WASHINGTON -- The House voted 233-199 Thursday to raise the federal minimum wage to $15 per hour incrementally over six years, but the Democratic-led effort was almost derailed by divisions between progressives and moderates.
Progressives on Wednesday had issued a last-minute warning to their moderate colleagues not to help Republicans make any last-minute changes to the bill through the procedural maneuver known as a motion to recommit, or MTR. If moderate Democrats helped the GOP add what the progressives considered poison pill language to the measure, members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus were prepared to vote against it, the group's co-chairs, Reps. Mark Pocan and Pramila Jayapal said.
The MTR would add language to exempt small businesses with fewer than 10 employees or annual gross income of less than $1 million from implementing the $15 minimum wage.
Ultimately, Democrats defeated the MTR Republicans offered, 210-218, which cleared the way for a smooth but partisan final passage.
The legislation, dubbed the Raise the Wage Act, has been a top priority for many House Democrats and came to the floor with 205 cosponsors. Sponsored by Education and Labor Chairman Robert C. Scott, the bill was voted out of his committee along party lines in March.
The federal minimum wage has been raised nine times since first enacted in 1938 . The latest increase was in 2009 to the current level of $7.25 per hour. Currently 29 states, the District of Columbia, Guam and the U.S. Virgin Islands have higher rates (but all are below $15 an hour).
The original bill would have incrementally increased the current $7.25 federal minimum wage to $15 over five years, but a manager's amendment folded into the bill upon adoption of the rule for debate extended the timeline to six years.
Under the measure, once the minimum wage reaches $15 per hour it would continue to be adjusted for inflation. The bill also increases the sub-minimum wage for tipped employees, teenagers and employees with disabilities until they all equal the general minimum wage.
A movement advocating for an increased minimum wage has grown in recent years. Fast food workers and others have walked off the job to demand a living wage and the right to unionize. Strikes emerged in cities across the country as workers embraced the "Fight for $15" rallying cry. In 2016 the Democratic party adopted the $15 per hour minimum wage as part of the party platform for the 2016 elections.
A Congressional Budget Office report on the bill, released earlier this month, said that more than doubling the federal minimum wage to $15 per hour could cost 1.3 million jobs when fully implemented by 2025, though millions would see higher wages and the number of Americans living in poverty would decrease.