Policy: Labor

Minimum-wage vote probably delayed in Senate, Tom Harkin says

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The Senate probably will delay until late March a vote on a proposal to raise the U.S. minimum wage to $10.10 an hour, said bill sponsor Senator Tom Harkin, an Iowa Democrat.

The delay until senators return March 24 from a week-long break provides more time for labor unions to organize support for the measure, said a Senate Democratic leadership aide, who sought anonymity to discuss strategy.

Another consequence of the holdup is that it gives more time to Senator Susan Collins, a Maine Republican, who said she’s seeking bipartisan support for a less costly measure.

“I haven’t settled on particular numbers,” Collins said in an interview. “I’m just trying to figure out what would do the most, in terms of not creating disincentives for employers to create jobs, and to help some of the low-income families.”

Senator Joe Manchin, a West Virginia Democrat, said he’s meeting with Collins and other lawmakers to find an agreement. Manchin said he supported an increase to $10.10.

“I’m very much in favor of raising 1 million people out of poverty, but I don’t want to sacrifice jobs,” Manchin said in an interview.

Obama priority

An increase to $10.10 from the current minimum wage of $7.25 an hour is a priority for President Obama. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat, had previously said he planned for the chamber to consider the bill around March 6.

Many Republicans including House Speaker John Boehner oppose an increase, saying it would lead companies to cut jobs. A report last week by the Congressional Budget Office, Congress’s nonpartisan research arm, said the Democratic plan may cost as many as 500,000 jobs.

The National Retail Federation and U.S. Chamber of Commerce also oppose a minimum wage increase. Companies including Darden Restaurants Inc., which owns Red Lobster and Olive Garden, cite a potential minimum wage increase as a risk factor in filings with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. Others, such as Costco Wholesale Corp., back the change, saying it would help reduce turnover and increase productivity.

CBO report

The CBO report also said raising the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour may lift about 900,000 Americans out of poverty, supporting Democrats’ arguments in favor of the legislation.

An increase to $9 an hour would probably cost about 300,000 jobs and raise 100,000 Americans out of poverty, the report said.

A Jan. 8 poll by Quinnipiac University found that 71 percent of Americans, including 52 percent of Republicans, support a higher minimum wage.

Harkin said he won’t support a proposal raising the wage to less than $10.10 an hour. He said the 39 percent increase was about the same percentage as when lawmakers last passed an increase in 2007.

“I’m not compromising on the amount,” he told reporters. “I will never support an increase in the minimum wage that still keeps people below the poverty line. We’ve never done that in the past, and we’re not going to do that now. We’re going to get above the poverty line, and that’s $10.10.”

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