Joe Manchin Is No Party Leader

The Democrats have a Joe Manchin problem. Even after Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock won the Georgia runoffs and secured Democrats a tenuous majority, the party knew its agenda could only go as far as hardcore centrists like Manchin and Arizona Senator Krysten Sinema. Their voting record makes them look far more like Republicans than Democrats, and it was only a matter of time before one (or both) gave the party headaches on more progressive issues like raising the minimum wage.

Manchin floated the above idea about minimum wage hikes yesterday. It’s not particularly surprising, given Manchin’s newfound importance in helping get any legislation passed in a Democratic Senate. He knows he’s a swing vote and his voice is louder than ever. The real question is why he’s doing it. Either Manchin truly believes that $11/hour within two years will be enough, which is absurd, or he hasn’t read the proposal for gradually increasing the minimum wage to $15/hour by 2025, which included … $11/hour within two years.

Regardless of whether Manchin hasn’t done the reading, it’s yet another exhausting example of Democrats negotiating against themselves. In this case, Manchin is almost certainly trying to make himself seem like a moderating force in the Democratic Party, the guy who’s going to keep the progressives in check. But in doing so he stepped on his own party’s proposal. All Manchin preaching compromise does is potentially open the door for Republicans to negotiate down from $11/hour in two years. Couple that with Biden’s bogus budget reconciliation excuses and the whole thing is liable to get stripped down even further.

The rub here, of course, is that $11/hour won’t be enough by 2023, just as $15/hour won’t be enough by 2025. If the federal minimum wage had kept pace with inflation and worker productivity since the late 1960s, it would be nearly $25/hour by now. Still, even getting the minimum wage to $15/hour by 2025 would be something for American workers—and Democratic voters—to grab onto. It would raise pay for more than 40 million workers. And it would allow the Democratic Party to wrap their arms around the phrase “$15 minimum wage” on every campaign stop from now until 2022.

That potential success still isn’t enough for Manchin, who fancies himself some kind of kingmaker now that his vote is imperative to Democratic legislation. All he really is, though, is an impediment to progress and to material relief for workers who badly need it. Maybe Manchin truly doesn’t believe workers should be paid more—after all, he basically already told struggling workers that straight to their faces less than a week ago. Maybe he’s a blustering idiot that doesn’t read his own party’s bills or maybe those two things aren’t mutually exclusive.