The Senate Parliamentarian Elizabeth MacDonough effectively killed the $15 minimum wage measure in the COVID relief bill, issuing a guidance saying she “thought it didn’t meet the guidelines” for budget reconciliation, according to the Wall Street Journal.
But how exactly did it fail? And why are Representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ilhan Omar saying that MacDonough’s decision may be grounds for her dismissal?
Let’s dig in. The so-called Byrd rule for reconciliation bills has 6 simple tests. The measure can’t be about Social Security (it isn’t) … and must be within the jurisdiction of the proposing committee (it is) … have a budgetary effect (it does) … fall within the scope of the budget resolution (it seems to, compared to other qualifying measures) … and not generate a deficit increase after 10 years (that’s easy to project—Republicans used voodoo trickle-down math to qualify their trillion-dollar tax cut for a simple majority vote).
There is only one other disqualification: its effect on the budget cannot be “merely incidental.” According to Axios, this is where MacDonough hung her hat. But Bernie Sanders anticipated this and asked the Congressional Budget Office in advance to compare the wage hike with a prior measure that did qualify for reconciliation: the 2017 Republican-led elimination of the Obamacare individual mandate.
The CBO Director replied that the wage measure would have “a much broader range of behavioral effects” and “in turn affect a broader range of budget functions than the CBO estimated that the change in the mandate penalty would.”
So if the Parliamentarian is supposed follow precedent (she is) then how did the (Republican) Obamacare-cutting measure manage to pass—while the (Democratic) wage hike failed? Perhaps this explains AOC’s and Omar’s well-justified fury—and possible Senate moves to overrule MacDonough’s decision and/or fire her.
Nelson Checkoway is an award-winning copywriter and the principal of Rising Tide Direct, a fundraising agency for non-profit organizations.