$15 minimum wage is already a presidential campaign issue

Photograph: Shutterstock

As more Democrats eye the 2020 presidential race, Sen. Bernie Sanders has virtually guaranteed that proposals to raise the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour will figure into the politicking. 

While Sanders has yet to declare himself a candidate, the 77-year-old senator has already set the so-called living wage as an issue he’ll keep front and center whether or not he runs for the Democratic nomination. (Sanders is an independent but ran in 2016 as a Democrat.) 

He tweeted Monday that he intends to introduce a bill in the Senate this week to hike the national wage, which currently sits at $7.25. The measure could prove a test for fellow senators who hope to land the Democratic nomination by winning the support of unions and blue-collar voters. 

The senators who are expected to at least consider a run for the Oval Office include Cory Booker of New Jersey, Sherrod Brown of Ohio, Kamala Harris of California, Tim Kaine of Virginia, Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, Jeff Merkley of Oregon, Chris Murphy of Connecticut, Brian Schatz of Hawaii and Sanders. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts has already formed an exploratory committee to determine whether she’ll run. 

The Republicans still control the Senate, so chances of a wage-hike bill clearing the chamber are slim. But even a vote would likely heighten interest in an increase and keep a $15 wage among the topics routinely addressed by the pack of presidential candidates.

Four politicians—Julian Castro, John Delaney, Tulsi Gabbard and Richard Ojeda—have already filed to run for the Democratic nomination. Former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg said he has not yet decided whether to make a bid, and former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz has similarly neither confirmed nor denied he’ll run. 

A $15 minimum wage was one of Sanders’ major causes during his unsuccessful campaign in 2016. He blasts the current minimum as a “starvation raise” and has called on major employers such as McDonald’s and Amazon to voluntary hike their minimum pay. 

Amazon obliged the Vermont senator, raising its starting pay to $15 an hour. McDonald’s has not reacted. 

“If you work 40 hours a week, you should not live in poverty,” Sanders declared in his tweet.

Wage-hike bills are fairly common in the Senate and House of Representatives, but Sanders’ proposal has figured prominently in the news because it came from him.

The federal pay floor has not been raised since 2009. 

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