With the future of the Democrats’ plans to raise the federal minimum wage to $ 15 an hour in balance – procedurally and politically – in the Senate, two Republican senators have the idea to link the issue to another sensitive issue: enforcement of immigration regulations.
Sens. Tom Cotton (R-AR) and Mitt Romney (R-UT) presented a bill on Tuesday that would gradually increase the minimum wage to USD 10 per hour by 2025. However, all employers would also need to use the federal government’s E-Verify program to filter out undocumented workers.
The Higher Wages for American Workers Act is a messaging law – it is unlikely to be passed, but a direct counter-proposal to a democratic effort spearheaded by Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) in the Senate to include a gradual increase in the minimum wage in the Covid-19 Aid Act. The Democratic proposal would more than double the current federal hourly minimum wage of $ 7.25 over five years, which has not increased since 2009.
Republicans have traditionally opposed efforts to raise the minimum wage. They referred to a report by the Congressional Budget Office that presented mixed results as evidence that increasing the minimum wage would harm small businesses and the deficit, even though the CBO estimates that a minimum wage of $ 15 would lift 900,000 people out of poverty would free.
The CBO report suggests the Democrats’ bill would raise wages for at least 17 million people. In a fact sheet, Romney and Cotton say their proposal would affect 3.5 million workers. (Some states, including Cotton’s, already have minimum wages above $ 10 an hour.)
The Romney Cotton Bill goes directly to the CBO’s finding that a minimum wage of $ 15 would cost 1.4 million jobs, and says that a lower wage increase would drive wages higher without making it any easier Job loss. Other studies suggest that a minimum wage of $ 15 would have minimal to no effect on job losses.
“For millions of Americans, the rising cost of living has made it harder to make ends meet, but the federal minimum wage has not increased in more than a decade,” Romney said in a press release. “Our legislation would raise the minimum wage for workers without costing jobs, and raise the federal minimum wage to $ 10 and automatically adjust it to inflation every two years.”
Increasing the minimum wage is a widespread proposal even in Trump-friendly states like Florida, which last year approved a minimum wage of $ 15 through an election initiative with the support of over 60 percent of voters. The Cotton Romney proposal is the first GOP plan to fulfill this wish. Even so, it has opponents on both sides of the aisle – meaning the main question it raises is whether more moderate Democrats are taking it as a sign to push for a bipartisan compromise on the size of the raise.
What’s on the bill?
Romney and Cotton’s proposal represents a Republican foray into a subject that has been largely the prerogative of the Democrats. But they tied the minimum wage increase to a more traditional Republican problem: measures to comply with immigration regulations.
On the fiscal side, it includes:
An inflation-related minimum wage of $ 10 per hour: The bill would introduce a minimum wage of $ 10 by 2025. This wage is then linked to inflation every two years. The Democrats’ bill also provides for minimum wage updates by pegging it to median wage growth after 2025.
Slower phase-ins for small businesses: The Cotton and Romney proposal also provides for a slower rollout for small businesses with fewer than 20 employees. Under the plan, the small business minimum wage would increase 50 cents a year for five years – instead of the usual four years – and hit $ 9.75 before equating to the federal minimum wage. Democratic law is no exception for small businesses.
Keep the disability exception: The Republican proposal maintains the sheltered workshop exemption, which exempts workers with disabilities from the minimum wage. The democratic proposal would equate the so-called 14 (c) wage to the federal minimum wage by 2026.
Covid-delayed phase-in for everyone: The plan also prevents minimum wage increases from happening during the Covid-19 pandemic and increases the minimum wage for youth from $ 4.25 to $ 6.00 over a five-year period before pegging it to inflation. Democrats would raise the minimum wage for youth by $ 1.75 a year until it reaches the proposed minimum wage of $ 15.
On the immigration side, Republican senators have introduced stricter enforcement measures and penalties for using undocumented workers.
Mandatory use of E-Verify: The bill would make E-Verify, an online system that enables employers to verify the immigration status of their employees against government records, mandatory for all companies within 18 months.
Increased penalties and other compliance measures: Cotton and Romney’s proposal would also increase civil and criminal penalties for employers who hire undocumented workers require all adult workers to provide photo identification to their employers.
Improved management of the E-Verify program: Their bill also authorizes states to share driver’s license information with the federal E-Verify program and approves $ 100 million of automatic annual funding to protect E-Verify from government shutdowns or funding delays.
“American workers are now competing against millions of illegal immigrants for too few, under-wage jobs – that’s unfair,” Cotton said in a statement. “Ending the black market for illegal workers will open jobs for Americans.”
Democrats, including President Joe Biden, fought the expansion of E-Verify – Biden is adding a provision in its immigration law to make its use voluntary. Meanwhile, many Republicans have accepted the program, demanding that it be compulsory, as it is for all employers in four GOP-led states. But it is not accepted uniformly on the right – the libertarian Cato Institute says the program is an inefficient stopgap solution.
How The proposal concerns the minimum wage of $ 15
The Cotton-Romney Plan is arriving as the Democrats attempt to overcome both procedural and political hurdles to their own minimum wage increase. Without the support of the Republicans, their bill would have to be passed through a budget vote. It’s a complicated process, but Congress gets a limited number of attempts at reconciliation each year, and Democrats use one for their larger Covid-19 auxiliary bill (which is why they are currently including the wage provisions in this package). Everything that is included in a reconciliation invoice must be “budgetary”. The decision on whether the wage increase is budgetary rests with the impartial MP, as Li Zhou of Vox explains:
While the House votes on its version of the Aid Act this week, both parties will have the opportunity to present their final arguments to the Senate MP in a practice called “Byrd-Bad”. After hearing their respective cases, MP – Elizabeth MacDonough – will determine what can be included in the legislation and what needs to be removed. In the middle of the week MacDonough was able to make a decision on the minimum wage.
Then political pressure rises: if MacDonough gives the measure the green light, the Democrats will have to steer the dissent in their caucus to get it passed. If she doesn’t, then you have to decide if you are willing to ignore her decision and move on anyway. Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer has so far been fully focused on the next steps.
“We are trying to work as well as possible with the parliamentarian to achieve a minimum wage. That is all I will say,” Schumer said at a recent press conference. However, after their decision is made, the Democrats will have to grapple with their own differences on the matter.
Even if the minimum wage of USD 15 overcomes this procedural hurdle, there are also political: Two Senate Moderate Democrats – Joe Manchin (WV) and Kyrsten Sinema (AZ) – have previously stated that they are not supporting a $ 15 minimum wage, creating intra-caucus problems and possibly the entire 50-50 Senate auxiliary bill endangered.
But while Manchin has said he wants a minimum wage of $ 11 – closer to Cotton and Romney’s proposal – their joint wage immigration laws face an even greater chance than the Democrats’ $ 15 plan.
The Senate Democrats also hope to pass a comprehensive immigration law, introduced by Senator Bob Menendez (NJ) on behalf of the Biden administration. The likely need for 60 votes gives the bill tough chances and leaves Democrats open to gradual adoption of provisions. But over the past few years of immigration struggles, Democrats have been careful not to accept stepped-up measures to enforce immigration rules without compromising in support of their priorities, including protecting the dreamers or providing a path to legal citizenship.
“We know that going forward will require negotiation with others,” Menendez said last week of immigration. “But we will not make any concessions.”