Senate Democrats are kicking off their 2014 election-year agenda this week with consideration of a bill to raise the federal minimum wage to $10.10. And the legislation's lead sponsor says almost every Democrat will vote "yes" on a crucial, procedural vote.
If Democrats get the wage bill through a cloture vote, it needs just a simple majority for final passage. All Democrats "may not be with us on the final bill," Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, said on a conference call with reporters Monday. "The key is to get over the filibuster of the Republicans, and I'm pretty confident we'll have all the Democrats on that."
All except for one, Harkin predicts. It is likely that Mark Pryor of Arkansas, who has come out against the proposal to raise the wage to $10.10, will not join the ranks. But even in that case, Pryor is not opposed to any minimum wage increase. He supports an effort to boost the Arkansas rate from $6.25 to $8.50 by 2017.
Harkin has said the incremental increase to the $10.10 rate, to be reached by 2016, is "nonnegotiable."
Another red-state Democrat, Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, has said she supports a minimum-wage increase, but still has concerns about the changes to wages for tipped workers and the timeline for a wage increase. Harkin's proposal would increase the federal tipped wage from $2.13 to 70 percent of the regular minimum wage. And Virginia Democratic Sen. Mark Warner supports a minimum-wage increase but likewise has concerns about the timeline for phasing in the boost.
Democratic Sens. Kay Hagan of North Carolina and Mark Begich of Alaska back Harkin's bill.
The bill still faces very low odds of ever becoming law. Democrats will need at least five Republicans to vote yes on cloture, and that doesn't look very likely. Sen. John Thune, a member of the Republican leadership, has said that Senate Republicans "are pretty united" against the the wage proposal.
"If we don't get 60 votes on the first vote we'll continue to come back again and again," Harkin pledged. "We're not just going to have one vote and walk away from it. It's much too important for that."
Even if the wage increase makes it out of the upper chamber, it faces dim prospects in the House, where Speaker John Boehner has called it a job killer.
A Congressional Budget Office analysis found the proposal would reduce the number of workers in the labor force by 500,000 in 2016, which Democrats have pushed back against. CBO also predicted the wage increase would lift 900,000 out of poverty.
The Senate will begin consideration of the bill this week, but a final vote may not come until next week, Harkin said.