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Capito favors discussion on minimum wage hike

WHEELING — Even before Senate parliamentarian Elizabeth McDonough ruled Thursday that the proposed $15 an hour minimum wage hike can’t remain in the Democrats’ COVID-19 relief bill, U.S. Sen. Shelley Moore Capito told reporters that aspect of the bill needed lopped off.

That didn’t mean, though, that she was totally against discussing a raise in the wage.

Capito, R-W.Va., spoke on the stimulus package, raising the minimum wage and other topics during a virtual press conference with reporters on Thursday. She said she was ready to talk about raising the national minimum wage from its current level, but that it needed to be a separate conversation from the COVID-19 bill now going through Congress.

“We haven’t raised the federal minimum wage since 2007,” she said. “I think that it is time for discussion on this — that is way too long.”

The Biden administration had included in the stimulus package a proposal to raise the national minimum wage from $7.25 an hour to $15 an hour over the next four years. The rate would be reviewed annually and adjusted based on changes to median hourly earnings of all employees.

Yet on Thursday, McDonough, the Senate’s nonpartisan arbiter of its rules, said it couldn’t be included in the relief bill.

Congressional Democrats are trying to pass the Biden administration’s $1.9 trillion relief bill while avoiding a Republican filibuster, using rules that allow the bill to be passed with a simple majority rather than 60 votes.

Yet, those same Senate rules prohibit provisions with only an “incidental” impact on the federal budget because they are chiefly driven by other policy purposes. The parliamentarian decides whether those provisions pass muster, and McDonough decided the minimum wage increase didn’t.

Capito, meanwhile, has signed on to legislation introduced by Sens. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, and Tom Cotton, R-Arkansas, that would raise the federal minimum wage from $7.25 to $10 per hour by 2025. The proposal would also require employers to use “E-verify” to ensure that businesses are hiring documented workers, and the wage rate would be adjusted every two years to account for inflation.

“It hooks it to an index so we don’t have to wait 13 years to raise it again,” she said. “It goes up more gradually over a longer period of time, and that makes it easier for small businesses.”

Capito said she has been hearing from small businesses in West Virginia who say the $15 an hour minimum wage may work in San Francisco or Seattle, but it is likely to force job cuts in rural America where businesses don’t generate the revenue to afford the added cost.

“There’s a better way to do it, and we should have a better discussion on it than jamming it into this bill,” she said.

Capito supports parts of the stimulus, such as enhanced benefits for the unemployed and $1,400 stimulus checks to individuals. But she also thinks the package contains more than $1 trillion than is necessary to address the pertinent needs of the American people.

“Unfortunately, this bill coming before us, about 10 percent covers health issues, and the other 90 percent is loaded in with long-term spending and long-term bloating — whether it is a bridge … pension relief or a minimum wage hike,” she said.

“A lot of these things are really not critical to getting help to individuals.”

Capito said she supports the idea of $1,400 stimulus relief checks to individuals, extending the Paycheck Protection Programs and money for schools and combating opioid addiction.

“I feel we should have a targeted approach here. Unfortunately, we don’t,” she said. “We feel we should have a bipartisan approach here, and unfortunately we don’t.”

The stimulus package offered by the Biden Administration sets forth enhanced monthly unemployment benefits of $400, and Capito said she can support that.

“One of the things we have tried to do is limit the amount of time (for the unemployment bonus),” she said. “Some people have expressed problems with getting people back to work because they are on enhanced unemployment, and they can make more on unemployment than they could if they were working. So we want to get back to full employment.”

Biden also is insistent on the $1,400 amount for stimulus checks, according to Capito.

“I can support that as well,” she said. “What I can’t support is a bloated-up bill that has all kinds of extraneous materials on it totalling $1 trillion.

“If we could have stuck to those two things (extended unemployment benefits and stimulus checks) and other things pertaining to vaccine distribution, we would have had a nice bipartisan bill. Under these circumstances, I can’t support this big bloated bill. It’s just too much spending.”

Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.

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