WASHINGTON -- Putting some distance between herself and other Democratic presidential hopefuls, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton voiced support Thursday for a proposal to raise the federal minimum wage to $12, suggesting that a more ambitious proposal of $15 wouldn't be realistic on Capitol Hill.
Speaking to reporters after her meeting with the executive council of the AFL-CIO labor federation, Clinton was asked what the minimum wage should be raised to from its current level of $7.25. She answered by discussing a measure put forth in Congress by Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va.) that would hike the minimum wage to $12 and tie it to an inflation index.
"I think it's going to be important that we set a national minimum, but then we get out of the way of cities and states that believe that they can and should go higher," she said.
Pressed on whether $12 was better than a competing Democratic proposal of $15, Clinton suggested the more modest increase is also the more viable one politically.
"Patty Murray is one of the most effective legislators in the Senate, bar none," she said. "Whatever she advocates, I pay a lot of attention to, because she knows how to get it through the Congress. And let’s not just do it for the sake of having a higher number out there, but let’s actually get behind a proposal that has a chance of succeeding."
Clinton has said previously that a $15 minimum wage, which is fast becoming a reality in pricy cities like Seattle and Los Angeles, may not make sense for less dense areas with lower costs of living. She said she supported the recent move by the wage board of New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) to recommend a $15 minimum wage for fast-food workers in that state. But she has also said such a level may not be appropriate nationally.
The $15 proposal grew directly out of the union-backed Fight for $15 campaign, which has organized strikes by fast-food workers around the country over the past three years. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and former Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley, who are vying with Clinton for the Democratic nomination, have both come out in support of a federal minimum wage of $15. Just last week, Sanders introduced a $15 minimum wage bill in the Senate.
A spokesperson for the Service Employees International Union, which has funded the Fight for $15 campaign, said the union had no comment on Clinton's remarks.
Sanders has recently surged in polls with the passionate support of the progressive wing of the Democratic Party, though Clinton is still widely seen as the likely nominee. Her hesitance on the $15 issue may come as a relief to businesses that have been getting bowled over by wildly popular minimum wage campaigns. Thanks to a host of referendums this past November, a majority of states now have a higher minimum wage than the federal level, and more cities than ever are moving to enact their own local ordinances.
Despite the success of local campaigns, there's no clear indication that a $12 federal proposal would be any more viable in the near future than one for $15. In recent sessions, the GOP-controlled House has refused to bring any such bills to the floor for a vote, including one that would have raised the minimum wage to an even more modest $10.10.