Democrats introduced a bill Wednesday to raise the federal minimum wage to $15 per hour, their first step in an effort to shepherd such a hike through the House as the new majority.
The Raise the Wage Act, which has been introduced previously in different forms, would boost the wage floor incrementally until it reaches $15 in 2024, after which it would rise each year according to an inflation index. If it were to become law, the proposal would more than double the current federal rate of $7.25 per hour and supersede most state minimum wages.
Sen. Bernie Sanders introduced the same measure in the Senate, with 31 Democratic co-sponsors. On Twitter, the Vermont independent called $7.25 a “starvation wage.”
The measure is a long way from becoming law. Republicans still hold a majority in the Senate and have declined to work with Democrats on any increase, let alone one this significant. It would also need approval from the White House, where President Donald Trump has been pulling the reins off businesses, not putting new ones on.
Even so, the bill’s introduction highlights new opportunities for Democrats. The party has been unable to move a minimum wage bill out of committee for several years as Republicans held full control of Congress. House GOP leaders haven’t held a hearing or markup on the minimum wage since taking the chamber in 2010. Democrats have decided to make the measure one of their first orders of business after picking up 40 House seats in the November midterm elections.
It is not clear yet whether Democrats would have all the votes they need among their own party. Some moderate members in states with low costs of living may be leery of doubling the federal minimum wage in just a few years. But Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va.), the new chair of the House Committee on Education and Labor, told HuffPost previously that he’s confident the party will rally around the plan.
“If you do it gradually, all the economic research I’ve seen shows that it can work,” Scott said last month. “If you try to do it all at once, you do have job loss, and [the] economists we’ve talked to get a little nervous if you try to do it too quickly. But a gradual increase over the years, to get us to $15, improves people’s lives.”
The House measure had 181 co-sponsors as of Wednesday. It would need 218 votes to pass.
Rep. Virginia Foxx (N.C.), the ranking Republican on the committee, released a statement indicating the proposal would have little to no GOP support and saying it would “derail” economic growth.
“Today’s bill signals that House Democrats would rather promote Bernie Sanders’ extreme and unworkable campaign platform than accept that Republican pro-growth policies deliver real results to the American people,” she said.
The federal wage floor currently prevails in the 21 states that don’t already mandate a higher one. It hasn’t budged since 2009, after the last of a series of increases signed by President George W. Bush went into effect.
The push behind the bill shows just how much the debate surrounding the minimum wage has shifted within the Democratic Party. A few years ago, party leaders were proposing $9 and $10 per hour. But the success of the union-backed Fight for $15 campaign has made a $15 minimum wage the default progressive position, even making its way into the official Democratic platform.
Mary Kay Henry, the president of the Service Employees International Union, which spearheaded the Fight for $15, said in a statement Wednesday that the “one reason” Congress was considering the proposal was “because thousands of workers joined together, went on strike and demanded it.”