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Sunday, October 23, 2016

Too bad George W. Bush is persona non grata among congressional Republicans. If he were less unpopular, they might find in the waning years of his presidency an example of what to do about a vexing issue facing them in 2016, an issue Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell called that “gosh darn” minimum wage.

In their bid to take over the Congress in 2006, the Democrats vowed to raise a federal minimum wage that had remained unchanged since the second term of the Clinton administration. After sweeping midterm victories in both chambers, congressional Democrats put the issue on their agenda, calling for an incremental increase from $5.15 an hour to $7.25 by 2009.

That wasn’t enough for Barack Obama, who vowed to raise the minimum wage to $9.50 by 2011 if elected president. His promise, however, came before the Great Recession cast a pall over many of his campaign promises. The minimum wage has remained $7.25 since he took office. (It is now higher in some cities and states; New York State recently raised it to $15 an hour in the New York City metropolitan area and $12.50 upstate.)

So the push to raise the minimum wage isn’t new. That’s a bit counterintuitive given the attention being paid to economic inequality, an issue that arose in the aftermath of the 2007 financial collapse. Even Republican contenders for the White House are obliged at least to pay lip service to the issue. And to be sure, a stagnant minimum wage is the bedrock of economic inequality. But the thread of the debate began during the second Bush administration, which was hostile or indifferent to the law, and allowed the purchasing power of the base wage to erode while the cost of living continued to climb or, indeed, soar. (To briefly illustrate, using 2013 dollars: if the minimum wage were $7.25 in New York City, the actual value would be about $4 an hour.)

What did President Bush do that could serve as a model for today’s congressional Republicans? First, two observations. One, Bush’s presidency was nearing historic levels of unpopularity by 2007. Two, voters tend to punish the party in power in hard times. The 2008 election was going to be rough for any GOP candidate.

But also keep in mind the nature of the business wing of the GOP. It is against wage mandates, because wages cut into profits. But the faction is also politically canny. It was willing to concede to demands for a higher minimum wage, if conceding weakened Democrats in 2008. Put another way: if Republicans had continued to resist raising the wage, then the wage issue may have become more potent for Barack Obama. So the business wing of the Republican Party — including 82 members of the House, all but three senators, and the president — held its nose and supported a wage hike.

The conservative wing of the GOP, on the other hand, is the opposite of canny. It does not see the wisdom of conceding on the minimum wage, even as the minimum wage has taken on more significance than it had a decade ago. Conservatives believe losing now means losing forever, and losing is inconceivable given the righteousness of their cause. Therefore, the more they resist raising the minimum wage, the more potent it will be for the Democratic Party’s nominee. As Harry Reid told The Hill yesterday: “If Republicans don’t do something about it, it’s a major issue.”

Reid was commenting on the most recent effort to exploit conservative intransigence. In the past, the Democrats called for $10.10 an hour. Yesterday, Senator Patty Murray introduced a bill raising the wage to $12 by 2020. The Raise the Wage Act, she said, would affect 38 million workers. Moreover, she was clearly relishing the moment. “I want to hear what the Republican presidential candidates have to say about this,” she said.

And they responded in predictable fashion.

Ted Cruz said the bill would be a “job-killing” disaster. Marco Rubio warned that workers would be replaced by robots. Scott Walker questioned the validity of wage mandates in general. Rand Paul said a base wage is good for young people but nobody else. And Jeb Bush, who most represents the interests of the business wing of the Republican Party, punted to the “private sector.”

You’ve got to wonder whom they think they are speaking for. According to a February poll by the Associated Press, 6 in 10 favor raising the minimum wage, including 40 percent of Republicans. In 2013, Gallup found more than 71 percent in favor, including half of Republicans. Last year, a Washington Post/ABC News survey found that 50 percent of respondents are more likely to vote for candidates who favor raising the minimum wage.

Clearly, the Republican presidential field isn’t speaking for the majority, or even for members of their party who see the good in increasing the wage. Jeb Bush is speaking for a business faction that fears higher wages eating into profits, while the rest is speaking for conservatives who believe compromise equals surrender.

The smart thing would be to give in now to prevent the minimum wage from haunting the Republican candidate later. But don’t hold your breath. On the occasion last summer when Mitch McConnell complained about the Democrats proposing to raise that “gosh darn” minimum wage (once again!), he added one more comment suggesting there’s no returning to the political pragmatism the George W. Bush administration exhibited in 2007.

“These people believe in all the wrong things,” he said.

John Stoehr (@johnastoehr) is managing editor of The Washington SpectatorFollow him on Twitter and Medium.

Photo: Gage Skidmore via Flickr

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  • Paul Bass

    As long as Obama is president the republicans will be incapable of compromise. Because of that they will continue to lose all but their core (bigoted) old white voters, especially those on minimum wage.

    • 13observer

      In your eyes then……. when Obama is out and if by a long long long shot, Hilaryous Clinton were to become President, everyone that didn’t support her would be a “SEXIST” if I am reading you accurately. The policy of all Liberal Progressives is to condemn success and reward failure!!! But that has nothing to do with being a “BIGOT” just so you know Einstein. The push for minimum wage is only to allow illegal aliens the opportunity to raise large families and have their children work also for wages to pay bills too.

      • Landsende

        Have you been in any retail stores, restaurants or home improvement stores lately? If you have you will see many middle age and older Americans working there for low wages because most of the good paying jobs were sent overseas so corporations could increase their profits. Take the time to talk to them and you’ll find they are working to supplement their social security or retirement income or because they were laid off when their jobs were outsourced. As for the jobs going to illegal aliens if Congress would require businesses to use e-verify or face stiff fines that problem could be solved but companies want the cheap labor and lobby Congress to keep the status quo.

        • 13observer

          Do you know how much work is being done by illegal aliens off the books? Would it surprise you if I told you that many so-called “independent contractors”, “day laborers” and the like are not paying taxes because they are the “businesses” you speak of… self employed and off the grid so-to-speak! The greatest blame goes to this president and failure to enforce immigration laws, allowing them into our military ranks, welfare by the boatloads, language translation on all signage, free education, free lunch, drivers licenses, earned income tax credits, after school programs, free healthcare and the list goes on and on…. and you want to blame employers??? Are you nuts???

          • Landsende

            I’m against illigal immigration but if employers were fined or shut down when they hire them there wouldn’t be an incentive for them to come here if there were no jobs. This is a problem that was also under the Bush administration when he gave them amnesty. I know you’d like to blame everything on Obama but every since The Supreme Court ruled that corporations can donate unlimited amounts of money to politicians those same corporations want cheap labor and have bought our politicians votes. And no, I’m not nuts but I can tell from your vitriol that you’re a teapublican nut case that listens to Faux News, Limbaugh, and Alex Jones and believes that everything they say is gospel.

          • 13observer

            I am watching 20/20 tonight and they are featuring the polygamist group led by Warren Jeffs who brainwashes his followers into believing the doctrine. I said to my wife; hell these people are like the democrats whom are controlled by the communist doctrine. I too escaped the mind control of the democrat cult fanaticism. Now I am free to have all the guns I want.

          • Landsende

            If being able to have all the guns you want is the most important issue to you I feel sorry for you. I worry about the economy, immigration, climate change, women’s rights, living wages, infrastructure, politicians, both democrat and republican being bought by mega rich donors, and terrorism. I guess none of those issues are important to you because hey you can have as many guns as you want.

          • flyinjs

            have your guns sir, help turn citizens united around so the gov. is working for ALL the people not just the few…open thine eyes.

          • flyinjs

            Employers are hiring them though. Lets get them on the books and pay taxes

      • flyinjs

        They can NOT get on the books? Are Republicans smarter than a 5th grader? Pray, tell us how will they get on the books

    • JustTheFactsMa’am

      I worry that, while it’s been ridiculously bad during Obama’s term, it’s just going to continue for any Democrat president.

  • CPAinNewYork

    Any middle class or lower class person who votes Republican is a moron.

    • jmprint

      WOW CPA I am impressed. I never thought I would read those typed letters from you. Thank you.

    • Greggy44

      That’s where the Republican wedge issues come into play.

  • Dominick Vila

    The main ideological differences between the two parties is that one believes government has a responsibility to help all segments of our population, and the other believes that programs designed to help our most vulnerable citizens are unconstitutional and evidence of evil socialism. Along the same lines, one party wants to eliminate loopholes, subsidies, and foreign tax shelters for those who don’t need help to accumulate more wealth than they already have; and the other believes that the key to success is to ensure corporations and the upper class have the financial means to invest and create jobs.
    A close look at the record of these differing approaches should be the basis to decide who to vote for in 2016 and beyond.

  • 13observer

    They are worried just like the were in 2014……………..

    • Independent1

      They should be worried even more this time, given that in 2014 the GOP only won senate seats in red states and many of those by the skin of their teeth with elections so close to call they had to wait till after midnight and some even for days before confirming victory. And winning those victories with only the votes of 18+% of registered voters with 17+% for the dems and with less than 50% of even Republicans turning out. While losing every ballot issue like every min wage and personhood issue even in red states; and almost every elective office in a truly blue state like Oregon where every elective office is now in the hands of the Democrats because more than 60% of voters turned out. Voter suppression was clearly a factor in the GOP’s wins in 2014; the Dems lost senate seats even though overall they got more than 20 million more votes in losing than the GOP got in winning – the only hope the GOP has is if they can do a similar job suppressing the vote in 2016 but even more of their voter suppression tactics are being questioned and overturned. They really need to be worried.

  • charleo1

    The, “Conservative,” Whigs, er, I mean Wing, of the Republican Party, as it’s pertains to the issue of minimum wage. Is comparable to the shortsighted skinflint, who thinks he’s saving a lot of money by not changing the oil in his car. Or, keeping the tires properly inflated. He will literally run his car into the ground, unconvinced of the fiscal common sense of regular investments in maintenance. Just as today’s Bagger ideologues will oppose the minimum wage, as they gripe incessantly over the number on food stamps, and oppose the expansion of Medicaid. But then, in the interest of cutting spending, which they are convinced always balances budges. Will put such things as education, healthcare, worker training programs, or infrastructure improvements, all investments in a future healthy economy. On the top on their list to go on the chop block for immediate elimination. Then their little cars, as they have in recently well off Kansas. After 6 years of pure idiot ideology, is boiling over. With tax receipts well down, their budgets deeply in the red. The old worn out bald tires are flat. As real production and economic growth has slowed to a crawl. And many businesses, large and small, as well as private sector investment, are all now waiting on a tow out of the land of Toto, and Dorothy to greener pastures elsewhere. But, at least it’s harder for a woman to receive an abortion in KS. So it’s not as if there aren’t other priorities of much greater importance, than that blasted car that’s now stalled along side the road.

    • Matforce

      Hahahaha! Your metaphors are just so good!

      Surely, charleo1, if we just grant more, more, more, tax breaks for the rich, corporations, and promise the Wall Street investment industry a guarantee that the Dow-Jones Industrial Index climbs ever higher by kicking the high wage USA worker to the curb and replacing them with a desperate global workforces who’ll work for a $Dollar/day, all will go well for us (sarcasm filter- off).

      Take a look at the Baltic Dry Index:

      This is a global index that charts the import/export of shipped goods to and from national ports. What a surprise to see that “DEMAND” has flat-lined since “supply side” economics has been the national darling!

      And if you look at another telling index, “The US Trade In Goods and Services” index,” you’ll see that since NAFTA, and even more so since China joined the WTO with MFN status, our trade deficits went from surpluses in the 1970 to close to $800 BILLION/YR by 2006. They’ve been close to or over $$$HALF A TRILLION/YR since 2003.

      Weren’t the Free Trade Agreements sold accompanied by the mantra from the Right, “We don’t need to be a manufacturing nation, we’ll become a technology and service nation and do just fine…”?

  • Leftout

    What is the minimum wage for s person not to be in poverty. ? Single person or married, or with children. ! place of residence ! Is it $10.00, 15.00/ hr, this is another contrived issue.
    Noone has established this enigmatic number…….anyone out there , any economist from Columbia in this forum out there, with an answer, let’s define it and do it.,

  • drdroad

    In 1966 I went to a small Baptist college in TN. I worked at the Student Grill making the minimum wage, .90/hr. During my stent there the minimum wage was raised nationally to $1.05/hour (I’m doing this by memory, so hopefully my numbers are at least close). So here’s my question. Would Republicans be happy if the Minimum Wage had NEVER been raised since 1966. It would be OK if there were still workers making $.90/hr?? How about 3.50/hr? $5.50/hr? In my opinion it is embarrassing that our national minimum wage is under $10/hr.

  • Independent1

    “But also keep in mind the nature of the business wing of the GOP. It is against wage mandates, because wages cut into profits.”

    I’m not sure I fully agree with the “because wages cut into profits” as being across the board. I think that’s only true for possibly small business (mom and pop type) companies that don’t have the variety of product offerings and customer turnover that larger multinational companies do. Elizabeth Warren in her push to increase the min wage to $10.10 proved that most McDonald’s could afford to raise the min wage in most of their outlets to $10.10 by simply adding 4 cents to the cost of one happy meal – raising it from $7.15 to $7.19. Making it clear that Walmart could afford to raise the min wage by simply adding a few cents to the price of a selected group of the thousands of items it sells.

    And research I’ve seen says that the McDonald’s outlets in Europe, where in many places the min wage is equivalent to $12/hour here, are actually more profitable than similar
    McDonald’s outlets here in the U.S. And one reason for that is that even the people working at the $12 min wage in Europe, can afford to buy the more expensive, more profitable meal options on the McDonald’s menu, while here in the U.S. most min wage workers have to settle for what was the $1 menu items which are often not really very profitable or actually are loss leaders.

    And the same is true with even smaller retailers. Where people working in those at min wage in Europe can generally afford to shop where they work, while in the U.S. min wage workers can’t generally afford to shop where they work except for items on sale or at severely depressed loss-level pricing or because of employee discounts which actually do cut into profits.

  • Matforce

    At the apex of USA middle class dynamism, when the working stiff took home a decent pay and as a result, formed the largest consumer economy this world has ever seen.

    I was 16 years old, then. It was 1969, and I got my first jobs as a mason tender with a local masonry outfit. They paid me $6.25/hr.

    Do you know what that ’69 wage would be today, adjusted for inflation? $39.97/hr.
    When is it going to occur to these GOP profit protectors and lackeys for the rich, that national policy and national interest is not synonymous with the business imperative? They have a nation to look after! 35 years of “supply side” economics has been a disaster! How about we try “demand side” economics again and require corporations that want our business place their shoulder to the wheel of national interest and employ USA workers once again at a decent wage? You know why! Wall Street profits would take a TEMPORARY while the economy begins to gear up, and corporations would need to take a TEMPORARY hit until the USA dug her way our of the neck deep shyt she’s in as a direct result of our middle class decline and ascent of the rich through the stratosphere!

    Can you guess how that would play on GOP spin?

  • Greggy44

    I’ve yet to hear the Republicans back a single issue that favors the American Middle Class. Why would this be any different. Their idea of “helping the Middle Class is approving the Keystone pipeline (which just became more difficult given the recent results of the election in Alberta)! Or, cutting regulations and any number of agencies that are there to protect American citizens from any number of issues.