US Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, & Pensions

Senate HELP Committee Chairman Harkin Opens Senate Debate on Bill to Raise Minimum Wage to $10.10

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

WASHINGTON, D.C.—Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA), Chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee, today opened Senate floor debate on the Minimum Wage Fairness Act, a bill he introduced to raise the federal minimum wage to $10.10 an hour in three steps, then provide for automatic, annual increases linked to changes in the cost of living. It would also gradually raise the minimum wage for tipped workers, which currently stands at just $2.13 an hour, to 70 percent of the regular minimum wage.

“When people who are working hard and playing by the rules must rely on food stamps and food banks to feed their children because their full-time wages trap them in poverty, that is unacceptable,” Harkin said. “In fact, it is un-American.  That is not what our great nation is supposed to be about.”

“America deserves a raise. The Minimum Wage Fairness Act will not only help those workers directly getting a raise, but by putting billions of dollars into the hands of consumers who are going to go out and spend it, the bill will pump money into Main Street businesses, too. It’s a winning policy for everyone,” Harkin added. “Raising the minimum wage is the most commonsense thing we can do to give people a fair shot at joining the middle class and achieving the American dream, and I hope that all of my colleagues will do the right thing and allow us to proceed to debate on this important legislation.” 

Read more about the bill here

Chairman Harkin’s remarks, as prepared for delivery, are as follows.

“I rise today in strong support of critical legislation that will be before the Senate this week – my bill to raise the national minimum wage. 

“This legislation is about economic fairness and giving a boost to the economy, but it is also about values. It is a core American value that no one who works full time should ever have to raise a family in poverty.

“But today, sadly, we are falling far short of that ideal. Tens of millions of hardworking Americans are struggling just to keep a roof over their heads, to pay their heating bill, to find extra funds for a new pair of shoes for a growing child, or even to cobble together enough change to take a bus rather than walking miles to work. 

“If you are a minimum wage worker, your paycheck has stayed the same since 2009, the last time we had an increase in the minimum wage. However, all of your costs have gone up. The costs of electricity, rent, auto repair, food, childcare, and mass transit have all gone up. The numbers just don’t add up, and families can’t make ends meet.

“When people who are working hard and playing by the rules must rely on food stamps and food banks to feed their children because their full-time wages trap them in poverty, that is unacceptable. In fact, it is un-American. That is not what our great nation is supposed to be about.

“America deserves a raise.  That’s why I am pleased that the Senate will be bringing my bill to the floor this week.  The Minimum Wage Fairness Act will raise the national minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10 an hour in three annual steps; it will link the minimum wage to the cost of living in the future; and it will provide for a raise in the minimum wage for tipped workers for the first time in more than 20 years.

“Increasing the national minimum wage benefits everyone.  Most directly, it helps the 28 million workers who will get a raise. These are not just the people making exactly $7.25. Almost everyone who makes less than $10.10 an hour--and many who earn just above $10.10--will get a raise.  Raising the wage doesn’t just help these families, of course, it helps their kids. There are 14 million kids who will benefit from raising the minimum wage--14 million kids who will have a better start in life and a brighter future when their parents have a higher paycheck or more time to spend helping them grow.

“Raising the minimum wage also benefits our economy.  Today, businesses are hurting because their customers—who are also workers – don’t have money to spend.   That’s a problem we can solve with a higher minimum wage. When people in lower wage jobs get more money, what do they do? They don't go to Europe, they don't buy private islands and private jets, they don’t buy stock options. They spend their money immediately the local economy, on Main Street, where the small businesses are. That generates economic activity, and creates jobs. The Economic Policy Institute estimates that my bill will put $35 billion in the hands of millions of workers. When they go out and spend it, it will pump an additional $22 billion into GDP, supporting 85,000 new jobs as the raise is phased in over three years.

“Finally, raising the minimum wage benefits each and every one of us as taxpayers. After all, it is we the taxpayers who are paying hundreds of billions of dollars a year to subsidize the low wages of giant, profitable companies – companies that pay so little that their workers have to rely on public benefits programs just to make ends meet. 

“When we raise the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour, more than 3 million people will no longer need food stamps—which will save taxpayers $4.6 billion a year, according to analysis by the Center for American Progress. 

“Raising the national minimum wage is truly a policy that benefits everyone. And Americans understand that.  Let's look at the polling data. Earlier this year, USA Today and the Pew Research Center released the results of a poll testing public opinion on increasing the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour. It shows that 73 percent of all voters want to raise the minimum wage, and that 90 percent of Democrats, 71 percent of Independents, and even 53 percent of Republicans say we ought to raise the minimum wage to $10.10. 

“In the face of such overwhelming evidence about the benefits of a raise, and such widespread popular support, I am mystified by how vehemently my Republican colleagues oppose this proposal. I think they must know that they don’t really have firm ground to stand on, because I see them keep relying on the same old outdated, disproven arguments against giving America a raise. 

“I plan to come back to the floor later today and refute some of these arguments in more detail.  But for now I think it’s safe to say that none of these opposition arguments provide a compelling reason to oppose a policy that will give tens of millions of working Americans a raise, boost our overall economy, create jobs, pull millions out of poverty, and reduce taxpayer spending on public benefits. Raising the minimum wage is the most commonsense thing we can do to give people a fair shot at joining the middle class and achieving the American dream, and I hope that all of my colleagues will do the right thing and allow us to proceed to debate on this important legislation.” 

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