In 2001, the last time there was a 50-50 split in the Senate, the GOP was not getting what it wanted when it came to federal legislation. Specifically, the parliamentarian advised that the Republicans couldn’t have as many budget reconciliation bills as they wanted, which only require a simple majority. Because they had the tie-breaking vote in the Vice President, aka the President of the Senate, the GOP unceremoniously fired the parliamentarian and carried out their agenda.
Now, 20 years later, we are watching a very similar scenario play out. Instead of a ‘checks and shots’ strategy where the Democrats pass a bipartisan bill with as much guaranteed relief as possible that they know would pass a 60 vote threshold in the Senate (e.g., vaccine distribution money – shots – and economic relief checks – checks), and then take on the thornier pieces of the Biden recovery plan via reconciliation, they have saved it all for one 1.9 trillion dollar bill to pass through reconciliation.
There are certainly some good pieces to the bill, which passed the House of Representatives last week. Most importantly, it currently includes much needed state and local relief monies. Even though the revenue projections are looking better than expected after a year of pandemic woes, there will still be ongoing serious threats to the public sector from the economic fallout of this pandemic, and dedicating money to the budgets of states and municipalities will be better ground for political struggle than the corporate bailouts that Steven Mnuchin cooked up in a hedge fund fever dream. Senate Democrats, though, are signaling skepticism, and this has led newly-christened Majority Leader Chuck Schumer to call for discipline in his caucus and just pass the damn thing.
The other reason why Chuck is probably using the media to corral his Senators is because the House version of the bill also includes a 15 dollar minimum wage – and this is where the parliamentarian comes back into play. The Senate Parliamentarian, Elizabeth MacDonough, ruled that the 15$ minimum wage cannot be included in a reconciliation bill due to the lack of economic input it will have. This is clearly a fallacy, and many elected Democrats are using the moment to call for a firing, like in 2001, or a simple over-ruling on the part of the Vice President. And, of course, thousands of disgruntled activists across the spectrum of those ridin’ with Biden to labor leftists that have been fighting for 15$ since it was still a living wage are using this moment to agitate.
However, it looks like that call for discipline has not landed with at least one Senator, the Chairman of the Budget Committee – Mr. Bernie Sanders himself. The Hill released news tonight that Sanders plans to propose an amendment to include the $15 minimum wage, which will be good news for many, many working people in this country. It was only a year ago for many of us that we were knocking doors on our blocks, getting the vote out for Presidential candidate Sanders, unaware of how drastically our lives would change in the coming weeks. Now, a year later, Senator Sanders is leading the fight once again to build our class and make people’s lives better. Let’s continue to arm ourselves with the knowledge of what’s happening so that we can take part in these historic times.