HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) - U.S. Sen. Bob Casey of Pennsylvania said Tuesday that he is adding his support to legislation to raise the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour, joining the party's growing chorus at the state and federal level ahead of the 2020 presidential election.
The bill Casey is joining is already backed by 30 fellow Democrats. It is written by U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont and backed by five other Democratic senators who, like the politically independent Sanders, are seeking the party's nomination to run for president.
Casey acknowledged that winning passage in the Republican-controlled Senate is a tall order, but that it is important to build support for it now if a Democrat is elected president in 2020.
"I would not be a candidate during 2020 running for Senate or Congress not supporting this because I think it's popular across the board," Casey said. "Not only do people know the data on wages, they've lived these lives of very little wage growth and I think it's the No. 1 economic challenge that we have."
In the Democrat-controlled U.S. House, similar legislation is sponsored by 198 Democrats, including eight of nine Pennsylvania Democrats.
The bill is widely embraced by labor unions and other groups aligned with the Democratic Party. Previously, Casey had authored legislation to increase the federal minimum wage to $12 an hour by 2020 and to index it to the annual change in median wages.
The "Raise the Wage Act" that Casey will co-sponsor would also index future annual increases in the federal minimum wage to median wage growth and gradually raise the $2.13 minimum for tipped workers to the full federal minimum wage.
Five states -- Illinois, New Jersey, California, Massachusetts and New York, as well as the District of Columbia -- have put their minimum wages on a path to reach $15 an hour.
Pennsylvania, however, is one of 20 states that remain at the $7.25 minimum. In recent weeks, Gov. Tom Wolf, a Democrat, introduced similar $15 minimum wage legislation, although it faces long odds in the state's Republican-controlled Legislature.
A top state Republican lawmaker, Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman, said Monday that Wolf's $15 proposal is not reasonable or worth discussing.
However, Corman, R-Centre, suggested there is enough Senate Republican support for a more modest increase to bring a bill to the floor, although Corman would not define what he views as a reasonable increase.