In a counterpoint to the Democrat push for an hourly minimum wage hike to $15, Sens. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) and Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) on Tuesday announced their own bill that would raise the minimum wage to $10 an hour by 2025.
Called the Higher Wages for American Workers Act (pdf), Cotton and Romney’s bill would gradually raise the federal minimum wage over four years while tightening enforcement on hiring illegal immigrants to ensure the wage boost only goes to legal workers.
“We must create opportunities for American workers and protect their jobs, while also eliminating one of the key drivers of illegal immigration,” Romney said in a statement.
Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) speaks to reporters as senators take a dinner break while arguments continue in former President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial, at the Capitol in Washington on Feb. 10, 2021. (J. Scott Applewhite/AP Photo)
Besides holding off with the wage hike until the COVID-19 emergency is over, the bill also features protections for small businesses with fewer than 20 employees by giving them a longer phase-in period for the increased minimum wage.
“For millions of Americans, the rising cost of living has made it harder to make ends meet, but the federal minimum wage has not been increased in more than ten years,” Romney said, noting that the bill would “raise the floor for workers without costing jobs.”
A February study (pdf) by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) found that increasing the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2025 would cost 1.4 million jobs over four years. At the same time, it would raise wages for around 27 million people.
An earlier, 2019 study by the CBO (pdf), examined the impact of a $10 an hour minimum wage, and found that it would have little impact on employment, while boosting the wages of some 3.5 million workers.
“American workers today compete against millions of illegal immigrants for too few jobs with wages that are too low—that’s unfair,” Cotton said in a statement. “Ending the black market for illegal labor will open up jobs for Americans. Raising the minimum wage will allow Americans filling those jobs to better support their families. Our bill does both.”
Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) questions President-elect Joe Biden’s nominee for Secretary of Defense, retired Army Gen. Lloyd Austin at his confirmation hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, on Jan. 19, 2021. (Greg Nash-Pool/Getty Images)
The bill mandates E-Verify for all employers, with implementation spread out over 18 months to give small businesses additional time to comply. It also imposes stricter penalties on employers that hire unauthorized aliens.
Cotton and Romney’s bill, which is similar in its target level to an $11 an hour minimum wage proposal put forward by Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), is a counterproposal to Democrats who are seeking to raise the minimum wage to $15 per hour by 2025 under President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion relief package.
Biden’s bill needs Manchin’s vote to pass via budget reconciliation, a process that would allow it to clear the Senate without the need for any Republican votes. But Manchin has indicated he would not approve a minimum wage hike to $15.
It also remains unclear if a federal minimum wage hike could be approved as part of the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus stimulus package via the budget reconciliation process. The Senate parliamentarian is expected to rule on the matter before the bill is put to a vote. Manchin said he would propose the $11 amendment if the parliamentarian rules that the hike could be legislated via reconciliation.
Economists have for years hotly debated the issue of raising the minimum wage, with advocates arguing that raising salaries will boost purchasing power and the added spending will lift the economy, while opponents argue it will hurt businesses and lead to higher unemployment.