Senators Willing to Compromise on Minimum Wage Face Pushback

Friday, 04 Apr 2014 12:25 PM

By Sandy Fitzgerald

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The few senators who are open to finding a middle ground on a minimum wage increase are discovering that both sides of the party leadership are refusing to reach a compromise.

"I can't imagine not wanting to debate the best way to improve wages in America," said Tennessee Republican Sen. Bob Corker. But GOP leaders say they want to block the measure from hitting the Senate floor as a protest against the Democratic-controlled Senate and its priorities, reports Politico.

"It seems to me at least that if we have the votes on the procedural vote to stop it, that that's probably the best way to try to at least express our disappointment and objections to the way things are being done," said powerful Republican Sen. John Thune of South Dakota. "[Democrats] want the issue; I don't think they want a solution, anyway."

On the other side, some Democrats facing re-election, such as Alaska Sen. Mark Begich and moderates like West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin, are willing to compromise, but Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and other powerful Democrats won't discuss wage increases that come in below a target of less than $10.10 an hour.

"They should be able to find the middle ground on minimum wage," Manchin said. "Some don't want $10.10. Some want $9. Some want this. Find the middle."

The minimum wage hike is a priority for President Barack Obama this election year. Democrats, led by a plan developed by Sen. Tom Harkin, are calling for minimum wage to increase gradually from the current $7.25 per hour to $10.10 an hour over three years. The plan also calls for a wage hike for employees who get tips. Their minimum wage has been set at the rate of $2.13 since 1991.

Meanwhile, Politico reports, Maine GOP Sen. Susan Collins is working with a bipartisan group to build a plan that links a lower minimum wage with tax breaks and hopes to redefine a full-time week as 40 hours under Obamacare.

"That's really up to Sen. Reid whether he wants to bring a bill to the floor that he knows isn't going to succeed, or whether he wants to try to achieve a bill that could pass," Collins said.

But some Senate Republicans are not warming to Collins' plan, jeopardizing her efforts. She will need to bring at least four Republican votes, or possibly five, to move her plan through the Senate, reports The Hill.

While Democrats say $10.10 an hour is what is needed to lift workers out of poverty, Republicans say the move could cost as many as a half-million jobs nationwide while consumer prices are on the rise.

But some at-risk Democrats say compromising on the amount may be what it takes to get the Senate to still pass the measure, and if the Republican-controlled House rejects the bill, it could help bring political harm to House Republicans who are seeking Senate seats.

Nevada Republican Sen. Dean Heller, meanwhile, says minimum wage amounts are an issue that belongs with the states, not the federal government.

His own state set its minimum wage at $8.25 hourly, indexing it to inflation. But the state law requires its minimum wage to be one dollar higher than the federal level, so if the $10.10 federal amount rises for inflation, Nevada could face a minimum wage of $15 an hour.

While Reid had said a vote on minimum wage legislation could come up before this work period ends, it likely won't happen until after the Easter break, sources said.

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