Pa.’s Fitzpatrick votes with Dems — again — this time for $15-an-hour minimum wage

An SEIU activist rallies for a $15/hr. minimum wage, which was one of the policies that F&M researchers polled in their most recent public opinion survey. (Stephen Melkisethian/Flickr Commons)

WASHINGTON — The U.S. House on Thursday voted to hike the federal minimum wage to $15 per hour by 2025. 

The measure has little chance of being enacted by the GOP-led Senate, but will be widely touted by Democrats heading into the 2020 campaign season. The current federal minimum wage is less than half of that amount — it has been stalled at $7.25 since 2009. This month marked a record for the longest period without raising the minimum wage since it was enacted. 

“America’s workers deserve a raise,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said Thursday ahead of the vote. 

The legislation passed the chamber by a vote of 231-199, largely along partisan lines. U.S. Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick, of the Bucks County-based 1st Congressional District, was one of three Republicans who voted in favor of the bill; six Democrats opposed it. 

A $15-per-hour minimum wage stands to boost the pay of about 17 million workers nationwide, according to a recent report from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office. Another 10 million workers otherwise earning slightly more than $15 per hour might see their wages rise as well.

The number of people with an annual income below the poverty line in 2025 would fall by 1.3 million, the report states.

“The Raise the Wage Act is not just good for workers, it’s good for the economy,” House Education and Labor Committee Chairman Bobby Scott, D-Va., said on the House floor. Scott is the lead sponsor of the bill. 

House Democrats say the measure would provide major benefits for workers back in their districts. 

“The federal minimum wage hasn’t changed in more than a decade — the longest period in U.S. history,”  U.S. Rep. Madeleine Dean, D-4th District, said in a statement. “Meanwhile, prices — especially on essentials like housing, healthcare, and education — have gone through the roof.

“Right now, there is no place in America where full-time workers making the federal minimum wage can afford the basic necessities for themselves and their families. Raising the minimum wage is a crucial step toward righting this imbalance and creating a fairer, more decent economy — one in which no one working full time lives in poverty,” Dean said.

Pennsylvania’s $7.25 an hour minimum wage, which is the same as the federal minimum, similarly has not been raised since 2009.

During this year’s debate over the state budget, Republicans who control the 253-member General Assembly stymied efforts by Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf and his legislative allies to boost the minimum to $12 an hour in July and then to $15 an hour by 2025.

On Capitol Hill, House Republicans and other critics of the legislation have stressed the potential to strain small businesses and spur job losses. 

The CBO analysis estimates that about 1.3 million workers — and possibly up to 3.7 million — could lose their jobs under a $15-per-hour minimum wage scenario. Still, CBO noted that there’s “considerable uncertainty” about how the minimum wage increase could impact employment.

“Many studies have found little or no effect of minimum wages on employment, but many others have found substantial reductions in employment,” the report says.

Rep. Virginia Foxx, R-N.C., the top Republican on the Education and Labor Committee, called it a “radical, risky and unnecessary bill.” Boosting the federal minimum wage by 107 percent, she said, is a “harmful and unprecedented mandate.” 

Rep. Bill Huizenga, R-Mich., called the legislation “misguided” and warned in a statement that it could make it harder for younger workers to get work experience: “Instead of government mandates, Washington should focus on pro-growth policies that strengthen small business job creation and reduce regulatory barriers that hinder innovation, opportunity, and economic expansion.”

In the Senate, Vermont senator and 2020 presidential contender Bernie Sanders has introduced a companion version of the House minimum wage bill. He’s got 31 Democratic co-sponsors, but the bill isn’t expected to see a vote under Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. 

Democrats on Capitol Hill are hoping the bill will give voters a glimpse of what’s possible if they elect a Democrat to the White House in 2020. Most of the Democrats vying for the nomination have endorsed the $15-per-hour minimum wage, Vox reported

An award-winning political journalist with more than 25 years' experience in the news business, John L. Micek is The Pennsylvania Capital-Star's Editor-in-Chief. Before joining The Capital-Star, Micek spent six years as Opinion Editor at PennLive/The Patriot-News in Harrisburg, Pa., where he helped shape and lead a multiple-award-winning Opinion section for one of Pennsylvania's most-visited news websites. Prior to that, he spent 13 years covering Pennsylvania government and politics for The Morning Call of Allentown, Pa. His career has also included stints covering Congress, Chicago City Hall and more municipal meetings than he could ever count, Micek contributes regular analysis and commentary to a host of broadcast outlets, including CTV-News in Canada and talkRadio in London, U.K., as well as "Face the State" on CBS-21 in Harrisburg, Pa.; "Pennsylvania Newsmakers" on WGAL-8 in Lancaster, Pa., and the Pennsylvania Cable Network. His weekly column on American politics is syndicated nationwide to more than 800 newspapers by Cagle Syndicate.

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