Democrats Can Lose Senate and Raise Minimum Wage
On Election Day, voters in four states -- Alaska, Arkansas, Nebraska, and South Dakota -- will decide whether to raise their minimum wages above the federal floor of $7.25 an hour. All four lean heavily Republican, yet early polling suggests the proposals are likely to pass.
Currently, only five of the 24 states that voted for Mitt Romney in 2012 -- Alaska, Arizona, Missouri, Montana, and West Virginia -- have adopted minimum wages higher than the federal level, compared with 21 of the 26 states that voted for President Barack Obama. If four more red states adopt higher minimum wages, there will be as many as a dozen Republican senators (depending on the outcome of races in Alaska and Arkansas) who will be able to vote for a modest increase without affecting small businesses in their home states.
They would join more than 100 Republican House members from states with minimum wages above the federal level. Some of those House members have supported past minimum wage hikes and might well do so again if the issue comes to the floor.
The Arkansas ballot proposal, which raises the minimum to $8.50 in 2017, has drawn support from the state's leading Republicans. Another Republican, Senator Susan Collins of Maine, has proposed federal legislation raising the minimum to $9 an hour, a level President Obama had supported last year.
Republican Senators in the four ballot initiative states - along with Arkansas Democrat Mark Pryor - are unlikely to reverse their opposition to President Obama's call for a $10.10 minimum wage. All the state ballot proposals involve multi-year increases that fall short of the $10.10 minimum supported by Obama. The President's call for such a substantial increase by 2016, however, was always more of a campaign gambit than a legislative strategy; any bill with a chance of passing the House of Representatives will have to be more modest.
No matter what happens in the contest for control of the Senate, a "yes" vote on the four statewide ballot initiatives would greatly improve the prospects of a federal minimum wage bill. However, if voters oppose a minimum wage hike in those states, passing a bill in Congress becomes even more difficult.
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