Minimum Wage Increase, Or Senate Rule No One Cares About? That Is Indeed A Tough One!

Minimum Wage Increase, Or Senate Rule No One Cares About? That Is Indeed A Tough One!

We'd all love to see the federal minimum wage increased to $15 an hour, because we're not sadists who enjoy watching people starve. However, Senator Joe Manchin from West Virginia has privately informed President Joe Biden that it might not happen because the Byrd Rule is more important than lifting people oh-so-slightly out of poverty.

The Byrd Rule, which means nothing to no one, is named after Robert Byrd, another Democrat from West Virginia. The rule prohibits including "extraneous" measures as part of the budget reconciliation process Democrats are using to get around the wacky filibuster, which requires 60 votes for passing legislation.

The filibuster would make more sense if you just called it the Democrat Face Puncher 9000. No one would question why Republicans want to hold on to the Democrat Face Puncher 9000. It's a useful item if you're in the Democrat-face-punching business. However, it's weird that any Democrats would defend the Democrat Face Puncher 9000.

Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema from Arizona are the current Democratic holdouts on finally disarming the Democrat Face Puncher 9000. We still don't know why. Sinema arguably won in 2018 because she promised to defend the ACA, which only passed because Democrats had a temporary supermajority of 60 votes. The entire bill was jeopardized when Republican Scott Brown won in early 2010, but they were able to finalize it through budget reconciliation. The Democrat Face Puncher 9000 didn't help build consensus because Republicans weren't interested in improving or moderating the bill. They just wanted it dead.

Republicans are equally interested in helping Democrats pass a COVID-19 bill that's worth a damn, so we're back to budget reconciliation. But if the Senate parliamentarian rules that the minimum wage increase violates the Byrd Rule, which no one who's got bills gives a fuck about, Democrats would need 60 votes again to keep it in. That won't happen so some progressive activists have suggested that bad lady in charge, Vice President Kamala Harris, ignore the parliamentarian and move forward with a majority vote.

However, Manchin won't provide his needed vote if it means disobeying Robert Byrd, who is 103 years old and dead.

"My only vote is to protect the Byrd Rule: Hell or high water," Manchin told CNN. "Everybody knows that. I'm fighting to defend the Byrd Rule. The President knows that."

Asked if he told the President about his position, Manchin said bluntly: "Straight up."

The Byrd Rule is the Democrat Face Puncher 5000. It doesn't sting as much, but that's still no reason for Democrats to keep it around. The Democrat Face Puncher 5000 was adopted in 1985 because the Senate was bypassing the filibuster through reconciliation, loading budget bills with “extraneous" goodies, and passing legislation too quickly. It's almost like they were helping people. The Democrat Face Puncher 5000 was the patch in the Matrix.

People either support raising the minimum wage or they're Republicans. West Virginia is a little kooky but I can't imagine even the most conservative single parent thinking, while adding water to a milk carton to stretch it out, “I could've used a raise, but thank God the Democrats didn't break the Byrd Rule! At least I can sleep at night."

The out-of-touch, coastal elite liberals at least understand that struggling Americans aren't overly concerned with parliamentary procedure.

The Democrat Face Puncher 5000 almost punched Republicans in the face when they tried to pass a $1.9 trillion tax scam giveaway for their billionaire donors in 2017. The Senate parliamentarian flagged three violations:

The name. The short name of the bill, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, appears to be placed incorrectly in the legislation.

Changes to the so-called 529 savings plan. The bill would have allowed money in the college-savings accounts to be used for homeschooling supplies.

The exemption for small colleges from a new excise tax. The bill had proposed a tax on college and university endowments exceeding $500,000 for every student enrolled, but it included a provision that would have exempted those with fewer than 500 tuition-paying students. The parliamentarian struck only the words "tuition-paying," the Ways and Means representative said.

Fortunately, tax relief for yacht owners still made it through.

The “Byrd Bath," as Senators like to call the rule, also excluded some of the more repulsive aspects from the GOP's attempted repeal of the Affordable Care Act.

Among the provisions preliminarily found to have violated the Byrd rule – which limits the reconciliation process to be used on laws that directly affect the federal budget – were a measure to defund Planned Parenthood, a "continuous coverage" lockout clause that bars people who have let their insurance coverage lapse from buying a new plan for six months, and a phase-out of essential benefit requirements for Medicaid plans.

But what made it through reconciliation would still have deprived millions of Americans healthcare coverage if not for Susan Collins, Lisa Murkowski, and the late John McCain. “I saved your health care" probably resonates more with voters than “I kept you from almost making a living wage."


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Stephen Robinson

Stephen Robinson is a writer and social kibbitzer based in Portland, Oregon. He writes make believe for Cafe Nordo, an immersive theatre space in Seattle. Once, he wrote a novel called “Mahogany Slade,” which you should read or at least buy. He's also on the board of the Portland Playhouse theatre. His son describes him as a “play typer guy."


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