White House Sees Risk Congress Reshapes Biden Minimum Wage Plan

The White House acknowledged that President Joe Biden’s proposed minimum-wage hike may not make it through Congress as he framed it, following objections from key moderate Democrats.

“It’s important, it’s a priority,” for Biden, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said at a briefing Wednesday of the president’s proposed phase-in of a $15 an hour minimum wage. Even so, Biden recognizes that the economic rescue bill that includes the wage increase “may not look exactly the same on the other end when it comes out” of Congress, she said.

Biden for the second time this month on Tuesday signaled he’s open to talks on boosting the minimum wage from the current $7.25 an hour, and how quickly to do so. He said in a town hall hosted by CNN that it’s “debatable” whether small businesses would see the benefits of the broader economy over time of the $15 minimum wage he supports.

Studies suggest the impact of job losses for smaller employers depends “how gradually you do it,” Biden said. Earlier this month, he said on CBS he was prepared to engage in “a separate negotiation on minimum wage” to work it up from the current level.

The comments underscored expectations that the $15 minimum hourly wage, phased in by 2025, that House Democrats have included in the $1.9 trillion Covid-19 relief bill now before Congress is at risk of failing to make the final legislation.

Senator Kyrsten Sinema, an Arizona Democrat, last week said that a minimum-wage hike shouldn’t be included in the pandemic-aid package. West Virgina Senator Joe Manchin, another moderate Democrat, said early this month that an $11 an hour minimum would be appropriate for his state.

“I do support a $15 minimum wage -- I think there is equally as much if not more evidence to dictate that it would grow the economy and long-run and medium-run benefit small businesses as well as large businesses,” Biden said Tuesday. “But that’s a debatable issue.”

Democratic congressional leaders aim to finish the Covid-19 relief bill by mid-March. If the minimum-wage proposal doesn’t make the bill as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer have said they want, it could potentially get wrapped into Biden’s longer-term economic recovery program. That’s slated to be unveiled next month.

Another option is a standalone bill. Republican Senator Mitt Romney of Utah said Tuesday that he and GOP Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas plan to submit their own minimum-wage legislation, suggesting potential scope for bipartisan negotiation.

While Romney said his bill would include a measure requiring employers to “verify the legal status of workers” -- something sure to be opposed by Democrats seeking to expand rights for undocumented residents -- he said he and Cotton favor a gradual bump in the minimum wage, with indexation to inflation.

Phasing the increase in is key, said Biden, who is set to meet Wednesday afternoon with labor-union leaders at the White House. He suggested a scenaro of a hike “between now and the year 2025, to $12 an hour, to $13 -- you double someone’s pay -- and the impact on business would be absolutely diminished, and it would grow the GDP, and it would grow and it would generate economic growth.”

Psaki said Biden was referring, with his $12 and $13 comments, to intermediate levels for the minimum wage on the way toward the $15 he backs.

Asked whether she was optimistic his plan will be in the Covid-19 package, Psaki said, “We’ll see. It’s up to members of Congress to determine what the final package looks like.”

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