The White House is coming under pressure from liberal Democrats in the House and Senate to press for a minimum wage hike as high as $10.10.
Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) argues President Obama “missed the mark” in calling to raise the minimum wage to $9 in his State of the Union address, and his staff met with White House staff last week to argue for a higher number.
The veteran senator, who will retire at the end of this Congress, is working with Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.) on legislation that would raise the minimum wage to $10.10 over three years and then index future increases to inflation.
“Well, we’re going to introduce our own bill on it,” Harkin told The Hill on Tuesday. “I’m going to be in discussions with them because I think they missed the mark, but people make mistakes.”
Besides Harkin and Miller – a confidant of House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) – Democrats backing a higher minimum wage hike include Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (N.Y.) and Rep. Charles Rangel (N.Y.).
Obama’s own push to raise the minimum wage faces significant hurdles in Congress.
The Republican-controlled House is unlikely to pick up the measure, meaning action will depend on the Senate’s Democratic majority.
“We should be focused on policies that create jobs, not ones that make it harder for folks to enter the workforce, so a minimum wage bill will not likely proceed in the House,” one senior GOP aide said.
Some conservative Democrats could also have reservations about raising the minimum wage, given opposition from the business community.
The criticism from Harkin and other liberals shows Obama must also worry about his left flank. Harkin, the chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, will play a key role in the debate because his panel has jurisdiction on the issue, and it could be difficult to bring a bill to the floor without his support.
The minimum wage now stands at $7.25 per hour, but Obama argued in his State of the Union address that raising it to $9 was necessary to ensure a better future for poor people struggling to make it to the middle class.
Raising the minimum wage to $9 by the end of 2015 would be roughly a 25 percent change.
Those arguing for a higher minimum wage say the hike is necessary to keep up with inflation.
In 1968, they point out, the minimum wage was $1.60 – which would be about $10.56 in 2013 dollars. But past minimum wages have also been below the current minimum wage in terms of their spending power. In 1938, when it was first introduced, the minimum wage was $0.25 or about $4.07 in 2013 dollars.
Congress last hiked the minimum wage in 2007, from $5.15 to $7.25 per hour.
Harkin argues Obama himself called for a $9.50 minimum wage in his 2008 presidential campaign.
He and Miller plan to unveil their bill in a matter of weeks, according to aides. Harkin also says he’s begun negotiating with the White House about where to set the rate. Harkin aides insisted the senator would not budge from introducing a minimum wage increase bill at $10.10 an hour.
“It will be introduced at $10.10,” one of these aides said.
Rangel, who co-sponsored a bill in 2012 to raise the minimum wage to $10, said he was thankful that Obama is making an increase a priority, but that the number could be higher.
“No, no, no,” Rangel said when asked if $9 an hour was sufficient to raise the minimum wage. “But this is so much better than not having his support.”
Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) voted against raising the minimum wage to $7.25 and argued after Obama’s State of the Union address that the hike would cut into job growth.
“Listen, I’ve been dealing with the minimum wage issue for the last 28 years that I’ve been in elective office,” Boehner said a day after Obama’s address. “And when you raise the price of employment, guess what happens? You get less of it.”
Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) said that while he’d prefer a $10.10 minimum wage, Obama settled on $9 because that appeared politically feasible.
“I would like for it to be but I don’t think it will be,” Cleaver said when asked if he would like an increase of $10.10. “I think it’s going to be tough to do $7.50, and we got to do it anyway.”