Senate ruling says Democrats can't put $15 minimum wage in Covid relief bill

WASHINGTON — A ruling in the Senate on Thursday dealt a severe blow to Democrats’ hopes of raising the minimum wage in the Covid-19 relief package, potentially dooming the proposal in the legislation that is headed for a vote in Congress.

The parliamentarian, the in-house referee, ruled that the provision was not compliant with rules governing the budget process that Congress is using to pass the bill with simple majorities.

“We are deeply disappointed in this decision,” said Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y. “We are not going to give up the fight to raise the minimum wage to $15 to help millions of struggling American workers and their families. The American people deserve it, and we are committed to making it a reality.”

The so-called “Byrd rule” limits acceptable provisions to taxing and spending.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., the ranking Republican on the Budget Committee, praised the decision.

“Very pleased the Senate Parliamentarian has ruled that a minimum wage increase is an inappropriate policy change in reconciliation,” Graham said in a statement. “This decision reinforces reconciliation cannot be used as a vehicle to pass major legislative change – by either party – on a simple majority vote. This decision will, over time, reinforce the traditions of the Senate.”

Democrats, led by Senate Budget Committee Chair Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., had made a case for including the provision in the package.

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., a leading proponent of the $15 wage, said earlier that it would be unacceptable for Democrats to willingly back off the provision, but she acknowledged that the parliamentarian could rule it non-compliant.

“The parliamentarian essentially a legislative reference,” Ocasio-Cortez told reporters earlier Thursday, before the ruling. “If something is out of bounds, it’s out of bounds, as per the rules.”

Senate experts say that Vice President Kamala Harris has the authority to ignore the parliamentarian and rule the wage hike compliant, but the White House isn’t considering that.

“Not sure if it’s ever happened in the past,” White House chief of staff Ron Klain told MSNBC’s Joy Reid on Wednesday. “Certainly, that’s not something we would do. We’re going to honor the rules of the Senate and work within that system to get this bill passed.”

Leigh Ann Caldwell contributed.