Democrats Will Try to Force Vote on Minimum Wage Hike
Policy + Politics

Democrats Will Try to Force Vote on Minimum Wage Hike

REUTERS/Yuri Gripas

Democratic leaders in the House of Representatives said on Thursday that they will use an obscure legislative gambit to try to force a floor vote on a measure to raise the federal minimum wage to $10.10 per hour.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) said Democrats would try to use a tactic called a discharge petition to bring a minimum wage bill to the floor. The petition, which requires the signature of a bare majority of the members of the House, is a measure that “discharges” the relevant House committees from their responsibility for marking up legislation, and brings a bill straight to the floor for a vote.

Related: The Sharp Divide Over Raising the Minimum Wage

While uncommon, discharge petitions have been successful in the past at getting legislation to the floor against the wishes of House leadership. The most recent successful discharge petition was in 2002, when a campaign finance reform bill, commonly known as McCain-Feingold, passed the House.

On Wednesday, Obama signed an executive order requiring that all employees hired under new federal contracts be paid a minimum of $10.10 per hour.

The announcement that the Democrats would focus their discharge petition on the minimum wage bill came as a surprise, because as early as Thursday morning there was talk in Washington that they would take that approach on an immigration reform measure. The idea was being batted around by House Democrats as early as Tuesday, according to Ed O’Keefe of The Washington Post. It then got a boost Thursday morning, when O’Keefe’s colleague, E.J. Dionne, made it the subject of a column in the paper.

Senator Chuck Schumer, the New York Democrat who was one of the sponsors of an immigration bill that passed in the Senate, jumped on board immediately, with an emailed statement saying calling the idea “a good one” and urging House Democrats to move forward.

The decision to try to force a vote on a minimum wage bill instead is also surprising because it appears to have a much lower chance of success than immigration reform might have. To succeed, a discharge petition would need the signature of at least 17 Republicans – assuming the Democrats were to favor it unanimously. That may not be achievable.

The story could have been different on immigration reform. A comprehensive immigration reform bill has already passed the Senate with bipartisan support, and a majority of the members of the House, from both sides of the aisle, want to pass a bill as well. Major constituencies of the Republican Party, including business groups and many religious organizations, support it.

At a press conference Thursday, Pelosi said that Democrats had not ruled out bringing up immigration reform in a discharge petition later this year.

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