A Republican tries to save the minimum wage increase

Photo from CNN
Wednesday, April 2, 2014 - 10:00am

Again stepping into the role of compromise-seeker, Sen. Susan Collins of Maine is launching what may be a long-shot effort to forge bipartisan compromise over a minimum wage increase.

"I'm reaching out to members on both sides of the aisle about whether or not it's possible," the Republican told a handful of reporters Tuesday. "I don't know whether it is."

Collins laid out a possible framework she is floating in initial conversations:

• Wages: Increase the minimum wage to something higher than the current $7.25 an hour, but lower than the $10.10 that Democrats want.

• Hours: To bring in more Republicans, raise the number of hours that define "full-time" employees under Obamacare. Currently individuals working 30 hours or more are "full-time" under the law.

• Small business: Add an extension of small business tax credits.

This is the latest example of Collins' work toward finding space for a deal on large, divisive issues. She made one of the earliest proposals to avoid the government shutdown, spent weeks trying to find agreement on an unemployment benefits extension, and has regularly been a key vote allowing issues to come to the Senate floor.

For Collins, $7.25 is too low. But, $10.10 an hour is just too high.

"I've talked to employers in Maine who have said they would have to curb hiring and actually have to lay people off with that kind of increase," she said, "but they are open to a more modest increase, they could accommodate that."

But as Collins tries to find a middle ground, both sides of the debate continue digging in around polar positions.

"If (a bill) includes raising the minimum wage, then it's a bad idea to put people out of work," said Sen. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania. He and many other Republicans cite a Congressional Budget Office report which concluded that a minimum wage increase would cost the country hundreds of thousands of jobs.

Toomey was well known for his attempt at compromise over background checks on guns last year, but he insists he is not budging on the minimum wage.

"If you (increase it) on a smaller scale, that I suppose makes it less bad, but it's still bad," he said.

As Republicans exclaim "jobs," those on the left shout "poverty."

"That minimum wage pay of $7.25 an hour is really a starvation wage," said Sen. Bernie Sanders, the Vermont independent. He and many Democrats point out that the same CBO report concluded that raising the minimum wage to $10.10 would lift 900,000 Americans out of poverty, but a lower increase would have just one-third the effect.

He insists he won't settle for a penny less than $10.10.

"No, I strongly believe we need to have a $10.10 minimum wage."

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada took a similar stance in February. And what's more, Democrats have been unyielding toward many potential changes to Obamacare, including proposals to redefine "full-time" employees.

That leaves Collins in the middle.

Standing by herself outside the Senate doors, she smiled and stuck to her goal statement.

"I'm trying to see if (a potential compromise) could garner sufficient support," she told reporters.

Reid has said a minimum wage vote could come up in the Senate as soon as next week.

Asked for her timeline, Collins shrugged, "Well, it's coming up pretty fast."


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