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Republican senators pitch $10 minimum wage

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Republican Senators Mitt Romney and Tom Cotton are making their own pitch to raise the federal minimum wage as Democrats' efforts move forward in a coronavirus relief bill, but the plan falls short of several Democratic lawmaker promises — a sign it's unlikely to get bipartisan support.

The proposal unveiled by the two senators Wednesday would gradually increase the minimum wage from its present $7.25 an hour to $10 an hour by 2025. That amount would then be indexed to inflation every two years. 

The plan, dubbed the Higher Wages for American Workers Act, also creates a slower phase-in for raising the minimum wage for small businesses with fewer than 20 employees amid concerns by some that raising wages could put additional cost burdens on them. At the same time, it prevents any increase to the federal minimum wage during the coronavirus pandemic, so the first increase would be to $8 an hour following the crisis. 

"For millions of Americans, the rising cost of living has made it harder to make ends meet, but the federal minimum wage has not been increased in more than ten years," said Romney, of Utah, in a statement.

At the same time, the proposal ties the minimum wage increase to efforts to combat the hiring of illegal immigrants in the United States.

"American workers today compete against millions of illegal immigrants for too few jobs with wages that are too low—that's unfair," said Cotton, of Arkansas, in a statement. "Ending the black market for illegal labor will open up jobs for Americans. Raising the minimum wage will allow Americans filling those jobs to better support their families. Our bill does both."

The proposal would raise civil and criminal penalties on employers that hire unauthorized immigrants and on those who violate the paperwork requirements confirming a person is authorized to work in the United States.

It would also require all employers to start using E-Verify — a federal online system that allows employers to confirm their employees are eligible to work — over the next 18 months, which would give small businesses time to comply, and outlines $100 million annually in funding to ensure E-Verify would not be affected by a government shutdown. The proposal would also require workers 18 and older to provide photo ID to employers to cross-reference with any photo available in the E-Verify system in an effort to prevent fraud, and would authorize states to share driver license information, including photos, to improve the E-Verify system. 

At least 22 states already have minimum wages of at least $10 or higher, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, while other states are already on track to gradually increase the minimum wage to more than $10 over time. At least 22 states have a minimum wage set at $7.25 or do not have a minimum wage. 

Romney and Cotton's two-part proposal comes as Democrats move forward with a minimum wage increase in the American Rescue Plan as proposed by President Joe Biden. The provision in the House bill would gradually increase the minimum wage starting at $11 this year to $15 by 2025. A separate bill introduced by Democrats would do the same, as it's unclear whether the minimum wage provision can be included in the Senate bill as it relates to legislation passed through budget reconciliation — the process currently being employed for the covid relief package.

The House Budget Committee voted to advance the coronavirus relief bill, including the wage increase, Monday despite pushback from Republicans. The full relief package is on track for a full vote in the House by the end of the week. The Senate parliamentarian is expected to issue a ruling on whether the minimum wage provision can be part of the package this week.

"The first step is to go before reconciliation before the parliamentarian," said Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer on Tuesday. "That will occur on Wednesday. Bernie Sanders and I are arguing very strongly for $15 and for it to be reconcilable. We are going to await her judgment before we go any further."

Two Democratic Senators, Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, have voiced opposition to including a minimum wage increase in the relief package. Manchin has suggested it should be raised to $11 an hour. 

The last time the federal minimum wage was increased was in 2009, as part of an amendment that gradually raised the minimum wage from 2007. 

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