package Congress is currently negotiating, saying he doesn’t believe it would comply with Senate rules.

Business groups, Republicans and some more moderate Democrats have rejected a $15 minimum wage, arguing the hike would be too steep for small businesses — especially during a sputtering economy still trying to navigate a global pandemic. 

According to the last public projections, raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour is estimated to pull 1.3 million Americans out of poverty, and increase the wages of 17 million workers, but also could result in 1.3 million fewer jobs, the CBO found in 2019.

Igor Bobic contributed reporting.