Senate lawmakers, in an overnight voting session that lasted for 15 hours on Friday, Feb. 6, dismissed President Joe Biden’s bill to bump the minimum wage to $15/hour nationwide.
The bill, titled the Raise the Wage Act of 2021, and included in President Biden’s $1.9 trillion COVID stimulus plan, has stirred up controversy between both senators and citizens across the United States.
At the overnight voting session on Friday (also called a ‘vote-a-rama’ where over 800 amendments were passed), both independent Senator Bernie Sanders and Republican Senator Joni Ernst made their arguments for and against the bill, respectively. According to the New York Times, both of the senators stressed the importance of keeping the interest of the American people in mind, but on different sides of the bill.
“…We end this debate in a moment in which our country faces more crises, more pain, more anxiety than any time since the Great Depression,” said Senator Sanders. “But we have the opportunity to give hope to the American people and restore faith in our government by telling them that tonight we understand the pain that they are experiencing, and we are going to do something very significant about it.”
Senator Ernst was very much against the passing of this bill, his largest argument being the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. “A $15 federal minimum wage would be devastating for our hardest-hit small businesses at a time they can least afford it,” said Senator Ernst. However, Senator Sanders argued that the bill was not to raise the minimum wage immediately, in the middle of the pandemic, but rather gradually over the next five years.
Nevertheless, while the $1.9 trillion stimulus plan was passed by Democrat Senators, the minimum wage bill included was blocked. The minimum wage in the U.S. is currently $7.25 (though many states have already raised it) and has not been federally changed since 2009. Arguments were being strongly made for and against the raising of the minimum wage, all of which were similar to the argument of Senators Sanders and Ernst.
Those in favor of the bill stressed the benefits for those working in fast food, serving, or cashier jobs. The raising of the minimum wage would lift pay for approximately 32 million workers in the United States, and, according to a CBO study, could cut unemployment and poverty rates.
The argument of those in favor of the bill is that so many of those who praised these workers for being ‘heroes’ at the beginning of the pandemic, and for putting themselves in potential harm’s way, are now being forgotten and pushed aside.
Those against the bill mainly voice their concerns for the economy; a spokeswoman for Republican Gov. Greg Abbott warned in an interview with Fox News that the bill would “put a boot on the neck of small businesses struggling under the weight of the pandemic”.
Student workers at Alma College oftentimes make minimum wage and would also be impacted by the proposed legislation. Some students recognize the controversy while others endorse the idea of an increased minimum wage.
“I think that we should be cognizant of the area we live, the cost of living, and small businesses as well,” said Alexis John (‘24). “The minimum wage in New York is higher than here, but so is the cost of living in New York. I would say that the minimum wage can be raised, but those factors are really important.”
“I can see how it can be controversial,” said Jason Dunquist (‘24). “But here’s what I think: a fifteen-dollar minimum wage isn’t going to ruin your life, but it’s definitely going to help other peoples’.”
Despite the bill being currently left out of the COVID relief package, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, in a news conference, assured the American people that the bill was still a huge priority for Democrats like herself.
“It doesn’t mean it won’t happen just because it won’t happen there,” said Pelosi. “There’s so much in the package that has to be done right now, and we’ll do the best we can.”