A split in the Democratic Party over whether or not to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour has cost Senator Bernie Sanders and the radicals a victory. The margin of victory suggests the issue is dead, at least for the next two years.
The vote was 58 against, 42 in favor. All 50 Republicans voted against it as well as eight Democrats, leaving much of Joe Biden’s agenda in doubt. Biden will need at least 60 votes to break any GOP filibuster on legislation like the Green New Deal and Medicare for All.
That’s why the radicals are screaming at the president to help them get rid of the filibuster. But it may not even matter. The eight defecting Democrats suggest that Biden is going to need at least a handful of Republicans if he even wants a majority of much of his legislative agenda passed.
The Senate parliamentarian had ruled that the wage increase could not be added to the bill and approved by a simple majority of senators despite House passage of the provision last week. After Senate Democrats stripped it from the Covid package, a group of progressive senators led by Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) forced a vote on the policy change anyway.
That vote remained held open Friday afternoon at a tally of 42-58 while senators negotiated on other issues. But it already showed that even though the Democratic caucus overwhelmingly supports the effort of gradually raising the wage floor to $15, raising the wage faces significant hurdles within the party.
The eight defectors had varied reasons for their opposition.
Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Jon Tester of Montana, Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire, Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona and Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire voted against proceeding, though the tally remains open. So did two close Biden allies, Chris Coons and Tom Carper of Delaware. Sen. Angus King (I-Maine), who caucuses with the Senate Democrats, also opposed it.
Sinema indicated that she supports raising the wage, which last increased in 2009, because she understands “what it is like to face tough choices while working to meet your family’s most basic needs.” But she said a standalone debate on the issue made more sense than putting it in a coronavirus relief package.
Those Democrats are mostly from swing states with the exception of Coons and Carper, who are from Joe Biden’s home state of Delaware. The state is well known as a corporate haven and business-friendly. But both Coons and Carper indicated support at some future date.
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“I have backed a $15 minimum wage on the federal level for years,” Carper said in a statement after the vote. “At a time when our economy is still slowly recovering, though, policymakers have a responsibility to be especially mindful of the fragile state of small businesses all across this country – many of which are fighting just to stay open during this unprecedented crisis.”
“Every Democrat and many Republicans agree that the federal minimum wage of $7.25 is too low and has been for too long,” Coons said. “It has to be raised. President Biden has called for us to raise it to $15 an hour. I will work with my colleagues on legislation to raise the minimum wage and index it annually.”
Might a stand-alone bill succeed? It’s safe to say nothing will happen on the minimum wage until the economy is well on its way to recovery. Sanders and the radicals wanted the U.S. to commit economic suicide by jacking up wages with small businesses flat on their backs.
The real danger is that this issue may prove to be the catalyst that motivates Senate Democrats to rid themselves of the filibuster. Joe Biden, a creature of the Senate, understands the traditions of the Senate and the importance the filibuster has in protecting minority rights.
But many Democrats in the Senate are sick and tired of all this democracy stuff and want a government that runs roughshod over the political minority. It’s a recipe for tyranny and Republicans will fight it to the end.