Democrats Are Ready to Take the Minimum-Wage Fight on the Road

And vulnerable Senate Democrats are not running scared.

Low wage workers wearing Santa hats join with supporters of an increase in the minimum wage during a protest outside the Air and Space Museum December 5, 2013 in Washington, DC.
National Journal
Elahe Izad
Add to Briefcase
Elahe Izad
March 26, 2014, 12:04 p.m.

Pre­dic­tions that Re­pub­lic­ans will suc­ceed in their quest to un­seat vul­ner­able Demo­crats and take con­trol of the Sen­ate look mighty fine. But to that, Demo­crats say: Come at me, bro.

Sen­ate Demo­crats will start push­ing bills next week tied to a le­gis­lat­ive agenda they hope will be­come part of a lar­ger nar­rat­ive that all Demo­crats—par­tic­u­larly red-state ones fa­cing tough reelec­tion battles—can ag­gress­ively run on.

It kicks off with next week’s vote on a bill to in­crease the fed­er­al min­im­um wage to $10.10. The Sen­ate will vote the fol­low­ing week on the Paycheck Fair­ness Act, in­ten­ded to curb gender dis­par­it­ies in pay. Oth­er bills will ad­dress such is­sues as col­lege af­ford­ab­il­ity and tax loop­holes.

“Just about every­body in our caucus is happy to run on these is­sues,” said the No. 3 Sen­ate Demo­crat, Chuck Schu­mer. “They may not agree with ex­actly, spe­cific­ally what we might do on a few of them—[Arkan­sas Demo­crat­ic Sen.] Mark Pry­or is for min­im­um wage, but he’d be for it for at $9—but the pro­pos­al that we have over­whelm­ing sup­port in the caucus and over­whelm­ing sup­port with the Amer­ic­an people.”

Pry­or is among a con­tin­gent of Sen­ate Demo­crats who face con­stant at­tacks over Obama­care while run­ning in tough races in deeply red or purple states. And just a hand­ful of them have ex­pressed re­ser­va­tions about as­pects of the Sen­ate’s min­im­um-wage bill, with none try­ing to run away from this type of eco­nom­ic agenda.

Demo­crat­ic Sen. Mary Landrieu of Louisi­ana says she sup­ports the in­crease in the min­im­um wage, but still has con­cerns about the tipped wage and the timeline for a wage in­crease. “There’s no ques­tion that rais­ing the min­im­um wage is the right thing and the im­port­ant thing to do for mil­lions of Amer­ic­ans who work 40, 50 hours a week and still live be­low the poverty line,” she said.

Sen. Mark Warner of Vir­gin­ia said he “strongly” sup­ports a min­im­um-wage in­crease, without sign­ing off on the cur­rent bill. “There is go­ing to be a le­git­im­ate de­bate about tim­ing and phase-in ef­forts to make sure it has the min­im­um amount of dis­rup­tion in a still weak eco­nomy,” he said.

But oth­er red- and purple-state Demo­crats up for reelec­tion, such as Sens. Kay Hagan of North Car­o­lina and Mark Be­gich of Alaska, have em­braced the wage bill as is. Be­gich said it’s not a polit­ic­ally dif­fi­cult po­s­i­tion for him to take. “I don’t think it’s a prob­lem over­all. It’s good busi­ness, it makes good sense, and mak­ing sure people make a liv­able wage is im­port­ant be­cause they’ll spend that in the eco­nomy.”

The wage bill may not even make it past the Sen­ate, and it most cer­tainly won’t make it in­to law—it pre­dict­ably faces loads of op­pos­i­tion in the House. But that’s not really the point. It gives Demo­crats a coun­ter­weight to Re­pub­lic­an at­tacks over Obama­care.

The min­im­um wage is already an is­sue in many of these law­makers’ states. A min­im­um-wage in­crease will be on Alaska’s primary bal­lots this sum­mer, thanks to a cit­izen pe­ti­tion. And the state’s min­im­um wage is already 50 cents high­er than the fed­er­al wage. North Car­o­lina’s state wage, mean­while, mir­rors the fed­er­al $7.25 rate. In Arkan­sas, Demo­crats are or­gan­iz­ing a bal­lot ini­ti­at­ive to in­crease that state’s wage from $6.25 to $8.50 by 2017, something that Pry­or does sup­port.

Sen. John Thune, a mem­ber of the Re­pub­lic­an lead­er­ship, said that mem­bers of his caucus “are pretty united” against the the wage pro­pos­al. Re­pub­lic­ans will use a Con­gres­sion­al Budget Of­fice ana­lys­is to push back against the in­crease. CBO found that bill would re­duce the num­ber of work­ers in the labor force by 500,000 in 2016 (and also lift 900,000 out of poverty).

“I would be very cau­tious if I were one of those [red-state] Demo­crats about get­ting out there about a policy that the CBO says will cost the eco­nomy jobs,” Thune said. “It’s an is­sue that Demo­crats see as polit­ic­ally ad­vant­age­ous for them in an elec­tion year to try and drive, but I’m not sure that it doesn’t back­fire on them once you provide the counter ar­gu­ment.”

But with a wage in­crease polling well among Amer­ic­ans—73 per­cent back it, ac­cord­ing to a Janu­ary Pew Cen­ter sur­vey—Demo­crats are will­ing to take that gamble.

What We're Following See More »
WITH LIVE BLOGGING
Trump Deposition Video Is Online
2 hours ago
STAFF PICKS

The video of Donald Trump's deposition in his case against restaurateur Jeffrey Zakarian is now live. Slate's Jim Newell and Josh Voorhees are live-blogging it while they watch.

Source:
SOUND LEVEL AFFECTED
Debate Commission Admits Issues with Trump’s Mic
3 hours ago
THE LATEST

The Commission on Presidential Debates put out a statement today that gives credence to Donald Trump's claims that he had a bad microphone on Monday night. "Regarding the first debate, there were issues regarding Donald Trump's audio that affected the sound level in the debate hall," read the statement in its entirety.

Source:
TRUMP VS. CHEFS
Trump Deposition Video to Be Released
4 hours ago
THE LATEST

"A video of Donald Trump testifying under oath about his provocative rhetoric about Mexicans and other Latinos is set to go public" as soon as today. "Trump gave the testimony in June at a law office in Washington in connection with one of two lawsuits he filed last year after prominent chefs reacted to the controversy over his remarks by pulling out of plans to open restaurants at his new D.C. hotel. D.C. Superior Court Judge Brian Holeman said in an order issued Thursday evening that fears the testimony might show up in campaign commercials were no basis to keep the public from seeing the video."

Source:
A CANDIDATE TO BE ‘PROUD’ OF
Chicago Tribune Endorses Gary Johnson
7 hours ago
THE LATEST

No matter that his recall of foreign leaders leaves something to be desired, Gary Johnson is the choice of the Chicago Tribune's editorial board. The editors argue that Donald Trump couldn't do the job of president, while hitting Hillary Clinton for "her intent to greatly increase federal spending and taxation, and serious questions about honesty and trust." Which leaves them with Johnson. "Every American who casts a vote for him is standing for principles," they write, "and can be proud of that vote. Yes, proud of a candidate in 2016."

FUNERAL FOR ISRAELI LEADER
Obama Compares Peres to ‘Giants of the 20th Century’
7 hours ago
THE DETAILS

Speaking at the funeral of former Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres, President Obama "compared Peres to 'other giants of the 20th century' such as Nelson Mandela and Queen Elizabeth who 'find no need to posture or traffic in what's popular in the moment.'" Among the 6,000 mourners at the service was Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Obama called Abbas's presence a sign of the "unfinished business of peace" in the region.

Source:
×