WASHINGTON — The House is expected on Thursday to pass a bill that would raise the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2025, delivering a long-sought victory to liberals and putting the Democratic Party’s official imprimatur on the so-called Fight for $15, which many Democratic presidential candidates have embraced.
The bill would more than double the federal minimum wage, which is $7.25 an hour and has not been raised since 2009 — the longest time the country has gone without a minimum-wage increase since it was established 1938.
The measure, which Republicans brand a jobs-killer, faces a steep climb in the Senate. But it previews what Democrats would do if they capture the Senate and the White House in 2020, and it demonstrates how fast the politics have shifted since 2012, when fast-food workers began to strike in cities around the country, demanding $15-an-hour wages and a union.
At the time, the figure seemed absurdly high, and even Democrats thought it was politically impossible. In the years since, even Republican states like Arkansas and Missouri have raised minimum wages, encouraging Democrats on Capitol Hill. In 2016, Senator Bernie Sanders, independent of Vermont, pushed the issue to the fore when he challenged Hillary Clinton for the Democratic presidential nomination.
“It’s got overwhelming support within the Democratic Caucus, and I think the fact that it could pass in Arkansas gives pause to anybody that’s thinking about voting against it,” said Representative Robert C. Scott, Democrat of Virginia and the measure’s chief sponsor.
Still, Democratic moderates — especially those who represent districts carried by President Trump — were nervous about the measure, and it took Mr. Scott and other champions of the bill months to bring them around. In the end, the sponsors tacked on two provisions: one authorizing a study of the measure’s effects after it has been in place for two years, and another extending the deadline for a $15 minimum wage from 2024 to 2025.
Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the liberal Democrat from New York and a strong ally of the Fight for $15 movement, called the vote a “huge deal.” But she signaled the fight is not over.
“It’s not just about $15, it’s about $15 and a union,” she said. “Fifteen started 10 years ago, so what is that pegged to inflation today? That’s why what we fight for is a living wage. So I think that this vote is an important milestone. I think this vote is crucial.”
To fast-food workers like Terrence Wise, 40, who lives in Kansas City, Mo., and makes $12 an hour working full-time at McDonald’s, the vote shows the power of grass-roots activism.
“What we’re doing is working,” said Mr. Wise, an early member and longtime leader of the Fight for $15 movement. “We’re a powerful voting bloc, and we will take that power to the ballot box.”
The push for a $15 minimum wage began in New York City, when a group called New York Communities for Change started visiting fast-food restaurants and talking to workers about their grievances. Along with the Service Employees International Union, it invited them to organizing meetings in Brooklyn. After getting together and talking, the workers decided to ask their employers for $15 and a union.
Even though $15 seemed out of reach, the workers settled on it because they thought it would enable them to afford rent, the subway, and the other costs of life in and around one of the more expensive cities on earth. About 200 people went on strike to demand the higher wage on Nov. 29, 2012, and a movement was born.
“Fast food workers always believed that there would be a national shift to $15,” said Mary Kay Henry, head of Service Employees International Union, which has helped provide institutional support to Fight for $15 from the outset. She recalled marching alongside them in 2012 and thinking that the goal was ambitious — because Democrats were talking about $9 and $10.10 minimums at the time. “I remember thinking, ‘Holy moly. How long is this going to take us?’”
Seven states have now passed legislation to gradually raise wages to $15, and cities including San Francisco and New York City already pay that much. In total, 29 states now have floors higher than the federal minimum, according to the Labor Department.
Companies have even joined in, with corporations including Amazon and Target raising their base wages to $15. By the 2016 midterm elections, $15 was resonating at a national level, making it into the Democratic Party platform. Support for striking workers has become common among Democratic presidential hopefuls including South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey.
“The successes in the municipalities and states are key,” said Douglas Holtz-Eakin, a former director of the Congressional Budget Office who is now president of the American Action Forum. “All of that laid down the predicate that people wanted this.”
But Mr. Holtz-Eakin said raising the national minimum wage would be a mistake, in part because labor conditions vary dramatically around the country. The wage level that causes no or little harm to businesses in San Francisco might severely hurt those in Mississippi. He said it is unlikely that the minimum wage will pass at $15 by 2025, even if a Democrat wins the White House in 2020.
“Politically, it’s a popular one, there’s no question,” he said. “I think it gets bargained down in the process.”