In a break with her party and other members of New Mexico’s three-member U.S. House delegation, U.S. Rep. Xochitl Torres Small, D-NM, voted Thursday against legislation that would gradually increase the federal hourly minimum wage to $15.
The Raise the Wage Act ultimately passed the Democratic-controlled U.S. House of Representatives 231 to 199. Torres Small joined five other Democrats, all Republicans and U.S. Rep. Justin Amash, I-Mich. Three Republicans ultimately voted for the legislation.
The legislation, if passed and signed into law, would enact a series of tiered increases to the current $7.25 minimum wage over a 7-year period. It would also eventually do away with the lower federal wage for tipped workers.
After the vote in the House, Torres Small — whose New Mexico congressional district includes Roswell and all of southern New Mexico — said in an interview with the Roswell Daily Record that although she supports a hike in the current federal minimum wage, $15 is too high.
Some businesses and industries could easily pay their employees $15 an hour, but Torres Small said she voted against the bill after hearing from small business owners, especially those in rural areas where jobs are much more scarce.
“And there was real concern that an increased wage to this point would actually put a lot of them, or those businesses out of business, and we have seen that,” Torres Small said.
She referenced a study by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, which said the legislation would lead to the loss of 1.3 million jobs.
Instead of an across-the-board raise in the minimum wage to $15, Torres Small said that she and many other members were supportive of looking at factors such as regional cost of living in deciding how much to raise the minimum wage.
“I think there are other ideas out there and this was just not what was right for New Mexico,” Torres Small said.
A $15 minimum wage has been a key priority for many of the Democratic Party’s progressive base.
Fellow U.S. Reps. Deb Haaland and Ben Ray Lujan both voted for the bill.
In a press release issued Thursday, Haaland stated the current minimum wage — last raised in 2009 — has not kept up with the rising cost of living.
“Many families live in a reality where they have to work several low wage jobs to put food on the table. Raising the minimum wage will lift families out of poverty and has ripple effects for everyone by putting more money into the economy for people to spur economic activity,” Haaland said.
The press release from Haaland also referenced the Congressional Budget Office report cited by Torres Small, which also found a $15 minimum wage increase would boost wages for 27.3 million Americans and lift 1.3 million Americans out of poverty.
Lujan, who is assistant Speaker of the House, applauded passage of the legislation.
“This is about hardworking families being able to make ends meet, afford their prescriptions and put food on the table. I’m proud of House Democrats’ efforts to finally raise the minimum wage,” Lujan stated in the release.
The legislation now moves to the Republican-controlled house, where chances of it being taken up are slim.
Breaking news reporter Alex Ross can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 301, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.