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House passes $15 minimum wage bill

WASHINGTON — The House passed a bill Thursday that would raise the federal minimum wage for the first time in a decade — but there’s little chance the measure will be taken up in the Republican-controlled Senate.

The House vote was 231-199.

The bill was a priority for progressives and gives a victory to a movement that’s taken nearly seven years to get this far. But in its current form, the bill has no major support from the Republican side.

The Raise the Wage Act would bring the federal minimum wage up gradually from $7.25 to $15 by 2025. After that year, the rate will be indexed to the median hourly wage of all workers.

Tennessee Congressman Steve Cohen voted in favor of the bill. He released a statement saying “Raising the minimum wage makes sense. This increase will lift 1.3 million people out of poverty, including 600,000 children. Congress has not raised the minimum wage in more than ten years, and this raise will  put an estimated $7.7 billion back into the pockets of families living below the poverty line.  Increasing the minimum wage not only helps working people, it stimulates the economy.”   

Tennessee Rep. David Kustoff said he voted against the bill.

“Our nation is enjoying the best economy we have seen in decades. Raising the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour would kill up to 3.7 million American jobs, overturning all of the economic progress we have made. I will always support hardworking Americans, but mandating a $15 minimum wage is equivalent to firing the entire state of Maine. We need to focus on policies that create more jobs for hardworking Americans, increase wages, and expand opportunities.”

House Democrats started the process of passing a bill in March, but struggled to get support from more moderate members. In recent weeks, party leaders made some key concessions to get enough lawmakers on board. They increased the phase-in time from five to six years, and added a requirement for the government to study the economic impact of the bill after it’s in effect, giving Congress the ability to make adjustments in the future.

When fast food workers began widely protesting in 2012 for higher pay, a $15 minimum wage appeared overly ambitious. But since then, some cities and states have raised their local minimum wages to $15 an hour on their own — including Seattle, San Francisco, New York City and then all of California and New York State. Companies like McDonald’s and Walmart stopped lobbying against raising the federal minimum wage, and Amazon adopted a $15 minimum last year.

About 1.7 million people, or about 2.1% of all hourly paid workers, earned at or below the federal minimum wage last year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Republicans have by a wide majority not voiced support for the bill, concerned that raising the wage to $15 would result in too many jobs lost. White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow said in November he doesn’t think minimum wages are a good idea at all, raising doubts that President Donald Trump would sign it.

A Congressional Budget Office study published last week projected that the legislation would raise the wages of 27 million people and lead to 1.3 million fewer jobs, or 0.8% of total employment.

The US Chamber of Commerce has said it’s willing to meet in the middle on some higher minimum wage, but that $15 is out of the question.

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