Democrats in Congress proposed legislation Tuesday to boost the federal minimum wage to more than $10, going beyond what President Obama has proposed and arguing the working poor need the extra support amid a sour economy.
But the measure, sponsored by Sen. Tom Harkin of Iowa and Rep. George Miller of California and which calls for the first minimum wage increase since 2009, faces likely insurmountable opposition from the Republican-controlled House.
“We should have done this a long time ago,” said Mr. Harkin at a press event at the Capitol to introduce the bill. “The minimum wage has become a poverty wage. This shouldn’t happen in the richest nation on earth.”
The measure would bump workers’ minimum hourly wage to $10.10 from its current $7.25 in three steps of 95 cents over more than two years. Thereafter, automatic annual increases would be linked to changes in the cost of living rate.
A full-time worker currently earning minimum wage and working 50 weeks a year earns $14,500 before taxes.
The bill also would gradually increase the $2.13 an hour minimum wage for tipped workers for the first time in more than 20 years — to 70 percent of the regular minimum wage.
The measure’s sponsors say raising the minimum wage to $10.10 per hour would increase the nation’s gross domestic product by almost $33 billion and would generate 140,000 new jobs over three years.
Mr. Miller said it was “immorally” and “economically” dangerous not to raise the minimum wage.
“Nearly a quarter of all workers will get a raise under our bill,” the California Democrat said. “It’s time to grow our economy from the bottom up.”
The last time Congress passed legislation to raise the minimum wage was in 2007 during the George W. Bush administration, when it was $5.15 an hour. The law gradually bumped the minimum age to its current $7.25 level in 2009. Many states since have passed higher minimum wage laws.
House Republicans disagree with Democratic claims that giving minimum wage workers almost $3 an hour more than they currently earn would be an economic boom, saying such a move instead would impose a crippling financial burden on business that would lead hiring freezes and layoffs.
“House Republicans are committed to policies that help create jobs, not ones that make it more difficult for hardworking Americans to find one,” said a senior House Republican aide. “Any minimum wage increase would eliminate much-needed jobs, and that should not be our goal right now.”
The National Restaurant Association, a trade group that represents almost 500,000 businesses, says it would be wrong to increase the minimum wage at a time when the economy is still sluggish and small businesses are struggling to succeed.
“In light of current economic conditions and coming on top of the unprecedented uncertainty and costs that the 2010 health care law will impose on employers, a starting-wage increase will reduce hiring, weaken business growth and reduce opportunities for job seekers and employees at the margin of the workforce,” said the group’s president and chief executive, Dawn Sweeney.
The proposal comes three weeks after President Obama in his State of the Union address called for a $1.75 bump in the minimum wage to $9. He also proposed tying future increases to the cost of living rate.
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Sean Lengell covers Congress and national politics and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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