Yesterday, both sides drew their battle lines in the coming war over the minimum wage. After Obama called for a minimum wage hike in his State of the Union speech, House Republicans dug in against it, casting their opposition as grounded in concern for the plight of low wage workers. John Boehner asked: “Why would we want to make it harder for small employers to hire people?”
But who is really going to believe Republicans oppose a minimum wage hike for this reason?
In an excellent piece, Steven Dennis reports that Democrats are quietly laying plans to use the minimum wage as an issue against Republicans in the 2014 elections. Dennis supplies important context: The last battle to hike the minimum wage provided Democrats with ammunition in their effort to win back Congress, which they ultimately accomplished in 2006. The minimum wage was raised the following year.
It’s too early to say just how precisely Dems will use the issue, in which Senate races it might or might not matter, or how much of a boost it could give to Dem efforts to take back the House. But that history is an important reminder that this is a very potent issue for Democrats. As I’ve been saying here, it goes directly to the GOP’s inability — or unwillingness — to articulate a positive vision for how government can improve people’s lives. Democrats can press Republicans who oppose a minimum wage hike with a simple question: What action by government do you support to improve social mobility and boost the prospects for struggling workers who are falling behind?
Dems are already road testing this message. Yesterday, White House adviser Dan Pfeiffer Tweeted: “If the GOP is opposed to raising the minimum wage, what is their plan to ensure people who work full time don’t live in poverty?”
Dems believe that this battle goes directly to fundamental and deeply held voter beliefs about which party is really on the side of economically struggling Americans. Having just lost an election in which they were perceived as prioritizing the interests of the rich over everyone else, Republicans understand this, which is why they wrap their opposition to the minimum wage increase in a veil of concern for low wage workers.
But will opposing a wage hike for struggling workers — while claiming to represent their interests — really work? Republicans couched their opposition to tax hikes on income over $250,000 as protecting “small businesses,” and used a similar argument to argue for the repeal of Obamacare. Those arguments didn’t appear to be all that effective. If and when powerful special interests such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Restaurant Association gear up to fight the minimum wage hike, it’ll only become harder for Republicans to argue that they’re driven solely by a desire to protect struggling Americans. So expect Dems to gear this up for the 2014 elections.
* No, hiking minimum wage isn’t bad for workers: Right on cue, the Center for Economic and Policy research weighs in with an epic study finding that raising the minimum wage does not have an appreciable impact on the “employment prospects of low wage workers.” Republicans, of course, are marshaling their own research to prove the opposite, but again, who will believe that they’re really driven by a desire to protect those workers? (link fixed)
* Liberal Dems question leadership’s sequester strategy: With Dem leaders set to offer Republicans a compromise proposal that averts the sequester with a 50-50 split of new revenues and spending cuts, liberal Senators are wondering why the leadership is giving away so much up front, rather than staking out a stronger negotiation position at the outset. We can only hope that Sherrod Brown is right in vowing that Dems won’t allow themselves to be drawn in the GOP’s direction.
* New details on Obama’s preschool proposal: The Post has new details on the plan, which Obama will outline today. It includes home-visiting programs for new parents and an expansion of child care programs for infants and toddlers, in addition to universal preschool for four year olds from low and moderate income families. I’ll direct you back to Jonathan Cohn’s explainer on why this policy is so important, why it could pay dividends later, and why it is ultimately about enhancing economic mobility.
* Why are American workers falling behind? An absolute must read from Jim Tankersley on the elephant in the room: Why is economic growth translating into far less in income gains, job creation and shared prosperity than it used to? As Tankersley reports, policy-makers are only beginning to grapple directly with this question. It’s also worth noting that this is the larger context within which the fight over raising the minimum wage will unfold.
* Jobless claims sharply down: Steve Benen has it in chart form.
* Suicide a real peril from guns: It’s good that the New York Times is shining a light on one of the lesser-discussed dangers posed by widespread gun ownership: the increased likelihood of suicide. This is key:
The national map of suicide lights up in states with the highest gun ownership rates. Wyoming, Montana and Alaska, the states with the three highest suicide rates, are also the top gun-owning states, according to the Harvard center. The state-level data are too broad to tell whether the deaths were in homes with guns, but a series of individual-level studies since the early 1990s found a direct link. Most researchers say the weight of evidence from multiple studies is that guns in the home increase the risk of suicide.
This is the flip side to all the “gun rights” rhetoric about overwhelming firepower being necessary to ward off the hordes forever on the verge of overrunning your home.
* Dems likely to vote on parts of gun bill: I’ve been telling you to watch out for this. Sam Stein reports that there is an emerging consensus around holding a vote just on the universal background check and anti-trafficking pieces of Obama’s gun proposal, possibly along with a high capacity magazine ban. The assault ban may or may not be attached. What seems certain is that there will be a vote just on the thoroughly uncontroversial, widely supported gun reforms — which will put Republicans in an interesting spot. Again: If just those pieces pass, that represents a major achievement.
* And a looming GOP crackup? Leading Republicans tell Ron Fournier that they think it’s not out of the realm of possibility that the Republican Party could split, leading to a third party candidacy in 2016. Note the quote from GOP Rep. Reid Ribble: “I think we’re at the precipice of a breakdown of the two-party system.”
Ribble is one of the few remaining Republicans who represent a district roughly divided between Republicans and Dems — unlike most others in safe districts, he’s not insulated from broader national opinion. The party’s continuing ideological inflexibility in the face of demographic change is going to require some kind of reassessment.