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.
- 1 Can Hillary Clinton Succeed on the Hill Where Obama Didn’t?
- 2 On Convention’s First Night, Bernie Sanders and His Supporters Upstage Clinton
- 3 The Gender Politics of Pence’s Governor Pick
- 4 The Rising Stars to Watch at the Democratic National Convention
- 5 Trump gets bounce from convention and now it’s Clinton’s turn
What We're Following See More »
Instead of his usual stump speech, Bernie Sanders tonight threw his support behind Hillary Clinton, providing a clear contrast between Clinton and GOP nominee Donald Trump on the many issues he used to discuss in his campaign stump speeches. Sanders spoke glowingly about the presumptive Democratic nominee, lauding her work as first lady and as a strong advocate for women and the poor. “We need leadership in this country which will improve the lives of working families, the children, the elderly, the sick and the poor,” he said. “Hillary Clinton will make a great president, and I am proud to stand with her tonight."
In a stark contrast from Michelle Obama's uplifting speech, Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren spoke about the rigged system plaguing Americans before launching into a full-throated rebuke of GOP nominee Donald Trump. Trump is "a man who has never sacrificed anything for anyone," she claimed, before saying he "must never be president of the United States." She called him divisive and selfish, and said the American people won't accept his "hate-filled America." In addition to Trump, Warren went after the Republican Party as a whole. "To Republicans in Congress who said no, this November the American people are coming for you," she said.
"In this election, and every election, it's about who will have the power to shape our children for the next four or eight years of their lives," Michelle Obama said. "There is only one person who I trust with that responsibility … and that is our friend Hillary Clinton." In a personal and emotional speech, Michelle Obama spoke about the effect that angry oppositional rhetoric had on her children and how she chose to raise them. "When they go low, we go high," Obama said she told her children about dealing with bullies. Obama stayed mostly positive, but still offered a firm rebuke of Donald Trump, despite never once uttering his name. "The issues a president faces cannot be boiled down to 140 characters," she said.
Many Bernie Sanders delegates have spent much of the first day of the Democratic National Convention resisting unity, booing at mentions of Hillary Clinton and often chanting "Bernie! Bernie!" Well, one of the most outspoken Bernie Sanders supporters just told them to take a seat. "To the Bernie-or-bust people: You're being ridiculous," said comedian Sarah Silverman in a brief appearance at the Convention, minutes after saying that she would proudly support Hillary Clinton for president.
The Democratic National Committee issued a formal apology to Bernie Sanders today, after leaked emails showed staffers trying to sabotage his presidential bid. "On behalf of everyone at the DNC, we want to offer a deep and sincere apology to Senator Sanders, his supporters, and the entire Democratic Party for the inexcusable remarks made over email," DNC officials said in the statement. "These comments do not reflect the values of the DNC or our steadfast commitment to neutrality during the nominating process. The DNC does not—and will not—tolerate disrespectful language exhibited toward our candidates."