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 »
INDICTMENTS NOT PROOF OF COLLUSION
Rosenstein Holds Presser On Russian Indictments
2 days ago
THE DETAILS
Source:
CONTRADICTS TRUMP’S DENIALS
U.S. Indicts 13 Russian Nationals For Election Interference
2 days ago
THE LATEST

The indictment, filed in the District of Columbia, alleges that the interference began "in or around 2014," when the defendants began tracking and studying U.S. social media sites. They "created and controlled numerous Twitter accounts" and "purchased computer servers located inside the United States" to mask their identities, some of which were stolen. The interference was coordinated by election interference "specialists," and focused on the Black Lives Matter movement, immigration, and other divisive issues. "By early to mid-2016" the groups began supporting the campaign of "then-candidate Donald Trump," including by communicating with "unwitting individuals associated with the Trump Campaign..."

Source:
“QUEEN FOR A DAY”
Gates Said to Be Finalizing a Plea Deal
2 days ago
THE LATEST

"Former Trump campaign adviser Rick Gates is finalizing a plea deal with special counsel Robert Mueller's office, indicating he's poised to cooperate in the investigation, according to sources familiar with the case. Gates has already spoken to Mueller's team about his case and has been in plea negotiations for about a month. He's had what criminal lawyers call a 'Queen for a Day' interview, in which a defendant answers any questions from the prosecutors' team, including about his own case and other potential criminal activity he witnessed."

Source:
ZERO-FOR-TWO
Another Defeat for Immigration Legislation in the Senate
3 days ago
THE LATEST

"The Senate on Thursday rejected immigration legislation crafted by centrists in both parties after President Trump threatened to veto the bill if it made it to his desk. In a 54-45 vote, the Senate failed to advance the legislation from eight Republican, seven Democratic and one Independent senators. It needed 60 votes to overcome a procedural hurdle. "

Source:
DISPUTE ASSERTION OF EXECUTIVE PRIVILEGE
House Intel Panel Could Charge Bannon with Contempt
3 days ago
THE LATEST

"The House Intelligence Committee has scheduled a Thursday meeting to hear testimony from Steve Bannon—but it's an open question whether President Donald Trump's former chief strategist will even show up. The White House sent a letter to Capitol Hill late Wednesday laying out its explanation for why Trump's transition period falls under its authority to assert executive privilege, a move intended to shield Bannon from answering questions about that time period." Both Republicans and Democrats on the committee dispute the White House's theory, and have floated charging Bannon with contempt should he refuse to appear.

Source:
×
×

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