By Mike Lillis and Erik Wasson - 02/26/14 08:43 PM EST
House Democrats on Wednesday launched their first formal effort to force Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) to hold a vote raising the federal minimum wage.
Democrats filed a discharge petition that would force a House vote on increasing the minimum wage from $7.25 per hour to $10.10 but only if a bare majority of at least 218 House members sign it.
“To not have this vote is to abdicate our responsibility to the middle class,” Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) declared at a Capitol basement press conference before a crowd of advocates and lawmakers.
Rep. Tim Bishop (D-N.Y.) said he is “pretty confident” all 199 House Democrats will sign it and said he plans to target six Republican centrists off the bat who have signed a letter in the past saying full-time workers should not be below the poverty line.
“We are all a little too busy to take this on as an empty exercise,” said Bishop, a GOP election year target. “That is not why I am into it.”
Bishop cited a case from 1938, when the Fair Labor Standards Act was brought to the House floor successfully through a discharge petition.
Still, the fact that he had to go back so many years is some indication how rarely the discharge petition works. Indeed, in the 35 years between 1967-2002, only 12 discharge petitions obtained enough signatures to move legislation, according to the Congressional Research Service. (The most recent example was more than a decade ago, with the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform bill).
Business groups are against the wage hike, which will put pressure on Republicans to oppose it. In addition, GOP leaders would be expected to punish any rank-and-file members who defy them by signing the discharge petition.
Further deterring many Republicans, the Democrats’ latest proposal — not coincidentally dubbed H.R. 1010 — would index the minimum wage to inflation, making future increases automatic.
Across the Capitol, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has held off on bringing a minimum wage vote to the floor, as he seeks to unify his caucus on the matter. Bishop downplayed the significance of the delay, arguing that Reid is simply dealing with a scheduling problem.
“I suspect it has to do with how they are trying to work their way through a pretty heavy backlog of issues,” Bishop said. “Here the discharge petition is pretty much the only tool we have.”
The discharge petition is just the latest part of an aggressive Democratic campaign designed to highlight the differences between the two parties when it comes to strategies for tackling income inequality and boosting new hires amid a yearslong jobs crisis.
The Democrats believe in the stimulus model: a strategy of bold government intervention that includes a hike in infrastructure spending, an extension of unemployment benefits, the elimination of corporate tax loopholes and a bump in the minimum wage — policies they say are designed to put more money into the pockets of middle-class consumers for the sake of the broader economy.
Republicans, by contrast, support the hands-off model: a strategy of getting government out of the way of private enterprise by cutting taxes, slashing federal spending and scaling back regulations — policies they say would unleash the hiring potential of the business community.
Republicans and many conservative groups have hammered the proposed wage hike as an attack on the economy that would increase unemployment by discouraging businesses from hiring the nation’s least-skilled workers.
Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas) has gone a step further, arguing in December that the minimum wage has “outlived its usefulness” and should be abolished altogether.
Polls, however, indicate voters overwhelmingly support a hike in the minimum wage. Democrats and the White House hope keeping the conversation on the issue will help them in November.
Republican opponents of the wage hike got a big boost last week when the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimated the increase to $10.10 would eliminate 500,000 jobs. Democrats have rejected that figure, countering with other economic reports indicating the wage hike would stimulate hiring.
A recent analysis by the liberal Economic Policy Institute, for instance, found an increase to the $10.10 rate would hike wages for roughly 28 million workers, increase GDP by $22 billion and create around 85,000 new jobs.
An increase in the minimum wage was last passed in 2007 as one of the first priorities of Pelosi and the Democrats who had taken control of the House just days before.
Eighty-two Republicans supported the measure, while 116 voted against. Boehner was in the latter group.
Posted at 3:30 p.m. and last updated at 8:43 p.m.