Obama Will Raise the Minimum Wage, but on a Small Scale

A new executive order increases the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour for just several hundred thousand workers.

National Journal
Matt Vasilogambros
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Matt Vasilogambros
Jan. 28, 2014, 3:41 a.m.

Pres­id­ent Obama is plan­ning to uni­lat­er­ally go after one of the more pop­u­lar pro­pos­als in his State of the Uni­on: rais­ing the min­im­um wage, if only for a lim­ited num­ber of work­ers.

The pres­id­ent will sign an ex­ec­ut­ive or­der that raises the min­im­um wage for fed­er­al con­tract­ors from $7.25 an hour to $10.10 an hour, the White House an­nounced on Tues­day morn­ing, just hours be­fore the State of the Uni­on.

But here’s the catch: The ex­ec­ut­ive or­der will only af­fect sev­er­al hun­dred thou­sand work­ers, as op­posed to the 21 mil­lion who would see their wages in­creased if Con­gress passed a full fed­er­al in­crease. The or­der be­ne­fits work­ers in the per­form­ing ser­vices and con­struc­tion, along with work­ers at mil­it­ary bases who work in dish-wash­ing, food ser­vice, and laun­dry.

Rais­ing the min­im­um wage is wildly pop­u­lar in the United States. A re­cent Pew poll shows that 73 per­cent of Amer­ic­ans are in fa­vor of rais­ing the fed­er­al min­im­um wage for all work­ers. And those num­bers are strong across party lines. Some 90 per­cent of Demo­crats sup­port the hike, along with 71 per­cent of in­de­pend­ents and 53 per­cent of Re­pub­lic­ans. An NBC News poll re­leased on Tues­day also shows that a ma­jor­ity of Amer­ic­ans think the pres­id­ent’s pro­pos­al to in­crease the min­im­um wage should be a pri­or­ity this year.

In last year’s State of the Uni­on, the pres­id­ent pro­posed a bill to in­crease the min­im­um wage to $9 an hour. Pro­pos­als in Con­gress, however, have failed to gain any trac­tion, as many Re­pub­lic­an law­makers have ar­gued that a raise in the min­im­um wage would stifle busi­ness and hurt job cre­ation.

In an­noun­cing this latest ex­ec­ut­ive ac­tion, the White House still pro­moted a bill that would boost the fed­er­al min­im­um wage to $10.10 an hour, and said the pres­id­ent will work with Con­gress to get the bill passed. Wheth­er that can hap­pen is an­oth­er is­sue.

Pro­gress­ives in Con­gress have been pres­sur­ing the pres­id­ent to take ac­tion on the min­im­um wage uni­lat­er­ally for some time. Back in Decem­ber, Con­gres­sion­al Pro­gress­ive Caucus Co­chair­man Keith El­lis­on, a Min­nesota Demo­crat, hand-de­livered a let­ter to the pres­id­ent ask­ing him to sign an ex­ec­ut­ive or­der. It’s un­clear, however, if this latest ac­tion by the pres­id­ent will totally sat­is­fy the lib­er­al end of his base.

What is clear, though, is that the pres­id­ent is will­ing to by­pass Con­gress to go after some of his agenda items, at least on small scales. The pres­id­ent on Tues­day night is ex­pec­ted to an­nounce oth­er ex­ec­ut­ive ac­tions that will not re­quire con­gres­sion­al ap­prov­al.

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