Republican Sens. Mitt Romney and Tom Cotton on Tuesday attempted to counter the popular push for a $15 federal minimum wage with legislation that would raise the national wage floor to just $10 by 2025 while also taking steps to ensure undocumented workers are excluded from the pay increase—a proposal that progressives roundly dismissed as an "insulting" non-starter.
Morris Pearl, chair of the Patriotic Millionaires, said in a statement that Romney (R-Utah) and Cotton's (R-Ark.) combination of xenophobia and a meager pay increase produced "an anti-immigrant, low-wage bill masquerading as an attempt to help American workers."
"The Romney/Cotton minimum wage bill is pathetic," said Pearl. "There is nowhere in the United States where $10 an hour is enough to live on today. That will be even more true in four years. While tens of millions of Americans live and work in poverty, this bill would increase wages for only 3.5 million workers. By comparison, the Raise the Wage Act would increase wages for nearly ten times as many Americans, 32 million."
Ohio congressional candidate Nina Turner slammed the proposal on Twitter, writing that "$15 is already the compromise position."
— Nina Turner (@ninaturner) February 23, 2021
Formally titled the Higher Wages for American Workers Act, the Republican legislation would gradually phase in a $10 federal minimum wage over the next four years and thereafter index it to inflation every two years. The minimum wage in Arkansas, Cotton's home state, is already $11 an hour.
Romney and Cotton's bill would also require employers to use E-Verify—a Department of Homeland Security (DHS) system—to ensure that companies don't hire undocumented workers and heighten penalties on business that continue to do so, measures that Romney's office said are designed to prevent undocumented people from benefiting from the minimum wage increase.
"This one makes my blood boil," tweeted Dorian Warren, president of advocacy group Community Change. "Romney and Cotton are offering a paltry minimum wage increase in exchange for throwing immigrants under the bus. They think U.S.-born workers will fall for this. They won't."
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Pearl echoed that criticism, calling the E-Verify requirements an attempt "to pit one group of workers against another to promote the xenophobic policies that Americans overwhelmingly rejected at the ballot box."
"Telling the American people to ignore the billionaires who have gotten even richer during the pandemic and instead focus their attention on the Main Street small businesses not yet using the E-Verify system is absurd," said Pearl.
The Romney-Cotton bill comes as progressives are working to ensure that the Raise the Wage Act of 2021—a proposal to hike the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2025—is included in the final coronavirus relief package that's currently being assembled in congressional committees.
The Senate parliamentarian is expected to rule this week on whether the Raise the Wage Act meets the requirements of budget reconciliation, a filibuster-proof process that the Democratic caucus is using to pass coronavirus relief without needing Republican support.
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), the chairman of the Senate Budget Committee and a long-time advocate of a $15 federal minimum wage, said over the weekend that he's "confident" the parliamentarian will rule in favor of the Raise the Wage Act.
As Common Dreams reported earlier Tuesday, Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.)—a key swing vote in the narrowly divided Senate—said that if the parliamentarian rules that the Raise the Act qualifies under reconciliation, he will introduce an amendment to lower the proposed $15 floor to $11.
Progressives swiftly and forcefully rejected that offer.
"This is unacceptable," said Rep. Mondaire Jones (D-N.Y.). "The $15 minimum wage is overwhelmingly popular with the American people. One person should not be allowed to hold relief hostage."