Democrats are in a precarious position. They’ve gained the White House and majorities in both houses of Congress amidst a raging pandemic and immense economic struggle. Americans desperately need relief and haven’t received much from the federal government aside from assurances that help is on the way. But in the face of several crises, patience is growing thin. It’s a good moment for Democrats to rally around a popular policy position that brings much needed relief to everyday Americans.
It looks like a $15 minimum wage won’t be that policy, though.
A new report from POLITICO says that Biden privately told a group of mayors and governors last week that the $15 minimum wage hike is “unlikely to happen” as part of his $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan. The president couched the somber news by saying that he wouldn’t give up the fight, but due to budget reconciliation raising the minimum wage will probably have to wait until a later date. It’s all part of Biden’s repeated intention to make things as bipartisan as possible. As he sees it, if Dems use budget reconciliation to pass COVID-19 relief without Republican support, they can’t pack it full of things Republicans might be leery of.
Except Democrats can and absolutely should do that. Their Senate and House majorities aren’t just something lord over Republicans still whinging about election results—they’re a mandate to govern on behalf of the constituents that put them there. Poll after poll has shown that a solid majority of Americans support a $15 minimum wage hike. It’s exactly the kind of broadly popular policy that Democrats can claim as their own, pass without GOP help, and use as campaign fodder for the next decade—plus it actually helps people. It’s a no brainer. But Democrats love negotiating against themselves. Having a good, meaningful, popular policy isn’t enough—they’re all about whittling it down before then asking “would Republicans like this version?”
— Ben Spielberg (@BenSpielberg) February 19, 2021
Some elected Democrats are on board. Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar tweeted her support just two days ago. Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders has continued his advocacy for $15 throughout the course of the pandemic. He and several other Democratic primary candidates understood the power and popularity of raising the minimum wage to make it livable. That’s not how Biden plays politics, though—he’d rather chalk it up to some imagined constraint and say he’ll work to get it done later. The only problem is there’s no reason to believe his administration will ever come back to it since they’ve been so willing to reduce their position during his first month in office.
Political backpedaling was to be expected during a Biden administration. The president is obsessed with portraying unity and bipartisanship at the cost of actually passing legislation. It’s a nice concept in theory, but completely ineffective in getting anything meaningful done right now. Given the same majorities, Republicans passed major tax cuts for the rich and completely revamped the judiciary with no regard for Democratic sentiment or support. They understood what they had was an opportunity to capitalize on and do exactly what they wanted, not a forum to establish some kind of feigned unity with the opposition. Democrats were never going to govern the same way. But watching the president negotiate against himself and offer up bogus excuses as to why a popular policy can’t make the cut should make the party very nervous about the 2022.