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Sanders pushes $15 minimum wage as part of stimulus package

Published: Feb. 19, 2021 at 6:02 PM EST
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders has enormous say over the federal budget and what’s funded, and he’s using that powerful position to try to push one of his signature policy issues -- a $15 minimum wage.

“When it is $7.25 an hour, the time is long overdue,” Sanders said.

Sanders now holds the gavel on the all-important Senate Committee on Budget, and he’s using it to take another swing at pushing the federal minimum wage. “We are talking about a situation in America today where people are working for starvation wages. I’ve been all over this country. I have talked to workers, I’ve talked to moms and dads trying to raise kids on 8 or 9 bucks an hour, and it cannot be done,” he said.

The senator says the pay raise would affect 30-million American workers. Sanders is working hard trying to get it into the president’s stimulus plan, along with $1,400 payments to everyone making under $75,000, extended unemployment through September, extra child care credits, and a ton of money for vaccine distribution. “I think we stand a reasonably good chance to do it,” Sanders said.

But he’ll need the support of every Senate Democrat, and right now a couple, including West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin, isn’t on board.

Reporter Darren Perron: Could you compromise, like he has proposed, and come up with a smaller number instead of $15?

Sen. Bernie Sanders: Let me say this, we have not raised the minimum wage in this country since 2007. Tens of millions are working at starvation wages, $8, $9, $10 bucks an hour. Nobody can do that.

Reporter Darren Perron: But you need those Democrats to get on board in order for $15 an hour to pass, so could you compromise?

Sen. Bernie Sanders: Look, this is one part of a $1.9 trillion package. I am absolutely confident that every Democrat in the caucus will support the president of the United States who supports a $15 an hour minimum wage and we will include that in the overall package.

Under the proposal, the minimum wage would increase to the $15 mark over five years. But Republicans worry it’s too big of a burden on small businesses that will be reeling from the pandemic for years. They point to a Congressional Budget Office report suggesting 1.4 million jobs will be lost as a result.

Sanders says the five-year timeline will give small businesses time to prepare and that added tax incentives will help too. The proposal is clearly aimed at making companies like Walmart, Amazon, and Dollar General fork over more dollars to workers. “These are profitable institutions that are paying people so low that taxpayers have to subsidize workers who go on food stamps and Medicaid. Those large corporations should be paying at least $15 an hour,” Sanders said. And he says a stand-alone minimum wage bill won’t work. “The problem is, as of right now we have zero Republicans who will support $15 an hour, that is why it’s imperative that it be in the reconciliation bill where we need 51 votes.”

Sanders just called chief executives from the country’s biggest companies to testify in front of his committee Thursday, asking them to justify the wages they pay their employees. And some of those workers will be there too. So far, just the CEO of Costco has sent an RSVP, and that’s probably because Sanders points to Costco as a company that pays its employees decent money.

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