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Minimum Wage Debate Awaits Unemployment Extension Vote

The Senate debate on raising the federal minimum wage might slip until next week, in part because it’s unclear how long it will take the chamber to finish work on an unemployment insurance extension .  

Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Chairman Tom Harkin has championed raising the minimum wage up to $10.10 an hour, along with an increase in tip wages. The Iowa Democrat told reporters on a conference call Monday that floor timing wasn’t clear.  

“Hopefully we’ll be on the floor this week with it. Now, whether or not we can get a vote yet this week by the close of business on Thursday or not, I just don’t know yet,” Harkin said. Harkin was conceding one obviously reality; there’s no expectation of the Senate conducting legislative business on Friday. At least on the votes to limit debate, Harkin expects to having the backing from his side of the aisle, leaving open the question of whether enough GOP senators will back bringing it up.  

“I think we’re pretty close to having all of the Democrats on board, save maybe one,” Harkin said “And I’m hopeful we can get all of them, at least on a cloture petition on at least moving the bill. They might not be with us exactly … on the final vote, but I think we’d have enough.  

“The key is to get over the filibuster by the Republicans,” Harkin said. “I’m pretty confident we’ll have all the Democrats for that.”  

Representatives from the National Employment Law Project are among those making a bid to find the votes for the minimum wage increase, having reached out to nine GOP Senate offices in an effort to get to the all-important 60 vote supermajority.  

“If we don’t have 60 votes on the first vote, we’ll continue to come back again and again,” Harkin said, while dismissing the suggestion the effort was primarily about driving the Democratic base in November.  

Harkin again seemed to have no interest in negotiating down the top-line minimum wage hike from $10.10 per hour, and he said the current tip wage “truly is unconscionable” at $2.13 an hour.  

“If there are other things to be negotiated, fine,” Harkin said.

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