Congressional Democrats Debate New Minimum Wage

by Lauren Hill ‘22

At the end of February, the Senate parliamentarian ruled against raising minimum wage through a Covid relief bill. This ruling was a major setback for President Joe Biden, and other congressional Democrats who have been pushing to fast-track a minimum wage increase and avoid objection from republicans. However, top Democrats have vowed to continue the fight for raising the nationwide minimum wage. “We are not going to give up the fight to raise the minimum wage to $15 to help millions of struggling American workers and their families,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said in a statement.

An alternative approach proposed by Senator Bernie Sanders suggested that as an addition to a stimulus package, big corporations would be taxed for failing to pay workers a $15 hourly wage. Sanders and other Democrats have said that there could possibly be a five-percent penalty on big corporation’s total payroll if any workers earn less than a specified amount and the penalty could increase over time. However, this provision was not included in the most recent relief bill due to the fact that it would be extremely difficult to implement. Democrats are now saying they will pursue an increase through future legislation.

It is likely that Democrats will have to make a major compromise with Republicans in order to advance any federal legislation to change the minimum wage. Only five Republicans, led by Senator Mitt Romney, have supported legislation to increase wage to $10 rather than $15. Romney’s Higher Wages for American Workers act proposes that the minimum wage would increase from $7.25 to $10 over a five year period, and would also bar businesses from hiring undocumented employees. However, plans proposed by Republicans have faced scrutiny from progressives for being too restrictive.

People on both sides of the aisle agree that the process of passing legislation nationwide may be too complicated; however, states and cities have the ability to set their own individual policies. Many economists have suggested that in different regions, different minimum wage policies are necessary. Currently 29 states have minimum wages higher than the current $7.25 federal minimum. All 50 states have the ability to pass laws that make minimum wage equal to or higher than the federal minimum. State governments may be able to raise wages more quickly than Congress. No matter how the minimum wage is increased, many Americans have been waiting for a raise and may benefit from it especially during the pandemic.