Progressives Happy With a Half-Win on Minimum Wage

Obama’s coming executive action will affect only a fraction of the federal workforce. The Progressive Caucus cochairman is still pumped.

WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 16: U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN) speaks during a news conference January 16, 2013 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. House Democrats held a news conference to announce new legislation to eliminate the federal debt ceiling.
National Journal
Elahe Izad
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Elahe Izad
Jan. 28, 2014, 4:25 a.m.

It doesn’t mat­ter that Pres­id­ent Obama will an­nounce rais­ing the min­im­um wage for only a frac­tion of the fed­er­al work­force — pro­gress­ives are ec­stat­ic.

“I’m pumped up,” Pro­gress­ive Caucus Co­chair­man Keith El­lis­on said this morn­ing. “I’m so happy that I’m play­ing Brazili­an mu­sic here.”

The Min­nesota Demo­crat led an ef­fort to push Pres­id­ent Obama to raise the min­im­um wage for work­ers on fed­er­al con­tracts. And low-wage fed­er­al con­tract work­ers have been protest­ing for an in­crease in pay, since rais­ing the min­im­um wage for all work­ers has been a heavy lift in Con­gress. Obama will an­nounce at to­night’s State of the Uni­on that he will raise the wage from $7.25 to $10.10 an hour for these work­ers. But it’s only for work­ers on new con­tracts, rep­res­ent­ing sev­er­al hun­dred thou­sand work­ers. Des­pite that, pro­gress­ives are de­clar­ing a win.

“We feel great about it. To me, it’s evid­ence that act­iv­ism works. If you pe­ti­tion your gov­ern­ment peace­fully for the right thing, something that helps people,” it will hap­pen, El­lis­on said. “It’s not al­ways on your timeline…. This is not a com­plete vic­tory, but we also un­der­stood that half of something is bet­ter than all of noth­ing.”

Sen. Tom Har­kin, the lead­ing Sen­ate ad­voc­ate for a fed­er­al min­im­um wage in­crease, is pleased, too. But he isn’t sat­is­fied. “This ex­ec­ut­ive or­der is a strong step in the right dir­ec­tion, and I am grate­ful for Pres­id­ent Obama’s lead­er­ship,” the Iowa Demo­crat said in a state­ment. “But as I know the pres­id­ent would agree, it’s only a first step.”

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