House progressives are strongly pushing to pass a $15 minimum wage now as they believe this moment is their best shot, and some are already signaling they are willing to withhold their votes if the final version of the Covid relief package does not include the provision.
As the window for negotiations closes, and it seems increasingly unlikely that the White House will concede to progressives by overruling the parliamentarian’s decision that the minimum wage increase should be kept out of the bill, the question becomes whether the smoke that progressives are blowing will turn into fully formed flames.
“We’re leaving it open,” said Progressive Caucus Chairwoman Pramila Jayapal, a Democrat from Washington state, when asked by CNN whether progressives are prepared to withhold their votes on the Covid package if the legislation returns to the House next week from the Senate without the minimum wage proposal included. “We’re going to see what the whole package looks like and then we’ll make a decision.”
Implying her finger on the pulse of the left wing of the party Jayapal added, “We’re really keeping everyone close and just making sure we’re checking in with people,” emphasizing that most still believe reconciliation is the best path to passing this proposal.
Freshman progressive Democratic Rep. Jamaal Bowman of New York told CNN, “I don’t know yet,” when asked if he was prepared to withhold his vote on the final version of the Covid relief package if a $15 minimum wage provision were not included. “I will cross that bridge when we get there.”
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Bowman, who was part of a group of House progressives and outside organizations that sent a letter to the White House pressuring them to overrule the Senate parliamentarian’s ruling that the provision could not be included in the Covid relief package, said that while he appreciates that the White House is listening, progressives should be more willing to pursue every option to get this measure passed.
“I feel like I’m being heard, but I’m frustrated by our lack of fight,” Bowman said. “As Democrats, we need to turn over every stone and use every provision within our power to fight for the American people.”
“The American people have to know that the Democrats are fighting for them. Republicans can be wrong and strong, but at least they’re seen as fighters. We need to be seen as fighters as well,” Bowman added.
Rep. Rashida Tlaib, a Michigan Democrat who’s an integral part of the four-member progressive “Squad,” told CNN she is weighing heavily whether to withhold her vote if the final version of the bill does not include a $15 minimum wage. Representing the third poorest district in the country, Tlaib claimed that not conceding on the minimum wage is what her constituents want.
“I definitely need to put my residents first,” Tlaib said. “This is what they’re asking me to support. So it’s definitely something that’s going to be weighed heavily when I make that decision.”
Not all progressives are willing to go as far as threatening to pull their votes yet, despite the unified call to push on all fronts to get a $15 minimum wage passed now.
Rep. Ro Khanna, a California Democrat who has been in regular contact with the White House on this issue, articulated his belief that despite the fight progressives are putting up now, he will support Biden’s package and “I hope that all Democrats will.”
“We’re not a caucus of tearing things down,” Khanna told CNN.
Longtime lawmaker Rep. Barbara Lee, also a California Democrat, would not even entertain the proposition of withholding her vote if minimum wage is not included in the Senate’s version of the Covid package, making the case that all of her energy is focused on making sure the proposal stays in the bill even though the White House has not seemed willing to budge on overruling the parliamentarian.
“I’m not even thinking about that,” Lee told CNN. “Right now, we’re pushing to make sure we can somehow get it in. I think we’re being very strategic, we’re having discussions, we’re trying to see we move forward, but I’m not talking about that.”
Preventing the Covid relief package from passing would mean denying Americans relief that they urgently need, specifically before the unemployment benefit deadline runs out on March 14.
“I mean how can we justify people not getting $1,400? How can we justify kids not getting aid that’s going to help child poverty? How can we justify not providing vaccines for the country? It would be easy if you’re a party of no, but we believe in governance,” Khanna said.
“Part of the problem is the clock is ticking,” progressive Democratic Rep. Mark Pocan of Wisconsin echoed. “And many of those folks are hurting, and they need that additional support.”
Democrats can afford to lose only three members on the measure if everyone in the Congress participates in the vote. There are more than enough progressive members of the Democratic caucus to tip the scales if they were willing to take that dramatic step. But while a few are flirting with the idea, Democratic leaders remain confident that when it comes time to be on the record they will fall in line.
“It has so much in it to put vaccinations in the arms of American people, money in the pockets of our families, children in school, workers in jobs,” said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. “This is excellent. So let’s not be diverted into thinking into what is not in it, but let’s respect it for what is in it.”
The California Democrat pushed back on her members who were worried this may be their only opportunity to pass a minimum wage package.
“We will have other reconciliations,” she said.
Pelosi is not alone. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer expressed confidence on Tuesday that the House would easily clear the Senate-passed Covid bill when it returns to the chamber next week, shutting down the possibility that progressives, who have said they will do anything to get minimum wage passed, would go as far as not supporting the final version of the legislation if the key proposal were not included.
“I cannot believe that the people who voted to send it to the Senate will not also vote to pass it and send it to the President for his signature,” the Maryland Democrat told reporters. “It’s going to pass when it comes back.”