$15 minimum wage: Where the debate and alternatives stand

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(AP Photo/Elise Amendola, File)

(NEXSTAR) – Consensus is building on Capitol Hill around an increase to the federal minimum wage, but the final passage of any legislation appears to hinge on swaying key moderate Democrats or building a bipartisan coalition in support of the pay increase.

Democratic leadership wants to raise the federal floor, fixed at $7.25 hourly since 2009, to $15 over five years as part of President Joe Biden’s sweeping relief package. But opposition has emerged from within the party, putting the $15 proposal on shakier footing than new stimulus checks, child tax credits and other broadly popular stimulus measures.

Democrats are attempting to pass the relief bill through a process known as budget reconciliation, which would shield the bill from Senate Republican filibusters, requiring 60 votes to pass. Sixty votes is out of reach for Democrats in a 50-50 chamber they control with Vice President Kamala Harris’ tie-breaking vote.

Democrats are arguing that the increase is appropriate to include in the package, but a legislative gatekeeper known as the Senate parliamentarian, Elizabeth MacDonough, could add an obstacle if she rules the proposal is not appropriate as part of the budget process. If the wage hike is stripped from the bill, Dems will have to find another path to a wage increase. Even if Ms. MacDonough sides with Democrats, it’s not clear Chuck Schumer’s Senate colleagues will all line up to support the $15 number.

Over the past week, West Virginia Democrat Joe Manchin has signaled resistance to more than doubling the decade-old wage floor. Arizona Sen. Kyrsten Sinema has also said she is opposed to the $15 increase during reconciliation, meaning the Democrats aren’t currently assured of 50 votes to pass reconciliation with the increase included.

As the Democrats work to shore up support, a number of competing proposals have begun to emerge. Here’s a look at some of the alternatives being floated:

  • Manchin himself is targeting a more modest increase nationally, telling reporters Monday “Eleven dollars is the right place to be,” according to the Hill. Manchin also wants to link the wage floor to inflation in the future. Critics from the left have said this proposal would not lift enough people out of poverty nationally.
  • Earlier this week two GOP senators unveiled a less generous counter offer to $15. Utah’s Mitt Romney and Arkansas Tom Cotton have called for an increase to $10 per hour. As USA Today reports, that plan would also require employers to use the E-Verify system to curb the hiring of undocumented workers. Democrats have largely been against E-Verify mandates outside of broader immigration reform.
  • On Wednesday, Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley – recently in the news for his role in objecting to the 2020 election certification – released his own alternative to the $15 hike. Dubbed the “Blue Collar Bonus,” Hawley’s plan would be paid for by taxpayers, not employers. As Axios reports, the money would come in the form of a tax credit to help cover part of the wage gap for people working for less than $16.50 per hour. The program would also be tied to inflation and would be carried out over three years.

Earlier this month a Congressional Budget Office projection found the existing Democratic proposal would help lift millions of Americans out of poverty but increase the federal deficit and cost 1.4 million jobs as employers scale back costlier workforces.

Democrats have argued that the proposal impacts the deficit and means the minimum wage hike is relevant to the budget and can be included in the reconciliation bill. We should know soon whether the Senate parliamentarian agrees. If she does not, Democrats may be forced to look at less ambitious increases that could win bipartisan support.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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