Never Forget: Conservatives-- From Both Parties-- Killed Raising The Minimum Wage

New polling by YouGov shows how popular raising the minimum wage to $15/hour is. Overall, 57% of registered voters favor it and 33% oppose it. The strongest opposition is coming from just 4 demographic groups:

  • Trump voters- 76% oppose

  • Conservatives- 70% oppose

  • Republicans- 62% oppose

  • White men with no college degree- 46% oppose

And yet... 6 House Dems and 8 Senate Dems voted against raising the minimum wage. When the House passed the bill in 2019, it was with a healthy 231-199 margin. 3 Republicans broke ranks with their anti-worker colleagues and voted for it: Francis Rooney (FL) who was retiring, Chris Smith (NJ) and Brian Fitzpatrick (PA). Smith and Fitzpatrick represent swing districts and their votes helped them win reelection in 2020. Crossing the aisle in the other direction, 6 of the worst anti-working class reactionary Blue Dog Dems voted NAY with the GOP: Anthony Brindisi (NY), Joe Cunningham (SC), Kendra Horn (OK), Ben McAdams (UT), Kurt Schrader (OR) and Xochitl Torres Small (NM). Brindisi, Cunningham, Horn, McAdams and Torres Small were all defeated in the general election a year later later and Schrader had a tough primary and in the general could only muster 52% of the vote, significantly fewer votes than Biden. Oregon Democrats have vowed to primary Schrader again in 2022. Schrader was one of only two right-wing Democrats who voted against the COVID-rescue bill.

McConnell refused to allow a Senate vote on the 219 minimum wage bill, but this cycle it got a vote-- and was defeated in the Senate, 42-58, every Republican voting against it (even the fake "moderates") and 8 of the most conservative Democrats joining them:

  • Tom Carper (DE)

  • Chris Coons (DE)

  • Maggie Hassan (NH)

  • Angus King (I-ME)

  • Joe Manchin (WV)

  • Jeannine Shaheen (NH)

  • Kyrsten Sinema (AZ)

  • Jon Tester (MT)

Hassan is up for reelection in 2022 and she's now among the walking dead; almost no chance to win after that vote, and others like it.

$15 an hour buys a lot less now than it would have then when that amount was first suggested. There's more support for it now, of course, but conservatives paid by corporate America to prevent this kind of thing from happening are still determined to block it or at least continue to slow-walk it-- and, alas, they're not all Republicans. There are Democrats-- Democraps from the Republican wing of the Democratic Party, like Oregon Congressman Kurt Schrader and senators Joe Manchin (WV) and Kyrsten Sinema-- who are as determined as any Republican to stand in the way of transforming the minimum wage into a livable wage. And the corrupted arch-conservative Democrats in the Senate are demanding that Schumer scale back the $15 proposal. At a meeting he called to discuss it, Bernie firmly stuck with $15 as the minimum, while Manchin and Sinema refuse to go beyond $11. (Arizona already has a higher minimum wage than that.)

Shervin Aazami is the progressive candidate running in a San Fernando Valley district represented by a status quo establishment Democrat. This evening he noted that "over the last several decades, while worker hours and productivity levels have grown exponentially, wages have stagnated for millions of working Americans. At the same time, we’ve seen greater economic and political power concentrate in the hands of the ultra-rich and corporations as a result of policies of deregulation, tax cuts, and welfare for the rich. The effect has been economically catastrophic for countless working and middle class people in our country. Today, the top 1% of earners in America have more wealth than the bottom 50%. A mere 719 people-- all billionaires-- own more wealth than half of America. That is the oligarchy we live in. The movement for a $15 minimum wage was already a massive compromise. If wages kept pace with inflation and productivity levels since 1968, they would be at $24 an hour. But instead of that wealth translating into economic stability for working Americans, our pro-corporate & anti-worker economic policies have allowed a tiny fraction of our society to gain exponential wealth off working people’s cheap labor. It’s past time we transform our economy to work for the rest of us-- and that’s why we need a federal living wage tied to inflation and cost of living. We need to provide healthcare as a human right under a single-payer system; end homelessness and build affordable housing for all, enact a universal basic income, and guarantee the right to unionize. In the wealthiest nation in the world, poverty is a policy choice, now and always."

In an OpEd this evening, Erica Payne, co-founder and president of Patriotic Millionaires and a supporter of making the minimum wage a living wage, wrote about a related topic: how lobbyists and conservative Democrats from the Republican wing of the Democratic Party are trying to scuttle tax increases on the very rich and on corporate profits. She named 5 conservative, including the Senate's most corrupt member, Bob Menendez (NJ). The other 4 are the regular villains: Joe Manchin, Kyrsten Sinema, Mark Warner (the richest senator) and former populist-turned-establishment-lackey Jon Tester.

"Now that the Biden administration," she wrote, "has decided to pursue tax hikes on corporations and the wealthy separately from a bipartisan $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill, lobbying groups have launched a full-court press to derail the tax increases. As Democratic leaders in Congress are hoping to pass the tax reforms through the budget reconciliation process that would require no Republican votes, lobbyists-- including many ex-staffers from congressional Democrats’ offices-- are focusing their efforts on turning moderate Democrats against Biden’s plan.

The justification for the 2017 tax cuts was that lower taxes on companies would create more jobs and enable growth. But according to a study from the Economic Policy Institute, companies paying minimal corporate taxes were actually more likely to cut their workforce. The report also showed no data to support the idea that lower tax rates encourage investments or broader economic growth. Even before the pandemic, President Trump’s 2017 tax cuts had failed to boost long-term corporate investment, spark hiring, boost wages or pay for the deficit it caused, though it did result in record stock buybacks.
In discussing his opposition to Biden’s tax increases, Manchin cited another common GOP refrain: raising taxes on corporations will make America less competitive. Yet this assertion is also unfounded. There is good reason to think that the infrastructure investments in Biden’s plan would offset the increase in taxes by encouraging investment in the U.S. and helping corporations grow. Faster and cheaper transportation options, a more educated and skilled pipeline of workers and greater access to broadband technology are all good things for businesses. Pairing a somewhat higher corporate tax rate with infrastructure spending would be a boon for-- not a drag on-- U.S. competitiveness.
Specious reasoning also underlies Democrats’ reluctance toward Biden’s proposal to raise the capital gains tax rate as part of his American Families Plan. Some investors claim that higher taxes will make them stop investing, but rich people are going to invest their wealth no matter the tax rate. They can either invest their money, make additional money, and pay taxes on whatever they make, or they can keep all their money in cash, make no additional money, and pay no taxes. No matter the tax rate, the first option is clearly superior. And in an economy where the top 0.1 percent, a group of people earning more than $3.8 million a year, netted nearly half of all capital gains income in the U.S. in 2019, a reassessment of how our tax code contributes to inequality is sorely needed.
On the politics alone, Democratic opposition to Biden’s tax increases is a massive mistake. Taxing the rich is a winning issue-- recent polling indicates the majority of voters support Biden’s proposal to increase taxes on the wealthy and corporations to pay for investments in infrastructure. Meanwhile, Investor’s Business Daily, found that Biden’s capital gains tax hike is popular with both the general public and many investors.
It’s no secret Democratic opposition to Biden’s plan is at least in part a result of the influence of the party’s mega-donors, which is a bad look for a party that is trying to sell itself as the party of working people. Democrats choosing to serve these monied interests over those of the majority of Americans is exactly the corrupt elitist culture that Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and the more progressive wing of the Democratic Party have rightfully railed against for years. The divide between centrist Democrats and more progressive Democrats faded into the background when Biden won the 2020 election, but it’s still there, and by choosing to capitulate to Republicans instead of standing by Biden’s sensible proposals, they are driving the wedge deeper.
By caving to lobbyists and opposing Biden’s proposed tax increases, centrist Democrats in the Senate risk missing a crucial opportunity to maximize the upsides of taxing the rich. The policy and political benefits are clear-- Democrats just have to get out of their own way.