Democrats Can't Agree on How Much They Want to Raise the Minimum Wage

Not everyone agrees that $10.10 is the goal.

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Associated Press

Before congressional Democrats have to worry about bringing minimum wage legislation to their Republican counterparts, they have to sort it out with members of their own caucus first. 

According to Politico, a few Senate Democrats from red states aren't on board with Majority Leader Harry Reid's plan. Instead of raising it to $10.10 and then it indexing to inflation, as Reid wants and as President Obama and more than 600 economists have suggested, some Democrats would prefer a proposal for an $8.50 or $9 minimum wage. The fear is that raising the wage to $10.10 is too drastic too fast, and skeptics cite the Congressional Budget Office's report that a wage hike could cost 500,000 jobs

This lukewarm response from within the party comes as Democratic leadership –headed by Reid – pushes to make income inequality, and the minimum wage in particular, the central issue of the midterm elections. Hesitant senators include Mark Pryor from Arkansas, Mary Landrieu from Louisiana, and Joe Manchin from West Virginia – Pryor and Landrieu face reelection in November. Vulnerable Senators worry that showing support for Reid's proposal could cost them the election.

But proponents for a $10.10 wage point out that a minimum wage increase of any kind is likely to be opposed by the Republican Party, so voting for an increase to $9 won't likely make much of a difference electorally. Any support for an increase will be enough to anger voters. And, of course, if leadership backs off of its current plan to appease moderate Democrats, it risks alienating its more progressive members who would be left unsatisfied with a minimum wage short of $10.10. In other words, leadership's current thinking seems to be that if you're going to propose raising the minimum wage, you might as well go all the way.

For what it's worth, public opinion on this issue seems to be on the side of Democrats. While Republicans maintain general support among the public (42 percent to Democrats' 39 percent, according to a recent New York Times poll), some two-thirds of Americans support raising the minimum wage to $10.10. 

Despite the tepid response from some Democratic senators, House Democrats are moving ahead with the $10.10 proposal. New York Rep. Tim Bishop filed a discharge petition on Wednesday in an effort to bring a vote to the House floor.

This story originally appeared on The Wire, an Atlantic partner site.

About the Author

  • Ben Cosman is a former staff writer for The Wire. His work has appeared in Mic and Salon.