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Workers Movement Forces Democrats To Increase Their Idea of Minimum Wage

While proposed $12 wage isn't enough, Democratic Party clearly chasing after workers who have put themselves in the street for the increased pay

People are leading and some leaders, at least, are beginning to follow. With a bold call for a $15 minimum wage, workers staged their largest day of national action last month and say that future actions will only grow. (Photo: Victor J. Blue/Bloomberg/Getty Images)

It's not fifteen, but the Democratic Party is angling to hang its hat on a $12 minimum wage as they attempt to harness the energy and enthusiasm created by the national low-wage workers movement that has been steadily building in recent years.

As The Hill reports on Tuesday:

Democrats are doubling down on their push for a national minimum wage hike ahead of the 2016 presidential election, as they look to make a campaign issue of an effort that met a stinging legislative defeat last year.

Party leaders are rallying behind new legislation that would raise the wage to $12 an hour, well beyond the $10.10 effort that failed to pass when Democrats controlled the Senate.

While the new bill has little chance to clear the GOP-dominated Congress, Democrats see the issue as a political winner for Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders — who have announced White House bids — as well as for potential presidential candidates. 

Polls show bipartisan support for raising the minimum wage, which has stood at $7.25 an hour since 2009.  

“I want to hear what the Republican presidential candidates have to say about this as well,” Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) said upon introducing the legislation last week.

As Common Dreams has covered in-depth, the fight for higher wages by fast food workers and employees at large retail chains like Wal-mart has gained strength in recent years with increasing numbers of the working poor demanding better pay, increased protections, and the right to organize or unionize on their own behalf.

With a bold call for a $15 minimum wage, workers staged their largest day of national action last month and say that future actions will only grow.

For Democrats, the push for a $12 minimum wage is largely understood as a political strategy to get Republicans on the record during the campaign season opposing the interests of low-income Americans. With many GOP lawmakers—some of whom have announced presidential bids—now standing in opposition to Sen. Murray's proposal, the maneuver appears to be working. The Hill offered this catalog of responses from Republican presidential contenders:

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) said last year that raising the minimum wage would be a “job-killing” disaster that would hit “young people, Hispanics, African-Americans and single moms.”

“The undeniable truth is if the president succeeded in raising the minimum wage, it would cost jobs from the most vulnerable,” he said.

“My problem with raising the minimum wage is not that I want to deny someone $10.10,” added Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), speaking at a donor event in January, according to Bloomberg News. “I’m worried about the people whose wages are going to go down to zero because you’ve made them more expensive than a machine.”

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) said the minimum wage doesn’t “serve a purpose,” in an interview last fall with the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

And Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) said last summer that the minimum wage is a “temporary” arrangement for young workers who aspire to better careers with higher-paying jobs.

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (R) suggested the minimum wage should be left to the “private sector” and questioned whether the federal government should get involved in setting a floor for earnings during a recent speech in South Carolina.

Meanwhile, Sen. Bernie Sanders, who announced his presidential campaign to challenge for the Democratic nomination last week, has been a vocal supporter of guaranteeing workers the right to earn something closer to a true living wage. Last week, at an event for the AFL-CIO, Sanders called the current minimum wage of a $7.25 an hour a "starvation wage" that is correctly seen as intolerable by workers.

"Anyone who works 40 hours in a week in America should not be in poverty," Sanders said. "That’s the simple reality."

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