Seeking to fulfill a long-standing Democratic ambition, a coalition of lawmakers introduced a bill on Tuesday that would raise the national minimum wage to $15 an hour.
Biden's First 100 Days
The measure, which is also included in President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion relief package, calls for gradually increasing the hourly wage in increments until it hits $15 in 2025. After that, it would be indexed to median wage growth – a move meant to guarantee wages keep up with inflation without needing new legislation.
Democratic lawmakers have pushed for years to raise the minimum wage, which now stands at $7.25 and hasn’t been increased since 2009.
President Barack Obama pressed in his 2013 State of the Union address to bump up the hourly rate in stages to $9 an hour over two years, and state and local governments around the country have done just that. Voters have consistently approved even bigger minimum wage hikes when they appear on the ballot – most recently in Florida, where voters supported a $15 minimum wage in November.
But the legislative drive has stalled in Congress, where Democrats were in the minority in either the House or Senate, or both, from 2010 until this year.
Now, with narrow majorities in both chambers and Biden in the White House, Democrats are renewing the push.
Initially, Democratic leaders have said they will seek to pass the measure with at least some Republican support.
Failing that, they will need to either end the Senate’s legislative filibuster – which requires 60 votes for a bill to get an up-or-down vote – or use budget reconciliation, an arcane but frequently used process that allows legislation that affects the federal deficit to be enacted with a simple majority. If Democrats go that route, they could not afford to lose a single vote.
How it could pass
“If we cannot get enough Republicans to vote for this legislation under regular order, we cannot simply take no for an answer,” Vermont independent Sen. Bernie Sanders said on Tuesday. “We must raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour, either through budget reconciliation, by a simple majority vote in the Senate. And as the incoming chair of the Senate budget committee, that is exactly what I will be fighting to do.”
Asked how a raise to the minimum wage would qualify under the reconciliation rules, a question that has been a point of outside contention, Sanders and others pointed to the law’s potential knock-on effects. Specifically, he argued that many workers currently depending on some forms of federal assistance would no longer need it, which would reduce government spending and “have a very positive impact on the federal deficit.”
Sanders also expressed confidence that the bill, with 38 Democratic co-sponsors in the Senate, would garner enough votes to pass through the simple majority, reconciliation process.
The Vermont independent first introduced a $15 minimum wage proposal in 2015 and then reintroduced with Washington Democratic Sen. Patty Murray in 2017 and 2019. The House passed a bill to do in 2019, but it did not make it through the Senate.
A long battle
The so-called Fight for $15 dates back to 2012, when fast-food workers walked off the job in New York City to call attention to their battle for higher pay.
Backed heavily by unions and consumer advocates, the effort has succeeded in eight states and more than 40 cities, which have adopted laws to raise their minimum wage to $15. A growing number of companies, including Amazon and Target, agreed to lift their minimum wage to that level i