Other lawmakers, including some Republicans, have argued that the pandemic relief package should be scaled down, with items like the minimum wage provision left for another legislative battle later in the year. Most House Republicans voted against a stand-alone minimum wage bill in 2019, pointing to a Congressional Budget Office report that estimated the provision would put an estimated 1.3 million Americans out of work. Senate Republicans, in control of the chamber, did not take it up.
“That’s an agenda item for the administration, so be it,” Senator Lisa Murkowski, Republican of Alaska, told reporters. “Should it be included as part of a Covid relief package? I think it takes the focus off the priority, which is what is the immediate need today.”
“Hey,” she added, “you get the keys to the car now. And so let’s get some legislation done, but you don’t need to think that you need to get it all in one package.”
Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, bluntly told reporters in January that “we’re not going to do a $15 minimum wage in it” and that Mr. Biden was better off reaching out to Capitol Hill and negotiating a compromise.
Mr. Sanders and Democrats have argued that with jobless benefits set to begin expiring in mid-March, there is little time to win over their Republican counterparts, who embarked on similar reconciliation efforts in 2017 to repeal portions of the Affordable Care Act and pass a sweeping tax overhaul.
But to secure the first increase in the federal minimum wage since 2009, even under reconciliation Mr. Sanders and liberal Democrats can afford to lose little, if any, support from the rest of the caucus.
Several lawmakers, including Representative John Yarmuth of Kentucky, the chairman of the House Budget Committee, have voiced skepticism that the minimum wage provision can prevail through the rules of the reconciliation process, which imposes strict parameters to prevent the process from being abused. Under the so-called Byrd Rule, Democrats cannot include any measure that affects the Social Security program, increases the deficit after a certain period of time set in the budget resolution or does not change revenues or spending.