WASHINGTON (AP) – Union activist Terrance Wise recalls being laughed at when he began pushing for a national minimum wage of $ 15 an hour nearly a decade ago. Almost a year after the pandemic started, the idea isn’t that fun.
The coronavirus has once again focused on the challenges faced by hourly employees who have continued to work in grocery stores, gas stations, and other personal locations, even though much of the workforce has switched to virtual environments. President Joe Biden then included a provision in the Massive Pandemic Aid Act that would more than double the hourly minimum wage from currently $ 7.25 to $ 15 an hour.
But the effort faces an unexpected roadblock: Biden himself. The president has apparently undermined the drive to raise the minimum wage by recognizing his poor prospect in Congress, where he faces political opposition and procedural hurdles.
This is frustrating for activists like Wise, who fear their last minute victory will be torn away when a government is otherwise an outspoken ally.
“To get this close to your door, you have to make it,” said Wise, a 41-year-old division manager at a McDonald’s in Kansas City and national director of Fight for 15, an organized labor movement. “You have to feel the pressure.”
The minimum wage debate highlights one of the central tensions emerging in the early days of Biden’s presidency. He won the White House with a promise to respond to the pandemic with a flurry of liberal political proposals. As a 36-year Senate veteran, however, Biden is particularly attuned to the political dynamic on Capitol Hill and can be blunt in his assessments.
“I don’t think it will survive,” Biden recently told CBS News, citing the increase in the minimum wage.
There is a certain political realism in Biden’s remark.
Because the Senate is evenly divided, the proposal does not have the 60 votes required to be heard on its own. Democrats could use an arcane budget process that ties the minimum wage to the Pandemic Control Act and passes it by a simple majority.
But that’s not easy either. Some moderate Democratic senators, including Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Krysten Sinema of Arizona, have either spoken out strongly against the hike or said it shouldn’t be included in pandemic legislation.
The Senate MP could make matters even more difficult with a decision that the minimum wage measure cannot be included in the Pandemic Act.
Currently, the Senate’s most progressive supporters are not openly pressuring Biden to step up his campaign for a higher minimum wage.
Bernie Sanders, chairman of the Senate Budgets Committee, said his main focus was getting parliamentarian approval to include the provision in the pandemic law. Senator Elizabeth Warren, who like Sanders challenged Biden from the left for the Democratic nomination, only tweeted that Democrats should “correct the wrong”.
However, some activists encourage Biden to be more aggressive.
The Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II, co-chair of Campaign of the Poor, said Biden had a “mandate” to ensure the minimum wage increase, noting that minority Americans “were the first to get back to work first recordings “get infected, get sick first, die first” during the pandemic.
“We can’t be the last to get relief and the last to be properly treated and paid for,” said Barber. “Respect us, protect us and pay us.”
The federal minimum wage has not increased since 2009, the longest stretch without any increase since it was introduced in 1938. Adjusted for inflation, the purchasing power of the current wage of USD 7.25 has declined by more than a dollar in the past 11 years.
Democrats have long promised an increase – support for a $ 15 minimum wage was included in the party’s political platform for 2016 – but failed to deliver.
Proponents say the coronavirus has made a higher minimum wage all the more urgent given that the workers who deserve it are disproportionately colored people. The Liberal Economic Policy Institute found that more than 19% of Hispanic workers and more than 14% of black workers earned hourly wages that they kept under the federal poverty guidelines in 2017.
Blacks, Hispanics, and Native Americans in the United States have two to four times higher hospitalization and death rates from COVID-19, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
According to AP VoteCast, a nationwide poll of voters, people of color are an integral part of Biden’s constituency, which accounts for 38% of its support in the November election.
The White House says Biden is not giving up on the subject. His comments to CBS, according to an aide, reflected his own assessment of where the MP would rule based on decades of Senate experience with similar negotiations.
Biden suggested in the CBS interview that he was ready to have a “separate negotiation” on the minimum wage increase, but White House press secretary Jen Psaki did not provide any further details on the future of the proposal, if it was actually dated final coronavirus cut off auxiliary bill.
One possibility could be to force the passage by having Vice President Kamala Harris, as chairman of the Senate, overrule the MP. However, Psaki was clearly against it: “We believe that the parliamentarian is the one who is normally chosen to make a decision in an impartial manner.”
Navin Nayak, executive director of the Center for American Progress Action Fund, the political arm of the progressive think tank, said he was not surprised by Biden’s assessment, but still believed that the White House was acting in good faith.
Nayaks and other progressive groups like MoveOn worked closely with the Biden team during the transition to the White House to ensure their priorities were incorporated into the COVID Relief Act – and have been pacified by the inclusion of the $ 15 an hour minimum wage increase. the temporary extension of the child tax credit and rental allowance.
“They’re not putting that there to lose – they’re putting it there to gain,” said Nayak.
Nayak also noted that Biden’s comments were received prior to a projection by the Congressional Budget Office that stated the proposal would help lift millions of Americans out of poverty but increase the federal deficit and add 1.4 million jobs cost as employers reduce costly labor.
Sanders and other supporters were not as pessimistic about their legislative opportunities as the president was. They insisted they can make the minimum wage increase work as part of COVID relief and refused to discuss an alternative. They argue that the CBO’s finding that raising the minimum wage increases the deficit has budget implications – and should therefore be allowed. But that will ultimately be left to the Senate MP.
For Wise, potential hurdles in Congress pale in comparison to reality.
He makes $ 14 an hour and his fiance works as a domestic doctor. But when she went into quarantine due to possible exposure to the coronavirus and he missed the job of looking after her three daughters, it wasn’t long before the family was served an eviction notice.
People think we’re doing something wrong. We will work. We are productive. We are law abiding citizens, ”said Wise. “It shouldn’t have to be like that.”
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