In what will be seen as a crushing defeat to the leftist and progressive factions of the Democratic party, seven Democratic Senators (and one Independent Senator) voted against a $15 minimum wage on Friday. Senator Bernie Sanders forced the minimum wage vote during a ‘vote-a-rama’, in which a vote can be forced on any issue.
The proposal was originally included in the Democrats’ Covid relief plan. However, because it didn’t meet the narrow requirements for passing a bill by reconciliation, the Senate Parliamentarian ordered that it be removed. The decision angered Sanders, who remarked, “It is an absurd process that we allow an unelected staffer, somebody who works for the Senate not elected by anybody. to make a decision as to whether 30 million Americans get a pay raise or not.”
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The seven Democrats who voted against a $15 minimum wage were: Tom Carper (Delaware), Chris Coons (Delaware), Maggie Hassan (New Hampshire), Joe Manchin (West Virginia), Jeanne Shaheen (New Hampshire), Kyrsten Sinema (Arizona), and Jon Tester (Montana). Sen. Angus King, an Independent from Maine who caucuses with the Democrats, also voted against the $15 minimum wage. Every Republican voted against the idea.
About the proposal, Sinema said in a statement, “Senators in both parties have shown support for raising the federal minimum wage and the Senate should hold an open debate and amendment process on raising the minimum wage, separate from the COVID-focused reconciliation bill.”
For Sanders and the far-left, the result of the vote will be depressing to say the least. Eight members of the Democratic Caucus voting against the measure is a sign that, whilst Sanders’ socialist policies are very popular amongst his supporters, he still lacks the necessary support in Washington to get them through Congress.
The current minimum wage, $7.25, was set in 2007, though Sanders has frequently attacked it for being too low, labelling it a ‘starvation wage’. Under his proposal, the wage would have been raised to $15 per hour over 5 years. In a floor speech, Sanders said, “The reality is that the minimum wage has lost over 30 percent of its purchasing power since 1968. The minimum wage is worth a lot less now than it used to be.” The amendment he proposed would also have raised the $2.13 tipped minimum wage for waiters and bartenders (which was last changed it 1991) to $14.95 per hour over seven years.
If Sanders had been successful in raising the minimum wage, it is likely it would have had mixed results. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that 900,000 people would be lifted out of poverty. However, it also estimates that the move would cost 1.4 million jobs.
Whilst it is unlikely, it isn’t unthinkable that a $15 minimum wage could gain the support of Republicans. Senator Josh Hawley (R-MO), for example, previously expressed support for a $15 federal minimum wage, but only for employees who work for a company which is worth more than $1 billion. New York City and Washington DC already have a $15 minimum wage, and some states, including California, Connecticut, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and new York, are gradually lifting their minimum wage to $15.