House Democrats are moving full speed ahead on legislation that would raise the federal minimum wage to $15 per hour. This is despite concerns from centrist lawmakers about the impact on lower-cost areas.
Democratic leaders say that they are close to getting the 218 votes needed to pass the bill, which they expect to bring to the floor in July.
All but 29 of the 235 Democratic lawmakers in the House have cosponsored the measure. Many of those who are holding out are moderates who are concerned that a significant wage boost in a short period of time could have an unintended effect in more rural settings.
“I am concerned about the that $15 is an arbitrary number that means a lot more in certain parts of the country than it does another,” said Rep. Dean Phillips (D-Minn.).
“I believe there are better mechanisms by which we can ensure that by providing incentives to enterprises who take better care of people,” Phillips said. He added that he was on the fence about supporting the bill.
The legislation would raise the minimum wage from $7.25 to $15 within five years. Raising the minimum wage has been a staple of Democratic policy for years. But Congress has only voted twice in the past two decades to increase the minimum wage, and it has been stagnant at its current rate since 2009.
Many Democrats argue that raising the minimum wage is key to helping workers and reducing poverty, and also lowering dependence on government welfare programs.
But other Democrats believe that in a country as economically diverse as the United States, an across-the-board base wage doesn’t make sense.
“The minimum wage in San Francisco should probably be $30 an hour, OK? But the minimum wage in West Virginia or Arkansas is a different story,” said freshman Rep. Jeff Van Drew (D-N.J.). His state recently moved to raise the minimum wage to $15 by 2024.
Businesses have also raised concerns about increasing labor costs in places that have a lower cost of living.
“Fifteen dollars in New York City is not the same as $15 in Oklahoma City,” said Shannon Meade, vice president of public policy at the National Restaurant Association, a group that has raised red flags about a provision in the bill to gradually move tipped workers over to minimum wage.
“Raising it too soon or too high will hurt small businesses, force a reduction in hours available to work and potentially put restaurants out of business,” she said.