Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders on Friday forced a vote on increasing the federal minimum wage to $15 through President Biden’s $1.9 trillion COVID-19 bill, but it failed with strong opposition among Democrats.
The Senate voted 58-42 against the idea, which the Congressional Budget Office estimates would lift 900,000 people out of poverty but cause another 1.4 million people to lose their jobs due to higher business operating costs.
Seven Democrats and one independent who caucuses with Democrats — Sen. Angus King of Maine — opposed the Sanders amendment in a procedural vote.
Democratic Sens. Tom Carper of Delaware, Chris Coons of Delaware, Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire, Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire, and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, Jon Tester of Montana voted against the measure, as did all Republicans.
The number of Democratic defections was a surprise and many of those voting “no” did not immediately explain their stance.
Sinema said in a statement, “Senators in both parties have shown support for raising the federal minimum wage and the Senate should hold an open debate and amendment process on raising the minimum wage, separate from the COVID-focused reconciliation bill.”
Manchin told reporters that he liked “good amendments” to the bill.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) was the only speaker on the Senate floor opposing the increase, saying it was “extraneous” to the pandemic relief.
The minimum wage hike was included in the House-passed version of the bill, but the Senate parliamentarian ordered it removed for not complying with the narrow rules for budget reconciliation that allow bills to pass the Senate with a bare majority rather than the usual 60-vote supermajority.
Sanders, an independent socialist who caucuses with Democrats, called the current federal minimum wage of $7.25 — established in 2007 — a “starvation wage.”
“The reality is that the minimum wage has lost over 30 percent of its purchasing power since 1968. The minimum wage is worth a lot less now than it used to be,” Sanders said in a Senate floor speech.
The amendment would have raised the minimum wage over five years and would have raised the $2.13 tipped minimum wage for waiters and bartenders — last changed in 1991 — to $14.95 over seven years.
Sanders argued that worker tips would not plummet as a result of the change.
“This idea of moving tip wages to the same level as the overall minimum wage is not a radical idea… It already exists in seven states in our country including California, Oregon, Washington, Nevada, Montana, Alaska and Minnesota,” Sanders said.
“All of those states experienced a growth in the number of small businesses and restaurants after they abolished the tipped minimum wage. And guess what? Waiters and waitresses in these states received more tips, not less.”
The minimum wage already is $15 per hour in New York City and Washington, DC.
Many states are gradually lifting minimum wages to $15, including California, Connecticut, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey and New York.
Although future efforts to raise the federal minimum wage face long odds in the Senate, there is some Republican support. Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) recently proposed raising the federal minimum wage to $15, but only for companies with revenue over $1 billion.