Sen. Susan Collins is fighting an uphill battle to get Democrats and Republicans to back a minimum wage compromise.
Democratic leaders so far are sticking to the $10.10-an-hour wage they're proposing, while many Republicans, including more moderate lawmakers, say they are likely to filibuster the bill.
But the moderate Maine Republican says she's leading a bipartisan group of senators hoping to strike a deal.
“We’re continuing to talk about the potential elements of a new compromise that would have a more reasonable, affordable increase in the minimum wage that would still help a lot of low-income families and yet not cause the tremendous job losses that the [Congressional Budget Office] says would occur if the minimum wage were raised to $10.10 an hour,” Collins said. In February, the CBO estimated that a increase from the current $7.25 minimum wage to $10.10 would lift 900,000 workers above the poverty line, but cost 500,000 jobs.
The Maine Republican said there is not a set number of members in the group, referring to it as “a work in progress.”
Collins doesn't just want a wage below $10.10. She also wants a partial rollback of the employer mandate in the Affordable Care Act.
The employer mandate applies to employees working 30 hours or more a week. Companies with 50 or more full-time employees will be required to offer health insurance to their workers or pay a penalty if at least one of their employees purchases a plan through the health care marketplace with a federal subsidy.
Republicans have argued the definition creates an incentive to limit the hours of employees to 29 hours a week.
Collins also wants to include small business tax cuts.
Senate Majority Whip Richard J. Durbin, D-Ill., dismissed the possibility that the Collins’ effort could take away Democratic votes from the Democratic proposal.
“I don’t think so,” Durbin said when asked. “I think we are likely to hold our votes on the procedural question of going to this issue.”
He was also skeptical about an employer mandate tweak, arguing that Republicans have shown no sign of wanting to fix the law.
"If they want to sit down in a constructive bipartisan discussion on the issue, I want to be at the table," Durbin said. "But so far it’s been 'take it or leave it.' And that isn't the way to modify or amend. There are legitimate concerns that have been expressed in many industries, including restaurants, about how we are going to define a full-time employee. Let’s sit down and work on it constructively. But so far it's been 45 votes for repeal. That's what we get from the House.”
Other Republicans who worked with Democrats on the unemployment insurance extension oppose the minimum wage hike.
Sens. Dean Heller of Nevada and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska said they would prefer the states handle it.
"We are working on it at the state level; I think that's where we should do it," Murkowski said, adding that she believes $10.10 is too high and is not working with Collins.
Sen. Mark S. Kirk, R-Ill., who also helped negotiate the unemployment insurance bill, said he opposes the Democratic proposal and plans to "vote accordingly."
"I worry it's another class warfare vote meant to gin up the Democratic base," he said.
Durbin's comments came after Senate Democrats held a news conference Wednesday touting efforts to pass their minimum wage proposal and their pay equity bill, which are expected to come up after the Senate clears a pending bipartisan unemployment insurance extension measure.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said he is working to get the 60 votes needed to pass the $10.10 minimum wage increase, but he declined to say whether he would allow an amendment on a lesser dollar amount. He has previously said he would not entertain less than the current offer.
The majority leader also said that a negotiated, bipartisan deal on unemployment insurance that the Senate will likely pass as soon as this week has not paved the way for a deal.
“To think that this [UI bill] is some way preparatory to getting to minimum wage is simply not valid,” Reid said.
He said he was wary of Republican amendments because he believes the GOP merely wants to derail the Democrats’ efforts.
“We are trying our utmost to cooperate,” Reid said. “They are doing everything they can to divert and delay everything we do, especially when it deals with issues like what we are trying to do.”
But after the news conference, Durbin said Democrats should keep an open mind on a lower dollar amount, if they can’t get the votes to pass their $10.10 proposal.
“We are going to bring it [$10.10] to the Senate and do our best to win enough Republican to pass it,” Durbin said. “If it doesn't pass at that stage procedurally or otherwise we need to be open to conversation. But first we want to make our stand for what we consider to be a fair minimum wage for all Americans.”
Collins also said she is working on an alternative to the pay equity bill with Sen. Deb Fischer, R-Neb., but didn’t provide any details.