President Joe Biden and other Democrats are pushing forward with a plan to increase the federal minimum wage to $15 per hour. Workers' advocacy groups have been pushing for this number for a long time, and some critics say it is no longer enough. Others argue that it is too high.
Biden voiced his support for a $15 minimum wage during the 2020 presidential election, and now he is seeking to put it into action. According to a report by The Associated Press, the minimum wage increase is a part of Biden's $1.9 trillion stimulus proposal, meaning its passage is now tied to the stimulus check, unemployment aid and other coronavirus relief measures. Many Democrats in the U.S. Congress support this idea, though some of the most progressive among them say that this number is too low now, accounting for inflation and other economic factors.
"With the economic divide, I mean, I want to see a $15 minimum wage. It should actually be $20," said Michigan Rep. Rashida Tlaib. On the other end of the spectrum, Republicans argue that $15 per hour is too high. Some fear that such an increase would lead to job loss, and perhaps more work being outsourced overseas.
Republicans also complain that the minimum wage debate should not be included in the stimulus negotiations. New York Rep. Tom Reed said: "The more you throw into this bucket of COVID relief that's not really related to the crisis, the more you risk the credibility with the American people that you're really sincere about the crisis." Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski added that she believes it "complicates politically an initiative that we should all be working together to address."
The United States Senate is split evenly between the two parties right now, with Democrats holding a slight advantage since the vice president serves as the tie-breaking vote when needed. The Democrats could reportedly pass Biden's stimulus proposal as-is with the minimum wage increase included, but if they wait until later they may need more than 51 votes to change the minimum wage by itself.
According to the AP, neither avenue is guaranteed, but Democrats appear to be moving forward with the proposal regardless. They will need to pass it through the budget reconciliation process to avoid Republican interference, but Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders is in full support of that idea.
"As you will recall, my Republican colleagues used reconciliation to give almost $2 trillion in tax breaks to the rich and large corporations in the midst of massive income inequality. They used reconciliation to try to repeal the Affordable Care Act and throw 32 million people off the health care they had. They used reconciliation to allow for drilling in the Arctic wilderness," Sanders said. "You know what? I think we can use reconciliation to protect the needs of working families."
The $15 minimum wage is overwhelmingly popular among American voters everywhere, regardless of political affiliation. Like the rest of the coronavirus relief package, it is expected to be passed in late February or early March.