Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid wants to raise the national minimum wage to $10.10 an hour, and he’s not backing down in the Senate. One of his stalwart supporters, North Dakota Senator Heidi Heitkamp who was the beneficiary of millions worth of political dollars from Senator Reid and his political action committee during the 2012 election, is backing his play.
Interviews with a group of deal-seeking Democrats and Republicans indicate that there is room for negotiation. Elements under discussion include dropping the rate under $10.10 an hour, adding business incentives and re-examining the wage floor for tipped workers, which would rise for the first time in more than 20 years under legislation written by Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) and co-sponsored by Reid. Under that bill, wages would rise in future years at the rate of inflation.
The Senate is expected to vote on Harkin’s bill in late March or early April, and several Democrats staring down tough reelection races this year will support it — including Sens. Mark Begich of Alaska, Kay Hagan of North Carolina and Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire. Recently elected red-state senators like Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota and Jon Tester of Montana have also signed on.
But three Senate Democrats have declined to endorse a federal wage floor of $10.10 an hour, including two senators up for reelection in red states: Mark Pryor of Arkansas and Mary Landrieu of Louisiana. Another undecided lawmaker is Joe Manchin of West Virginia, who is working on a compromise.
I suspect that if Heitkamp, like Manchin, were on the ballot this year she’d probably be on the other side of this issue. And this isn’t good for North Dakota, where historically a lower cost of living has meant lower wages. That’s changing with the oil boom in the state, but still a massive minimum wage hike to $10.10/hour (after a $2.00/hour hike just a few years ago) is going to hurt more in rural states like North Dakota.
In terms of outside spending in the 2012 Senate race in North Dakota – spending, that is, which came from places other than the candidates themselves – there was no single person who had more of an impact that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. Outside of the national Republican and Democrat parties, Reid’s Majority PAC spent more than any other group on the Senate race, a whopping $3.285 million according to Open Secrets.
Heitkamp was a major target for Majority PAC spending. Expenditures supporting her campaign accounted for almost 9% of the group’s independent expenditures for the entire 2012 election cycle. That’s quite a chunk of change for low-population, tiny media market like North Dakota.
In addition to that, Reid also maxed out in direct contributions to Heitkamp’s campaign funneling $10,000 to her through his Searchlight Leadership Fund.
In exchange for that money, Heitkamp has been a fairly loyal footsoldier for Reid’s agenda, including voting to gut the filibuster.