OPIOID SERIES:

Minimum wage deal emerging?

Majority Leader Harry ReidHarry Mason ReidDems walk tightrope on Pompeo nomination The Memo: Teens rankle the right with gun activism Dems to party: Go on offense with Trump’s alleged affairs MORE (D-Nev.) is struggling to stop Senate Democrats from backing a plan to undercut President Obama’s $10.10 minimum wage target.

Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsOvernight Energy: Trump NASA pick advances after drama | White House office to investigate Pruitt's soundproof booth | 170 lawmakers call for Pruitt to resign Trump's NASA nominee advances after floor drama Family, friends mourn death of Barbara Bush MORE (R-Maine) has been reaching out to Democrats to agree on a compromise that is threatening to divide the president’s party on this core component of its election-year message.

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Democrats already disagree among themselves over whether they should continue to stick to the $10.10 amount or try to work with Republicans on a lower figure.

A senior Democratic leadership aide said Reid is a “hardcore” supporter of Obama’s target number, to be achieved over three years, a proposal strongly supported by labor unions, which are powerful in the majority leader’s state.

But several Democratic senators have signaled they are willing to negotiate a lower wage floor that would be easier to get enough Senate votes to pass.

Now, despite his staunch personal preference for $10.10, Reid’s office doesn’t rule out compromise depending on feeling within his caucus.

“Sen. Collins is talking with colleagues on both sides of the aisle about a possible alternative that could raise the wage by a reasonable amount and avoid the loss of the 500,000 jobs that the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimates could result from raising the minimum wage too quickly and by too large an amount,” said Kevin Kelley, a spokesman for Collins.

Kelley said the package could include tax incentives to encourage small businesses to hire workers. Collins, a centrist, is up for reelection this year.

Sen. Angus KingAngus Stanley KingDemocrats mull audacious play to block Pompeo Overnight Defense: Trump steps up fight with California over guard deployment | Heitkamp is first Dem to back Pompeo for State | Dems question legality of Syria strikes Heitkamp becomes first Dem to back Pompeo for secretary of State MORE (Maine), an independent who caucuses with Democrats, said he would vote for the measure to raise the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour but declared he would not be satisfied with a vote merely for show; he wants legislation that could pass.

“My only real concern is that we come out of here with something,” he said.

Sen. Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerHeitkamp becomes first Dem to back Pompeo for secretary of State Dems walk tightrope on Pompeo nomination Amid struggle for votes, GOP plows ahead with Cabinet picks MORE (D-Va.), a GOP target this year, also indicated a willingness to do a deal.

Even if senators agree and pass a bipartisan package, the GOP-led House is unlikely to follow suit. With Republicans well placed to win the Senate, some Democrats see a wage hike vote as a useful weapon on the campaign trail. A compromise deal could let GOP senators and candidates off the hook. But a deal could also shield centrist Democrats from GOP and industry attacks.

Sen. Tom CarperThomas (Tom) Richard CarperGOP chairman probes Pruitt’s four email addresses Watchdog requests probe into relationship between top EPA aide and man investigating him Overnight Finance: Wells Fargo could pay B fine | Dems seek info on loans to Kushner | House to vote on IRS reform bills | Fed vice chair heading before Congress MORE (D-Del.) worries that, if Senate Democrats refuse to compromise at below $10.10, no bill will get through.

“The president had, I thought, a very good proposal last year, $9 and indexed [to inflation],” he said.

The minimum wage is now $7.25 an hour and is not indexed to inflation. Liberal Democrats, most notably Sen. Tom HarkinThomas (Tom) Richard HarkinDem Senator open to bid from the left in 2020 Senate GOP rejects Trump’s call to go big on gun legislation Trump should require federal contractors to follow the law MORE (Iowa), persuaded the White House to embrace $10.10, after Obama initially proposed lifting the rate to $9 an hour.

Labor unions have panned a possible compromise.

“There’s no justification for it, other than to appease senators who don’t necessarily support the minimum wage,” said a senior labor official. “Looking to shave off part of it for political expediency doesn’t make any sense for people who work 40 hours a week and will continue to be in poverty if you lower it below $10.10.”

The CBO estimated raising the minimum wage to $9 an hour would likely cost 100,000 jobs, significantly below the 500,000 jobs it warned might be lost by raising it to $10.10.

Collins is stressing that point.

“The bottom line is — Sen. Collins is looking for a common-sense solution that would help struggling families and not force employers to eliminate jobs, rather than add them,” said Kelley, Collins’s spokesman.

The majority of the Democratic caucus favors $10.10, but no Senate Republican has publicly endorsed it. Of the 55 senators who caucus with the Democrats, 37 have co-sponsored Harkin’s wage bill. Democrats who have not signed on include Sens. Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinDemocrats mull audacious play to block Pompeo Heitkamp becomes first Dem to back Pompeo for secretary of State Trump eyes Cold War statute to keep coal burning: report MORE (W.Va.), Mary LandrieuMary Loretta LandrieuSenate GOP rejects Trump’s call to go big on gun legislation Project Veritas at risk of losing fundraising license in New York, AG warns You want to recall John McCain? Good luck, it will be impossible MORE (La.), John Walsh (Mont.), Jeanne ShaheenCynthia (Jeanne) Jeanne ShaheenSenators pledge to pursue sanctions against Turkey over imprisoned American pastor Dems walk tightrope on Pompeo nomination Menendez rips characterization of Pompeo as 'nation's top diplomat' MORE (N.H.) and Mark UdallMark Emery UdallSenate GOP rejects Trump’s call to go big on gun legislation Democratic primary could upend bid for Colorado seat Picking 2018 candidates pits McConnell vs. GOP groups MORE (Colo.).

Sen. Mark PryorMark Lunsford PryorMedicaid rollback looms for GOP senators in 2020 Cotton pitches anti-Democrat message to SC delegation Ex-Sen. Kay Hagan joins lobby firm MORE (Ark.), the chamber’s most vulnerable incumbent, is the only Democrat who has said he flat out opposes a raise to $10.10. He instead supports a local initiative to raise Arkansas’s minimum wage to $8.50 an hour over the next three years.

“This hasn’t been an issue in our race because it’s one of the rare issues where Sen. Pryor and Tom agree,” said David Ray, a spokesman for Rep. Tom CottonThomas (Tom) Bryant CottonRand Paul under pressure as Pompeo hunts for votes GOP senators raise concerns about babies on Senate floor Dems walk tightrope on Pompeo nomination MORE (R-Ark.), who is challenging Pryor. “A $10.10 minimum wage imposed by Washington is bad for Arkansas workers and businesses. It would hurt the very people we’re trying to help.”

Democratic senators, liberal groups and labor unions lobbying for the minimum wage hike say the vote on proceeding to the measure is likely to be delayed until next week. Reid’s office says that would be the result of Republicans slowing down the unemployment benefits bill, not because of internal Democratic dissent.

Democratic leadership aides, however, say there is little chance of reaching a compromise to raise the minimum wage to something between $7.25 and $10.10, unless Collins shows she could bring along other Republicans.

Democratic aides say Collins would have far less leverage to negotiate a minimum wage deal if Republicans block the vote on proceeding to legislation raising it to $10.10.

“Reid’s not going to have any trouble holding the line if it’s just a failed cloture vote and we move on,” said the senior Democratic leadership aide.

Her most likely allies are Republican senators who helped to negotiate a bipartisan deal to extend unemployment benefits, including Sens. Dean HellerDean Arthur HellerSenate GOP wary of new tax cut sequel GOP Senate hopefuls race to catch up with Dems Family, friends mourn death of Barbara Bush MORE (Nev.), Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiSenators press administration on mental health parity Overnight Energy: Watchdogs unveil findings on EPA, Interior controversies | GAO says EPA violated law with soundproof booth | IG says Zinke could have avoided charter flight | GOP chair probes Pruitt's four email addresses GOP fractures over push to protect Russia probe MORE (Alaska), Kelly AyotteKelly Ann AyotteAudit finds US Defense Department wasted hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars US sends A-10 squadron to Afghanistan for first time in three years No, the US did not spend million on a gas station in Afghanistan MORE (N.H.) and Mark KirkMark Steven KirkHigh stakes as Trump heads to Hill Five things to watch for at Trump-Senate GOP meeting Giffords, Scalise highlight party differences on guns MORE (Ill.).

There is no chance that Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellRepublicans divided over legislation protecting Mueller The Hill's Morning Report: Inside the Comey memos Democrats mull audacious play to block Pompeo MORE (Ky.) will agree to a compromise. He has warned that raising the minimum wage by any amount could kill jobs.

“We need to focus on jobs and will cite the CBO’s study saying raising it will cost 500,000 jobs,” said a GOP leadership aide.

While Collins is expected to cruise to victory this fall, Maine has trended more Democratic in recent years.  Collins vented her frustration with McConnell last year, after he lobbied Republican senators to kill a bipartisan deal she crafted on the transportation spending bill for fiscal 2014.

“This is so absurd,” Collins fumed in August, after GOP leaders sank the measure. She grumbled that McConnell had never worked so hard against a member of his own party.

 

This article was updated and corrected at 10:15 a.m. Sen. Heidi HeitkampMary (Heidi) Kathryn HeitkampOvernight Defense: Congress poised for busy week on nominations, defense bill | Trump to deliver Naval Academy commencement speech | Trump administration appeals decision to block suspected combatant's transfer The Hill's Morning Report: Inside the Comey memos Democrats mull audacious play to block Pompeo MORE (D-N.D.) is a co-sponsor of Harkin's legislation.