By Rosetta Miller Perry
An early battle that will determine just how serious the Democratic Party is about improving a lot of working-class Americans is brewing over the minimum wage. The Biden/Harris administration wants to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour as part of the President’s overall $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief proposal.
It’s being supported by progressive leadership in both the House and Senate. As would be expected, there’s opposition from the Republican Party, still in the throes of demagogue Donald Trump, and determined to do mostly nothing under a strategy of sabotaging Biden’s plans to jump-start the economy.
But what wasn’t expected is opposition from fellow Democrats. These actions are what made it so difficult for President Obama to do anything during his first term, despite having both the House and Senate in Democratic control. There were always a handful of so-called “Blue Dog” Democrats (Congress Jim Cooper) ready to act like Republicans at critical times. With the Senate now split 50-50, Vice President Harris can cast tie-breaking votes.
However that doesn’t mean anything if the Democrats aren’t united in their support of various measures, and it seems Republicans are counting on some Democrats to side with them in opposing a minimum wage raise. Democrats passed a budget resolution last week that paves the way for them to craft a coronavirus relief bill without GOP support by sidestepping the 60-vote legislative filibuster. Senate Budget Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) has touted the resolution as the vehicle for boosting the federal minimum wage.
“Passing this budget resolution will give us the tools we need to raise the minimum wage to a living wage of $15 an hour and provide substantial help to struggling small businesses to help them cover the cost of these wage increases,” Sanders said from the Senate floor last Thursday.
But Democrats still need a determination from the parliamentarian about whether an increase in the minimum wage complies with the arcane rules that determine what can and cannot, be passed under the reconciliation process to bypass a filibuster. Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) largely avoided the issue during his last press conference. “Look, there’s going to be a process, as we said. We believe we have very strong support for a bold, strong plan on the level of what the president proposed. All the details are going to be worked out as we go through the committee process, and we hope Republicans will join us. But we are not going to dilute this so it doesn’t help the American people get out of this crisis quickly,” Schumer said.
It’s time Democratic leadership identifies and targets any Democratic Senator who opposes raising the minimum wage. It’s way past time that people stopped pretending anyone can live in the current economy on $7.25 an hour. This means people like Senators Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Jon Tester of Montana. They often sound like Republicans. Manchin is giving interviews to Fox News saying he not only doesn’t support a $15 minimum wage but didn’t think it complied with Senate reconciliation rules as well.
According to Manchin “anybody that goes to work in the morning and works 40 hours a week and works 50 weeks a year, that’s 2000 hours, should be above – a family of three – above the poverty guidelines – and that’s not $15.” How about paying him $$7.25 an hour and see how well he does. Tester says “I’m supportive of increasing the minimum wage. There has to be some conversation about how it’s done.”
The opposition to raising the minimum wage is two-fold. Business owners who profit by keeping employee wages low and their profits high complain if they raise the minimum wage they’ll have to reduce their employee roster. Others insist it will lead to another huge increase in the national debt.
We say neither of those are valid reasons not to raise the minimum wage to a livable figure. Anyone owning a business should be paying their employees a salary commensurate with being able to survive. American business leaders should be ashamed in the 21st century to be paying starvation wages, especially when they criticize other nations for doing the same thing.
Likewise, as far as deficit spending goes, the continually soaring costs of defense spending could easily be reduced. Likewise, closing tax loopholes passed under the Trump administration that allow multinational corporations to pay next to nothing in taxes and also give huge breaks to extremely wealthy individuals would definitely reduce the deficit and make up for raising the minimum wage.
But most importantly, if Democrats are serious about making substantive change, it’s time for them to stop acting like Republicans. Getting two new Democratic Senators from Georgia was supposed to make a big difference in public policy moving forward. If it turns out it really didn’t result in substantive change, voters have every right to ask why and hold Democratic leadership accountable for the results.
The bottom line is Senate Democrats must unite behind raising the minimum wage and get it passed along with the rest of the Biden relief package as quickly as possible. Forget trying to get Republicans on board and instead start behaving like the party in power rather than the one that’s been so ineffective and inept the past four years under the horrendous administration of Donald Trump.
Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) told The Hill that he did not support a $15 minimum wage. He separately said in a Fox News interview that he didn’t think including it complied with Senate reconciliation rules, either.
“The only thing we can do during this reconciliation is anything that comes within the financial realms of what we’re dealing with. It’s called budget reconciliation, which has to be within the budget lines. That does not come within that at all. And it really needs to be debated,” Manchin said.
He added that “anybody that goes to work in the morning and works 40 hours a week and works 50 weeks a year, that’s 2,000 hours, should be above — a family of three — above the poverty guidelines — and that’s not $15.”
Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) said that while he supports raising the minimum wage, there needs to be a discussion about the process.
“I’m supportive of increasing the minimum wage. There has to be some conversation about how it’s done,” Tester said.