House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said Friday that raising the minimum wage would “transform the lives” of millions of Americans, and hammered Republicans for refusing to consider legislation hiking the current rate.
Behind Pelosi, Democratic lawmakers seized on National Minimum Wage Day to press GOP leaders to return to Washington ahead of the Nov. 4 elections and consider a proposal to increase the minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10 per hour.
"The American people deserve an economy that works for everyone, not just the wealthy and well-connected," Pelosi said Friday during a press call. "So urgent is this that I think we should come back [to Washington] before the elections."
The Democrats' plea is almost certain to fail, as GOP leaders, who oppose the wage hike universally, have long refused to bring the bill to the House floor. But the Democrats are hoping the pressure campaign will highlight the stark differences between the parties when it comes to the government's role in helping the working class amid an economy still limping away from the Great Recession.
Republicans support a model of non-intervention that includes cutting taxes, slashing federal spending and scaling back regulations — policies they say will unleash the hiring potential of the business community.
The Democrats, by contrast, believe in a stimulus model that includes a hike in infrastructure spending, an extension of unemployment benefits and a bump in the minimum wage — policies designed to put more money into the pockets of the middle class for the sake of the broader economy.
Toward that end, Pelosi and the Democrats in February introduced a discharge petition designed to force a vote on their minimum wage bill. It's since been endorsed by 195 House members — far shy of the 218 needed to force the vote. All the signatories are Democrats.
An increase in the minimum wage was last enacted in 2007, one of the first acts of then-Speaker Pelosi and the Democrats, who had taken control of the House just days before. That increase, signed into law by President George W. Bush, was not indexed to inflation.
The Democrats' latest proposal would hike the minimum wage to $10.10 over two years and index future increases to inflation. Sponsored by Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.), ranking member of the Education and the Workforce Committee, the bill would also raise minimum wages for tipped workers.
Miller said Friday that the wage hike is "absolutely critical" to the economic recovery.
"Putting this money on Main Street — allowing [workers] to pay their bills, to buy their groceries, to have their kids in child care and to provide for an education — this is what they have to do if they're going to advance in the American economy," Miller said. "And the current minimum wage of $7.25 an hour is holding them back."
Companion legislation has been introduced by Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) in the upper chamber.
Faced with the Republican opposition, President Obama, who has long urged Congress to hike the wage, used his executive powers earlier in the year to raise the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour for federal contractors. But Democrats in and out of the administration say Congress needs to act to help a broader swath of workers.
Labor Secretary Thomas Perez on Friday dismissed the notion that raising the minimum wage would discourage businesses from hiring new employees.
"Contrary to the conventional wisdom of some, employers everywhere tell me they believe higher wages are good for the bottom line," Perez said. "These businesses need what every business needs, which is customers. ... In order to get more customers we need to get more money in their pockets."
—This story was updated at 1:08 p.m.