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Sen. Ben Cardin: ‘Minimum wage needs to be increased gradually’

Maryland Senator Ben Cardin joins Yahoo Finance Live to discuss the importance of rolling out a $15 minimum wage for the American people and break down the outlook for the U.S. economy.

Video Transcript

- A key Senate official now ruling that the push to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour cannot be included in the larger package. Let's bring in Maryland Senator Ben Cardin, who's joining us from DC today. Senator, it's always good to talk to you. It sounds like this is a pretty significant setback for lawmakers who have really been pushing this.

What do you see as the path forward to raising the minimum wage?

BEN CARDIN: Well, we always knew we had the challenge of the Senate parliamentarian and the rules that we comply with on reconciliation. So now we're looking at alternative ways, including the use of the tax code with incentives for companies to increase their minimum wage. So we'll look for different ways to do it. We're not going to give up our effort. We do believe the minimum wage needs to be increased. It needs to be done in a gradual manner so you don't have a major disruption to businesses. But we do need to get that minimum wage up to a more realistic level.

People shouldn't have to work 40 hours a week and live in poverty in America.

- Senator Cardin, Brian here. Great to speak with you. Now in the absence of being able to add that to this package though, is there still any sort of momentum on the Senate side of things to get something done? There have been other proposals like maybe raising taxes on companies that don't raise wages? Or Senator Hawley's plan that might require $15 an hour just for the biggest companies.

What do you see as the appetite to have some sort of modified version of this maybe as separate legislation?

BEN CARDIN: As you know, it's challenging to work with the Senate rules on reconciliation to try to tailor a program where we can get bipartisan support on the minimum wage. But we're going to continue to try to do that. We can use alternative methods, such as the tax code to offer penalties or incentives. And we're certainly looking at that. But we're going to look at every different way we can to effectively increase the minimum wage. And we'd like to do it in a bipartisan way.

So we are looking for suggestions made by Republicans. And we know there are Republicans who support the increase in the minimum wage. So we are looking at different alternatives.

- Specifically, on that issue, though, that Senator Hawley has raised about requiring big companies to pay their employees $15 an hour, is that something that you would support? And what kind of structure do you see that breaking down?

BEN CARDIN: I think the better way is to take a look at additional breaks that we can give smaller companies, including those that increase their minimum wage. I chaired a small business and entrepreneurship committee. And we have looked at ways in which we can use direct help. As you know, the PPP program and the EIDL program. But also looking at the tax code itself to see whether there aren't ways that we can help smaller companies deal with an increase in the minimum wage. So I think the idea of focusing help on smaller companies makes sense.

- Senator, broadly speaking, it seems like there's been a lot of attention on the momentum for that $1.9 billion package, which the Administration had been promising since the campaign trail. People are watching the changes on the student debt, for example. Also on the lack of momentum even on the stimulus checks. And people are wondering if maybe that promise was a little over promised to begin with.

What do you say to those people who are watching all of this going down in Washington DC and saying it's a Democratic supermajority here, but it just seems like by the day some of those aggressive measures, which even the Federal Reserve has advocated for, are maybe getting chipped away?

BEN CARDIN: Well, you know, if you look at the $1.9 billion package that's going to pass the House today, and you look at what we anticipate bringing up this week, it is a bold approach. And one in which we expect that we can pass in the Senate. And pass it shortly-- maybe as early as next week-- that will include the direct payments to the taxpayers of this country, that will extend unemployment benefits, that will help state and local government, that will provide targeted relief to small businesses, that will help our schools be able to open safely.

There's a lot in this package. It will help us deal with the vaccine distribution in a fair manner to get this virus behind us. So there's a lot in this package. And we are optimistic that we're going to be able to get it to the finish line within the next couple of weeks.

- On the issue of the Paycheck Protection Program, which is, of course, something you have spearheaded, we did see a number of changes announced earlier this week to focus more on small businesses. Although, that was the original intention behind the program. How many of those changes do you think can realistically be implemented before the program expires in March?

BEN CARDIN: Well, the Administration has gone ahead in implementing them immediately. And I support that. It gives a 14 day exclusive window for those companies of 20 employees or less to get the next round of PPP relief. That gives a little breathing time for those that have a harder time finding a commercial entity to make the loan that's necessary under the PPP program. They've also eased up some of the requirements on qualifications for returning citizens, for dealing with those that have student loan issues, and for calculating the amount of money of those that do not have employees-- those really small mom and pop type businesses-- so they could get more consequential help from the federal government. They're implementing those immediately.

As we know, the program still has four or five weeks left of life from the point of view of the expiration dates. The amount of loans being approved seem to be on level to meet those target dates. If we need to extend it, Congress will look at that and we'll do it in a bipartisan manner if it's necessary.

- And then Senator, lastly, infrastructure. It seems like that's kind of another conversation that's also been happening at the White House. I understand that actually you were invited as part of a meeting to discuss maybe some movement on that front. What is the appetite for this Administration to get something done? And specifically, what might that look like if we do end up seeing some sort of proposal on the floor of the Senate?

BEN CARDIN: Well, it's a great question. But first, recognize there's a concentration on getting this $1.9 billion package done. After that, we do need to take up a bold infrastructure program. And what we told the President in the Oval Office-- it was Democrats and Republicans-- that there's bipartisan interest in passing a robust bold infrastructure package. So we are hopeful that we'll be able to get a bipartisan bill that will deal not only with transportation, but to deal with water infrastructure, to deal with broadband, to deal with our schools, deal with our energy issues. We should be able to get bipartisan support recognizing that this will create jobs. It will help us recover our economy from the COVID-19. And that we need to take a look at a stable funding source for these types of infrastructure projects that need multi-year funding.