WASHINGTON — How hard is it going to be to pass a minimum wage hike through Congress this year? Look no further than a Tuesday press conference with Sen. Amy Klobuchar for the answer.
Klobuchar appeared with New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and a Texas mother earning the state’s $2.13 an hour tipped-worker minimum wage to highlight a higher wage’s impact on women. Reporters asked Klobuchar to give a couple of status updates on Democrats’ effort to get the bill through the Senate, and while she sounded optimistic about its prospects, the questions laid bare the high hurdles to getting it done.
Republican opposition to a minimum-wage increase is well known, but there are at least three Democrats — Sens. Mark Pryor (Ark.), Mary Landrieu (La.) and Joe Manchin (W. Va.) — who have been openly uneasy about the Senate’s bill to raise the wage to $10.10 an hour.
Asked about that hesitancy, Klobuchar said, “I think some of that is about what the exact number is.” But at the same time, she said Democrats aren’t looking to change that number, only at adding separate provisions to help businesses.
“I think everyone is open to trying to find a strong bill, and I think right now we think that this number is the fair number, and no one’s seriously talking about changing it,” she said.
If a $10.10 bill came to the floor and all three on-the-fence Democrats were to oppose it, leadership would have to convince at least eight Senate Republicans to vote against a likely filibuster against the bill, which is unlikely given that none of them openly support the bill right now.
Klobuchar said it’s not impossible to convince Republicans to back a wage hike: after all, the minimum wage last went up in 2007, under President Bush. But back then, the wage increase was tied to a bill funding the war in Iraq, and Democrats have no such leverage this time around.
Not only is support for a minimum wage bill hard to pin down, but so is the timeline for it to come to the floor. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said in February that the Senate would take up a minimum wage hike that month. This last week of March is likely to focus on aid for Ukraine and potentially a fix to an expired unemployment insurance program, making April the earliest time such a bill could come to the floor. And even if it were to pass in the Senate, the GOP-controlled House will almost certainly block it.
Senate Democrats are looking to bring the bill to a vote anyway — a minimum wage increase is popular with voters, and it is an election year, after all — and they’re looking to cover all possible angles to make their case. Tuesday’s press conference was meant to highlight the benefits a higher wage would have for women, who make up two-thirds of American minimum wage earners, Klobuchar said. She said now is the right time to consider a wage hike, given the economy’s recovery after the recession.
“I truly believe that it’s part of making our economy work,” she said. “Everyone would agree we’ve reached a stable point in the economy, so this is a good time to talk about how we can move that economy to the next level, which is allowing more people to participate.”
Devin Henry can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter: @dhenry