Senate Democrats Push Minimum-Wage Fight to March

The delay on one of President Obama’s top priorities comes on the heels of a mixed CBO report and a slowdown in the Senate.

People hold up signs protesting the low wages for workers at fast food restaurants on August 29, 2013 in New York City. Low-wage workers at businesses like McDonald's and Macy's are fighting for a living wage of $15 an hour in pay, which is more than double the current national minimum wage of $7.25.  
National Journal
Sarah Mimms
Feb. 25, 2014, 12:32 p.m.

Demo­crats are delay­ing a bill to raise the fed­er­al min­im­um wage un­til at least late March. The le­gis­la­tion, which rep­res­ents a key pri­or­ity for both Pres­id­ent Obama and con­gres­sion­al Demo­crats, will not come to floor un­til after the Sen­ate re­turns from its next re­cess, Sen. Tom Har­kin, D-Iowa, said Tues­day.

A Sen­ate Demo­crat­ic aide con­firmed that the is­sue has been pushed un­til at least March 24, when the Sen­ate re­turns from its next break.

The news comes just a week after the Con­gres­sion­al Budget Of­fice re­leased a re­port show­ing that rais­ing the fed­er­al min­im­um wage to $10.10 per hour, as Demo­crats are push­ing, would cost the na­tion 500,000 jobs. The re­port also showed, however, that 900,000 in­di­vidu­als would be brought out of poverty and 16.5 mil­lion would re­ceive a wage in­crease.

Sen­ate Ma­jor­ity Lead­er Harry Re­id al­luded to the delay in his weekly press brief­ing on Tues­day, blam­ing Re­pub­lic­an ob­struc­tion over un­em­ploy­ment in­sur­ance, an­oth­er key Demo­crat­ic pri­or­ity, for push­ing the is­sue back to March. “The ob­struc­tion con­tin­ues, and it slows things down,” Re­id said.

The ma­jor­ity lead­er also stood his ground on the $10.10 fig­ure, say­ing he would not com­prom­ise with Re­pub­lic­ans on a lower in­crease. The same CBO re­port showed that a $9 min­im­um wage would have sub­stan­tially less of an im­pact on jobs (with just 100,000 jobs lost), but that just 7.6 mil­lion work­ers would see a wage in­crease — half of those af­fected by the $10.10 op­tion.

House Demo­crats, mean­while, are not sat­is­fied with wait­ing. Minor­ity Lead­er Nancy Pelosi will an­nounce to­mor­row that her con­fer­ence will push a dis­charge pe­ti­tion to force a vote on the is­sue “as soon as pos­sible,” ac­cord­ing to an aide, who con­firmed that House Demo­crat­ic lead­er­ship will move for­ward on the bill re­gard­less of what their Sen­ate coun­ter­parts have planned.

The dis­charge pe­ti­tion, which would re­quire 218 sig­na­tures, would al­low the meas­ure to by­pass the com­mit­tee pro­cess and head dir­ectly to the floor. The pe­ti­tion would need 19 Re­pub­lic­an sig­na­tures, no easy feat, giv­en GOP op­pos­i­tion on the is­sue, par­tic­u­larly in the wake of last week’s CBO re­port. Only sev­en dis­charge pe­ti­tions have ac­crued suf­fi­cient sig­na­tures to get to the floor in the past 30 years, al­though Pelosi’s of­fice notes that an­oth­er 12 were al­lowed to move for­ward be­fore all 218 mem­bers signed on.

Still, it’s clear that Re­pub­lic­an lead­er­ship will present a sig­ni­fic­ant road­b­lock on the is­sue. House Speak­er John Boehner’s spokes­man Brendan Buck seemed to dis­miss the is­sue last week in re­spond­ing to the CBO re­port. “With un­em­ploy­ment Amer­ic­ans’ top con­cern, our fo­cus should be cre­at­ing — not des­troy­ing — jobs for those who need them most,” Buck said.

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