Democrats believe they are winning the battle over the minimum wage, despite an official budget report this week that found it would cost the economy a half-million jobs.
House and Senate Democratic aides told The Hill they believe they could discredit and overcome the CBO report, which offered ammunition to Republicans who argue a wage hike would hurt the economy.
They also argue the CBO report is contradicted by other economic research, and tout a letter pushed by the White House, in which 600 economists say raising the minimum wage would have no major effect on jobs.
“This report is not a major obstacle,” one House Democratic leadership aide said.
“Really the polling is so strong in favor of the minimum wage,” another House Democratic aide said. “Do centrist Republicans really want to go back to their districts and say they opposed this over some abstract report that lots of economists have criticized? There is just not enough there, there.”
Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), the lead sponsor of the Senate bill to raise the minimum wage, said the CBO report shows raising the minimum wage benefits a large number of people, so it is a net positive.
"That's why an overwhelming majority of Americans — on both sides of the aisle — want Congress to raise the wage, and I look forward to having this important bill on the Senate floor in the weeks ahead," Harkin said.
Republicans say Democrats are kidding themselves.
“That CBO report showed what Republicans have been saying about raising the minimum wage: that it will destroy jobs, in this case up to 1 million jobs, dealing a devastating blow to the very people that need help most in the Obama economy,” one Senate GOP aide said.
The CBO report offered an analysis on what would happen if the minimum wage was raised to $10.10 per hour, as advocated by President Obama and congressional Democrats.
It found the wage hike would cost 500,000 jobs by 2016, but also that it would lift 900,000 people out of poverty by increasing incomes.
Senate Democrats say they are going forward with a likely March or early April vote on raising the wage.
In the House, Democrats are moving forward as soon as next week with the rollout of a discharge petition that would seek to force a vote in the lower chamber.
The discharge petition has the backing of about 190 of the 200-member Democratic caucus, aides say.
“We obviously hope it will win enough Republicans to pass,” the leadership aide added. “If they don’t pass it, then good policy is always good politics.”
In the Senate, only vulnerable Sen. Mark Pryor (R-Ark.), who is up for reelection this year, opposes the $10.10 hike. He favors an Arkansas effort to raise the minimum wage to $9.
Matt Canter, deputy executive director of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, said the CBO report would do nothing to blunt the minimum wage as a campaign weapon.
“Voters overwhelmingly see this as an issue of fairness,” he said.
Citing GOP candidates races in North Carolina, Arkansas, Michigan and Louisiana, he said: “If Republicans like Thom Tillis, Tom Cotton, Terri Lynn Land, and Bill Cassidy want to tout their opposition to an increase in the minimum wage, then Christmas has indeed come early.”
Republicans pushed back on this idea.
“Republicans support workers earning the highest wages they possibly can, but when an incompetent federal government forces employers to take an action that hurts workers by destroying jobs, there are concerns,’ said Brad Dayspring of the National Republican Senatorial Committee. “Democrats have created an environment where opportunity is minimal, job availability is scarce, and workers' hours are reduced.”
While polls show raising the minimum wage is popular with voters, reports and news stories can change public opinion, something Republicans might count on.
One top GOP operative said CBO reports might be too dry for the average voter, but the minimum wage finding, along with an earlier finding that ObamaCare would reduce the workforce by 2.5 million over a decade, helps reinforce a perception the Democrats are poor economic stewards.
“Voters don't focus on CBO reports, but they are keenly aware of the lack of opportunity, the dearth of jobs, and the reduction of hours that the last several CBO reports make clear Democratic policies have caused and will continue to cause,” he said.
Economist Keith Hennessey, a form top Bush administration adviser widely followed by the congressional GOP said the CBO report is a “game changer.”
“President Obama and his allies have been selling this proposal as a free lunch,” he said on his blog. “The principal impact will come for a Member of Congress who thinks (knows?) that wage controls are bad policy and who opposes a higher minimum wage on policy grounds but was previously afraid to take the political risk to vote no.”