In his State of the Union address, President Obama proposed raising the minimum wage to $9 an hour. Yesterday, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi urged her colleagues to raise it even higher, to $10.
Why push for a minimum wage hike now? The Dow hitting an all-time high might have something to do with it. Here's Pelosi:
This week, we saw something quite remarkable, the stock market soaring to record heights. At the same time, we see productivity keeping pace. But we don't see income for America's middle class rising. In fact, it's been about the same as since the end of the Clinton years. [The Hill]
One solution, according to Pelosi, is to support legislation drawn up by Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) and Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.) to raise the minimum wage from its current level, $7.25, to $10.10 over the course of three years in annual 95-cent installments. Arguments for and against a minimum wage hike aside, the question becomes whether a bill like the Fair Minimum Wage Act actually has a chance of passing.
The American people support policies like it — in theory. Two days ago, Gallup released a new poll showing that 71 percent of adults would support Obama's proposed hike to $9. While, unsurprisingly, more than 9 in 10 self-identified Democrats supported it, quite a few Republicans (50 percent) did too.
So, it's settled. Vox populi, vox Dei, as the saying goes. Well, not so fast. As the poll also shows, "raising the federal minimum wage is typically a crowd pleaser." Go back to 2010, when two-thirds of Americans supported raising the minimum wage to $10 an hour, or just about any other year, and you'll find that it's almost always a political winner.
Nevertheless, that support doesn't always translate into votes in Congress. House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) has already come out against Obama's proposal: "Listen, when people are asking the question 'Where are the jobs?' why would we want to make it harder for small employers to hire people?" — arguing that if employers have to pay workers more, they'll have to cut back on hiring, or worse, start firing. Obama, when he was campaigning in 2008, vowed to raise the minimum to $9.50, which, obviously, did not happen. The consensus is that this time around, a Republican-led House won't pass any bills raising the minimum wage either. Ezra Klein says the GOP ignores the pleas of the people at its own peril:
Obama's minimum wage increase might not pass the House. But if it doesn't, then Democrats have a hugely popular cudgel with which to beat Republicans in the 2014 midterm elections. That's basically what happened in the 2006 elections, and the strategy was so effective for Democrats that George W. Bush subsequently signed a minimum wage increase into law. [Washington Post]
Harold Meyerson at The American Prospect notes that "[the] constituency that today's GOP most desperately seeks to win, or at least neutralize, is Latinos — the ethnic group most clustered in low-wage jobs, and most certain to benefit from a minimum wage hike." The fact that the policy has so much support among groups that the GOP desires, and that the Republicans have no popular alternative could, according to Slate's Matthew Yglesias, mean a new minimum wage has a chance to become a reality — eventually:
With no affirmative agenda to assist low-wage workers, the debate will continue to be framed around the Democrats' overwhelmingly popular minimum wage proposal and it'll pass. Probably not in this Congress, but perhaps in the next. [Slate]
The minimum wage was last raised in 2007 from $5.15 to $7.25. Back then, liberals made the hike more palatable for Republicans with small-business tax incentives, something that some members of Congress are hoping to replicate. But some Democrats, like Finance Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) — who helped engineer the 2007 tax incentives — are doubtful that those kind of tactics will work this time around. Baucus tells Roll Call, "When we consider tax reform, I doubt that minimum wage is a part of anything that we can propose." Perhaps Pelosi and her Democratic colleagues will have to put this one on the back-burner.