Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders overnight Thursday helped nix Democrats' effort to include a hike in the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour, as part of their $1.9 trillion COVID relief package, despite having championed such an increase. However, Sanders made clear that he supported the GOP-backed amendment to keep an immediate wage hike out of the relief measure became he wants a gradual increase.
"It was never my intention to increase the minimum wage to $15 immediately and during the pandemic," Sanders, the chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, said on the Senate floor late Thursday night. "My legislation gradually increases the minimum wage to $15 an hour over a five-year period and that is what I believe we have got to do."
The vote took place during a "vote-a-rama" session in which senators voted on amendments to President Biden's $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package, which fellow Democrats are seeking to pass through "budget reconciliation" without GOP votes.
Sen. Joni Ernst, an Iowa Republican, proposed the amendment that would prohibit an increase of the federal minimum wage during the global COVID-19 pandemic.
"A $15 federal minimum wage would be devastating for our hardest-hit small businesses at a time when they can least afford it," she said.
After Sanders spoke up, the measure to keep the hike out of the COVID relief package was then approved through a voice vote, helping avoid a partisan showdown on the issue.
However, Democrats and Sanders, who caucuses with Democrats, are expected to reinsert the wage hike into the package as a gradual increase.
On Biden's Inauguration Day, Sanders vowed to use budget reconciliation to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour if the GOP does not support the move.