Georgia Voters Could Decide If There’s Any Hope For Raising The Federal Minimum Wage

But even if Democrats win both Senate races next month, they still need additional moderate members to back their $15-an-hour plan.

By Dave Jamieson and Igor Bobic | HuffPost

The federal minimum wage has been stuck at $7.25 an hour for more than 11 years. Whether or not it rises anytime soon largely depends on Georgia, where two runoff elections in January will determine which party controls the Senate.

Democrats acknowledge that their plan to increase the minimum wage to $15 an hour over the course of several years stands virtually no chance if Republicans maintain control of the upper chamber, even with Joe Biden in the White House and a slim Democratic majority in the House. Even a more modest hourly increase likely would not have enough votes in a GOP Senate.

While most states have their own, higher minimum wages, there are 21 states where the federal minimum wage is the law. Congress hasn’t approved a hike since George W. Bush occupied the White House, with Republicans blocking repeated efforts by Democrats.

“[Senate Majority Leader] Mitch McConnell hasn’t given a crap about the minimum wage his entire career,” Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) told HuffPost. “He’s not going to care about it in 2021.”

Murphy said the odds of a minimum wage hike ― like much of the progressive agenda ― were “slim to none” unless Democratic nominees Jon Ossoff and Rev. Raphael Warnock knock off Republican incumbents David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler. A double win in Georgia would create a 50-50 tie in the chamber, and Vice President Kamala Harris would have the tie-breaker vote. In that case, Democrats could pass a minimum wage hike on their own, but only if they were willing to blow up the filibuster.

But even with Senate control, it’s still not clear Democrats would have the votes necessary to pass what has become party doctrine: a $15 wage floor from coast to coast. Some moderate members in both chambers could be reluctant to back an aggressive wage hike over the objections of business groups, and Democrats’ smaller majority in the House leaves less room for error. 

As of now, Democrats will hold 222 seats to Republicans’ 210 next session, with three seats still up in the air. When the House voted on a $15 minimum wage in July 2019, it passed 231-199, with six Democrats voting against it and three Republicans voting for it. 

Mitch McConnell hasn’t given a crap about the minimum wage his entire career. Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.)

Judy Conti, government affairs director for the National Employment Law Project, said the $15 minimum wage bill would still pass the House if every member who voted for it last year did so again, though the margin would be tighter. She also noted the popularity of the proposal with voters, pointing to a successful ballot measure in Florida last month that will raise the state’s minimum wage to $15 by 2026. That measure required 60% approval as an amendment to the state constitution; it ended up with 60.82%.

Conti said she is confident there will be movement on the issue regardless of what happens in Georgia.

“We plan to come out of the gate strong with a campaign as soon as the new Congress is set,” she said. “We will be urging [House] leadership to move this quickly. We’re going to push like hell to get this on the Senate floor as well. It’s absolutely shameful that we keep the minimum wage this low.”

But even if Democrats manage to win both Senate seats in Georgia, they would still need to persuade more members in the caucus to support the $15 proposal in order for it to pass and head to Biden’s desk. Several Democrats so far have declined to co-sponsor the bill in the Senate ― including moderates like Sens. Joe Manchin (W.Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (Ariz.) ― despite the concept of a $15 minimum wage growing more mainstream each year.


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