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Cotton-Romney Effort to Tie Minimum Wage Hike to Undocumented Workers Denounced as 'Transparently Cynical Ploy'

"If you don’t support raising the minimum wage without racist dogwhistles attached, then you don’t support raising the minimum wage."

Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) questions Alejandro Mayorkas, nominee to be Secretary of Homeland Security, during a Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs confirmation hearing on Capitol Hill on January 19, 2021 in Washington, D.C.

Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) questions Alejandro Mayorkas, nominee to be Secretary of Homeland Security, during a Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs confirmation hearing on Capitol Hill on January 19, 2021 in Washington, D.C. (Photo: Joshua Roberts-Pool/Getty Images)

A progressive advocacy group of high net-worth individuals on Wednesday denounced Republican Sens. Mitt Romney and Tom Cotton for putting forth "a transparently cynical" proposal tying an increase of the federal minimum wage to a regressive crackdown on undocumented workers.

"Based on what we know now, this comes off as a transparently cynical ploy to keep the minimum wage depressed while also targeting undocumented workers."
—Morris Pearl, Patriotic Millionaires
Romney (R-Utah) and Cotton (R-Ark.) announced Tuesday they would be introducing a bill together that "gradually raises the minimum wage"—they did not specifiy over what time period or to what amount—and that the hike would come "while ensuring businesses cannot hire illegal immigrants." 

Cotton added that the increase would "go into effect after the pandemic has ended," a time point that is not known.

Using a familiar rightwing trope, Cotton also asserted that "Americans have to compete against millions of illegal immigrants who take illegally low wages under the table," a problem he said would be remedied "by requiring employers to verify the legal status of every worker," which employers are required to do already.

The Salt Lake Tribune reported that "the details won't come until next week, including how it will compare to the $15 an hour minimum now pushed by President Joe Biden."

"However," the outlet added, "Romney recently told Utah reporters that he would favor perhaps raising it to $10 an hour, up from $7.25, and set it to rise automatically with inflation after that."

According to Morris Pearl, chair of the Patriotic Millionaires and a former managing director of BlackRock, Romney and Cotton's proposal is deeply flawed.

"Anything less than $15 is unacceptable and inadequate, and any attempt to introduce a bill with a lower amount should be seen for what it is: fighting for lower wages for American workers," said Pearl. He further suggested that Romney and Cotton have their eyes on "where the political winds are blowing," seeing as inevitable a minimum wage hike, and "want to be on the right side of things while also trying to keep wages down."

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He added that "based on what we know now, this comes off as a transparently cynical ploy to keep the minimum wage depressed while also targeting undocumented workers."

"If they are truly concerned about America's small businesses, they should be working on what our businesses really need: consumers who make enough money to live on," said Pearl. "They can create those consumers by lifting the minimum wage to $15, giving 27 million Americans a raise."

Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-N.Y.) also criticized the Romney-Cotton plan on Wednesday.

"If you don't support raising the minimum wage without racist dogwhistles attached, then you don't support raising the minimum wage," tweeted Bowman.

"The Senate must pass a $15 minimum wage because it's the economic justice workers deserve," he said.

The Republicans' announcement came amid Democrats' ongoing intraparty fight over inclusion of $15 federal minimum wage legislation—the Raise the Wage Act—in the coronavirus rescue package. Right-wing Democrats Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona have announced their opposition to the legislation. Another possible obstacle are the Senate's strict reconciliation rules.

Economist Ben Zipperer with the Economic Policy Institute sees the Raise the Wage Act as "not just moral policy" but "also good economics."

"A $15 minimum wage by 2025 would generate $107 billion in higher wages for workers, boosting annual earnings for the average affected year-round worker by $3,300," he said in a statement last month.

"Since underpaid workers spend much of their extra earnings," he said, " this injection of wages will help stimulate the economy and spur greater business activity and job growth."

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