Take It To the People

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February 28, 2021 9:33 a.m.

From TPM Reader JB

For what it’s worth, my view as to how to get a minimum wage increase through Congress — really, through the Senate — has a lot in common with my view about getting people vaccinated against COVID19. Simpler is better.

We’re talking here, first of all, about procedure. I enjoy thinking and talking about legislative procedure, which makes me a member of one of the very smallest minorities in the United States. The overwhelming majority of Americans don’t track this subject at all.

This means that unless including a minimum wage increase in a so-called Reconciliation package can be definitely and quickly accomplished, it should not be attempted. That goes double for cutesy-poo maneuvers like the one Sen. Sanders is reported to be thinking about (tax credits for corporations that raise their starting wage. Or penalties for corporations that don’t. Whatever), because Sanders would add complexities of implementation to complexities of procedure.

Democrats need to be reaching voters by talking about a higher minimum wage — the popular measure they support and Republicans oppose. The best way to do that is to commit to regular legislative order in the Senate: committee hearings, committee mark-up, motion to proceed to consideration on the Senate floor.

Hearings can be arranged expeditiously, as this is not a subject new to Senators or interest groups (there may be disagreements as to committee jurisdiction it will be necessary to resolve quickly). All the arguments can be made, and made again, in public. Republicans determined to block passage of a higher minimum wage would also have to do so in public (one reason I suggest above moving to proceed to legislation, rather than asking unanimous consent to do so. Objecting to a UC request requires only one Senator; blocking a motion to proceed invites protracted floor debate, which Democrats should want on this issue).

Regular order on legislation of this kind need not take the rest of the year, as long as the process is begun early enough to avoid getting tangled with other legislation, like appropriations bills and an infrastructure package, that Democrats will want to move later. And there is one other thing.

Unified Republican opposition to a popular policy measure should be harder to sustain throughout a lengthy public process — particularly when the issue does not directly involve the core of the GOP’s current identity, loyalty to Donald Trump. It is not impossible, and may even be likely, that splitting off Republican Senators from the opposition to a higher minimum wage will involve concessions from Democrats (say, $13 indexed to inflation instead of $15, or a lower wage in very low-cost states). I’d rather it didn’t, personally, but it would be better than what we’ve got now.

Last thing: could Republican Senators dig in and filibuster a higher minimum wage, obstructing consideration of other legislation as they do it? They could. They could do the same with other popular measures the Democrats want to move through Congress this year. This is a bluff Democrats must call. They shouldn’t even blink.

Maybe this means they finally get the votes they need to do away with the Senate filibuster, or maybe they merely get some good campaign issues to use against Republicans holding unpopular positions in 2022. But the lesson of recent midterms is that the party holding the White House gets blamed by people who vote when it looks like the government can’t get things done. Democrats have only one chance to keep that from happening.

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