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Sen. Bernard Sanders introduced legislation Thursday to raise the federal minimum wage to $17 an hour — setting a new goal post for liberals on the issue.

Mr. Sanders, a Vermont independent, said a minimum wage hike at the federal level was long overdue, given that inflation has hoisted the cost of living. 

“If you work 40 to 50 hours a week, you should not be living in poverty,” said Mr. Sanders. “Today in America, it is unacceptable that while the richest people have become much richer, over 60% of our people are living paycheck to paycheck.”

Congress last raised the federal minimum wage to $7.25 per hour in 2009. 

Mr. Sanders and other liberals have long pushed to hike the federal minimum wage. The aim for years was $15 per hour.  

Now Mr. Sanders and allies within organized labor say that is no longer sufficient. They say inflation has pushed the cost of living higher and workers need to make at least $17 to stay out of poverty.

“We live in a country with wealth on levels never seen before in human history,” said Liz Shuler, the president of the AFL-CIO. “Thirty million dollar homes … mega yachts, billionaires who fly rockets into space, while we have people who work 40 hours a week but cannot live with basic dignity.” 

The bill comes the same week that state legislators in New York voted to raise the minimum wage from $15 to $17 an hour. New York lawmakers are phasing in the wage hike through 2027, at which point the minimum wage will also be indexed to inflation. In future years, that means the wage will rise on its own as prices rise without the need for lawmaker approval. 

Michael Saltsman, the executive director of the fiscally conservative Employment Policies Institute, said at least 2 million jobs could be lost nationally if the federal government follows New York’s lead. 

“Economists have demonstrated how harmful this unprecedented increase will be,” he said. “Yet Sanders and his union allies are choosing politics over employees for bad policy that’s already been rejected by members of Sanders’ own party.”

Mr. Sanders said that despite conservative criticism, Republican and Democratic states had proved that raising the minimum wage was not a “radical idea.” 

“In November of last year, nearly 60% of the people in Nebraska — a state with a Republican governor and two Republican senators — voted to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour,” he said. “That tells you this is not a red issue or a blue issue; it’s an American issue.”

The bill faces long odds of becoming law, since Republicans control the House and Democrats hold a narrow 51-49 seat majority in the Senate. 

Several moderate Democrats in the past have expressed concern about raising the federal minimum wage to even $15 an hour. 

West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin III helped kill a push by fellow Democrats to include a $15 minimum wage hike in President Biden’s climate change law last year. At the time, Mr. Manchin proposed raising the wage to $11 an hour, but only with bipartisan support from Republicans. 

As chairman of the Senate Labor Committee, Mr. Sanders plans to hold a vote on his bill by mid-June. 

Mr. Sanders said the push is needed to frame the debate about a living wage and income inequality in America.

“Frankly, it’s embarrassing for us to be here today and [for us] to have to talk about a reality where people need to work two or three jobs to put food on the table for their kids,” said Mr. Sanders.

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