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Top House progressive: Minimum wage must be in relief bill
06:20 - Source: CNN
CNN  — 

As Congress waits for the parliamentarian to rule on whether the $15 minimum wage can be included in the reconciliation package, the question becomes what progressives will do if their long fought for provision is taken out.

Although the decision about the minimum wage will most likely not be made before the House votes on the full Covid package on Friday, if the parliamentarian ultimately rules that a $15 pay minimum has to be removed, the bill would likely go back to the House and face another vote, forcing progressives to come to terms with what they’re comfortable with.

Progressive Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York told CNN that she would still support the Covid relief package if the parliamentarian is the one to take it out, but not if politicians negotiate it out.

“I think it depends on the reason for its lack of inclusion,” Ocasio-Cortez told CNN. “If $15 is not in the package due to parliamentary reasons, that’s one consideration and I would be open to voting for the package,” making the case that if the Senate parliamentarian decides to strip the $15 minimum wage from the Covid package, that decision is “largely a procedural, rules-based matter.”

“If Democrats strip it out, or if they change, fundamentally alter the provision and it’s essentially removed for political reasons, that is where, I think, not just myself but a substantial amount of progressives are kind of in a difficult spot.”

For Ocasio-Cortez, members of her own party removing or lowering the minimum wage would make the bill fall apart.

“I think a lot of what greased the wheels on this package from the very beginning was the promise of the $15 minimum wage inclusion. And I think that the fact that 15 was in there was a huge cornerstone of a lot of progressive concessions on other issues. And so, to take the 15 out from within our own party, I think kind of really destabilizes a lot of, some of the other concessions and points that we allowed to go forward in good faith that 15 would be in there,” she added.

Rep. Ilhan Omar, a progressive Democrat from Minnesota, echoed the sentiments put forward by Ocasio-Cortez.

“One is a deliberate effort, and the other is just the limitations that we have in pushing it through,” Omar told CNN, when explaining why she would not support a Covid package where Democrats removed the $15 minimum wage, but would support a package without the provision if the parliamentarian were the one to remove it.

Both lawmakers drew a clear goal post by saying they would not entertain any proposal to lower the minimum wage hike to $10 or $11 an hour, even as moderate Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia has been unwilling to embrace the measure as it stands and instead has offered a lower figure.

“I do not think that is acceptable for us as a caucus,” Ocasio-Cortez told CNN.

“No, absolutely not,” Omar said.

Fellow progressive Rep. Ro Khanna of California was less willing to entertain a scenario of a Covid relief package that did not include a minimum wage of $15.

“I expect it will be in the final version,” Khanna told CNN.

Progressive Caucus Chairwoman Pramila Jayapal of Washington state told reporters last week that the current makeup of the Senate is the best chance progressives have to get a $15 minimum wage passed during a press call with reporters.

“The Progressive Caucus has fought for this for a long time. And frankly, given the makeup of the Senate, this is our best opportunity, and the right moment in the midst of this pandemic to give millions of workers a long overdue raise,” Jayapal said.

Jayapal drew a line in the sand by saying progressives would not be willing to allow the Covid relief package to pass without the minimum wage hike.

“I don’t think we’re pivoting to any other strategy,” Jayapal said last Thursday when asked if progressives would concede on the minimum wage in this package. “It is really important to us that it happens in this package.”

Even though Ocasio-Cortez told CNN Wednesday that passing a minimum wage hike through the reconciliation process is “the best way and the fastest way” to get relief to people, if the parliamentarian strips the $15 minimum wage from the Covid relief bill, she said there are “a lot of vehicles” to pursue to ensure that the provision gets passed, such as a stand-alone bill.

“I do not anticipate us giving up this fight this term in any way,” she said.