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Dems bet 2016 on $12 minimum wage

Greg Nash

Democrats are doubling down on their push for a national minimum wage hike ahead of the 2016 presidential election, as they look to make a campaign issue of an effort that met a stinging legislative defeat last year.

Party leaders are rallying behind new legislation that would raise the wage to $12 an hour, well beyond the $10.10 effort that failed to pass when Democrats controlled the Senate.

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While the new bill has little chance to clear the GOP-dominated Congress, Democrats see the issue as a political winner for Hillary ClintonHillary Rodham ClintonCollege students are speaking, are the candidates listening? WATCH LIVE: Trump speaks at 'Roast and Ride' Clinton fundraiser to be DNC finance director MORE and Bernie SandersBernie SandersFive things to know about the Dakota Access Pipeline fight Latino Republicans split on Trump's outreach Teamsters endorse Clinton MORE — who have announced White House bids — as well as for potential presidential candidates. 

Polls show bipartisan support for raising the minimum wage, which has stood at $7.25 an hour since 2009.  

“I want to hear what the Republican presidential candidates have to say about this as well,” Sen. Patty MurrayPatty Murray'BernieCare' can save ObamaCare Senate Dems make Zika a campaign issue Rubio calls for lawmakers to return to DC, pass Zika funding MORE (D-Wash.) said upon introducing the legislation last week.

“I’m confident that a Democratic woman running for president knows the importance of this issue,” Murray said in a nod to Clinton, the party’s front-runner. “I am not at all confident there is one Republican candidate who will say the same.”

The Raise the Wage Act introduced by Murray and backed Democratic leadership would increase the federal minimum wage to $12 an hour by 2020 and increase earnings for an estimated 38 million workers.

That the effort goes further than the failed $10.10 push shows that its proponents are appealing to lower- and middle-class voters, whose wages have remained largely stagnant as the economy has recovered.

President Obama, who floated a $9 minimum wage in 2013 before getting behind the $10.10 effort later that year, is also now backing the $12 figure.

Obama is now “enthusiastic” about the $12 figure, according to Labor Secretary Tom Perez, who was on hand for the bill’s unveiling.

No candidate is more likely to embrace the issue than Sanders, a Vermont Independent and self-proclaimed “Democratic socialist” who has long pushed for lawmakers to address “starvation wages” that he argues have led to income inequality around the country.

If anything, he might oppose the bill for not aiming high enough: Sanders has suggested raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour.

Clinton has also voiced support. Last month, the former secretary of State backed thousands of employees of McDonald’s and other fast-food chains that who taken to the streets to protest their low wages.

“Every American deserves a fair shot at success,” Clinton tweeted. “Fast food & child care workers shouldn’t have to march in streets.”

While she didn’t say how high she would raise the minimum wage, Clinton said in September that raising the minimum wage is “long overdue.”

Clinton’s support for the raising the minimum wage dates back to her time as first lady, when she pushed for $5.15 an hour in 1996.

As a New York senator, Clinton voted for a pay hike several times. She also introduced legislation that would have raised the minimum wage to $9.50 an hour and tied it to increases in the salaries of lawmakers.

Democrats are trying to appeal to working-class people in a broader fight against income inequality. They see the minimum wage as one of the best ways to reach this target demographic.

A recent survey from the left-leaning National Employment Law Project found that 75 percent of people — including a slight majority of Republican voters — support raising the minimum wage to $12.50 by 2020.

At the height of last year’s minimum wage fight, in September, 70 percent of people favored raising the minimum wage to $10.10 according to a poll from CBS News and The New York Times.

But the effort comes with risk. During the fight over the $10.10 bill, proponents were dealt a major blow when the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimated that 500,000 jobs would have been lost following such a wage increase.

The CBO study became instant fodder for GOP criticisms likely to be echoed now.

Sen. Ted CruzTed CruzThe Trail 2016: On the fringe FULL SPEECH: Hillary Clinton links Trump to 'alt-right' in Reno Presidential hopefuls still bank on retail politics MORE (R-Texas) said last year that raising the minimum wage would be a “job-killing” disaster that would hit “young people, Hispanics, African-Americans and single moms.”

“The undeniable truth is if the president succeeded in raising the minimum wage, it would cost jobs from the most vulnerable,” he said.

“My problem with raising the minimum wage is not that I want to deny someone $10.10,” added Sen. Marco RubioMarco RubioLatino Republicans split on Trump's outreach Illegal immigration foe: Trump shift the 'death knell of his candidacy' Analysis: Clinton speaks at higher grade level than Trump MORE (R-Fla.), speaking at a donor event in January, according to Bloomberg News. “I’m worried about the people whose wages are going to go down to zero because you’ve made them more expensive than a machine.”

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) said the minimum wage doesn’t “serve a purpose,” in an interview last fall with the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

And Sen. Rand PaulRand PaulTrump, Clinton boost Snapchat spending Clinton enjoying edge over Trump in Silicon Valley Trump gets little backing from Silicon Valley MORE (R-Ky.) said last summer that the minimum wage is a “temporary” arrangement for young workers who aspire to better careers with
higher-paying jobs.

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (R) suggested the minimum wage should be left to the “private sector” and individual states, but questioned whether the federal government should get involved in setting a floor for earnings during a recent speech in South Carolina.

Still, Democrats appear resolved to have the fight.

Senate Minority Leader Harry ReidHarry Reid10 most expensive House races McConnell: Senate won't take up TPP this year Politicians can’t afford to ignore Latinos MORE said it is “absolutely” important that presidential candidates make minimum wage a talking point on the campaign trail.

“It’s a major issue,” Reid said. “If Republicans don’t do something about it, it’s a major issue.”