NOEL KING, HOST:
An attempt by Democrats in Congress to raise the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour took a serious hit last night. Congressional correspondent Kelsey Snell has been following this story. Good morning, Kelsey.
KELSEY SNELL, BYLINE: Good morning.
KING: So what happened was the Senate parliamentarian made a call that changed everything. Who is this individual, and what did she decide exactly?
SNELL: Yeah, the parliamentarian is basically the keeper of the rules in the Senate. In this case, it was her job to determine if the rules of budget reconciliation are kept. And just kind of as a reminder, Democrats chose to use the budget process and reconciliation so that they could avoid a filibuster. But the flip side of that decision is that budget reconciliation has requirements. And, you know, Democrats knew that this was a risk and acknowledged it from the start. The question here that the parliamentarian was deciding is whether the minimum wage increase - increasing the minimum wage is primarily budget related and it has changes to revenue or expenditures. Now, we don't know the exact details of her ruling because this is a private, closed-door process. But many experts argued up until this decision was made that the wage has an impact on businesses and individuals but not primarily the federal budget. So, again, this is a question about these specific rules.
KING: Right. And that argument may have, in fact, won. So this will be disappointing to some. How did lawmakers react? How did President Biden react?
SNELL: Yeah, Democrats were, as one would expect, disappointed. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said that he was very disappointed and that he said he would pursue other legislation to increase the minimum wage. Now, Republicans, of course, were quite happy with this. Many of them framed it as the parliamentarian protecting the rules of the Senate. I think it was really interesting to see what Budget Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders said because this was, in fact, one of his major priorities. He said he's going to be working on an amendment to take tax deductions away from large, profitable corporations that don't pay workers at least $15 an hour. And he wanted to provide small businesses with incentives to raise wages. That would be a significant change to this bill. For Biden, he says he's disappointed, but he respects the parliamentarian's decision and the Senate process. He kind of moved on and wanted to focus on the other things that are in this bill, like the $1,400 stimulus checks and money for schools, money for virus containment and vaccine distribution.
KING: So broadly with minimum wage, $15 out, what does that mean for support of the COVID-19 bill?
SNELL: Well, you know, it actually may make it easier for Democrats to move this bill ahead. You know, there were at least two senators, Democratic senators, who were publicly opposed to the $15 minimum wage increase. Senators Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona both said publicly that they didn't like this element. And Manchin himself offered a completely different version of the way that they could raise the wage. Now, this is Biden's first piece of legislation. Polls show that it is hugely popular, including among Republicans. So there is a lot of incentive for Democrats to get on board.
Now, there are some things here that may still be controversial. This is an expensive package. It is very wide ranging. And as people are sorting through the things that are in it, there are concerns being raised by Republicans about some elements. But, you know, it is at a moment now where Democrats really want to move forward. And the fate of the Sanders amendment is the biggest question here. It would need 50 votes plus a vote from the vice president to pass. And a $15 minimum wage standalone bill has fewer than 40 co-sponsors in the Senate. So the focus now is on the bulk of the package.
KING: NPR congressional correspondent Kelsey Snell. Thanks, Kelsey.
SNELL: Thanks for having me.
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