POLITICS

House Democrats Plan Vote On $15 Minimum Wage

It's been more than a decade since Congress passed an increase to the federal wage floor.

Democrats’ long-term plan to raise the minimum wage to $15 will face a major test later this week when House lawmakers are planning to vote on it.

A spokesperson for the House Committee on Education and Labor said a floor vote on the minimum wage is slated for Thursday. Democrats control the chamber and are expected to pass the measure, although it would face an almost certain death in the GOP-controlled Senate.

Still, the approval of such a bill in the House would signify how far Democrats have come on the idea of a $15 minimum wage, and perhaps pressure some Republicans to negotiate on a raise after blocking any federal increase for years.

The federal minimum wage is currently $7.25 per hour and hasn’t been raised since 2009, the longest stretch it has ever gone without a boost since being implemented in 1938. It prevails in the 19 states that do not already require employers to pay a higher one.

While the federal minimum wage hasn’t moved in a decade, a growing number of states, including red ones, have opted to increase their own wage floors. Seven states are already on a path toward a $15 minimum, the stated goal of the union-backed Fight for $15 campaign, which began in the fast-food industry in 2012.

To increase the chances of the bill passing, Democrats have slightly lengthened the time it would take to reach $15 ― from five years to six, reaching that level in 2025. After that, the minimum wage would be tied to an index so that it rises with inflation.

Centrist Democrats are expected to add an amendment, likely to pass, that would require the Government Accountability Office to study the impacts of the wage increases after they’ve gone into effect.

Some of those Democrats have voiced concerns that a raise to $15 would be too aggressive for more rural, low-cost areas. A few have even endorsed an entirely different proposal in which minimum wage increases would vary from one locality to the next. But the scheduling of a floor vote makes clear leaders feel they have enough members on board to pass the bill they have been pushing.

The union-backed Fight for $15 campaign began in the fast-food industry in 2012.
The union-backed Fight for $15 campaign began in the fast-food industry in 2012.

The plan would also gradually eliminate the “tipped” minimum wage for servers and other workers who rely on gratuities. If state law doesn’t say otherwise, the current federal law allows restaurants and other businesses to pay such employees as little as $2.13, so long as tips get them up to the regular minimum wage.

Under the Democratic proposal, those employers would have to pay the regular minimum wage by 2027. The idea of eliminating the tipped minimum wage has brought strong opposition from the restaurant industry.

Even though there are nearly insurmountable hurdles to the plan becoming law anytime soon ― beyond Senate approval, it would require President Donald Trump’s signature ― business groups are not thrilled to see a $15 minimum wage reaching the floor of the House.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce came out against it last week, urging lawmakers to consider an alternative $10 wage floor that would create “minimal economic disruption.” Dozens of business and conservative groups sent a letter to lawmakers Wednesday urging them not to pass the $15 measure.

The Congressional Budget Office, the nonpartisan research arm of Congress, took a look at the Democratic proposal in a report released earlier this month. They found that the Democratic plan would lift wages for 17 million workers to at least $15 ― as well as hike pay for an indeterminate amount of workers already earning above that level ― but eliminate an estimated 1.3 million jobs.

While Republicans stressed the projected job losses, Democrats played up the CBO’s findings that the number of people living below the poverty line would fall by more than 1 million if the law went into effect.

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