WASHINGTON — Virginia Rep. Bobby Scott (D-3rd) believes the U.S. House will soon pass his legislation to raise the federal minimum wage to $15 per hour.
“I feel confident that the votes are there,” said Scott, chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee. House leadership has announced that the measure — a top priority for Democrats in the chamber — will receive a floor vote next week.
The effort is expected to languish in the GOP-led Senate, but Scott and other Democrats see the likely House passage offering valuable political leverage heading into the 2020 election season.
“I can only deal with the House. The Senate will take care of itself,” Scott told reporters Monday. “I think if nothing else people can see that in the House we’re able to pass the minimum wage [increase]. … It’s extremely popular and I’d love to campaign on it.”
Scott’s legislation, titled the “Raise the Wage Act,” has the support of 205 Democratic co-sponsors, including the six other U.S. House Democrats from Virginia. No House Republicans have signed on as co-sponsors.
The bill would boost the minimum wage to $15 per hour by 2024, more than doubling the current minimum wage of $7.25 per hour, which was approved by Congress in 2007 and went into effect in 2009.
In the Senate, Vermont senator and 2020 presidential contender Bernie Sanders has introduced a companion version of the House minimum wage bill. Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) is one of 31 co-sponsors of that bill; Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) is not listed as a co-sponsor. Warner’s office didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment about whether he supports the legislation.
The National Low Income Housing Coalition found in a 2018 report that a Virginia household needed to earn $23.69 per hour while working full time in order to be able to afford the rent on a two-bedroom home.
“We know that in America today a full-time minimum wage worker cannot rent a modest two-bedroom apartment anywhere in the United States,” Scott told reporters.
Scott touted the findings of a Congressional Budget Office report issued Monday, which found that a $15 per hour minimum wage would boost the wages of 17 million workers nationwide. Another 10 million workers otherwise earning slightly more than $15 per hour might see their wages rise as well, the analysis found. And the number of people with an annual income below the poverty line in 2025 would fall by 1.3 million, the report estimates.
“What the report makes clear is that the benefits vastly outweigh any costs,” Scott said.
The analysis also estimates that roughly 1.3 million other workers would become jobless. Still, CBO noted that there’s “considerable uncertainty” about how the minimum wage increase could impact employment. “Many studies have found little or no effect of minimum wages on employment, but many others have found substantial reductions in employment,” the report says.
Critics of the legislation were quick to call attention to the estimated job losses Monday, and House Republicans are certain to highlight that figure in the upcoming floor battle over the Democrats’ bill.
Virginia Rep. Denver Riggleman (R-5th), who runs a craft distillery, said he has “firsthand experience with the problems caused when government inserts itself into the free market.
“This $15 minimum wage bill would be a particularly egregious regulation; the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office released a study yesterday that said the wage hike would cost 1.3 million Americans their jobs. Regulations and government overreach are not the steps we need to take to grow the economy for all,” Riggleman said Tuesday in a statement.
Heidi Shierholz of the Economic Policy Institute, who served as chief economist at the Labor Department during the Obama administration, said the CBO substantially overstated the costs. Policymakers should be skeptical of the estimates of employment loss, she said.
It’s unlikely that the minimum wage bill will come to the Senate floor for a vote under Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who controls the floor schedule.
When he was running for re-election in 2014, McConnell told a conference of rich conservatives he wouldn’t allow votes on the minimum wage and several other Democratic priorities if he became majority leader, the Louisville Courier-Journal reported. “We’re not going to be debating all of these gosh darn proposals,” he said.
But Democrats will likely use the vote to score political points against President Donald Trump, who said on the presidential campaign trail that he would support raising the minimum wage to $10 an hour, after he previously said that wages are “too high.”
Many Republicans, including Trump’s economic adviser Larry Kudlow, are opposed to increasing the federal minimum wage. Kudlow has called the minimum wage law a “terrible idea” that hurts small businesses.