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WASHINGTON – Republican Sens. Mitt Romney and Tom Cotton are proposing to increase the federal minimum wage to $ 10, but only if companies are required to use the Internet E-Verify system designed to prevent employers from hiring undocumented workers.

While the measure that was unveiled Tuesday morning doesn’t go far in a Democratic Congress pushing for a $ 15 minimum wage, the bill from Romney, R-Utah., And Cotton, R-Ark., Represents the most serious Republican proposal to date. an issue that has become a key priority for progressive leaders.

The two senators say their proposal offers a double benefit to American workers: raising the wage floor for the first time in more than a decade while ensuring that documented employees are the beneficiaries.

Senator Tom Cotton (R-AR), on the left, Senator Mitt Romney (R-UT)

“Our legislation would raise the floor for workers without costing jobs,” Romney said. “We must create opportunities for American workers and protect their jobs, while eliminating one of the main drivers of illegal immigration.”

Congress has not raised the federal minimum wage – currently $ 7.25 an hour – since 2007, even though polls show Americans overwhelmingly favor a raise. Then-President Barack Obama called on Congress to raise the minimum wage in 2014, but the effort came to naught. The House voted in 2019 to raise the minimum wage to $ 15 an hour, only to see the Senate kill the proposal.

An increase in the minimum wage to $ 15 is part of President Joe Biden’s $ 1.9 trillion stimulus package that is running through the Democratic-led House. But his outlook in the evenly divided Senate looks grim as two Democrats – Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona – said they did not support his inclusion in the measure.

After: A minimum wage of $ 15 would raise the wages of millions of people but cost 1.4 million jobs, report says

Mary Kay Henry, president of the International Union of Service Employees, which funded the Fight for $ 15 campaign to raise the minimum wage, said the COVID-19 pandemic has heightened the urgency to raise wages, especially for African Americans and Latinos on the front lines.

“They feed us, take care of us, serve us, deliver things for us,” Henry said. “And they have risked their lives without proper personal protective equipment and without the pay in their pockets that allows them to stay home safely if they are infected.”

Currently, 31 states have a minimum wage law that allows at least some workers to be paid less than $ 10, according to the US Department of Labor. No state has a minimum wage of $ 15 or more.

A Congressional Budget Office report released earlier this month estimated that raising the minimum wage to $ 15 an hour would raise the wages of 27 million Americans and lift nearly a million people out of poverty, but would also result in the loss of 1.4 million. million jobs.

Higher wages increase the cost for employers to produce goods and services, and those costs are usually passed on to consumers who typically respond by purchasing fewer goods and services, according to the CBO. As a result, employers faced with the need to reduce production usually downsize.

Supporters of the Romney-Cotton bill, called the Higher Wages for American Workers Act, claim that a $ 10 salary phased through 2025 (then indexed to inflation thereafter) would not cost more than 100,000 jobs and would increase the wages of about 3.5 million Americans. .

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And by mandating E-Verify within 18 months of signing the law, they say the proposal “would preserve American jobs for legal workers and remove the incentives for increased illegal immigration.”

Established in 1996, the E-Verify system allows employers to voluntarily submit information from an employee’s Form I-9 to the Department of Homeland Security, which works with the Social Security Administration to determine worker eligibility. Over 750,000 businesses use the program at no cost to them.

Republican plan would raise minimum wage to $ 10, but only if companies are required to keep workers legal

Service sector workers listen to remarks and hold up placards at a rally in support of the wage increase law, which includes a $ 15 minimum wage for tipping workers and is included in the bailout US President Joe Biden at the National Mall on January 26. , 2021, in Washington, DC

Cotton has pushed legislation to extend the E-Verify system in the past. In 2019, he and Sen. John Boozman, R-Ark., Introduced legislation that would have required companies to use an internet-based system that helps employers determine whether current or potential employees are allowed to work in the United States. United.

Four states – Alabama, Arizona, Mississippi, and South Carolina – mandate E-Verify for all new hires, many more require it for certain hires, and the federal government requires it for certain occupations.

Democrats generally oppose the expansion of electronic verification unless it is part of a larger compromise on immigration that includes a path to citizenship for millions of undocumented residents.

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The Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank, did not weigh in on the Romney-Cotton bill. But he opposes making E-Verify mandatory, calling it an expensive and inefficient bureaucratic system that would expand government, decrease privacy and do little to stop the illegal immigration targeted by the bill.

But Cotton said the current system is “unfair” to millions of workers who see companies employing undocumented workers for less pay.

“Ending the black market for illegal work will open jobs for Americans. Raising the minimum wage will allow Americans to fill these jobs so they can better support their families, ”he said. Our bill does both. “

Contributor: Michael Collins

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Romney, Cotton Pushing $ 10 Minimum Wage With E-Verify Requirement

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