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January 20, 2018

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Four takeaways from Joe Biden’s Las Vegas visit

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Steve Marcus

Vice President Joe Biden smiles during a round-table discussion, on raising the minimum wage, with politicians and business owners at Casa Don Juan on Monday, Oct. 6, 2014, in downtown Las Vegas.

Joe Biden at Casa Don Juan

Vice President Joe Biden meets with business owner Louisa Mendoza, left, and restaurant owner Javier Barajas before a round-table discussion on raising the minimum wage at Casa Don Juan restaurant Monday, Oct. 6, 2014. Launch slideshow »

Vice President Joe Biden found a fitting setting to talk about raising the minimum wage: Las Vegas restaurant Casa Don Juan.

Like many restaurants in the city, some of Casa Don Juan’s employees make minimum wage — $8.25 an hour for those who don’t receive health insurance.

Before Biden arrived, mariachi music played and customers munched on chips and salsa. The wait staff marched back and forth with trays of Tex-Mex cuisine, and a bartender shipped out margaritas and beer.

Across the country, restaurant employees are leading the charge for higher wages, and their biggest champion is the vice president.

At Casa Don Juan, a waitress said the staff would support raising the minimum wage.

After shaking hands with diners, Biden sat down at a table with U.S. Rep. Steven Horsford, Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn Goodman, Democratic operative and janitorial company owner Louisa Mendoza and other minority business owners.

Biden said raising the minimum wage is “good for the economy and good for the people.”

His visit was brief and the press was granted limited access to the roundtable discussion. But here’s what you need to know about the vice president’s visit.

A rallying cry

This year, fast-food workers, among other low-income employees, have taken to the streets to lobby for higher wages.

Fast-food workers have protested in Las Vegas, New York City, Los Angeles, Detroit, Chicago and other metropolitan areas.

But business owners and Republicans have warned that raising the minimum wage could cost jobs. The Economic Policies Institute, a conservative think tank funded by the restaurant industry, says an increase in the minimum wage would cost Nevada 5,300 jobs.

Democratic leaders, meanwhile, argue that boosting the minimum wage would lift 900,000 people out of poverty across the country, citing a February report by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office.

Advocates for raising the minimum wage say it would reduce the burden on the country’s entitlement programs.

Families of fast-food industry workers accept $7 billion worth of government aid every year, according to a study by the University of California-Berkeley Center for Labor Research and Education and paid for by the Service Employees International Union.

Increasing the minimum wage would reduce that cost, said Laura Martin, an organizer with the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada, a union-backed non-profit.

Raise the wage, raise voter awareness

Without a presidential race anchoring the election-day ticket, Democrats are underdogs in this year’s race.

Democrats are relying on minority and low-income voters to turn out if the party plans on keeping its majority in the Senate and making a few gains in the House.

The staff at Casa Don Juan exemplified the demographic that Democrats are relying on in this year’s election.

Biden said raising the minimum wage would not cost jobs and would pump $19 billion into the economy. “All of this is disposable income and it gets straight into the economy,” he said.

He also noted that 28 percent of people making minimum wage are Hispanics.

“It’s about time we do something,” Biden said. “Minimum wage hasn’t kept up.”

An increase in the minimum wage would “fundamentally change” the lives of those workers, Biden said.

The lame duck

No matter what happens in the election, the 113th Congress will still have the lame duck session to tackle minimum wage. But this Congress has been the least productive in history.

The vice president and President Barack Obama have led the charge to garner support for a wage increase from federal lawmakers this year. But Republicans have been unwilling to increase wages.

The Democratic-controlled Senate has been unable to muster 60 votes — a way to prevent a Republican filibuster — to pass legislation that would increase the minimum wage to $10.10 per hour. Current law sets the minimum wage at $7.25 per hour.

The Republican-led House has given no indication that it will take up legislation targeting the issue.

Even Sen. Harry Reid’s Democratic-controlled Senate appears to have tabled the debate.

In a September interview, the Nevada Democrat and senate majority leader listed a number of priorities his chamber plans to tackle after the Nov. 4 election. Raising the minimum wage was not among them.

Not waiting for Congress to act

Mayor Carolyn Goodman sat to Biden’s right at the table.

“It’s about time we do something,” she told the vice president.

Though she revealed no plans, Goodman may take the lead from other mayors. She has signed a U.S. Conference of Mayors petition to raise the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour.

Democratic mayors of other major cities have taken matters into their own hands.

In June, Seattle Mayor Ed Murray pushed a bill through the city council to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour.

New York City Mayor Bill DeBlasio signed an executive order last week that will effectively raise the minimum wage to $13.13.

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti are also pushing their respective city councils to increase minimum wage.

Nevada lawmakers may also take up the issue.

Democratic Sen. Tick Segerblom plans to introduce legislation next year that would increase Nevada’s minimum wage to $15 an hour.

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