The Minimum Wage Wars: Everyone, It Seems, Has A Battle Plan

The Minimum Wage Wars: Everyone, It Seems, Has A Battle Plan


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Janet Ybarra
Former Washington Journalist
Contributor on The Bipartisan Press

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Although they weren’t successful in ultimately including it as part of President Biden’s COVID relief package, neither Biden nor congressional Democrats have given up on raising the federal minimum wage.

The question is, however: Raise it by just how much?

There have emerged not only competing proposals among Democrats — even some Republicans have offered a more-modest wage increase of their own.

“President Biden supports raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour. That is where he stands. That is where he stood for a long time,” said White House Communications Director Kate Bedingfield. “He believes strongly that that is the level at which people in this country who are working full-time can make a living wage and not be living in poverty and I believe, that is a fundamental matter of values. He doesn’t believe anyone in this country should work full-time and be living in poverty.

“What I would say, Jake, there are currently no active discussions about lowering the threshold and details get worked out,” she added, during an on-air interview with CNN host Jake Tapper. “The Senate just passed our American rescue plan a massive effort to get people aid across the country and make these investments. So the conversation is going to turn to how we tackle the minimum wage and for the president who is looking forward to working with Congress to determine the best way to do it.”

Congress last raised the federal minimum wage in 2009, to its current level of $7.25 per hour.

Most Democrats back Biden’s $15 an hour target.

“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,” Sen Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) said last month before it was stripped out of the COVID relief bill. “We have not talked increasing 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.”

But despite Bedingfield’s assertion, there are competing wage increase proposals.

Conservative Democratic Sen Joe Manchin of West Virginia — who has somewhat bedeviled the new president recently by sinking his nominee for White House budget director — has offered his own federal minimum wage target.

“Joe Biden has said anybody that goes to work — I believe this with all of my heart — if you go to work you should be above the minimum guidelines for poverty line. You figure the numbers it comes out to $11,” Manchin said. That is how I got to 11. We can do that very quickly too within a couple of years.

“Once we get to $11 it should be indexed for inflation so it never becomes a political football again,” he added. “It should be the respect and dignity of work above the minimum wage of what the guidelines for poverty is and being able to lift yourself way far above that by your skill sets and your determination. That is all we are saying and what we have been trying work to. This is the easiest lift you will. You have that many people want to raise the minimum wage from $7.25 to above the poverty guidelines let’s do it and let inflation take us from the standpoint indexing it so we never fall below that.”

A group of Senate Republicans, meanwhile, is offering an even smaller rise, to just $10 per hour, and would couple the increase with increased mandates to use the E-Verify system to weed out the employment of undocumented immigrants.

Text of the Republican legislation can be found here.

“For millions of Americans, the rising cost of living has made it harder to make ends meet, but the federal minimum wage has not been increased in more than 10 years,” Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah), one of the sponsors of the Republican bill, said. “Our legislation would raise the floor for workers without costing jobs and increase the federal minimum wage to $10, automatically raising it every two years to match the rate of inflation. Additionally, our bill would protect American jobs by requiring employers to use E-Verify to ensure that businesses cannot hire illegal immigrants. We must create opportunities for American workers and protect their jobs, while also eliminating one of the key drivers of illegal immigration.”

Although Republicans traditionally are seen as defending business interests, as early as last year, well-known entrepreneur and businessman Mark Cuban said that an important improvement in the federal minimum wage was necessary.

“You know, because right now, we’re coming to the realization, again, that we’ve got to have a strong foundation of people and a strong federal minimum wage is one of the first ways that we can do that,” Cuban said, without specifying a particular wage increase.

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