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President Obama has called the proposed federal minimum wage hike “giving America a raise,” but whether the legislation succeeds or not, lobbyists are likely to enjoy a windfall. Raising the minimum wage from its current rate of $7.25/hr to $10.10/hr is a centerpiece of congressional Democrats’ 2014 legislative agenda, and groups on both sides of the issue have already spent millions of lobbying dollars to influence lawmakers on the fence. With recent news that a vote on the legislation will be put off, lobbying campaigns for both sides are heating up.
The Hill reports that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has delayed a vote on the legislation as support for the hike has waned among vulnerable congressional Democrats. A coalition of labor unions and liberal advocacy groups has hailed the move, saying that it gives them time to mount a national grassroots lobbying campaign to drum up support for the legislation.
Vowing to fight the bill are numerous retail, restaurant, and service organizations. The American Hotel & Lodging Association, which overhauled its lobbying team last year, strongly opposes a minimum wage hike, claiming that it would inhibit companies’ ability to hire more workers.
Complicating the issue is the difficulty of sifting through a myriad of reports from disparate sources to piece together an accurate picture of the hike’s potential impact. Although it seems likely that the Congressional Budget Office’s recent report that the hike could cost as many as 500,000 minimum wage jobs but increase earnings for more than 16.5 million workers is accurate and nonpartisan, data from other sources may be suspect. The New York Times reports that some nonprofits and think tanks that publish economic reports on legislation are in fact funded (often secretly) by groups with a significant stake in the legislation. The Employment Policies Institute, for example, has published academic reports warning that raising the minimum wage would adversely impact poverty, unemployment, and the economy. But the Times also notes that the group is run by a PR firm that also represents the restaurant industry, which strongly opposes the wage hike. Just as lobbying has gradually moved underground and become more opaque, so too are groups attempting to influence policy in nebulous and indirect ways, as the current fight over the minimum wage illustrates.
Although the Congressional battle over “America’s raise” has been delayed for now, the lobbying fight over the wage hike has just begun. With heavy hitters like Wal-Mart still out of the fray, the battle is likely to get even more intense before it’s over.