Push to pay congressional interns $15 an hour gains traction with progressives

The push to pay congressional interns $15 an hour is catching on with House progressives, with proponents arguing the move is necessary to ensure opportunities for people regardless of their socioeconomic status.

The issue gained traction Wednesday after Rep.-elect Alexandria Ocasio-CortezAlexandria Ocasio-CortezJD Vance takes aim at culture wars, childless politicians Poll: 73 percent of Democratic voters would consider voting for Biden in the 2024 primary On The Money: Yellen to Congress: Raise the debt ceiling or risk 'irreparable harm' | Frustration builds as infrastructure talks drag MORE (D-N.Y.), a darling of the left, called on lawmakers to follow her lea after Senate Majority Leader Chuck SchumerChuck SchumerMcConnell pushes vaccines, but GOP muddles his message Biden administration stokes frustration over Canada Schumer blasts McCarthy for picking people who 'supported the big lie' for Jan. 6 panel MORE’s office (D-N.Y.) posted an advertisement for unpaid interns. A Schumer spokesman later said the posting had been made “in error.”

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“It is unjust for Congress to budget a living wage for ourselves, yet rely on unpaid interns & underpaid overworked staff just bc Republicans want to make a statement about ‘fiscal responsibility,’ " Ocasio-Cortez tweeted.

Rep. Ro KhannaRohit (Ro) KhannaProgressive fighting turns personal on internal call over antitrust bills Liberal lawmakers praise Senate Democratic budget deal How Congress can advance peace with North Korea MORE (D-Calif.) echoed the sentiments, saying he believes it could help lead candidates who can’t afford to work for free into careers in public service.

“The House has a new fund for internships. This is a welcome change & long overdue. Like many other offices, we will be paying our interns at least $15 an hour," Khanna tweeted. "This will ensure that young people of different economic backgrounds will be able to pursue public service internships."

Rep. Pramila JayapalPramila JayapalHouse Democrats grow frustrated as they feel ignored by Senate Schumer feels pressure from all sides on spending strategy Liberal House Democrats urge Schumer to stick to infrastructure ultimatum MORE's  (D-Wash.) office confirmed they will follow suit.

Rep. Adam SmithDavid (Adam) Adam SmithSenate panel adds B to Biden's defense budget Back to '70s inflation? How Biden's spending spree will hurt your wallet Military braces for sea change on justice reform MORE (D-Wash.) introduced a bill in September requiring congressional offices top compensate interns at the $15 hourly rate. Thirty-one Democratic lawmakers cosponsored the legislation, thought it’s unclear whether the measure will see any movement when Democrats regain control of the floor in January.

Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.), who co-sponsored the legislation, doesn't currently pay his interns $15 an hour, but is waiting to see what the budget looks like before constructing a plan for their compensation, a spokesman for his office told The Hill.

Republicans have largely opposed previous Democratic calls to raise the federal minimum wage to $15, arguing it would limit job growth and place a strain on small businesses. 

Khanna said he will have to take the budget into consideration while determining whether he will have to limit the number of interns he can take on as more would be devoted to their salaries.
"Depends on whether we get an increase in the [Members Representational Allowance]," he told The Hill Thursday.

Unpaid internships are not uncommon on Capitol Hill, with proponents arguing the positions provide young people with valuable work experience.

A 2017 report released by Pay Our Interns, a D.C.-based nonprofit, showed just 8 percent of House Republican offices and 3.6 percent of Democrat offices offered paid internships.

—Melanie Zanona contributed.