Bernie Sanders optimistic about $15 minimum wage — but Manchin, Sinema stand in way

Small business owner expresses concern over federal minimum wage increase

Baltimore construction company owner Corina Morga explains how a federal minimum wage increase will have negative consequences for small businesses like hers.

Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., says he’s bullish about Democrats’ chances of passing a minimum wage increase in the coronavirus stimulus bill despite at least two Democrats voicing opposition.  

“We’re feeling really good. We think we’ve got a good shot,” Sanders, chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, told reporters Friday at the U.S. Capitol. “We’ve got millions of workers working for starvation wages. We’ve got to raise the minimum wage to a living wage of $15 an hour and that’s what the American people want and that’s what I intend to do.”

Moderate Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., have both said they oppose including the $15 minimum wage in the stimulus package.

“What’s important is whether or not it’s directly related to short-term Covid relief. And if it’s not, then I am not going to support it in this legislation,” Sinema told Politico in an interview published Friday.

U.S. Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., applauds during former President Trump’s State of the Union address at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, Feb. 4, 2020. (Getty Images)

Democrats just barely have the majority in the Senate – 50-50 with Vice President Kamala Harris breaking ties – meaning any Democratic defections could spell disaster for the wage increase’s chances. (Only 48 senators are actually Democrats. But two independents — Sanders and Sen. Angus King, I-Maine — caucus with the Democrats.)

U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., talks with reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington, Friday, Feb. 12, 2021. (Associated Press)

Republicans have criticized raising the minimum wage – especially during the pandemic when so many small businesses are struggling.

The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office said a $15 minimum wage would likely raise the wages of around 27 million workers but could also cost around $1.4 million workers their jobs as business owners cut back to account for paying their employees more.

Under the Democrats’ proposal, the wage increase would be phased in through 2025.

The federal minimum wage, which stands at $7.25, hasn’t been increased since 2009, although many states have minimum wages that are higher.

U.S. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va. (Getty Images)

Democrats are trying to pass the measure through reconciliation, meaning they would need only a simple majority but that requires getting it through the nonpartisan Senate parliamentarian’s office. 

“We’re working really hard to get the minimum wage through the parliamentarians’ office,” Sanders told reporters Friday.

If the minimum wage hike doesn’t remain in the stimulus package, Democrats will likely introduce a standalone bill, The Wall Street Journal reported.

A $15 minimum wage has been a goal of Sanders and other progressives for years.

Late last month while introducing the Raise the Wage Act of 2021, he said, “No person in America can make it on $8, $10, or $12 an hour. In the United States of America, a job must lift workers out of poverty, not keep them in it,” USA Today reported. 

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