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Unity Proves Elusive in Democrats’ Fight for $15

  • February 27, 2021

So when the Senate’s parliamentarian ruled yesterday that a $15 increase did not belong in a bill passed through the budgetary reconciliation process — a decision meaning that it would require at least 60 votes to pass and would therefore be dead on arrival in the Senate — the White House was reported to have breathed a quiet sigh of relief. The Covid-19 relief bill is now set to move ahead without a blanket minimum-wage increase. (Democrats are exploring other partial solutions, including tax incentives for corporations to get them to raise their own wage floors to $15.)

But without a blanket wage increase, observers in and around the Democratic Party say, this issue is not likely to go away. It remains a top priority both for progressives and for Democratic leaders like Schumer and Biden, both of whom objected — at least publicly — to the parliamentarian’s announcement.

“The minimum wage is very popular,” McElwee said. “I do think that if I was Joe Biden, I would like to be able to run for re-election on the fact that the average worker is making much more because I was president than they were before.”

McElwee pointed to the fact that in various swing states, minimum-wage ballot referendums tend to be popular — far more so, in fact, than Democratic candidates on the same ballots. In Sinema’s home state of Arizona, in 2016, voters increased the state minimum wage to $12 an hour by a 58 percent majority, even as the state supported Trump over Hillary Clinton. In 2020, Florida voted even more resoundingly to raise its state minimum wage to $15, with 61 percent supporting it.

“What we saw in Florida is that a $15 minimum wage is over 10 points more popular than Democratic electeds,” McElwee said. “It’s an open-and-shut case.”

The strategist Simon Rosenberg — whose moderate-leaning New Democrat Network often finds itself at odds with Data for Progress’s vision for the Democratic Party — said that he saw a minimum-wage increase as a winning issue with voters including those toward the center. Rosenberg called Republican lawmakers’ seemingly unanimous opposition to it a political “mistake.” But he also noted that Republican-led messaging campaigns have been building opposition to the idea of minimum-wage increases for decades.

“The investment of right-wing business interests in demonizing the minimum wage has been one of the most consistent projects of the right in the last generation,” Rosenberg said, referring to major donors such as Charles Koch. “It’s a touchstone issue.”

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