House Democrats seek to move past rifts with minimum wage bill

House Democrats seek to move past rifts with minimum wage bill

House Democrats riven by infighting between centrists and progressives will take on a new challenge this week: passing legislation to raise the minimum wage for the first time in a decade. 

The debate splits liberals from centrists in the caucus and is only coming to the floor after months of talks between the factions, compared to other key Democratic agenda items that got votes within weeks after they took over the majority.


Centrists — particularly from more rural areas, where the cost of living is lower — had expressed concerns about the risk of job losses, compared to urban liberals who argue raising the minimum wage to $15 per hour within five years is long overdue.

As a way to mollify the centrists, an amendment from Reps. Stephanie MurphyStephanie MurphyBipartisan lawmakers call for Blinken to appoint special envoy for Venezuela The Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - Divided House on full display Rep. Stephanie Murphy says she's 'seriously considering' 2022 challenge to Rubio MORE (D-Fla.) and Tom O’Halleran (D-Ariz.) — both Blue Dog Coalition members — to study the economic impact of the first two wage increases outlined by the legislation is expected to get a floor vote, according to four aides familiar with the plan.

House Majority Leader Steny HoyerSteny Hamilton HoyerHouse plans for immigration bills add uncertainty on Biden proposal This week: Senate takes up coronavirus relief after minimum wage setback House set for tight vote on COVID-19 relief package MORE (D-Md.) expressed confidence the minimum wage bill has the votes to pass, saying that the amendment from Murphy and O’Halleran “makes some sense.”

The amendment would require the Government Accountability Office to report to Congress on the economic and employment impacts after the minimum wage has increased from the current $7.25 to $8.55, and then to $9.85 per hour. Relevant congressional committees in the House and Senate would make recommendations within 60 days on whether future scheduled wage increases should be delayed, modified or allowed to go forward.

Proponents argue it gives lawmakers in rural areas a way to explain to their constituents that it offers Congress a chance to mitigate any negative side effects of a minimum wage increase.

“The amendment promotes evidence-based policymaking. Those who believe that $15 should be our new national minimum wage should welcome an independent, objective analysis of the actual economic and employment impacts during the phase-up process,” a summary of the amendment states.

Progressive leaders have previously expressed openness to including a study on the small business impact as part of the minimum wage hike. Rep. Pramila JayapalPramila JayapalProgressives push White House to overturn wage ruling Warren bill would impose wealth tax on M households This week: Senate takes up coronavirus relief after minimum wage setback MORE (D-Wash.), a Progressive Caucus co-chair, said recently that “we're certainly amenable to looking at the issue and making sure we track it so that we know that we're doing a good job for everybody.”

But some progressives argue the study doesn’t add much and potentially undermines their argument that the minimum wage should be raised.

“We should just do a clean bill, send it to the Senate, and let [Senate Majority Leader Mitch] McConnell and those people try to destroy this as opposed to us eating ourselves on it,” said progressive Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.).

At the same time, Grijalva said, “It's almost perfunctory. Look what we did. So I don't think it's consequential. But I don't think it's needed, either.”

The minimum wage debate will come after House Democrats spent the last week rehashing divisions between progressives and centrists over legislation that passed last month to provide resources for agencies handling the flow of migrants at the southern border. Progressives pushed for more stringent health and humanitarian standards for holding migrants in custody, but Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiBiden coronavirus relief bill tests narrow Democratic majority Some Republicans say proxy voting gives advantage to Democrats Gun violence prevention groups optimistic background check legislation can pass this Congress MORE (D-Calif.) ultimately caved to demands from centrists that the House take up a bipartisan Senate bill that didn’t go as far as liberals wanted.

After Pelosi minimized the influence of four progressive freshmen who voted against the House Democrats’ bill in a New York Times interview, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-CortezAlexandria Ocasio-CortezThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - J&J vax rollout today; third woman accuses Cuomo 'Lucky': Inside Ocasio-Cortez's endorsement of Sanders Biden officials urge patience on immigration amid border surge MORE (D-N.Y.) fired back by suggesting that the Speaker was engaging in a “singling out of newly elected women of color.”

But despite the progressive tensions that initially appeared to threaten the passage of an annual defense policy bill, House Democrats ultimately approved the legislation on Friday with only eight liberal defections.

Given that raising the minimum wage is a key plank of their party platform, House Democratic leaders are trying to ensure that the legislation secures the votes broadly across the caucus as with other signature bills like for pay equity, government and ethics reform, and giving young undocumented immigrants a path to citizenship.

The decision to include the amendment from Murphy and O’Halleran comes after the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimated that increasing the minimum wage to $15 per hour by 2025 would give 17 million workers a raise and lift 1.3 million people out of poverty. But, the report found, the minimum wage hike would cause 1.3 million workers to lose their jobs.

Freshman Rep. Jefferson Van Drew (D-N.J.), who flipped a GOP-held seat last fall, said that the CBO estimate “does concern me.”

Van Drew told The Hill last month that he was leaning toward voting for the minimum wage bill but had expressed concerns to leadership about the impact on minimum wage policies in New Jersey, which moved earlier this year to raise its minimum wage to $15 by 2024. Unlike the House Democratic bill, it doesn’t eliminate the tipped minimum wage and exempts seasonal workers.

But this past week, Van Drew said that he’s no longer gotten indications that there could be carve-outs.

Tipped workers in his district, which includes Atlantic City, “don't necessarily like the idea of just getting $15 per hour, because guess what? A waiter or waitress that hustles is making 30, 40, 50,” Van Drew said. “So for them, this is not something they really want.”

“So I don't know that we're really helping New Jersey with this,” Van Drew said, adding that he is still undecided. 

Rep. Terri SewellTerrycina (Terri) Andrea SewellCongressional Black Caucus unveils '100 Day Plan' Six ways to visualize a divided America Lobbying world MORE (D-Ala.), a New Democrat Coalition vice chair, had proposed a regional minimum wage that would allow places with lower costs of living to raise minimum wages more slowly, as well as a tax credit to help small businesses adjust to the minimum wage hike. But neither proposal gained enough traction among fellow Democrats given concerns that establishing a regional minimum wage wouldn’t be feasible in practice and that a tax credit proposal would then lead to a debate over how to pay for it, aides said.

Sewell nonetheless plans to vote for House Democrats’ bill this week, according to an aide.

Van Drew said it’s tough to establish a universal minimum wage when the cost of living can vary so widely.

“If the minimum wage in Alabama is going to be $15 an hour, then the minimum wage in San Francisco should be about $50. It's hard to have a national minimum wage,” Van Drew said.