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Liberal Democrats warn: We'll sink minimum wage bill if moderates change it
Progressive lawmakers warned Wednesday that they're ready to sink a Democratic bill to increase the minimum wage if the measure is amended ahead of the vote.
Reps. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) and Mark Pocan (D-Wis.), who co-chair the Congressional Progressive Caucus, said members of the group are poised to vote en masse against legislation to hike the wage floor to $15 per hour if a procedural motion offered by Republicans is adopted beforehand.
The message is a clear warning to moderate Democrats, some of whom have joined Republicans this year in supporting last-minute procedural gambits - known as motions to recommit - which grant the minority party a last-ditch opportunity to alter legislation before a final vote.
"We have no doubt that Congressional Republicans will try to divide the Democratic Caucus with a disingenuous Motion to Recommit. It's up to all of us to stand unified and reject their bad faith effort to undermine this bill," Pocan and Jayapal said in a statement.
"After consulting with our Members this week, we are confident that any bill that includes a poison pill Republican Motion to Recommit will lack the votes to pass on the House Floor," they said.
The warning comes as liberal and moderate Democrats have been feuding over the direction of the party and jockeying for greater sway in policy debates, most recently surrounding last month's passage of legislation addressing the humanitarian crisis on the southern border.
In that debate, liberals had demanded explicit protections for the migrants being detained at the border, language that was included in a House version of the bill. But moderate Democrats - including leaders of the Blue Dogs and Problem Solvers - had the numbers to force Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) to bring to the floor a more conservative Senate-passed bill that lacked those provisions.
Afterward, liberals were furious that the moderates had swung the debate, and the fallout included an unusual round of public - and personal - sniping between members of the groups.
The Congressional Progressive Caucus's message ahead of the minimum wage vote indicated liberals don't want to get rolled a second time in as many months.
The substance of the Republicans' motion to recommit remains unknown, since GOP leaders likely won't introduce the measure until minutes before Thursday's minimum wage vote. But in the eyes of Progressive Caucus leaders, the content is irrelevant. They want the bill to remain as is - and they're flexing the muscle of their 97-member group to ensure that's the case.
"The Progressive Caucus is eager for a strong floor vote raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour. We are deeply grateful to the organizers, activists and working people across the country who fought for years to make this vote a reality," Pocan and Jayapal said. "It would be a disservice to these families - who put their paychecks on the line to fight for dignity in the workplace - to do anything less than what we've promised: a clean vote to raise the minimum wage, for all workers across the country."
Both sides of the Democratic divide have already claimed some victories in crafting the minimum wage bill.
Liberals were successful in ensuring the wage hike would apply across the country, in the face of moderates calling for regional flexibility. And the centrists won some concessions as well, with the adoption of one amendment requiring a study of the economic impact as the wage increase is gradually phased in, and another extending the transition to $15 from five years to six years.
Votes on motions to recommit have typically been uneventful affairs, with the majority party dismissing them as political messaging tools regardless of their substance. Indeed, when Republicans controlled the House from 2011 to 2019, not a single Democratic motion to recommit was adopted.
The arrival of the enormous crop of Democratic freshmen has altered those dynamics, proving a headache to party leaders on several big votes this year.
In February, as Democratic leaders were prepared to vote on a gun reform bill that stands among their top priorities, more than two dozen Democrats - mostly freshmen from swing districts - crossed the aisle to help Republicans pass a motion to notify Immigration and Customs Enforcement if an undocumented immigrant tries to buy a gun.
Earlier in the same month, a number of Democrats helped Republicans attach an amendment condemning anti-Semitism to a resolution to withdraw U.S. support for the Saudi-led military campaign in Yemen. The proposal came as freshman Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) was facing a bipartisan backlash for comments many viewed as anti-Semitic.
In all cases, the motions to recommit are designed with the explicit intent of luring vulnerable Democrats to support them - or risk GOP attack ads in 2020 for their opposition.
The issue has split top Democratic leaders. Pelosi has argued the motions are merely "gotcha" votes, urging her troops to oppose them as a blanket policy. But her top lieutenants - House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) and Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.) - have built reputations for encouraging vulnerable lawmakers to vote their districts, even if it means breaking with the party.
The minimum wage bill, sponsored by Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va.), is expected to pass when it hits the floor Thursday - unless the motion to recommit is adopted and the progressives make good on their threat. It's a scenario that Pocan and Jayapal are hoping to avoid.
"Tomorrow, Congress can vote to raise wages for more than 33 million people with the first minimum wage increase in a decade," the said. "We can vote to end poverty wages and give families the dignity of a livable paycheck.
"Let's get this done."
Updated at 4:07 p.m.