Mitch McConnell's Minimum Wage Remarks Hint Rise Will Happen Despite $15 Clash

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) expressed openness to a minimum wage increase as consensus builds in Congress that it should go up, though significant disagreements remain about the level of any increase.

McConnell told reporters on Tuesday he thinks upping the federal minimum wage is "worth discussing" because "it hasn't been raised in quite a while."

President Joe Biden has expressed his desire to raise the level to $15-an-hour.

This had been included in his COVID-19 relief proposals. Democrats are moving to push through these plans using budget reconciliation.

However, the Senate parliamentarian ruled the wage increase should not be included in a reconciliation bill, and the White House has indicated it will not move to overrule that verdict.

Reconciliation would have allowed the measure to be pushed through without Republican support. Instead, the White House has signaled the president will pursue other avenues to increase the federal minimum wage.

Other routes would require Republican support to pass legislation through Congress.

The Senate is divided 50-50 between Republicans and the Democratic caucus, with the tie-breaker vote going to Vice President Kamala Harris. Sixty votes are needed to close a debate and move to a vote.

Progressives continue to push for $15-an-hour and urge Harris to overrule the parliamentarian to drive the wage rise through via reconciliation, though at least two Democratic senators—Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema—are opposed to this.

Along with McConnell's comments, other Republicans have expressed being open to some form of raise—but not to the $15 mark.

Senators Tom Cotton (R-AR) and Mitt Romney (R-UT) have put forward a proposal for the federal minimum wage to rise from $7.25 to $10-an-hour by 2025. McConnell mentioned this proposal at the news conference on Tuesday.

Another Republican lawmaker to make an alternative suggestion is Senator Josh Hawley (R-MO). He would back $15-an-hour, but only for "big business"—not for smaller enterprises.

Hawley suggested that companies with revenues of $1 billion or more should be required to pay the $15-an-hour minimum wage.

"For decades, the wages of everyday, working Americans have remained stagnant while monopoly corporations have consolidated industry after industry, securing record profits for CEOs and investment bankers," Hawley said in a statement.

"Mega-corporations can afford to pay their workers $15 an hour, and it's long past time they do so, but this should not come at the expense of small businesses already struggling to make it."

Manchin has expressed openness to a rise, but at a lower rate. He suggested $11-an-hour as a more suitable figure, arguing that $15-an-hour "makes it very difficult in rural America."

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), who caucuses with the Democrats, has continued to stand by $15 even as the prospect fades. He is due to propose an amendment in the Senate backing a minimum wage increase.

However, Sanders previously said he feels reconciliation is the "only way" that could get a $15-an-hour minimum wage through the Senate, stating he did not see it as possible to get 10 Republican senators on board.

And that does not account for any in the Democratic caucus voting against, such as Manchin, which would increase the number of Republicans required to jump sides.

Lawmakers backing the $15-an-hour push have also made the suggestion of abolishing the legislative filibuster in the Senate as a means of bypassing the need for 60 votes in the Senate.

Progressives continue their push for $15, but growing bipartisan support for an increase at a lower amount may put them in the position of having to choose between less than they want or no change at all.

However, advocates for $15 argue their demand is not a radical one. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) said it is already a "deep compromise."

Newsweek has contacted the offices of the lawmakers mentioned for comment.

mitch mcconnell after gop luncheon
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) holds a press conference following the Senate GOP policy luncheon in the Rayburn Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill on March 2, 2021 in Washington, D.C. He has suggested raising the minimum wage should be discussed. Samuel Corum/Getty Images