Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) is bringing the "fight for 15" to Capitol Hill.
Flanked by high-ranking members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, the Democratic presidential candidate on Wednesday introduced new legislation to more than double the federal minimum wage from $7.25, where it has remained since 2009, to $15 an hour by 2020.
"In the richest country on the face of the earth, no one who works 40 hours a week should be living in poverty," Sanders said, calling the current rate a "starvation wage." The proposal would also close "the loophole that allows employers to pay tipped workers a shamefully low $2.13 an hour," he said.
Reps. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.) and Sheila Jackson-Lee (D-Texas) are the lead sponsors of a companion bill arriving in the House of Representatives. In the upper chamber, Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) is co-sponsoring the legislation.
A primary concern: Sanders' proposal comes less than a week after campaign rival Hillary Clinton declined to endorse a similar hike, telling BuzzFeed she preferred "local efforts" because "what you can do in LA or in New York may not work in other places." Former Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley, currently running a distant third in the polls, also supports a $15 minimum wage.
Like O'Malley, who broadcast his position soon after Clinton revealed hers, Sanders sought to make the contrast clear without referring to the frontrunner by name.
"Republicans, and even some Democrats will say that we cannot increase the minimum wage to $15 an hour because it will destroy jobs," Sanders said Monday, arguing that "when low-wage workers get a raise they spend their money in local businesses and that creates more jobs, not less."
Those workers haven't been given a meaningful raise since the late 1960s. As illustrated in this graph by the group Raise the Minimum Wage, the "real value" of the minimum wage when adjusted for inflation has plummeted since 1968:
Tough road ahead: Sanders also called on President Barack Obama to sign an executive order "so that every federal contract worker in this country is paid a living wage with good benefits and the ability to join a union." Such a decision would not be without precedent. In early 2014, Obama ordered all future federal contracts to stipulate workers receive an hourly wage not less than $10.10.
On May 15, Sanders and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) wrote a letter to the White House, first obtained by the Huffington Post, endorsing the Fight for 15 movement and asking for a new executive order.
"Mr. President, the stroke of your pen can have transformative impact for millions of workers," they wrote, "As low-wage fast food, retail and federal contract workers continue to strike in growing numbers to 'Fight for $15 and a Union,' we urge you to harness the power of the Presidency to help these workers achieve the American Dream."
More than two months later, there is no indication Obama has any plans for further unilateral action. Meanwhile, support for the new legislation in Congress will be hard to come by, as Republicans, who control the House and Senate, are united in opposition to a hike.