In one of the first major policy fights of the Biden administration, the push to increase the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour has effectively been killed. To increase the minimum wage, Democrats would need a supermajority of senators to vote for the bill. Because the Senate is split 50–50 between Democrats and Republicans, with Vice President Harris’ vote giving the Democrats a narrow majority, nine Republicans would also have to vote for the bill for it to pass. Without a supermajority, Republicans can simply filibuster the bill to death.
In an attempt to subvert the filibuster, Democrats sought to pass the federal minimum wage increase through a process called reconciliation. Using reconciliation would allow Democrats to enact the bill with fifty-one votes rather than sixty. However, Democrats will not have the opportunity to do this as the Senate parliamentarian, Elizabeth MacDonough, ruled it not within the scope of reconciliation.
It’s hard to overstate how devastating of a blow this decision is. However, Democrats are not powerless in this situation. As president of the Senate, Vice President Harris has the power to overrule the parliamentarian. Democrats could also get rid of the filibuster entirely with fifty-one votes. But hey, if they don’t want to invoke either of those two options, Democrats could always take a page of out the Republicans’ book when the Senate parliamentarian ruled that the Bush administration tax cuts weren’t within the scope of reconciliation: they fired the parliamentarian and passed the damn bill.
Of course, Democrats will do none of the above. The Democratic Party prides itself in being the “nice”, i.e. doormat, political party and frankly, I’m sick of it. Democrats play by the rules; Republicans toss out whichever rules get in their way. Democrats water down their policy proposals for the sake of “unity”; Republicans enact the legislation they want.
I’m hardly the first to point out that Democrats and Republicans abide by a different set of rules. For years, folks have pleaded with Democratic leadership to stop playing nice with the GOP. It is a fruitless and frankly self-sabotaging measure, as Republicans never reciprocate. Democratic leaders like Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer are not ignorant to these discrepancies but have long held that if they start acting like Republicans do when they’re in charge then they are no better. How could Democrats claim the moral high ground if they act just as immorally as Republicans?
Under different circumstances, I might have taken this opportunity to calmly explain why this is an extremely wrongheaded approach. But I have no patience for that anymore. Democrats need to decide whether they want to cling to this one-sided view of “morality” or if they want to be effective leaders. That’s it. That’s the choice. Democrats won the 2020 election by a landslide. Start acting like it! The United States is in dire crisis. Americans need help right now. We elected Democrats to improve our lives, not maintain their precious friendships with their Republican colleagues.
During the 2020 election cycle, the GOP put up roadblock after roadblock to suppress the vote and stay in power. Their plans to steal the presidential election were not a secret: Republicans openly acknowledged that they couldn’t win the election without voter suppression. Millions of people, especially women of color, worked tirelessly to turn out the vote in spite of these hurdles. They are the reason Joe Biden won. They are the reason Democrats have the majority in the House of Representatives and the Senate. Democrats owe it to their voters to, at the very least, fight for one of their central campaign promises.
The $15 federal minimum wage increase was a key component of Biden’s campaign. It also has broad support among Americans with 67 percent supporting the policy. Increasing the minimum wage is a winning issue! Furthermore, contrary to what Republicans (and Democrat Joe Manchin) believe, increasing the minimum wage is not some radical, leftist idea. It’s badly needed public policy.
I’m looking at you, Senator John Thune. Senator Thune opposes the $15 minimum wage because when he was a teenager, he only earned $6 an hour working as a cook. In other words, “I survived on $6 and was grateful for it! So stop whining!” As historian, Kevin Kruse, immediately pointed out earning $6 an hour in 1979 is not the same as it is in 2021. In fact, earning $6 an hour in 1979 would be the equivalent of earning $23.11 an hour today. Would you prefer if we were fighting for a $23 minimum wage, Senator Thune?
Raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour is already a compromise. Democrats should not be willing to go any lower than that. The United States is the richest country on earth. The “working poor” is a demographic that should not exist. According to the National Low Income Housing Coalition, “full-time minimum wage workers cannot afford a two-bedroom rental anywhere in the U.S. and cannot afford a one-bedroom rental in 95 percent of U.S. counties.”
Watching Democratic leadership give up this easily on a policy that was their idea and has broad public support is just baffling. Progressives knew that there were going to be issues that we had to push President Biden on, like tax reform, universal healthcare, the Green New Deal, student loan forgiveness, and immigration reform, but a policy that was in his campaign should not fall into this category.
How are we going to successfully fight for more progressive legislation if Democrats can’t even follow through on a minimum wage increase? Are Democrats going to give up this easily when a healthcare bill comes to the floor for a vote? Honestly, at this point, we’ll be lucky if Democrats are even willing to hobble the original Affordable Care Act back together, let alone expand it.
Democrats have two years with complete control over the federal government. Why are they spending this critical time surrendering their power? The president’s party almost always loses one or both chambers of Congress in the first midterm election. If Republicans take back even one chamber we’re right back to endless gridlock.
Voter turnout is notoriously low in midterm elections and usually favors Republicans. The odds of Democrats keeping the House and Senate are already low and they will continue to decline as Democrats squander away their time as the majority party. How can Democrats honestly expect to turn out their voters if they’re doing nothing for them, right now? Make peoples’ lives better! Push for radical change! Stop playing nice with the GOP! Democrats have two more years with control over the federal government. Start using it.