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Tom Cotton's Big Idea: Raise the minimum wage while keeping American jobs

Cotton would pair a modest minimum wage increase with strengthening E-verity

ORLANDO, Fla. -- Sen. Tom Cotton introduced a bill last month that would do something Republicans have been resisting for years -- raise the minimum wage. 

Cotton, R-Ark., was joined by Republican Sens. Mitt Romney of Utah, Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia, Susan Collins of Maine, and Rob Portman of Ohio in introducing the bill. It would eventually raise the federal minimum wage to $10 per hour, while requiring all businesses to check the immigration status of their employees. 

The minimum wage would increase to $8 per hour immediately upon the enactment of the bill and slowly increase to $10 per hour three years after the bill is signed. The minimum wage would be indexed to inflation every other year after that. 

Increases would also be delayed until after the pandemic is over, and the wage increase would be slower for small businesses. 

Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., is seen in the Capitol Visitor Center on Tuesday, May 19, 2020. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images)

Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., is seen in the Capitol Visitor Center on Tuesday, May 19, 2020. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images) (Getty Images)

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Meanwhile, all employers would be required to use the federal E-verify system, which allows them to check whether the people they hire are legally allowed to work in the U.S. after bringing them on. The fines for employers who hire illegal immigrants would be increased significantly. 

Cotton discussed his Big Idea during an interview with Fox News at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC).

Why do you think it makes sense to pair a minimum wage increase with mandating E-verify? 

Well, minimum wage laws and E-Verify are not just a horse trade between Republican and Democratic priorities. They're tightly connected.

So the minimum wage will give workers a raise -- that the minimum wage hasn't changed for 12 years now -- a little bit more than what it would have if it had been adjusted for inflation each of those years. 

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But obviously, when you raise the minimum wage, that gives unscrupulous employers more incentive to hire illegal aliens. And we want to make sure that those wage gains are going to American workers. And the effect of it will be to create rising wages through tight labor markets because American employers will have to hire American workers first. 

Striking McDonalds workers demanding a $15 minimum wage demonstrate in Las Vegas, Nevada U.S., June 14, 2019.A bill from Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., would increase the minimum wage to $10 and strengthen federal E-verify. REUTERS/Mike Segar - RC1753F868A0

Striking McDonalds workers demanding a $15 minimum wage demonstrate in Las Vegas, Nevada U.S., June 14, 2019.A bill from Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., would increase the minimum wage to $10 and strengthen federal E-verify. REUTERS/Mike Segar - RC1753F868A0

Aren't you concerned that this would hurt small businesses that Republicans have said would be harmed by a minimum wage increase? 

Well, we're doing everything we can to mitigate that challenge.

So first, our minimum wage bill would not increase wages until the pandemic ends -- until President Biden rescinds the public health declaration that President Trump issued last year.

Second, we would have a longer phase-in time for small businesses. So for big businesses, it would phase in over four years. For small businesses that would phase in over six years.

A few other wrinkles -- a lot of small businesses or restaurants or bars. We retain the tipped wage, which is lower the minimum, so waiters and waitresses and bartenders can make more than the minimum wage.

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And we double the length of the summer teenage exception. So currently, you can employ teenagers at a wage below the federal minimum wage for 90 days. We would extend that to 180 days to help teenagers who are often working at small businesses get their foot on the economic ladder and be able to work their way up in the workplace. 

This seems like it's part of the GOP's move to be a more populist party. Why do you think the GOP needs to move in that direction? 

Well, one thing that President Trump has done over the last five years is kind of reset the view of a lot of Republican politicians and help them understand the views of Republican voters.

You know, when he first said that we should put America first, it gave a lot of Republican politicians in Washington the vapors.

But for most Americans, certainly most Republicans, it's just common sense that America should come first and that American workers should come first. That's been my view on immigration since I got the Congress -- really before I was ever in the Congress -- is that our immigration policy should put the interest of America's workers and America's communities first. 

Fox Nation was a sponsor of CPAC.