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Dems challenge Republicans with major minimum-wage hike

Demonstrators prepare signs supporting the raising of the federal minimum wage during May Day demonstrations in New York, N.Y., on May 1, 2014. (Photo by Lucas Jackson/Reuters)
Demonstrators prepare signs supporting the raising of the federal minimum wage during May Day demonstrations in New York, N.Y., on May 1, 2014.

Donald Trump has spent the last few months obsessing over a strange talking point. The new Democratic House majority, the president claims, is "getting nothing done." It's "frozen stiff." Democrats, Trump recently added, "don't want to do anything."

It's against this backdrop that House Dems keep passing popular and progressive bills, including a big one yesterday afternoon.

The House on Thursday passed a bill to increase the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2025 -- delivering on one of Democrats' central policy objectives and a priority for many 2020 presidential candidates. [...]The bill -- called the Raise the Wage Act -- was introduced by Rep. Bobby Scott, D-Va., and passed 231-199. It calls for a gradual increase in the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour from $7.25, to be phased in over several years.

This was not an altogether easy lift for House Democratic leaders. More than a few Democratic red-state moderates were concerned about the potential effects of such a significant increase -- they seemed to be operating under the assumption that the bill might actually become law -- and so the legislation went through a few iterations.

Among other things, the latest bill calls for the new wage to be phased in over six years, as opposed to the original five-year plan. There's also a provision that would halt the increase if the Congressional Budget Office found evidence that the increase was creating adverse economic effects.

Those changes satisfied the less-progressive Dems, and as the dust cleared, the bill passed with relative ease. Technically, proponents can even claim that it cleared the chamber with bipartisan support: three Republicans voted for it.

The measure now shifts to the GOP-led Senate, where theoretically, it could pass. Most Americans support the Democratic proposal, and the nation is clearly due for an increase: it's been a decade since the last increase to the minimum wage at the federal level, which is the longest drought since the policy was first created.

But there's a reason -- two, actually -- proponents are not optimistic.

The first and most obvious is the fact that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who opposes raising the minimum wage, has effectively halted the chamber's legislative work. The Senate has spent 2019 as "a legislative graveyard."The second reason is that the bill, even if it were to clear the Republican Senate, would face Donald Trump's veto. Indeed, it was just last fall when Larry Kudlow, the director of Donald Trump's National Economic Council -- the top voice on economic policy in the White House -- rejected the very idea of having a minimum wage at the federal level at all.

"My view is a federal minimum wage is a terrible idea. A terrible idea," Kudlow said shortly before the 2018 midterms. He added that he considers the policy "silly."

So long as Republicans control levers of power, those waiting for an increase to the minimum wage will have to simply keep waiting.