House Dems on brink of minimum wage victory

By Sarah Ferris

House Democratic leaders are on the cusp of a long-awaited victory on the party’s signature $15-an-hour minimum wage bill, overcoming months of sharp resistance from many of the caucus' moderates.

Top Democrats are saying privately they’re confident that they are close enough to the 218 votes needed to pass it to bring the bill to the floor within weeks, according to multiple sources. It would mark a major political victory at the six-month mark of the Democrats’ majority.

Several one-time holdouts — including Rep. Terri Sewell (D-Ala.), who has championed a competing approach that would create a “regional” minimum wage — now say they will vote for the bill on the floor, though they are still looking for additional assistance for small businesses that may be hurt by the minimum wage increase.

The vote, which is expected shortly after the House returns from its Fourth of July recess, will put an end to a frenzied lobbying blitz by top Democrats to win over the caucus’s remaining skeptics, which had become a glaring example of the tensions between moderates and progressives.

House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.) said in a closed-door leadership meeting Tuesday night that he secured roughly 213 votes, according to aides. Democrats believe the pressure of the roll call vote will be enough to squeeze the few remaining holdouts.

“I don’t have any doubt that we’re going to have the votes,” House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) told reporters Wednesday, though he stopped short of committing to a timeframe for the floor vote. “There are some folks who would like to see us do something to make sure the small business fears are allayed.”

The one lingering concern, according to people familiar with the discussions, is how to deflect potentially disastrous GOP attacks on the bill when it comes up for a vote.

Republicans are expected to use their procedural powers on the floor to force Democrats to vote on tricky issues related to the minimum wage — like protections for small businesses — that could further expose the caucus’ ideological divide.

It could also tank the entire bill. If Republicans successfully force any changes into the bill, scores of Democrats would likely flee, because progressive leaders have refused to support anything less than their hallmark $15-an-hour proposal.

The lead author of the bill, House Education and Labor Chairman Bobby Scott (D-Va.), had struggled for months to rally enough moderate Democrats behind the bill, with some members privately complaining of a “tone-deaf” approach.

Congressman Bobby Scott, D-Va, gestures during an election party in Falls Church, Va., Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2018. Scott was unopposed in his election.

But momentum began to shift in recent weeks, with leaders of the Blue Dog Coalition, Rep. Tom O’Halleran (D-Ariz.) and Stephanie Murphy (D-Fla.), helping to deliver votes from red-state Democrats in exchange for their own provision in the bill.

That compromise amendment, from O’Halleran, Murphy and TJ Cox (D-Calif.), will be included in the final bill, according to multiple aides. It would require the Government Accountability Office to conduct a study on the policy’s economic effects after roughly two years — which moderates see as a potential way to revisit the issue if economic conditions deteriorate.

Scott and his team also helped win over individual members with district-by-district data that showed the number of people who would get a raise, offering a counterpoint to the objections from some local businesses.

Top Democrats, including Hoyer, have vowed to hold a vote on the minimum wage bill before the August recess, under intense pressure from outside groups to deliver on a key plank of the progressive platform.

Scott and other Education and Labor members have argued behind the scenes for weeks that they have enough votes to bring the bill to the floor. They’ve said that some holdouts would only come out in favor of the bill if they were facing a roll call — a process that one Democratic aide described as a “game of chicken.”

Heather Caygle contributed to this story.