House passes $15 minimum wage bill

The House passed a bill Thursday that would raise the federal minimum wage for the first time in a decade -- but there's little chance the measure will be taken up in the Republican-controlled Senate.

The House passed a bill Thursday that would raise the federal minimum wage for the first time in a decade — but there’s little chance the measure will be taken up in the Republican-controlled Senate.

The House vote was 231-199. Three Republicans — Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania, Francis Rooney of Florida and Chris Smith of New Jersey — joined most Democrats in supporting the measure. Six Democrats — including Anthony Brindisi of New York, Joe Cunningham of South Carolina, Kendra Horn of Oklahoma, Ben McAdams of Utah, Kurt Schrader of Oregon and Xochitl Torres Small of New Mexico — opposed it.

The bill was a priority for progressives and gives a victory to a movement that’s taken nearly seven years to get this far. But in its current form, the bill has no major support from the Republican side.

The Raise the Wage Act would bring the federal minimum wage up gradually from $7.25 to $15 by 2025. After that year, the rate will be indexed to the median hourly wage of all workers.

House Democrats started the process of passing a bill in March, but struggled to get support from more moderate members. In recent weeks, party leaders made some key concessions to get enough lawmakers on board. They increased the phase-in time from five to six years, and added a requirement for the government to study the economic impact of the bill after it’s in effect, giving Congress the ability to make adjustments in the future.

When fast-food workers began widely protesting in 2012 for higher pay, a $15 minimum wage appeared overly ambitious. But since then, some cities and states have raised their local minimum wages to $15 an hour on their own — including Seattle, San Francisco, New York City and then all of California and New York State. Companies like McDonald’s and Walmart stopped lobbying against raising the federal minimum wage, and Amazon adopted a $15 minimum last year.

About 1.7 million people, or about 2.1% of all hourly-paid workers, earned at or below the federal minimum wage last year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Republicans have by a wide majority not voiced support for the bill, concerned that raising the wage to $15 would result in too many jobs lost. White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow said in November he doesn’t think minimum wages are a good idea at all, raising doubts that President Donald Trump would sign it.

A Congressional Budget Office study published last week projected that the legislation would raise the wages of 27 million people and lead to 1.3 million fewer jobs, or 0.8% of total employment.

The US Chamber of Commerce has said it’s willing to meet in the middle on some higher minimum wage, but that $15 is out of the question.

Horn released the following statement on Thursday:

“I am committed to a pragmatic policy that grows our economy, creates good jobs and strengthens the middle class. We need to raise the minimum wage, but we have to be smart about how we tackle such an important issue. The bill before the House today used a sledgehammer, not a scalpel. By taking a one-size-fits-all approach, this legislation ignores the differences in regions, the cost of living and the cost of doing business. It doesn’t consider that Shawnee is different from San Francisco and Oklahoma City is different from New York City. That’s why I had to vote no. I believe a different piece of legislation – the PHASE Act, which I have cosponsored and that raises the minimum wage incrementally and regionally – addresses this issue in a more reasonable way.

I am committed to continuing to work for equitable policies that help Oklahoma families and businesses.

We need to have everyone at the table in this conversation – businesses of all sizes, workers, families and community leaders. This is a tough issue to balance, and we need everyone to have a voice in it.”

Congressman Tom Cole, of Oklahoma, also released a statement saying:

“While I don’t doubt this bill is well-intentioned, it is unprecedented and misguided for a country as large and diverse as the United States. Never in our history, or indeed in the industrialized world, has the minimum wage been increased so drastically in such a short amount of time,” said Cole. Indeed, the one-size-fits-all policy proposed by the Democrats would have dramatic and unintended consequences nationwide for the very people it seeks to help and could cause up to four million lost jobs. In fact, the Economic Policies Institute predicts that the legislation would lead to nearly 38,000 jobs lost just in Oklahoma. With unemployment lower than it’s been in nearly 50 years and wages already increasing at the fastest rate in a decade, this misguided piece of legislation would undo it all.”

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