CAMBRIDGE, Md. – Democrats will seek to force a House vote on raising the federal minimum wage, party leaders said Thursday, but even getting the proposal to a vote will be an uphill fight.
As the minority party in the House, Democrats cannot set the agenda for when bills are brought to the floor. So they will use a procedural tool known as a discharge petition to bring up their proposal to raise the minimum hourly pay to $10.10.
Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-Los Angeles), who announced the move at a three-day policy retreat for House Democrats, said the party decided to push the issue after President Obama signed an executive order this week setting a new minimum wage for workers employed by federal contractors.
"While some people consider this the do-nothing Congress, we're ready to get to work," Becerra, chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, said at a news conference. "We think that's not only the right thing to do, it's about time to do it."
Democrats will file the discharge petition when the House returns to session after the Presidents Day week recess, and begin seeking the required 218 signatures to bring it to the floor.
Few discharge petitions are successful, and this effort faces a steep climb. Even if all 200 Democrats sign on, getting even a handful of Republican votes seems unlikely. There is little Republican support for raising the minimum wage.
But Democrats signaled they may use the procedural maneuver more often than usual this year to try and shape the election-year conversation.
Some lawmakers have discussed using the procedure to advance the Senate's comprehensive immigration overhaul bill in the House, for example.
Republican leaders in the House initially indicated they were open to tackling the issue this year, but after rank-and-file members rebelled, they reversed course and tamped down the likelihood they would take up even a piecemeal effort.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco), asked Thursday why Democrats would not seek to move on immigration reform first, cited the retreat's theme of "strengthening ladders of opportunity."
"We see as a first rung in that ladder raising the minimum wage," she said. "We see another rung in that ladder of passing comprehensive immigration reform. And we want to do so appropriately, in the presence of so many stakeholders in that issue. So that will be coming soon."
The Senate, controlled by Democrats, is expected to call a vote on a minimum wage increase soon. But given how few Republican senators face difficult reelection bids, the issue may have more potency in the House.
Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), the top Democrat on the House Budget Committee, said they had been monitoring responses from Republicans when asked whether they would support an increase in the minimum wage.
"While some of them have said no, many of them have said they're open to it. So we're going to give them an opportunity now to put their signature where their statements have been," he said.