A bill to increase the federal minimum wage to $10.10 per hour is about to take center stage in the U.S. Senate as this year’s election agenda continues to take shape. Specifically, the Senate will take a procedural vote to determine whether it will debate S. 2223, the Minimum Wage Fairness Act, which Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA), Chair of the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) just introduced on April 8, 2014, and which has some 37 co-sponsors. Bypassing the usual assignment to committee for study and debate, S. 2223 was placed on the Senate calendar when it was introduced instead of being referred to the HELP Committee. For the Senate to be able to debate S. 2223, it will have to break a filibuster led by Senate Republicans, which will require 60 votes. Senator Harkin has indicated that almost every Democratic Senator will vote to kill the filibuster, which would leave the Democratic majority five votes short of overcoming the filibuster. If enough Republican Senators break ranks and vote to end the filibuster, then the Senate will debate S. 2223 and a simple majority will be needed to pass it. Opponents to an increase in the minimum wage point to a recent Congressional Budget Office study stating that an increase in the minimum wage to $10.10 per hour will result in a loss of 500,000 jobs.
S. 2223 would increase the minimum wage in three stages: first, to $8.20 per hour six months after passage, then to $9.15 per hour one year later, and finally to $10.10 per hour another year later. The bill would thereafter index future minimum wage increases to the consumer price index, rounded to the nearest $.05. It also would increase the cash wage that employers must pay tipped employees to $3.00 per hour first and thereafter either by $.95 per year or to the level of 70 percent of the minimum wage that is then in effect. The cash wage paid to tipped employees will be adjusted in the future so that it remains 70 percent of the federal minimum wage.
The minimum wage is just one more economic issue that will be debated during the 2014 mid-term elections. Earlier this month, the Senate attempted to consider the Paycheck Fairness Act, S. 2199, but was unable to overcome a Republican-led filibuster with the required 60 votes. These elections are expected to be hotly contested as the president’s approval ratings sag and the Republican Party eyes control of the Senate. Republicans need to pick up six seats to control the Senate and are favored now in three states—Montana, South Dakota, and West Virginia—where incumbent Democrats are retiring. The Democratic election agenda focuses on improving the economic situation of the middle class, and the proposal to increase the minimum wage is just one measure that Democrats will promote to address income inequality and the improvement of economic opportunities. Recently, the Obama administration has taken other actions to highlight these economic issues, including the issuance of an Executive Order to increase the minimum wage for government contractors to $10.10 per hour effective January 1, 2015, and a directive to the Labor Secretary to update and revise the overtime regulations so that more working Americans can earn overtime compensation. This economic warfare will be waged over the coming months by both parties until the November mid-term elections.