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$15 minimum wage not allowed in Biden’s Covid relief bill, Senate official says

A protester attends a rally held by fast food workers and supporters to celebrate the California Labor Commissioner’s order for the company to rehire and compensate workers who went on strike for coronavirus disease (COVID-19) protections, in Los Angeles, California, February 18, 2021.

Lucy Nicholson | Reuters

Democrats cannot include a $15 per hour minimum wage in their $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package, a Senate official ruled Thursday, derailing for now a party priority and a raise for millions of Americans.

Senate parliamentarian Elizabeth MacDonough determined lawmakers could not include the policy under budget reconciliation, CNBC confirmed. She and her staff heard arguments from Democrats and Republicans about whether the proposal met strict standards for deficit effects needed to include it in the process.

Reconciliation allows the Senate to pass bills with a simple majority — in this case with no Republicans who are wary of another massive rescue package. However, Democrats faced challenges in passing the pay hike regardless of whether the chamber’s rules allowed it in the legislation.

House Democrats included the $15 per hour minimum wage in the rescue bill they plan to approve Friday. It would raise the federal pay floor to the threshold by 2025, then index future hikes to inflation.

It is unclear now if House leaders will amend their plan before passing it and sending it to the Senate.

Democrats consider raising the minimum wage — stuck at $7.25 an hour since 2009 — a priority while they control both chambers of Congress and the White House. But as Republicans question whether a $15 pay floor will hamper small businesses in parts of the country, the policy will not garner 60 votes in a Senate split 50-50 by party.

Republican Sens. Mitt Romney and Tom Cotton offered a GOP version answer to the minimum wage push, proposing a plan that would raise the pay floor to $10 an hour and put restrictions on hiring undocumented immigrants. Arkansas, the state Cotton represents, has an $11 minimum wage.

Democratic leaders will reject the framework proposed by Romney and Cotton.

Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona both opposed a $15 per hour minimum wage. Manchin said he backed $11 per hour instead.

Raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2025 would lift 900,000 people out of poverty but cost 1.4 million jobs, the Congressional Budget Office estimated earlier this month.

— CNBC’s Ylan Mui contributed to this report

This story is developing. Please check back for updates.

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