Don’t try telling Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va.) that a $15 federal minimum wage is nothing more than a progressive pipe dream.
The incoming chair of the House Committee on Education and Labor quickly points to recent ballot initiatives in conservative states where voters overwhelmingly signed off on minimum wage hikes. In November, Missouri approved raising theirs to $12 by 2023, and Arkansas to $11 by 2021.
“You’ve got red states passing it, and it isn’t even close,” Scott said.
As for Republicans in Congress who’ve opposed any raise at all, “Are they saying zero?” Scott asked. “Are they just going to say no? Well, let them vote.”
House Democrats will soon have the chance to force them to. They will enjoy an advantage of 235-199 next session (with one seat still up in the air) after eight years in the minority left them with no way to advance a minimum wage bill. The federal minimum wage, now just $7.25 per hour, prevails in 21 states that don’t require a higher one.
Congress hasn’t approved an increase since 2007, a long stretch by historical standards.
Even so, a $15 minimum wage is unlikely to become law anytime soon, given the hurdles in the Senate, where Republicans still hold a 53-47 majority. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has shown no interest in taking up a minimum wage bill of any kind, nor has President Donald Trump suggested he’d sign one, at least not since the 2016 campaign.
House Democrats still have the chance to publicize a minimum wage hike and bring it to the floor ― so long as they can get enough of their own caucus on board with a proposal as high as $15.
After years of bandying about different numbers, the Democratic Party adopted a $15 minimum wage as a formal piece of its platform in 2016, following the success of the Fight for $15 movement by labor groups. But even though increases are generally very popular among the public, support for minimum wage proposals tends to drop the higher the number goes. A 2016 HuffPost YouGov poll found that 59 percent of respondents supported $12, while 48 percent supported $15.
Asked whether the $15 minimum proposal could spook the more centrist Democrats ― including moderates among the incoming freshmen ― Scott said he was confident a long phase-in period could allay their concerns. The bill Scott and others pushed last year, the Raise the Wage Act, would have gradually boosted the federal rate from $7.25 to $15 over seven years.
The bill Democrats plan to push next year would have a faster phase-in period, so that it would reach $15 by 2024.
The Raise the Wage Act of 2017 had 171 co-sponsors. A version of it would need 218 to pass.
“If you do it gradually, all the economic research I’ve seen shows that it can work,” Scott said. “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.”
Scott argued that the wage schedule they’ve proposed is not too different from what voters approved in Missouri ($12 by 2023) and Arkansas ($11 by 2021). That may be true, but the Democratic proposal would continue boosting the wage floor at a significant rate until it reached $15. At that point, it would rise at a more moderate pace, according to an annual wage index.
This week, Republicans nearly held their first hearing on the minimum wage since they won the House back in 2010. The hearing, scheduled for Wednesday, was balefully titled “Mandating a $15 Minimum Wage: Consequences for Workers and Small Businesses.” But Republican leaders abruptly canceled it after old, offensive columns penned by one of their scheduled witnesses while in graduate school began circulating on Capitol Hill.
Scott said holding a hearing on the minimum wage will be one of the first orders of business when Democrats take over the committee next month.
“We’ll have one early in January,” he assured.