Biden, Democrats Amplify $15 Minimum Wage Demands, Progressives Say 'It Should Be $20'

President Joe Biden and a strong majority of congressional Democrats say they can pass a bill to increase hourly minimum wage to $15 an hour or more by March, with or without any Republican support.

Biden and top Democratic lawmakers have reignited a push to increase the federal minimum wage for the first time in 12 years, promoting legislation that aims to pull 28 million full-time workers out of poverty by 2024.

Biden said Friday he will not accept any "ifs, ands or buts" from Republicans who are dragging their feet on passage of the next stimulus relief package. Incoming Senate Budget Committee chairman Bernie Sanders said he's prepared to jam a $15-minimum-wage measure through with the Democrats' current 51-vote majority as soon as possible. Citing the passage of 23 state-level minimum wage increases since 1998, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said passage of a COVID-19 relief bill that includes the $15 hourly hike is doable by March. The U.S. poverty rate recorded its worst spike since the 1960s at the end of 2020, according to recent economic studies.

Biden is simultaneously supporting $1,400 stimulus checks and $130 billion to assist the safe reopening of public schools across the country as part of the next stimulus package. Some progressive Democrats say they would get behind a minimum wage increase larger than $15 an hour, citing studies that show there's only a handful of states where working 40 hours on $15 affords a one-bedroom apartment.

"With the economic divide, I mean, I want to see a $15 minimum wage. It should actually be $20," said Representative Rashida Tlaib, a Michigan Democrat, according to an Associate Press article published Saturday.

Democrats have cited an Economic Policy Institute study which found one in nine U.S. workers are paid wages that keep them in poverty despite working full-time. Congressional Budget Office research suggests 27 million Americans could be pulled out of poverty by a $15 wage hike, but 1.3 million workers could lose their jobs because companies would reduce their workforce in order to pay workers the higher rate— something Republicans have dubbed a no-go amid pandemic job losses.

Moderate Republicans including Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski and Representative Tom Reed of New York agree with raising the minimum wage, but expressed worries to the AP about including such legislation in the next COVID-19 relief bill.

"The more you throw into this bucket of COVID relief that's not really related to the crisis, the more you risk the credibility with the American people that you're really sincere about the crisis," Reed told the AP. Murkowski agreed and said tying the $15 hourly wage hike to the pandemic relief bill "complicates politically an initiative that we should all be working together to address."

The House last week reintroduced the Raise the Wage Act, which passed in 2019 before dying in the Senate under then GOP Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. But now, emboldened by majorities in both the House and Senate, Democratic leaders including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Schumer cite studies that say the minimum wage hike will bring 27 million workers above the poverty line.

The current $7.25 federal minimum wage requirement was put in place in 2009 and marks the last time it was raised. Federal minimum wage has not kept pace with rising inflation and prices of goods and services nationwide, representing about 17 percent less than it did in 2009.

In May 2007, former Republican President George W. Bush signed the law that increased minimum wage at the time from $5.15 to $7.25 over the course of those next two years. The legislation received the support of every Democratic member of the House in addition to 82 Republicans. The hourly wage of $7.25 means an individual is making less than $15,000-a-year.

Democrats have for years proposed minimum wage hikes, but such efforts have failed at the federal level due to GOP opposition. Biden's nominations of labor union–backed Cabinet leaders, including Boston Mayor Marty Walsh and House and Ways Committee trade lawyer Katherine Tai, have prompted optimism across the board. Current House-backed minimum wage hikes also seek to phase out tipped wages by 2027.

"No one in America should work 40 hours a week making below the poverty line. Fifteen dollars gets people above the poverty line," Biden said at the White House last week.

Newsweek reached out to the White House and Tlaib's office for additional remarks Saturday morning.

Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders screengrab
President Joe Biden is pushing for a $15 minimum wage, while some progressives call for $20. Here he debates on April 13, 2020 with Senator Bernie Sanders, who says Biden has not chosen enough progressives for his Cabinet. Getty Images