November 29, 2013
A recent Gallup poll finds most Americans support increasing the minimum wage to $9 an hour, and many states and localities have already done that. Christine Owens of National Employment Law Project and Jack Mayne of Sea-Tac Blog discuss. (The Washington Post)

Today’s must-read is a survey by Mike DeBonis and Reid Wilson of the various state and local efforts underway to raise the minimum wage. Two main points: If Washington can’t act, the states and even local governments will, and this is going to be a major issue in the 2014 elections in a lot of places.

At the federal level, one would think that Democrats might have some success actually passing an increase. After all, raising the minimum wage always polls extremely well, and with many state and local increases happening, it’s easy to imagine business lobbyists willing to accept a relatively modest national increase that could take a lot of steam out of those other initiatives. There’s plenty of precedent for Democrats forcing the issue by attaching a minimum wage hike to something Republicans want and managing to get it passed. And while most Republicans in Congress surely oppose an increase, it’s not as if there’s some important principle violated by a $10 an hour minimum wage compared with $7 and change.

Perhaps it will happen. But if not, the culprit is going to be, once again, the post-policy Republican Party.

After all, the way these things happen when both parties are healthy is that the popular, high-priority policy preferences of one party are bundled with the popular, high-priority policy preferences of the other. However, what exactly do Republicans have that they need to pass and that Democrats could accept? The Republican policy cupboard is pretty much empty. There are some wild demands (balanced budgets, repealing Obamacare) that Democrats wouldn’t go along with for any price — ideas that wouldn’t really work anyway. Other than those, there’s just very little. I suppose Democrats could trade a solid increase in the minimum wage for cuts in food stamps, but it’s not clear that would be a deal liberals could support — and at any rate, it’s hardly a popular Republican demand, meaning that Democrats would be tempted to just run on the issue rather than accepting what they could get.

And at any rate, it’s not clear that Republicans would accept any deal, given their paranoia about primary challenges based on accepting any kind of accommodation with the Kenyan socialist in the White House. Which, again, means that conservatives are rejecting getting some of their priorities passed if it means accepting anything that Democrats want, no matter how good a deal it is for the Republicans.

This just isn’t how the American political system is supposed to work. There really is an opportunity here for a deal that could enact popular policy ideas from both sides. But thanks to a dysfunctional Republican Party, it’s very hard to see it happening.