WASHINGTON – House Democrats approved legislation Thursday to raise the federal minimum wage for the first time in a decade, to $15 an hour, transforming an issue that once splintered the party into a benchmark for the 2020 election.
Even though the bill has little chance of passing the Republican-led Senate, or being signed into law by President Donald Trump, the outcome pushes the phased-in rate to the forefront as the new standard, one already in place at some leading U.S. corporations.
While the increase would boost pay for some 30 million low-wage workers, intended as one answer to income inequality, passage was assured only after centrist Democrats won adjustments to the bill. Reluctant to embrace the party's left flank, they pushed for changes, including a slower six-year phase-in of the wage. It's a reminder of moderates' influence on policy, but also the limits.
A hike in the $7.25 hourly wage has been a top Democratic campaign promise, and what Majority Leader Steny Hoyer of Maryland called Thursday the “right thing to do.”
The last increase in the federal minimum occurred 10 years ago, the longest stretch without an adjustment since the wage floor was first enacted during the 1930s. The wage protection covers millions of low-wage workers in all types of jobs.
Republicans in the House balked at the hike, which would be the first since Democrats last controlled the majority. Just three Republicans joined most Democrats in passage, on a 231-199 vote.