Following through on a recent pledge, House Democrats announced Tuesday they will start an official petition drive to force a vote to increase the federal minimum wage on the same day Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said he would delay a vote on the issue.
Members of the House Democratic leadership team, joined by other members and business owners, will make the official announcement at a press event Wednesday.
At their party retreat two weeks ago, House Democrats said they planned to force floor votes on immigration and the wage increase, with the latter coming first because it’s the most central to their efforts to try to paint Republicans into a corner on the issue of income inequality.
But at the same time Mr. Reid, blaming Republican obstruction, announced Tuesday he’d be delaying a vote on the issue in the Senate.
“The obstruction continues, and it slows things down,” the Nevada Democrat said. “We also have been hampered as a result of trying to get an extension of unemployment benefits.”
Raising the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour will cost the U.S. economy a half-million jobs by 2016 but will boost wages for most low-income workers who still have their jobs, according to a Congressional Budget Office report released last week.
The issue has been high on the party’s 2014 agenda; President Obama recently took unilateral action to increase the floor wage for companies with federal contracts.
The White House praised the CBO’s finding that low-wage workers’ income would rise but said the job numbers “do not reflect the overall consensus view of economists.”
Mr. Reid said he will push forward with the bill eventually.
“People have a right to vote however they want,” he said. “But it makes it a little tough around here when you have companies like Gap, who have 65-75,000 employees, who’ve just done it. They’ve raised the minimum wage already. It’s happening all over the country.”
But Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, citing the CBO report, said Tuesday he hopes it doesn’t get far.
“The last thing we need to be doing right now in our country is passing legislation that destroys even more jobs,” the Kentucky Republican said.
As for the movement on the issue in the House, the maneuvers to force floor votes, known as “discharge petitions,” are a longstanding way for the minority party in the lower chamber to get action on their priorities.
If they can get signatures of a majority of the members of Congress, the House leadership has to bring up the legislation.
The minority party starts a handful of petition drives every Congress, but they are rarely successful. The last one to succeed came was on campaign-finance restrictions, more than a decade ago.
When Democrats and their Republican allies got close to the number of signatures needed, GOP leaders, who controlled the chamber at the time, relented and agreed to bring the bill up for a debate.
That resulted in passage of the McCain-Feingold campaign-finance legislation, which restricted how money was raised and spent in connection with federal campaigns. The law has since been picked apart by federal courts that have found much of it unconstitutional.
• David Sherfinski can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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