of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., holds a news
conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday,
July 17, 2019.
WASHINGTON — House
Democrats approved legislation Thursday to raise the
federal minimum wage for the first time in a decade, to
$15 an hour, transforming an issue that once splintered
the party into a benchmark for the 2020 election.
Even though the bill has
little chance of passing the Republican-led Senate, or
being signed into law by President Donald Trump, the
outcome pushes the phased-in rate to the forefront as the
new standard, one already in place at some leading U.S.
While the increase would
boost pay for some 30 million low-wage workers, intended
as one answer to income inequality, passage was assured
only after centrist Democrats won adjustments to the bill.
Reluctant to embrace the party's left flank, they pushed
for changes, including a slower six-year phase-in of the
wage. It's a reminder of moderates' influence on policy,
but also the limits.
candidates from the presidential all the way down to the
school board," said Mary Kay Henry, the president of
the Service Employees International Union whose members
cheered passage from the House gallery. To address stark
income inequality, she said, "they have to raise
A hike in the $7.25 hourly
wage has been a top Democratic campaign promise, and what
Majority Leader Steny Hoyer of Maryland called Thursday
the "right thing to do."
deserve a raise," said Speaker Nancy Pelosi at a
press conference with labor leaders and employees ahead of
voting. Lifting a young girl into her arms, Pelosi said,
"This is what it's all about... It's about
The last increase in the
federal minimum occurred 10 years ago, the longest stretch
without an adjustment since the wage floor was first
enacted during the 1930s. The wage protection covers
millions of low-wage workers in all types of jobs.
Under the House bill, for
the first time, tipped workers would be required to be
paid the same as others earning the minimum, boosting
their pay to $15 an hour, too. It's now $2.13, in what
labor scholars call a jarring remnant from the legacy of
slavery, when newly freed workers received only tips.
Republicans in the House
balked at the wage hike, which would be the first since
Democrats last controlled the majority. Just three
Republicans joined most Democrats in passage, on a 231-199
During the floor debate,
Rep. Ronald Wright, R-Texas, called it a "disastrous
Republicans have long
maintained that states and municipalities are already able
to raise the wage beyond the federal minimum, and many
have done so. They warn higher wages will cost jobs,
especially among smaller business owners.
Wright said the bill should
be renamed the "Raising Unemployment for American
While opponents have long
said higher minimum wages lead to job losses, economists
say new studies are casting doubt on those long-held
A report from the
nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office sent mixed
messages. It said more than 30 million workers would see
bigger paychecks with a higher wage, lifting more than 1
million workers from poverty. It also said between 1
million and 3 million jobs could be lost.
At time of wage stagnation
and grave income inequality that's playing out on the
campaign trail, Democrats led by Rep. Bobby Scott, D-Va.,
the chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee,
are willing to accept that tradeoff.
But swift passage earlier
this year ran into trouble when centrists and those
Democrats from rural regions and Southern states raised
While the new Democratic
majority is often seen as pushing the House leftward, many
of the freshmen are actually moderates from districts won
by Trump in 2016. Those same freshmen will face some of
the toughest reelection races in 2020.
The moderate Blue Dog
Coalition, led by Rep. Stephanie Murphy, D-Fla., advocated
for changes to the wage bill. With some two dozen members,
the caucus has enough votes to deny Pelosi a majority and
sink the legislation.
They wanted the longer
phase of six years instead of five. And they included an
amendment requiring a report from the General
Accountability Office, after the first phases of the wage
hike, to assess the economic impact on jobs and whether
wages should be fully raised to $15.
"I've always been one
to believe compromise is not a dirty word," Murphy
said in an interview. "It has helped us get things
Most members of the Blue
Dogs and another centrist caucus, the New Democratic
Coalition, ended up voting for the bill. They also held
the line against a Republican alternative.
Progressives and labor
leaders said they could live with the changes. Rep. Mark
Pocan, D-Wis., co-chairman of the Congressional
Progressive Caucus, said the bill is popular back home and
far from Trump's characterization of Democrats as
The idea of a $15 hourly
wage, "somehow that's an out-of-the-mainstream
thought?" he said. "Of course not."
Advocates who have been
trying to boost wages for workers for years said they were
stunned at how quickly the debate shifted.
Sara Jayaraman, president
of the Restaurant Opportunities Center United, group
founded with displaced workers from the World Trade Center
after the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks, said boosting the
tipped wages in particular, for waiters and other tipped
workers, was a milestone.
It's "historic moment
and a historic bill," she said. "Once you start
raising workers' wages it's hard to go back."
2020 Dems grapple with how to
pay for 'Medicare for All'
Democratic presidential candidate, Sen. Bernie
Sanders, I-Vt., speaks about his "Medicare for All"
proposal Wednesday, July 17, 2019, at George
Washington University in Washington.
WASHINGTON — Democratic
presidential candidates trying to appeal to progressive
voters with a call for "Medicare for All" are wrestling
with the thorny question of how to pay for such a
dramatic overhaul of the U.S. health care system.
Bernie Sanders, the chief proponent of Medicare for All,
says such a remodel could cost up to $40 trillion over a
decade. He's been the most direct in talking about how
he'd cover that eye-popping amount, including
considering a tax hike on the middle class in exchange
for healthcare without co-payments or deductibles —
which, he contends, would ultimately cost Americans less
than the current healthcare system.
His rivals who also support Medicare for All, however,
have offered relatively few firm details so far about
how they'd pay for a new government-run, single-payer
system beyond raising taxes on top earners. As the
health care debate dominates the early days of the
Democratic primary, some experts say candidates won't be
able to duck the question for long.
"It's not just the rich" who would be hit with new cost
burdens to help make single-payer health insurance a
reality, said John Holahan, a health policy fellow at
the nonpartisan Urban Institute thinktank. Democratic
candidates campaigning on Medicare for All should offer
more specificity about how they would finance it,
Sanders himself has not thrown his weight behind a
single strategy to pay for his plan, floating a list of
options that include a 7.5% payroll tax on employers and
higher taxes on the wealthy. But his list amounts to a
more public explanation of how he would pay for Medicare
for All than what other Democratic presidential
candidates who also back his single-payer legislation
Kamala Harris, who has repeatedly tried to clarify her
position on Medicare for All, vowed this week she
wouldn't raise middle-class taxes to pay for a shift to
single-payer coverage. The California senator told CNN
that "part of it is going to have to be about Wall
Street paying more."
Her contention prompted criticism that she wasn't being
realistic about what it would take to pay for Medicare
for All. Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet, a rival
Democratic presidential candidate, said Harris' claim
that Medicare for All would not involve higher taxes on
the middle class was "impossible," though he stopped
short of calling her dishonest and said only that
candidates "need to be clear" about their policies.
A Harris aide later said she had suggested a tax on Wall
Street transactions as only one potential way to finance
Medicare for All, and that other options were available.
The aide insisted on anonymity in order to speak
candidly about the issue.
Another Medicare for All supporter, New York Sen.
Kirsten Gillibrand, would ask individuals to pay between
4% and 5% of their income toward the new system and ask
their employers to match that level of spending.
Gillibrand's proposal, shared by an aide who requested
anonymity to discuss the campaign's thinking, could
supplement the revenue generated by that change with
options that hit wealthy individuals and businesses,
including a new Wall Street tax.
Gillibrand is a cosponsor of Sanders' legislation adding
a small tax to financial transactions, while Harris is
New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, who also has signed onto
Medicare for All legislation but said on the campaign
trail that he would pursue incremental steps as well,
could seek to raise revenue for the proposal by raising
some individual tax rates, changing capital gains taxes
or expanding the estate tax, according to an aide who
spoke candidly about the issue on condition of
The campaign of Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who
used last month's debate to affirm her support for
Sanders' single-payer health care plan, did not respond
to a request for more details on potential financing
options for Medicare for All.
Meanwhile, Sanders argued during a high-profile Medicare
for All speech this week that high private health
insurance premiums, deductibles and copayments, all of
which would be eliminated by his proposal, amount to
"nothing less than taxes on the middle class."
Medicare for All opponents are also under pressure to
explain how they'd pay for changes to the health
insurance market. Former Vice President Joe Biden is
advocating for a so-called "public option" that would
allow people to decide between a government-financed
plan or a private one. He would pay for his $750 billion
proposal by repealing tax cuts for the wealthy that
President Donald Trump and the GOP cut in 2017, and by
raising capital gains taxes on the wealthy.