The bill faces all but certain death in the Republican-controlled Senate; even if it survived there, it would require the approval of President Donald Trump to become law. Nonetheless, the House vote marked the first sign of progress in years on hiking the federal minimum wage, which is $7.25 per hour and hasn’t budged since 2009.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) called the proposal a “well-earned raise” for workers toiling on the bottom rungs of the economy.
“House Democrats are here to deliver on their promise to hardworking Americans,” Pelosi said at a press conference, flanked by fellow representatives and low-wage workers.
She added, in reference to those workers: “We would not be here without the outside mobilizing.”
That would be an understatement. Just a few years ago, Democrats were pursuing far more moderate minimum wage targets, on the order of $9, $10 and $12. But the union-backed campaigns in fast food and other low-paying fields succeeded in bringing national attention to workers’ struggles, making $15 a rallying cry and, eventually, a plank of the Democratic Party.
Republicans decried the proposal as a job-killer that would squeeze small businesses. Rep. Dan Meuser (R-Pa.) went so far as to call the proposal “a socialist policy,” drawing boos from the crowd assembled to watch the vote.
Even some Democrats had shown concern in recent weeks that $15 might be too aggressive. To placate those worries, party leaders lengthened the phase-in period from the original five years to six, and members by and large got behind it. Democrats also approved an amendment that would require the Congressional Budget Office to study the effects of the wage hikes to make sure they weren’t hurting the economy.
The full Congress has not passed an increase to the minimum wage since 2007, when it was packaged as part of a war funding deal and signed by then-President George W. Bush (the 2009 increase was the last of a series under that law). The current stretch without a hike is the longest on record since the federal wage floor was created during the Great Depression.
The bill passed Thursday would bring the minimum wage from $7.25 to $15 through seven installments, then tie it to an index so that it adjusts each year with median wages. The bill would also gradually eliminate the “tipped” minimum wage that allows restaurants and other businesses to pay lower base wages to workers who earn gratuities.