By Benjamin Goad - 01/29/14 03:46 PM EST
The chairman of an important Senate panel said Wednesday he sees momentum in the legislative push to raise the federal minimum wage to $10.10 an hour.
Sen. Tom Harkin, who heads the Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, listed the proposed wage hike atop his list of priorities for in his final year in the Senate. He announced last year that he would not seek a sixth term in the upper chamber.
“I’m not being Pollyannaish about this,” Harkin told reporters. “There's just momentum taking place around the country on this.”
On Tuesday, President Obama announced plans to issue an executive order that would effectively lift the minimum hourly wage from $7.25 to $10.10 for employees of federal contractors.
Raising the wage for all employees would require congressional action, and many Republicans have voiced opposition on grounds that the move could hurt the economy.
But ultimately, public support for the proposal would apply pressure on GOP dissenters to get on board, Harkin predicted.
“Republicans sense that if they block this, they’re going to pay a price,” he said.
The Senate is expected to take up legislation on the issue sometime in the next congressional work period. Harkin, who has championed the bill, signaled a willingness to negotiate in order to pick up Republican votes for the measure.
But the dollar figure is not up for debate, he said.
“We can't go below $10.10,” he said. “If there's other things we could do to sweeten the pot, then fine.”
Harkin mentioned incentives for small businesses and potential regulatory relief measures as possible sweeteners, but stopped short of offering details of a potential deal.
He also refuted claims from some Republicans that President Obama exceeded the authority of his office in moving to raise the wage at companies that do business with the government.
“I don't think the president issuing executive orders is unconstitutional,” Harkin said.