Can Obama Unilaterally Raise the Minimum Wage?

That’s what progressives in Congress are demanding, while Republicans not only oppose a boost, some want repeal.

Fast food workers and their supporters gather for a nationwide strike outside a McDonald's fastfood outlet demanding higher wages and the right to form a union on August 29, 2013 in Los Angeles, California, where the fast food restaurant workers were calling for a $15.00 per hour wage. 
National Journal
Ben Terris
Add to Briefcase
Ben Terris
Dec. 5, 2013, midnight

Pro­gress­ives are start­ing to worry that Pres­id­ent Obama may be more talk than walk when it comes to rais­ing the min­im­um wage. Again, on Wed­nes­day, the pres­id­ent said, “It’s well past the time to raise a min­im­um wage that, in real terms right now, is be­low where it was when Harry Tru­man was in of­fice.”

Well, pro­gress­ives say, there’s a whole group of low-wage work­ers that he can fix this for, just with the stroke of a pen. The chair­men of the Con­gres­sion­al Pro­gress­ive Caucus, Reps. Raul Gri­jalva and Keith El­lis­on, wrote a let­ter that urges the pres­id­ent to cir­cum­vent Con­gress and sign an ex­ec­ut­ive or­der to raise the min­im­um wage for work­ers em­ployed through fed­er­al gov­ern­ment con­tracts with private com­pan­ies. This let­ter comes months after 49 mem­bers of the CPC re­ques­ted the same thing from the pres­id­ent, only to hear ra­dio si­lence about it from the White House.

“It’s frus­trat­ing,” says El­lis­on, who hand-de­livered the let­ter to the pres­id­ent after his speech Wed­nes­day. “We know his heart is in the right place and he wants to do something, and this is something he can do.”

It’s es­pe­cially frus­trat­ing for El­lis­on and his caucus con­sid­er­ing there is no chance such a meas­ure could pass the Re­pub­lic­an-held House and that Obama said months ago that he would use “whatever ex­ec­ut­ive au­thor­ity I have to help the middle class.”

In this case, when you take all of the people this could af­fect — from folks who sew mil­it­ary uni­forms to the men and wo­men clean­ing up after tour­ists at the Smith­so­ni­an or Uni­on Sta­tion, to work­ers at the Na­tion­al Zoo — it adds up.

Ac­cord­ing to a re­port from the pro­gress­ive think tank Demos, there were nearly 2 mil­lion private sec­tor work­ers fun­ded by pub­lic dol­lars (from dir­ect fed­er­al con­tracts as well as fed­er­al health care spend­ing, loans through the Small Busi­ness Ad­min­is­tra­tion, in­fra­struc­ture grants, and jan­it­ors clean­ing fed­er­al build­ings leased from private com­pan­ies) mak­ing less than $12 an hour in 2012.

That’s more than the num­ber of people work­ing at Wal­mart and Mc­Don­alds com­bined.

Lu­is Chil­i­quinga, who works at a Mc­Don­alds at the Air and Space Mu­seum for $8.32 an hour, is one of these people. He says that the amount of money he makes in a month, he could eas­ily spend in a day.

“It’s a shame to have to ad­mit this, but I have to rely on char­ity and help from fam­ily mem­bers, in­clud­ing some of my kids who don’t earn much more than I do, but they help me pay for the ba­sics, like rent and food,” he said, not­ing that he will be tak­ing part in a protest out­side of the mu­seum Thursday. “That’s how I make it.”

Chil­i­quinga says its mor­ally right for Obama to sign an ex­ec­ut­ive or­der so that wealthy com­pan­ies like Mc­Don­alds can­not take ad­vant­age of their work­force.

And it’s not as if there isn’t some kind of pre­ced­ent for something like this to hap­pen. In 1965, for ex­ample, Pres­id­ent Lyn­don John­son signed an ex­ec­ut­ive or­der arm­ing the sec­ret­ary of Labor with en­force­ment au­thor­ity to en­sure equal op­por­tun­it­ies for minor­it­ies in fed­er­al con­tract­ors’ re­cruit­ment, hir­ing, and train­ing.

Re­pub­lic­an law­makers likely won’t see this as jus­ti­fic­a­tion to raise the min­im­um wage.

“I have this in­tense con­cern that this pres­id­ent is chew­ing up the Con­sti­tu­tion by the ex­cess­ive use of what he be­lieves is pres­id­en­tial au­thor­ity,” said Rep. Dav­id Sch­weikert, R-Ar­iz.

It’s par­tic­u­larly un­pal­at­able for Re­pub­lic­ans, as the ma­jor­ity of them op­pose to rais­ing the min­im­um wage at all. “I think it’s out­lived its use­ful­ness,” said Rep. Joe Bar­ton of Texas. “It may have been of some value back in the Great De­pres­sion. I would vote to re­peal the min­im­um wage.”

So yes, if Obama were to use his ex­ec­ut­ive au­thor­ity to raise the min­im­um wage for any­one, there would be Re­pub­lic­an an­ger. But some pro­gress­ives point out that wouldn’t be any dif­fer­ent from a nor­mal day.

“They don’t ap­pre­ci­ate any­thing the pres­id­ent does any­way, so I don’t think he’d be los­ing much from them,” said El­lis­on.

What We're Following See More »
CITES CONFLICT OF INTEREST
Lieberman Withdraws from Consideration for FBI Job
2 days ago
THE LATEST
MINIMUM 2 PERCENT GDP
Trump Tells NATO Countries To Pay Up
2 days ago
BREAKING
MANAFORT AND FLYNN
Russians Discussed Influencing Trump Through Aides
2 days ago
THE DETAILS

"American spies collected information last summer revealing that senior Russian intelligence and political officials were discussing how to exert influence over Donald J. Trump through his advisers." The conversations centered around Paul Manafort, who was campaign chairman at the time, and Michael Flynn, former national security adviser and then a close campaign surrogate. Both men have been tied heavily with Russia and Flynn is currently at the center of the FBI investigation into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia.

Source:
BUT WHITE HOUSE MAY USE AGAINST HIM ANYWAY
Ethics Cops Clear Mueller to Work on Trump Case
4 days ago
THE LATEST

"Former FBI Director Robert Mueller has been cleared by U.S. Department of Justice ethics experts to oversee an investigation into possible collusion between then-candidate Donald Trump's 2016 election campaign and Russia." Some had speculated that the White House would use "an ethics rule limiting government attorneys from investigating people their former law firm represented" to trip up Mueller's appointment. Jared Kushner is a client of Mueller's firm, WilmerHale. "Although Mueller has now been cleared by the Justice Department, the White House may still use his former law firm's connection to Manafort and Kushner to undermine the findings of his investigation, according to two sources close to the White House."

Source:
BUSINESSES CAN’T PLEAD FIFTH
Senate Intel to Subpoena Two of Flynn’s Businesses
4 days ago
THE LATEST

Senate Intelligence Committee chairman Richard Burr (R-NC) and ranking member Mark Warner (D-VA) will subpoena two businesses owned by former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn. Burr said, "We would like to hear from General Flynn. We'd like to see his documents. We'd like him to tell his story because he publicly said he had a story to tell."

×
×

Welcome to National Journal!

You are currently accessing National Journal from IP access. Please login to access this feature. If you have any questions, please contact your Dedicated Advisor.

Login