Democrats Put Forth $15 Minimum Wage Bill

WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 22: U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders speaks at a protest calling for the Republican Senate to delay the confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Nominee Amy Coney Barrett at the U.S. Capitol on October 22, 2020 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Jemal Countess/Getty Images for Care In Action)
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 Jemal Countess / Stringer/Getty Images

Tackling one of the pillars of President Joe Biden’s economic agenda, Democratic lawmakers introduced a stand-alone bill Tuesday to more than double the federal minimum wage to $15 by 2025.   

The Raise the Wage Act of 2021 would initially raise the $7.25 minimum wage to $9.50 an hour, with specific increases scheduled each year through 2025. After that, the wage would automatically increase annually at the same rate as the median wage for U.S. workers. The bill would also phase out subminimum wages for tipped workers. 

A $15 minimum wage is by no means a new idea, though proponents say the economic crisis triggered by the pandemic increases the urgency to get money into low-wage workers’ pockets. Perhaps more importantly, Democrats are more hopeful now that they have control of the Senate, albeit by the slimmest of margins. An increase would impact an estimated 32 million people, or 21% of the country’s workforce, and would mean an extra $3,300 a year for some workers, according to the Economic Policy Institute. 

“My hope is we will bring Republicans on board. But we must understand that at this moment, the issue of starvation wages in America is a national emergency,” Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, one of the sponsors of the bill, said in a video press conference. 

A similar bill passed the House of Representatives in 2019 but stalled in the Republican-controlled Senate. Now that Democratic victories in both Senate seats in the Georgia runoff elections splits the Senate 50-50 (and Democratic Vice President Kamala Harris can cast a tie-breaking vote), Sanders is aiming to get the new bill approved with or without the help of Republicans.

If necessary, Sanders said, Democrats should bypass Republicans by pushing the bill through using the budget reconciliation process, which only requires a simple majority approval. Without budget reconciliation, the bill would go through regular order and need the support of at least 10 Republicans in order to be safe against being blocked by a filibuster.

“If we cannot get enough Republicans to vote for this legislation under regular order, we cannot simply take no for an answer,” Sanders said.

The federal minimum wage has not been increased since 2009—the longest stretch since it was first established in 1938. Activists have sought to raise it to $15 since at least 2012, when the Fight for $15 campaign began. The value of the demand has diminished in that time: by 2025, $15 will have the same buying power as $12 did in 2012, assuming a future inflation rate of 2.5%.