Progressive Rep. Ro Khanna Defends $15 Minimum Wage: Why Don't Moderates Compromise?

California Representative Ro Khanna questioned why moderate Democrats are never asked to compromise as he touted the potential benefits of raising the federal minimum wage to $15-an-hour.

Khanna and Congressional Progressive Caucus chair Pramila Jayapal both appeared on CNN Sunday urging some reluctant Senate Democrats to keep the $15 minimum wage provision in President Joe Biden's $1.9 trillion relief package.

Congressional Democrats are hoping to pass the full package under the slimmest partisan margins by mid-March. But at least two moderate Democrats who would be needed for the slim 51-majority vote—Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona—have repeatedly stated they won't get behind the $15 minimum wage provision.

Khanna pushed back after he was asked Sunday whether he'd support a reduced relief package as part of a concession to moderate Democrats.

"I will vote for the final package. But my question is: why isn't this question asked of the moderates? Why don't they have to compromise sometimes?" replied Khanna, who represents the California district that includes Silicon Valley.

"I mean, I have voted for every single CARES package to date in the Congress. And there are many times there were provisions I didn't like. ... Now, my question is, why not have the same question for the moderates? Maybe they disagree with the minimum wage, but the overwhelming -- Americans agree with it. So they can vote for the final package even if they disagree with some of those provisions."

Fellow progressive lawmaker Jayapal also looked to tone down skepticism of Democrats passing the package, with the $15 minimum wage provisions still in tact.

"I know there are questions about whether or not the Senate can get it through. But I can tell you, this $15 minimum wage increase would mean 30 million Americans would get a raise. A million Americans would come out of poverty, and 30 percent of those minimum wage workers are Black; 25 percent are Latinx," Jayapal told CNN host Dana Bash.

Khanna last Thursday led House Democrats in rolling out legislation that would step up the enforcement of IRS tax collection from the country's wealthiest individuals and corporations. The bill would increase audits of the "ultra-wealthy" who Khanna said "play by different rules than the rest of us."

Asked if small businesses and large corporations can both foot the bill for a $15 minimum wage across all 50 states, Khanna said "successful" businesses should be able to pay their workers fair wages. He highlighted how corporations like Amazon and Target were able to increase jobs after they raised their minimum hourly wage to $15.

"We don't want low-wage businesses. Most successful small businesses can pay a fair wage. If you look at the minimum wage, it increased with worker productivity until 1968, and that relationship was severed. If workers were actually getting paid for the value they were creating, it would be up to $23," the California congressman said Sunday.

Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, chair of the Senate Budget Committee, has repeatedly expressed confidence the $15 minimum wage provision can be passed through the so-called budget reconciliation process. Sanders urged Democrats to hold their slim majority and push the full $1.9 trillion package through because it does not violate the Byrd Rule, which keeps "extraneous" measures out of the budget.

Newsweek reached out to Khanna's office as well as Sanders' office for additional remarks Sunday afternoon.

bernie sanders ro khanna wages
US Representative Ro Khanna (R), Democrat of California, and US Senator Bernie Sanders, Independent of Vermont, speak during a press conference following a vote in the US House on ending US military involvement in the war in Yemen, on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, April 4, 2019. SAUL LOEB / AFP/Getty Images