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Democratic lawmakers in both House and Senate are looking to overcome opposition within their own ranks to push the federal minimum wage to $15 per hour.
President Biden included the wage hike in the massive $1.9 trillion COVID relief package he’s been trying to get approved.
However, to avoid a Republican filibuster in the Senate, Democrats have committed to using a budget process known as “reconciliation,” to move the legislation.
However, under reconciliation, all provisions must be relevant to the federal budget. And freshman Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona has chosen to stand in the way of a wage increase bundled in the relief package because she said it doesn’t relate to the budget.
“What’s important is whether or not it’s directly related to short-term COVID relief. And if it’s not, then I am not going to support it in this legislation,” Sinema told Politico. “The minimum wage provision is not appropriate for the reconciliation process. It is not a budget item. And it shouldn’t be in there.”
Other Democrats are not giving up on approving a wage increase to $15 in some form soon.
“Well, as you said, the president included the minimum wage proposal, the $15 an hour proposal in this package. I’m going to continue to fight for it, but as of right now, you’re right, we don’t have the votes to get that done. If we can’t get it done, in this American rescue package, I think it is essential that we enact a $15 minimum wage in the coming weeks,” said Sen Chris Van Hollen (D-Md). “And as you know, that would be phased in over time. You get to the $15 an hour minimum wage in the year 2025. But we have to lift the millions of Americans out of poverty and that is one of the ways that we can do that.”
Lawmakers in the House are equally as determined, referring to partnerships with Biden Senior Advisor Cedric Richmond and Senate Budget Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders (I-Vt).
“And I think I heard Mr. Richmond say where there’s a will there’s a way. We faced many hurdled as it relates to moving this forward in terms of the technical aspects of this. But I’m confident — and you see Senator Sanders and others working very hard with the parliamentarian trying to find a path forward because $15 an hour minimum wage is absolutely essential,” said Rep Barbara Lee (D-Calif). “We have seen so many more people fall into the ranks of the poor during this horrific pandemic. People deserve $15 minimum wage and I think that we will find a way.”
The current federal minimum wage has fallen behind in the more than decade since it was last raised to $7.25, according to Sen Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii).
“There were probably be some efforts to cut back on the raising of the minimum wage, but everybody should remember that if the minimum wage had kept pace with the cost of living and other increases, we would be at over $20 as a minimum wage,” Hirono said. “We have not talked increased the minimum wage in our country in over a decade, and one of the many things that the pandemic disclosed was a huge economic disparity and that the people who are suffering the most economically are the lowest paid people in our country, many of whom are in the essential work categories.
“So the increase of minimum wage in the Biden bill is incremental and there should be serious debate and discussion about it, and as far as I’m concerned, the minimum wage should be increased incrementally,” she added.
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