It’s nothing short of a miracle: The fact that, after three years of lurching from one fiscal crisis to another, a badly divided Congress, in the waning days of 2013, was able to come together and agree on a budget with strong bipartisan support. True, in terms of substance, it wasn’t much of a deal. But the fact that, given all we’ve been through, they were able to reach any deal at all was itself a big deal.
That agreement was only struck, of course, because Speaker John Boehner — in even more of a miracle — finally summoned enough nerve to stand up to the minority Tea Party members of his own caucus. Not only that, he defied those extremist, anti-any-deal-Obama-would-sign know-nothings — and politically survived! Suddenly, congressional watchers — from President Obama on down — felt a flutter of hope in their hearts. If Congress, with Boehner’s new-found courage, could reach a budget deal in 2013, just imagine all the other unresolved issues they might be able to agree on in 2014. In a flight of optimism before leaving for Hawaii, President Obama told us White House reporters that he even predicted that 2014 would be a “breakthrough” year.
We’ll find out soon enough, when Congress meets its first real test after returning to town: legislation to raise the federal minimum wage, which has been stuck at $7.25 per hour since 2009, under legislation signed by President George W. Bush. The fact that almost 28 million American workers still struggle with a full-time job paying only $7.25 an hour is a national disgrace. At that rate, they take home only $15,080 per year, well below the federal poverty level of $23,550 for a family of four.
Nobody can support a family at that level, and everybody knows it. Thirteen states raised their minimum wage as of January 1, making a total of 21 states now paying more than the federal minimum. As many as 11 states and the District of Columbia are expected to follow in 2014, according to the National Employment Law Project. In November, Gallup found that more than three-quarters of Americans support an increase in the minimum wage, including 70 percent of moderates, 64 percent of Independents, and 57 percent of Republicans.