Biden, Democrats are striving for a $ 15 minimum wage in the fight for $ 1.9 trillion relief

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Democratic pressure to raise the federal minimum wage to $ 15 an hour has emerged as an early flash in the fight for a $ 1.9 trillion COVID-19 aid package, testing President Joe Biden’s ability to bridge Washington’s party divisions as he pursues after its first major legislative victory.

Biden called for a minimum wage of $ 15 per hour during his campaign and has followed it up by attaching it to a measure that requires, among other things, $ 1,400 stimulus checks and $ 130 billion to help schools reopen. Biden argues that everyone who has a full-time job should not live in poverty, and repeat progress in the Democratic Party that is fully on board with the effort.

“With the economic gap, I mean, I want to see a minimum wage of $ 15. It should actually be $ 20, says the rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich.

Some Republicans support exploring an increase but are worried about $ 15 an hour. They warn that such an increase could lead to job losses in an economy that has almost 10 million fewer jobs than it did before the pandemic began. Moderates such as Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Rep. Tom Reed of New York are urging Biden to split the minimum wage increase from the COVID-19 talks and deal with it separately.

“The more you throw in this bucket of COVID relief that is not really related to the crisis, the more you risk the credibility of the American people that you are really sincere about the crisis,” Reed said. Including the pay rise, Murkowski said, “complicates politically an initiative that we should all work together to address.”

Opposition from moderates has left Democrats with a sharp choice: Wait and build bipartisan support for an increase or move forward with little or no GOP support, potentially as part of a package that could pass the Senate with Vice President Kamala Harris’ striking voice. Democratic leaders seem to be moving towards the latter option without any guarantee of success. Although the pay rise may overtake procedural challenges, passage will require the support of all Democrats in the 50-50 Senate, which may be a high order.

‘Starvation wages’

Leading prosecutor is Senator Bernie Sanders, who unveiled $ 15 payroll legislation this week with the support of 37 Senate Democrats. His bill would gradually raise his salary to $ 15 over a five-year period. The federal minimum is $ 7.25 and has not been raised since 2009.

Sanders, the incoming chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, said it would be good for him if Republicans were not prepared to “get on board.” He said the government needed to pump money into the economy to ensure “people do not work with starving wages.”

Democrats are moving toward using a tool that allows certain budget-related items to bypass the Senate filibuster – an obstacle that requires 60 votes – and overcome by a simple majority. Sanders is convinced that a minimum wage increase fits within the allowable criteria for what in Washington lingo is called budget reconciliation, but Senate lawmakers have the final say on what qualifies.

“As you may recall, my Republican colleagues used reconciliation to give nearly $ 2 trillion in tax breaks to the rich and big corporations in the midst of a massive income gap. They used reconciliation to try to repeal the law on affordable care and throw 32 million people out of the care they had. “They used reconciliation to enable drilling in the Arctic wilderness,” Sanders said. You know what? I believe we can use reconciliation to protect working families. “

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, DN.Y., said that as early as next week, the Senate will begin taking the first steps toward getting the COVID-19 bill approved through the budget reconciliation process. The goal is to pass in March.

The latest sign that a minimum wage of $ 15 is popular with voters came in November, when more than 60% of voters in conservative-leaning Florida approved an amendment to the state constitution that raises the minimum wage there from $ 8.56 per hour to $ 15. per hour by 2026.

The House passed legislation to gradually raise the minimum wage during the last Congress, but it went nowhere in the GOP-controlled Senate. Opponents argue that a large increase in the minimum wage would cause many employers to reduce the number of workers they have on their wages.

Raise for 17 million Americans

A study from the Congressional Budget Office from 2019 estimated that an increase to $ 15 per hour would increase the salaries of 17 million Americans. Another 10 million workers earning more than $ 15 an hour would also see a boom. But about 1.3 million workers would lose their jobs.

“There is no doubt that raising the minimum wage, especially to $ 15, will put some small businesses out of business and cost many low-wage workers their jobs,” said Neil Bradley, chief executive of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. .

Bradley said there should be a separate debate on the minimum wage, and while the US Chamber of Commerce opposes $ 15 an hour, “we are open to a reasonable increase in the minimum wage and it should be a topic of discussion. But you know, including that in the COVID package jeopardizes the whole thing. “

Mary Kay Henry, International President of the Service Employees International Union, said that raising the minimum wage would benefit many of the people who have worked on the front lines of the pandemic. That’s why she supports including it in the COVID-19 help package.

“They have been called essential, but they all believe they have been treated as consumables or sacrifices because they do not earn enough to be able to put food on the table and keep themselves and their families safe and healthy,” Henry said.

Henry says that nursing home workers, caretakers, security guards and home health workers are among the union’s 2 million members.

“The real way to appreciate this work is to raise the minimum wage to $ 15,” she said.

Most states also have minimum wage laws. Employees are generally entitled to the higher of the two minimum wages. Currently, 29 states and Washington, DC, have minimum wages above the federal minimum wage of $ 7.25 per hour.

(AP)