With Dems in Control, the Minimum Wage Could Finally Get a Boost

Senate Budget Committee Chair Bernie Sanders stated findings in a recent Congressional Budget Office (CBO) report indicate the Democratic party has a clear shot at bypassing Senate Republican obstruction in order to raise the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2025 with a simple majority.

The “Raise the Wage” Act (HR 603), if passed, would increase the federal minimum wage over four years.

The initial increase would incrementally raise it in five stages from its current 2009-level $7.25 an hour to $9.50.

This modest increase would boost wages by a net $333 billion over the next decade, and lift a million workers and their families out of poverty.

It would also phase out sub-minimum wages for tipped workers and link the minimum wage to inflation and median wage increases over time.

Economic Policy Institute (EPI) senior economist, Heidi Shierholz, stated on Monday:

“Income would also shift toward lower-income people and away from higher-income people under the bill.”

The report explains:

“In 2021, most workers who would not have a job because of the higher minimum wage would still be looking for work and hence be categorized as unemployed; by 2025, however, half of the 1.4 million people who would be jobless because of the bill would have dropped out of the labor force. Young, less educated people would account for a disproportionate share of those reductions in employment.”

Last month, President Biden called on Congress to raise the wage to $15 as part of the $1.9 trillion pandemic relief package, yet he now doubts the package will ultimately include the wage hike, suggesting he would be in favor of revisiting it in a separate bill.

In an interview with CBS‘ Norah O’Donnell, Biden explained:

“I put it in but I don’t think its going to survive. My guess is it will not be in [the stimulus bill]. I’m prepared as the president of the United States on a separate negotiation on minimum wage to work my way up from what it is now. No one should work 40 hours a week and live below the poverty wage and you’re making less than $15 an hour, you’re living below the poverty wage.”

Sanders, though, is undeterred, rebutting:

“Reconciliation rules” pertains to budget reconciliation for legislation pertaining federal spending, something Republicans have relied on in the past when they held the congressional majority to “deal with the major structural changes“.

Since the CBO report states raising the minimum wage would increase the federal deficit  $54 billion over a decade, Sanders–who, along with progressive economists, disagrees with the CBO’s conclusion–intends to use that budget reconciliation process to Democrats’ advantage.

This means Democrats, who now control both houses of Congress, could accomplish raising the minimum wage with a simple majority comprised of 50 votes plus a tie-breaker from Vice President Kamala Harris.

Sen. Sanders commented:

Last July, the House voted to raise the minimum wage to $15 incrementally up to 2025.

But Sen. Mitch McConnell was then still the Majority Leader, so it never stood a chance.

The chances are favorable now, although Sen. Sanders admitted it would be hard to get 10 Republican Senators on board with it enough to overcome a filibuster.

Democrats have until the 2022 mid-term elections to roll up their sleeves and pass progressive legislation nearly impossible under the prior Senate.

If they do it right, if they go bold, they might avoid the mid-term rout that traditionally descends on the majority party.

That would put them–and the nation–in a winning stance for 2024, when rising stars of the fascist wing of the Republican party will be seeking the GOP nomination.

Following Joe Biden’s inauguration on Jan. 20, Sen. Sanders told CBS News:

 “The people are demanding action. The times call out for bold action on the part of the Congress, for a willingness for us to stand up to powerful special interests who want to maintain the status quo. That’s what we gotta do, and we gotta do it quickly.”

In an op-ed in The Guardian, he stated:

“Democrats, who will now control the White House, the Senate and the House, must summon the courage to demonstrate to the American people that government can effectively and rapidly respond to their pain and anxiety. As the incoming chairman of the Senate budget committee that is exactly what I intend to do.

“What does all of this mean for the average American?

“It means that we aggressively crush the pandemic and enable the American people to return to their jobs and schools. This will require a federally led emergency program to produce the quantity of vaccines that we need and get them into people’s arms as quickly as possible.

“It means that during the severe economic downturn we’re experiencing, we must make sure that all Americans have the financial resources they need to live with dignity. We must increase the $600 in direct payments for every working-class adult and child that was recently passed to $2,000, raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour, expand unemployment benefits and prevent eviction, homelessness and hunger.”

We finally have a shot at a progressive goal five years ago conventional wisdom deemed “radical“.

During his 2016 and 2020 presidential runs, Sen. Sanders made doubling the federal minimum wage a top priority, ultimately getting it codified it into the mainstream Democratic party platform by proving its need and overwhelming popularity.

Now is the perfect opportunity to make it a reality.

Image credit: Kendalltxdemocrats.org

Ted Millar is writer and teacher. His work has been featured in myriad literary journals, including Better Than Starbucks, The Broke Bohemian, Straight Forward Poetry, Caesura, Circle Show, Cactus Heart, Third Wednesday, and The Voices Project. He is also a contributor to The Left Place blog on Substack, and Medium.