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Democratic lawmakers aren't giving up on the fight to raise the minimum wage

‘It’s not enough to just say, well, we’re committed to this. We want to get it done.’

By Donna Provencher - March 22, 2021
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Democratic lawmakers joined a call Friday with workers’ rights advocates to discuss new strategies to raise the federal minimum wage after recent roadblocks prevented its inclusion in President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion COVID relief package.

According to Business Insider, Friday’s call between Democratic lawmakers and workers’ rights advocates to discuss a minimum wage hike included Rep. Ro Khanna (D-CA) along with other unnamed politicians. It also included the Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II, co-chair of the Poor People’s Campaign and Richard Trumka, president of AFL-CIO. Mary Kay Henry, president of Service Employees International Union, was also on the call.

Khanna told the Washington Post that the intent of the call was to develop a “clear strategy” for raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour.

“It’s not enough to just say, well, we’re committed to this,” he added. “We want to get it done.”

Khanna also took to Twitter to explain the secondary and tertiary plans that progressive politicians and workers’ rights advocates plan to explore for passing a federal minimum wage hike after several unsuccessful early efforts to include the legislation in the $1.9 trillion COVID relief bill.

“The fight for a $15 minimum wage is far from over,” Khanna tweeted. “What are the next steps in pushing for a national $15/hr minimum wage?”

In a thread, Khanna outlined several potential options. “First option is getting the provision ruled admissible in the next reconciliation package,” he tweeted. “The Senate Parliamentarian should not stand in the way of 30 million Americans’ pay raise.”

The second option, he wrote, would be to attach a federal minimum wage hike to “must-pass legislation,” such as the National Defense Authorization bill or an appropriations bill.

The final option, he tweeted, would be to strike down the filibuster.

“Third option is to get rid of the filibuster to pass this legislation with a simple majority in the Senate,” Khanna wrote. “We ran on raising the minimum wage. It’s time to follow through.”

The call comes on the heels of failed efforts by Congress earlier this year to raise the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour. In February, a provision to raise the minimum wage to $15 over the course of five years was initially included in Democrats’ COVID relief package.

The effort was stymied when the Senate parliamentarian ruled against the inclusion of a federal minimum wage hike in the legislation on the grounds that it was not budget-related enough to justify its inclusion. Soon after, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and fellow progressive senators pushed for a vote on a change to federal minimum wage policy regardless. Every Republican and eight Democrats voted against raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour.

Advocates and activists have long been pushing to increase the minimum wage to $15 an hour, given that worker wages haven’t kept pace with the rise of cost of living in the United States for years.

The last time the minimum wage was raised was in 2009, and when adjusted for inflation, its purchasing power has actually decreased. If a worker making minimum wage works 40 hours a weeks, their take-home pay is $15,080 — meaning the worker lives below the federal poverty level if the worker has even one dependent.

According to the living wage calculator, even $15 an hour is lower than the cost of living in most parts of America.

Or, as Holly Sklar, CEO of Business for a Fair Minimum Wage, told the American Independent Foundation, “The federal minimum wage has become a poverty wage instead of an anti-poverty wage.”

“There’s been a spotlight [during the pandemic] on the hard work and low pay of grocery store workers, health care aides, delivery drivers and other essential workers during this pandemic,” she said. “We can’t call workers essential while letting them be paid wages that leave them struggling to pay for essentials. We can’t build a shared recovery and strong economy on a minimum wage that’s too low to live on.”

Republicans, meanwhile, continue to make threats and promote inaccurate talking points about the federal minimum wage, including claiming raising the federal minimum wage will cost countless American jobs, which experts have contested.

“Increases in the minimum wage don’t generally have an effect on jobs,” David Cooper, senior analyst at the Economic Policy Institute, told the American Independent Foundation. “The overwhelming consensus [in] economic research] is that if there is an effect on employment, it’s so small that we have a really hard time measuring it.”

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell also threatened this week to wage war in the Senate if the filibuster were eliminated, using other tactics to block even mundane legislation introduced by Democrats.

He pledged that if Democrats scrap the filibuster, Republicans would pass GOP agenda items like defunding Planned Parent and implementing right-to-work laws on a national level as soon as they’re able.

“This chaos would not open up an express lane to liberal change. It would not open up an express lane for the Biden presidency to speed into the history books,” he said. “The Senate would be more like a 100-car pileup — nothing moving.”

But experts say the filibuster needs to go.

Caroline Fredrickson, president of the American Constitution Society, told the Philadelphia Inquirer that the antiquated tool means a single senator could stop necessary legislation affecting many Americans. That includes things like a minimum wage hike.

“The filibuster was designed and used for decades to thwart civil rights legislation,” she said. “In recent years, its use and abuse has only grown.”

“An obstreperous minority has the ability to grind the Senate, and Congress more generally, to a halt,” she added.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.


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