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GOP Sens. Romney, Cotton to propose minimum wage hike coupled with immigration enforcement

While Democrats are trying to find a way to get a $15 wage floor, Romney says his bill will "ensure businesses cannot hire illegal immigrants.”
Image: Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, heads to Senate floor
Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, heads to Senate floor on Jan. 26, 2021.Samuel Corum / Getty Images

As Democrats try to plot a way forward to raise the minimum wage to $15-an-hour, Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, announced Tuesday that he's working on a separate bill to increase the long stagnant minimum wage while “ensuring businesses cannot hire illegal immigrants.”

Romney said he's working on the bill with Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., and it also includes a provision for the minimum wage to "increase automatically with inflation."

Increasing the minimum wage is a priority for the Biden administration, but Democrats have been split on the best path forward.

Sen. Bernie Sanders, the head of the Senate Budget Committee and a longtime proponent of raising the minimum wage, is pushing for the measure to be included in the Covid-19 relief bill and passed through budget reconciliation, which would allow them to avoid the filibuster and pass the measure without any Republican support. Some Democrats are concerned the Senate rules might not allow the minimum wage hike to be used in reconciliation.

Romney said his bill would raise the minimum wage "gradually" but did not say to what amount or over what period of time.

"Congress hasn’t raised the minimum wage in more than a decade, leaving many Americans behind. Our proposal gradually raises the minimum wage without costing jobs, setting it to increase automatically with inflation, and requires employers to verify the legal status of workers," Romney wrote in a pair of tweets about the proposed legislation.

A spokesperson for Romney told NBC News the bill text is still being worked on, and is expected to be unveiled next week when senators return from recess.

In his own series of tweets on the proposed bill, Cotton said the increase would "go into effect after the pandemic has ended and include protections for small businesses."

The Democratic-controlled House Education and Labor Committee earlier this month approved a Covid-19 relief bill that includes a wage hike from $7.25 an hour to $15 over four years.

A report by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office last week found that a $15 wage would bring almost 1 million people out of poverty in the next four years and boost cumulative pay by $509 billion for workers who get raises. But it would also raise the debt by $54 billion and cost 1.4 million jobs.

President Joe Biden, who campaigned on a $15 wage and included it in his $1.9 trillion relief plan, has said he doesn't think the wage hike would "survive" because of Senate rules, and has floated a "separate negotiation" for a wage hike up to $15.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki on Tuesday declined to answer a question about whether the administration would be open to expanding the amount of time to hit the $15 benchmark, and said they'll "let the process play out" in Congress.

"The president put an increase in the minimum wage in the initial package because he thinks it's important," Psaki said. "And I'm not going to negotiate what he'd be open to and not from the podium."