The White House’s dropping of Chained CPI signals a shift towards an emphasis on job creation over austerity, which could help sharpen the contrast between the parties about how to boost people’s economic prospects, amid a stagnant recovery, heading into the 2014 elections. Central to that contrast will be the minimum wage hike.
Today it’s becoming clearer that, if the Senate can pass a minimum wage proposal, the House GOP leadership will not allow a vote on it. The Hill has dredged up an old quote from John Boehner, back when he was head of the House Republican conference: “I’ll commit suicide before I vote on a clean minimum-wage bill.”
That probably means he won’t allow a vote on it. This history is also relevant:
The only time Boehner voted to increase the minimum wage came in 2006, and that was on legislation destined for death. Boehner backed a GOP measure that raised the minimum wage to $7.25 over three years, but it also included deep cuts to the estate tax that made the bill dead-on-arrival in the Senate. In this case, Boehner was trying to help his party by scheduling the vote. The bill was an election-year gambit by Boehner aimed at keeping the minimum wage from becoming a campaign issue for Democrats in 2006, the year they won the House.
Folks forget this, but the minimum wage was absolutely central to the House Dems’ strategy in the 2006 midterms. That year Dems campaigned on a “Six for ’06 Agenda” — a set of initiatives focused on jobs and wages, national security, affordable health care, and energy independence. Dems won both houses, and the minimum wage hike was signed into law the following year.
In 2007, a lot of Republicans, including some who are still in Congress, voted for the increase. This year, it will probably not get a House vote at all. This will come even as Republicans refuse to act on immigration reform and extending unemployment insurance. Meanwhile, they will probably fail to coalesce around a GOP alternative to fix the health care system, even as they campaign on a platform of rolling back Obamacare’s expansion of health coverage, which will continue throughout the year to untold numbers of real people.
As in 2006, this year Dems will campaign on concrete policy proposals. As Nancy Pelosi puts it, the minimum wage message will be: “We want to raise the minimum wage, and you don’t. Why not?” Republicans will counter that the way to alleviate economic suffering is to roll back the heavy-handed regulatory Obama agenda — in effect, that everything #Obummer touches (the health system, the minimum wage) is instantly transformed into a pile of killed jobs.
This year is very different from 2006, of course. The fight over the Senate will unfold in a series of core battlegrounds that voted for Mitt Romney in 2012. As Ron Brownstein has explained, these states “are almost all whiter, older, blue-collar states” where there isn’t enough of the “Coalition of the Ascentant” — minorities, young voters, college educated whites, especially women — to assemble a Dem majority.
The Dem push on the minimum wage, and the broader set of pocketbook issues, will be all about mobilizing core voter groups — and winning over gettable swing voters, such as downscale women — in a furious effort to break through demographic and political realities that are heavily stacked against Dems in these core battlegrounds.
* GOP SHOULD TREAD CAREFULLY ON MINIMUM WAGE: Related to the above: Non-partisan analyst Charlie Cook warns Republicans: If you think the CBO report is enough to reduce your vulnerability on the minimum wage issue in the 2014 elections, you might want to think again. As Cook notes:
[A] risk for Republicans is that a mishandling of the issue widens their “economic empathy gap” problem. Even as voters express dissatisfaction with President Obama’s handling of the economy, they still see Democrats as more sympathetic to and more in touch with the economic concerns of average Americans. Any Republican who argues — or is made to look like he/she agrees with the idea — that paying the working poor more money is bad for the economy, is going to look out of touch to most voters.
Dems have long believed the key economic number among swing voters is not generic economic approval; it’s who is more in touch with people’s economic problems — a metric that goes to economic values and priorities, not technocratic know-how. That was the premise for the Dems’ 2012 campaign, and it turned out to be right.
* IN STATES, EXCHANGES ARE A MIXED BAG: Julie Rovner has a useful overview of how all the state exchanges are functioning, from the good to the bad. As she notes, the quality of Obamacare is heavily dependent on where you live. Oh, and there’s also this:
The federal website known as HealthCare.gov finally seems to be working smoothly — in 36 states.
Nobody could have predicted that temporary website problems, however awful at the time, would recede as an issue.
* THE LATEST ON THE FLORIDA SPECIAL ELECTION: The Tampa Bay Times takes a look at early voting and incoming absentee ballots in the special election in Florida’s 13th District, and finds good news for Democrat Alex Sink. Again: the outcome will be widely cited as a harbinger for the political environment this fall, but whoever wins, ignore that stuff. It’s always overstated.
* BATTLING OVER WHO IS MOST ANTI-OBAMACARE IN GEORGIA: National Journal reports that a leading Georgia GOP primary Senate candidate, GOP Rep. Jack Kingston, continues to receive taxpayer subsidized health benefits from his past as a state legislator — even as he touts his vote to eliminate Obama taxpayer subsidies for Members of Congress like himself. This comes as Kingston and other GOP primary contestants, such as Tea Party Rep. Paul Broun, are all fighting to prove which is the most anti-Obamacare among them.
Dems are hoping an extreme nominee will make a surprise pickup of this red state seat possible — which would make the GOP road to a Senate majority very steep.
* THE REAL LEGACY OF THE STIMULUS: Paul Krugman’s column today reminds us that careful research shows the stimulus worked, turning around a free-falling economy and creating millions of jobs. But because it wasn’t big enough to turn things around rapidly, politically it discredited government spending:
U.S. fiscal policy went completely in the wrong direction after 2010. With the stimulus perceived as a failure, job creation almost disappeared from inside-the-Beltway discourse, replaced with obsessive concern over budget deficits. Government spending, which had been temporarily boosted both by the Recovery Act and by safety-net programs like food stamps and unemployment benefits, began falling, with public investment hit worst. And this anti-stimulus has destroyed millions of jobs. In other words, the overall narrative of the stimulus is tragic. A policy initiative that was good but not good enough ended up being seen as a failure, and set the stage for an immensely destructive wrong turn.
We continue to live with that legacy today, though Obama does seem to be trying to break out of the austerity mindset that continues to hold the recovery back.
* AND BELTWAY DEFICIT-OBSESSION FADES AWAY: In case you needed more evidence (see Obama’s nixing of Chained CPI) that the deficit is receding as an issue, Alex Seitz-Wald crunches some numbers:
You can see it on the House and Senate floors where, last month, Republicans uttered the word “debt” just 225 times, down from 3,188 mentions in July 2011, according to the Sunlight Foundation. You could see it in President Obama’s latest State of the Union address, which mentioned budget deficits almost two-thirds fewer times than his 2011 speech. And you can see it in opinion polling. Among the 20 or so public-policy goals that Pew regularly asks voters to prioritize, reducing the deficit fell faster than any other in the pollster’s latest survey, dropping 9 points from January 2013 to January 2014.
And so I guess it’s bye-bye for the “Beltway Deficit Feedback Loop.” Good riddance.