House passes $15 minimum wage bill

by Bamidele Ogunberu Posted on July 18th, 2019

Washington: The House on Thursday approved legislation to raise the minimum wage to $15 by 2025 in a 231-199 vote that cut largely along party lines.

The legislation represented a long-evolving compromise between liberal and centrist Democrats who were initially at odds over how large the wage hike would be, how long it would take to phase it, and whether it would rise at the same level across the country or allow for regional flexibilities.

Liberals won the battle for enacting a wage hike to $15 across the country, while centrists succeeded in lengthening the phase-in period from five to six years. The legislation also includes an amendment favored by centrists requiring that the economic impact be studied as the early stages of the wage hike is implemented.

A report from the Congressional Budget Office projected the hike would lift 1.3 million people out of poverty, but that it would also cost the U.S. 1.3 million jobs by 2024. Those figures provided plenty of ammunition for both supporters and opponents of the bill, who cherrypicked the projections that backed their various arguments.

Three Republicans — Reps. Brian Fitzpatrick (Pa.), Francis Rooney (Fla.) and Chris Smith (N.J.) — backed the Democratic bill. Six Democrats — Reps. Anthony Brindisi (N.Y.), Joe Cunningham (S.C.), Kendra Horn (Okla.), Ben McAdams (Utah), Kurt Schrader (Ore.) and Xochitl Torres Small (N.M.) — voted no.

The Democratic defections would have been much more numerous — perhaps threatening the bill — without the last-minute amendments favored by the centrists. Those additions were the result of a series of meetings, led by Rep. Stephanie Murphy (D-Fla.), a co-chair of the centrist Blue Dogs, which stretched back to May and were aimed at securing the backing of more moderates.

Liberal Democrats were not enthused about those changes, but accepted them as a condition of getting the bill passed with a large show of support.

“Raising the minimum wage isn’t just an economic justice issue; it’s a women’s issue and a racial justice issue,” Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), a co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, said after the vote.

In passing the bill, House Democrats made good on one of the central promises of the 2018 campaign. The proposal has little chance of moving through the Republican-controlled Senate, but it empowers Democrats to highlight the contrast between the parties’ economic priorities heading into the 2020 elections.

Democrats are expected to criticize Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) for creating a legislation graveyard for the minimum wage hike and other bills approved by the Democratic House.

Thursday’s vote marked the first time that the House has moved to hike the minimum wage since 2007, when it was raised to $7.25 per hour starting in 2009.

Supporters of the wage hike said it will help not only struggling workers, but also the larger communities in which they live.

“When we put money in the pockets of workers, they will spend that money in their local economies,” said Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va.), chairman of the House Education and Workforce Committee and lead sponsor of the bill.

Different local communities have raised their own minimum wages since the last federal hike, but some lawmakers lamented that their districts hadn’t seen a spike in the wage for more than a decade.

“Milwaukeeans are stuck at the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour set over a decade ago,” said Rep. Gwen Moore (D-Wis.), who represents the city. “These workers struggle to support themselves and their families with their meager wages. And however hard they try, at $7.25 an hour they are working themselves into poverty.”

Republicans opposed to the wage hike noted estimates on the number of jobs that could be lost with such a wage increase.

“This legislation would raise the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour, a 107 percent increase over the current rate of $7.25 an hour,” Rep. Michael Burgess (R-Texas) said during debate.

“An increase of this magnitude could harm American businesses, could harm American consumers, and certainly will harm American workers. The legislation does not consider the labor market, it disincentives job growth, and has the potential to leave nearly 4 million workers unemployed.”

Raising the minimum wage is one of the policy issues Democrats want to highlight ahead of the 2020 elections, though the fight this week was largely overshadowed by the storm surrounding President Trump’s attacks on four minority congresswomen.

Those attacks led to a House vote condemning Trump’s remarks as racist as well as another vote on whether to consider articles of impeachment against Trump from Rep. Al Green (D-Texas), with that measure failing.

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