By Jonathan Nicholson
With Democrats on the losing end of a showdown over whether a minimum-wage boost belonged in their $1.9 trillion stimulus bill, the first of what could be several big fights over obscure budget procedural rules is over.
The Senate parliamentarian said late Thursday that language to raise the minimum wage was not allowed under rules governing the fast-track budget reconciliation process, striking a blow to Democratic hopes for a major policy victory early in President Joe Biden’s term.
“We are deeply disappointed in this decision. We are not going to give up the fight to raise the minimum wage to $15 to help millions of struggling American workers and their families. The American people deserve it, and we are committed to making it a reality,” said Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer afterwards.
But for one Senate committee staffer — who was brought out of retirement by Senate Budget Chairman Bernie Sanders only a few weeks ago — the loss may particularly sting: Bill Dauster, chief counsel for Sen. Bernie Sanders’ Budget Committee.
Dauster has long been known on Capitol Hill as a budget process expert extraordinaire, having literally written a book, “Budget Process Law Annotated,” on the subject during his more than 30 years on the Hill.
“I was proud to have argued the case for the minimum wage in reconciliation. The Parliamentarian decided incorrectly,” Dauster tweeted after the decision.
While most budget experts thought it was unlikely the parliamentarian, Elizabeth MacDonough, would rule a minimum-wage hike in order, the fact it took two days for her to issue a decision was a surprise.
“I thought it was a smart move on the part of Sanders to bring Bill in to negotiate these shoals as he moves forward,” said Bill Hoagland, who sparred with Dauster for years from the other side of the aisle as long-time Republican budget aide.
“Did he have an impact on this debate about reconciliation and the minimum wage? Yes,” he said.
Democrats had taken hope from the lengthy deliberations that they could include the wage increase, which then could have passed the Senate with only 51 votes.
“I think it’s obvious that in terms of the parliamentarian, we think it’s going well,” said Senate Finance Chairman Ron Wyden, D.-Ore., on Thursday afternoon.
While the minimum-wage issue has been resolved, other procedural challenges are likely to arise before the stimulus bill is passed or fails. And in a few months a second round of budget reconciliation is likely to begin, with infrastructure seen as the top priority.
Hoagland said Dauster will be a formidable advocate.
“He’s a solid guy — not acerbic, doesn’t yell and beat on the table, and makes his point the way good debaters do,” he said.
“If you’re going up against Bill, you better be prepared. That’s all I can say.”
Dauster’s reentry to the Hill came as Sanders ramped up what many budget experts thought would be a futile quest to include a boost in the minimum wage in reconciliation, an optional process lawmakers can use to speed budget-related law changes through Congress.