Sanders Push for $17 Minimum Wage Resurrects Pay Raise Roadblock

By Diego Areas Munhoz

July 7, 2023

  • Division over top line number, tip wage stalling action
  • Federal minimum pay stagnant for longest period in history

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) is prioritizing a bill that would raise the federal minimum wage to $17 per hour, but he’s running into roadblocks inside and outside of the Democratic caucus highlighting the gap lawmakers have struggled to bridge to raise the benchmark over the past decade.

The Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee chairman announced his intentions in May with a planned markup on June 14, but seven weeks later the panel passed a slate of Democratic priorities for labor legislation, including an overhaul to laws governing unionization, but not Sanders’ minimum wage bill.

“You can’t do everything every day,” Sanders told Bloomberg Law when asked why the bill wasn’t included in the mix. “We are going to deal with minimum wage.”

The challenge to clear the legislation in the committee, never mind the full Senate and a Republican-controlled House, shows the difficulty Congress has faced for over a decade to raise the federal minimum wage above $7.25. While there is overwhelming popular consensus that the figure is too low in today’s economy, progressives’ reluctance to settle for a number lower than $15 and conservatives’ unwillingness to go that high has kept low-wage workers in 20 states without a pay raise since 2010.

One major challenge facing Sanders in his pursuit to bump up minimum pay is whether he has the full support of Senate Democrats. Eight senators who caucus with Democrats, including New Hampshire’s Maggie Hassan who sits on the HELP committee, voted against a $15 minimum wage bill’s inclusion in the 2021 Covid-19 rescue package, and there isn’t enough Republican support for the latest effort to reach the 60-vote threshold needed to pass most legislation in the chamber.

While Hassan’s office hasn’t responded to multiple requests for comment, other senators who opposed the previous bill said they’d have to analyze Sanders’ new proposal. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) told Bloomberg Law Sanders “knows” he wouldn’t vote for a $17 minimum wage bill. read more