Obama Renews Minimum Wage Fight on Labor Day, But He Knows Congress Won't Act
Everywhere you look, the throes of election season are all around — campaigning officials, aggressive attack advertising, and of course, a sitting President aiming to set the national agenda for his party. And it's now becoming clear that the Democrats are sticking to their guns on a major domestic policy proposal: President Obama renewed the minimum wage fight in his Labor Day address Monday, chiding Congress for failing to give Americans a raise, as he has time and time again.
This has been a long-term plan of attack for the Democrats, dating back to Obama's 2014 State of the Union address, though that's not to imply they don't earnestly believe in the policy. The minimum wage is as politically polarizing as it gets within the halls of Washington, with liberals casting it as an issue of basic fairness, decency, and sound economics, while anti-regulation conservatives protest it as a job-killer, and dispute its economic virtues.
As an election issue, however, the Democrats clearly have a winner, in terms of the opinions of average Americans. Polling has regularly shown a majority of Americans in support of increasing the minimum wage — a CNN Money poll from June tallied 71 percent of Americans in support, and a Gallup poll even found a majority of Republicans supporting a compromise figure of $9 per hour, though opposing automatic hikes tied to inflation.
The question, of course, is whether the GOP-led House would ever agree to such a plan to increase the federal minimum wage. And, sad as it is to say, the answer is almost certainly "no," which is why President Obama specifically criticized Congress for their inaction — he knows full well nothing's going to change. According to CBS News, he implied that the fight would be up to working people, absent a Congress willing to act. What he means, obviously, is "get to the polls in November."
If we had a Congress that cared about policies that actually helped working people, I promise you we could get everything done that we talked about doing. But until we have that Congress its up to us to fight for those policies.
To fully explore the notion of a federal minimum wage hike crossing President Obama's desk, here's what it would take: both the House and Senate would have to vote to approve it, meaning it would have to overcome two colossal obstacles. First, it would need to make it to the Senate floor for a vote, in spite of the ever-present threat of Republican filibuster.
And even if that happened — an unlikely feat, to say the least, considering they filibustered a raise to $10.10 per hour back in April — America's hopes for an increase would surely die in the Republican-controlled House, under the leadership of Speaker John Boehner. Boehner has demonstrated a poor amount of control of his House membership throughout 2014, most dramatically when he was forced to team up with the Democratic minority to pass a crucial increase to the debt limit back in February.
But on the topic of the minimum wage, Boehner has no potentially apocalyptic scenario to fear. The reality if he and the GOP do nothing isn't utter economic chaos, as it would've been on a debt limit default, it's just the status quo — a $7.25 per hour minimum wage, and a bunch of pro-business rhetoric. In short, there's no leverage to force Boehner to take the issue seriously and bring a vote to the floor. Unless, that is, Democrats score a completely unforeseen, massive landslide victory in November.
Which is exactly why Obama is renewing the call now, to try to convince the American electorate that midterm elections matter, and that the Democrats have the backs of the average worker.
And he's not wrong to do so — for all a minimum wage hike has popular support (even a majority of voters in conservative Kentucky want to see $10.10 an hour) the only way to really change up the status quo on this issue is to change the makeup of Congress itself. Because as long as the GOP controls 234 House seats, the federal minimum wage is going to stay right where it is.
Images: Getty Images (2)