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After stinging loss, Democrats plot how to slip $15 minimum wage hike into next 'must-pass' bill

'Whether it's adding it to a must-pass bill or pushing it around those arcane Senate rules or some other measure, America will get the raise that is long overdue,' says Rep. Mark Pocan says.

Updated: March 20, 2021 - 2:14pm

The Facts Inside Our Reporter’s Notebook

Progressive House Democrats are rapidly searching for ways to revive the $15 minimum wage increase after a stinging loss in the passage of President Biden's $1.9 trillion coronavirus stimulus law.

Members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus want the $15 minimum wage hike to apply to all workers, including those who receive tips such as restaurant servers.

The Senate Parliamentarian ruled that a minimum wage increase could not be tied to Biden's American Rescue Plan, which the Democrats moved through Congress using the budget reconciliation tool to allow it to pass without GOP votes.

Progressive Democratic House members said that setback won't stop them from advocating for the minimum wage hike to pass before the end of this year.

"Just two days ago, some of us had a great meeting at the White House about this subject. I'm convinced that President Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris and their entire administration has committed to getting this done as well, and are putting their full efforts to doing this," said Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Wis., during a conference call organized by California Democratic Rep. Ro Khanna on Friday.

"We will get at least 50 votes in the Senate and we will find a way to finally do what Congress has been negligent to ask for too long; whether it's adding it to a must-pass bill or pushing it around those arcane Senate rules or some other measure, America will get the raise that is long overdue that we are committed to," he added.

A "must-pass bill" could include a federal budget bill, which would setup a potential government shutdown fight.

Some progressives on the call also suggested tying the minimum wage to portions of the upcoming massive infrastructure legislation that Democrats want, but they acknowledged it would have to be included in legislation where budget reconciliation won't be used.

Minnesota Democratic Rep. Ilhan Omar attended a "strategy session" with the Biden Administration on the $15 federal minimum wage and other issues on the progressive agenda.

"We should not allow any obstacles to get in our way as we push for this policy. It's imperative that we explore every avenue, every strategy, that will allow us to push through," she said. "It was great to be in a strategy session with the White House on $15 and many topics. And I hope that we can see progress immediately on behalf of the American people."

Just the News asked the progressive lawmakers how they respond to small business owners, especially restaurant owners, who are on their last legs during the pandemic and cannot afford to pay their entire workforce $15 per hour.

"We know these poverty wages end up pushing us, the government, to subsidize on health care costs, to subsidize on food assistance, because our families can't afford it, and so forth. So we need to figure out what we can do to support the really real local, you know, the economy on the ground. And that is making sure that people have access to resources to take care of their families, thus allowing these businesses to be supported in the community they are doing business in," Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., said.

"I continue to hear from my local mom and pop businesses, many of them restaurants, telling us, you know, do something about healthcare, that way that cost is off of my roster, right? Do something in regards to this or that and I've got to tell you, I was surprisingly grateful, at that moment in hearing them say, 'do more for our workers; do more for the people that live around our business because we can tell when they're not doing well we end up not doing well' when it comes to profit and so forth," she added.

New Jersey Democratic Rep. Donald Norcross, co-chair of the Congressional Labor Caucus, said small business owners opposed to a $15 minimum wage hike are crying "crocodile tears," arguing that "they should be happy because it levels the playing field with competition; across the street will be paying the same thing, but most importantly, as we've heard time and time again, this is a moral issue."

Tlaib cited the Paycheck Protection Program as one of the ways the federal government can directly assist struggling small businesses who might have trouble paying $15 per hour. California Democratic Rep. Barbara Lee agreed with Tlaib.

"The government, we have to make sure that small businesses have the resources that they need to not only survive, but thrive," Lee said. “Workers produce more; they help with the bottom line. And we, as a former business owner, I know for a fact that the productivity and the quality of life for workers is what it should be in America, and there's no way that workers who are working for any business should be paid $7.25 an hour because those are poverty wages."

According to a recent Just the News poll, a majority of Americans think a $15 minimum wage increase would lead to fewer jobs created. 

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka joined the progressive lawmakers on the conference call in support of raising the minimum wage to $15.

"A $15 hourly wage is the bare minimum that we need to get by, whether we make tips or not, a $15 base wage is the absolute floor for living with any kind of security or dignity," he said. "Any corporation paying a penny less is built on the backs of impoverished workers."

The Congressional Budget Office has estimated that a phased minimum wage hike to $15 by 2025 would result in the loss of 1.4 million jobs.

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