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GOP senator 'could be open' to minimum wage hike, but not during pandemic

Jessica Smith
·Chief Political Correspondent
·3 min read

Sen. Bill Cassidy (R., La.) — one of 10 Republicans who proposed a $618 billion relief plan this week — told Yahoo Finance he would consider raising the minimum wage, but not during the pandemic.

President Joe Biden and his Democratic allies in Congress are pushing to include a measure to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour in the next relief bill. The effort faces an uphill battle in the Senate.

“I could be open to a graduated increase of the minimum wage to a certain point, but not in the middle of a pandemic,” said Cassidy in an interview with Yahoo Finance Live on Thursday. “When you have restaurants who are just barely hanging on and if they suddenly have their fixed costs raised for their labor base, they go out of business.”

Moderates Sen. Susan Collins (R., Me.) and Sen. Joe Manchin (D., W. Va.) have also said they would oppose raising the minimum wage to $15 in the next COVID relief bill.

Democrats are forging ahead with their effort to pass Biden’s stimulus plan with or without Republicans. Early Friday morning, after voting on amendments for roughly 15 hours, the Senate passed a budget resolution that can act as a vehicle to pass the relief bill.

During the marathon voting session, known as vote-a-rama, Sen. Joni Ernst (R., Iowa) introduced an amendment to prevent boosting the minimum wage to $15 during a pandemic. The Senate approved the amendment after Sen. Bernie Sanders (I.,Vt.) supported it, saying the plan is to raise the minimum wage to $15 gradually — not immediately during a pandemic.

The approved amendments are non-binding and largely serve as guidelines for the relief package.

National Economic Council Deputy Director Bharat Ramamurti responded to Republican opposition to the wage hike during an interview with Yahoo Finance on Friday, saying it would provide a “concrete form of compensation” to frontline workers.

“Over the last several months we’ve heard a lot about essential workers,” said Ramamurti. “To the president it’s critically important that we don’t just praise these people, but we actually pay them.”

“It’s not just an economic issue, it’s a moral issue. The president feels very deeply that if you work 40 hours a week in this country, you should not live in poverty and the $15 minimum wage accomplishes that,” he added.

Cassidy and the group of Republicans sent a letter to the White House on Thursday outlining their concerns with Biden’s plan.

WASHINGTON, DC - FEBRUARY 01: U.S. President Joe Biden (Center R) and Vice President Kamala Harris (Center L) meet with 10 Republican senators, including Mitt Romney (R-UT), Bill Cassidy (R-LA), Susan Collins (R-ME), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Thom Tillis (R-NC), Jerry Moran (R-KS),  Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) and others, in the Oval Office at the White House February 01, 2021 in Washington, DC. The senators requested a meeting with Biden to propose a scaled-back $618 billion stimulus plan in response to the $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package Biden is currently pushing in Congress. (Photo by Doug Mills-Pool/Getty Images)
President Joe Biden (Center R) and Vice President Kamala Harris (Center L) meet with 10 Republican senators in the Oval Office at the White House February 1, 2021. The senators requested a meeting with Biden to propose a scaled-back $618 billion stimulus plan in response to the $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package Biden is currently pushing in Congress. (Photo by Doug Mills-Pool/Getty Images)

“I think that will kind of show, you know — are we going to go yet another step?,” said Cassidy.

“I think we can,” he added. “We've passed multiple COVID relief packages with President Trump and a Republican Senate on a bipartisan basis, allocating trillions of dollars. So if there's an area which we've proven we can work together on a bipartisan basis, this is it.”

Biden said on Friday he’d prefer to get Republican support on a deal, but said his priority is getting relief out quickly to those who need it.

“There are [Republicans] just not willing to go as far as I think we have to go,” said Biden.

Jessica Smith is chief political correspondent for Yahoo Finance, based in Washington, D.C. Follow her on Twitter at @JessicaASmith8.

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