McConnell Open to Minimum Wage Increase, but Against Quick Raise to $15 an Hour

March 2, 2021 Updated: March 2, 2021

The top Republican in Congress on Tuesday signaled a willingness to increase the federal minimum wage.

“It is true that it hasn’t been raised for quite a while, and I think it’s worth discussing,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) told reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington.

“But we know the result of a $15 federal minimum wage increase all at once—1.4 million lost jobs. That’s not what we need in the middle of a pandemic,” he added.

Democrats inserted a minimum wage increase in their COVID-19 relief package that the House of Representatives passed last week with no Republican support. The proposal would gradually raise the wage over four years.

The Congressional Budget Office estimated increasing the wage floor to $15 an hour nationwide would lead to the loss of 1.3 million jobs.

The Senate was poised to keep the provision in the bill, if Democrat leaders were able to corral all of their senators, including several who expressed dismay with the large increase, behind the bill. But the provision will likely not survive the upper chamber because its chief rules expert ruled it couldn’t be part of the package because Democrats are using a budget process to ram it through to avoid needing 60 votes.

Instead, they can pass the bill with just 50 votes and Vice President Kamala Harris’s tiebreaking power.

McConnell’s comments came around the same time House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) told reporters in Washington that the lower chamber will take up legislation to raise the minimum wage.

steny hoyer
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) speaks to reporters in the U.S. Capitol in Washington on Dec. 16, 2020. (Erin Scott/Reuters)

“The minimum wage as it now stands is immoral,” he said.

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have recently introduced standalone bills that would up the minimum wage, which stands at $7.25 and hasn’t been increased since 2009.

Democrats in January introduced the Raise the Wage Act of 2021. Similar to the provision in the COVID-19 package, the bill would raise the wage to $15 an hour by 2025. Then, the wage would be indexed to median wage growth.

“Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, the $7.25 federal minimum wage was economically and morally indefensible. Now, the pandemic is highlighting the gross imbalance between the productivity of our nation’s workers and the wages they are paid. Many of the essential workers who have braved a public health crisis to keep food on the table and care for our loved ones are still not being paid enough to provide for themselves or their families. Today, a full-time worker cannot afford a modest, two-bedroom apartment in any county in the U.S.” Rep. Robert Scott (D-Va.), chairman of the House Committee on Education and Labor, said in a statement introducing the bill.

Republicans have since introduced competing bills, including one that would raise the wage floor to $10 an hour by 2025.

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