I’m surprised. Raising the minimum wage polls well. And because any amendment would require 60 votes to pass, there was no risk for centrist Dems that Sanders’s proposal would end up in the final COVID relief bill. Joe Manchin was a guaranteed no, as he’s already said that he won’t go higher than $11 per hour, so you might think that would have freed up the rest of the caucus to vote yes and let Manchin and the GOP take the blame when the amendment went down in flames.
Instead no fewer than seven of his colleagues joined him in crossing the aisle. This was a firmly bipartisan defeat of a top progressive priority, the sort of thing that had activists saying things like “If you’ll pardon my language, we’re done f***ing around” about their passion to make this happen.
A $15 minimum wage looks as dead as that Grassley deer.
The 8 Dems opposing advancement:
— Dave Catanese (@davecatanese) March 5, 2021
You can understand Manchin and Jon Tester. They’re both from solid red rural states, where voters are more likely to oppose hiking the minimum wage on ideological grounds and small businesses are more likely to oppose it on cost-of-living grounds. You can understand Sinema because centrism is her brand now and her state is trending blue but not yet reliably Democratic. The other five are harder to understand, as they all come from states ranging from deep blue (Delaware) to pretty reliably blue (Maine, New Hampshire). The New England states are rural and would also have cost-of-living concerns, but Delaware’s as blue as they come — and happens to be the home state of the president of the United States, who’s made a $15 minimum wage a top priority. What gives?
Sinema tried to spin her vote in terms of process, not substance. She wants a debate on a standalone bill to raise the minimum wage, not an amendment to the COVID package:
— Kyrsten Sinema (@SenatorSinema) March 5, 2021
That’s not going down well with lefties, as you might imagine:
Leader of successful 2016 campaign to boost Arizona minimum wage rejects @SenatorSinema's claim today that she "strongly supported" it. (Earlier tweet deleted for incorrect description of Sinema statement.) pic.twitter.com/4aoVPpIj1d
— Brahm Resnik (@brahmresnik) March 5, 2021
The problem with Sinema’s argument is that, if only because of Manchin, Dems don’t have the votes to pass a standalone bill. Their one and only hope of hiking the minimum wage to 15 bucks was getting the Senate parliamentarian to rule that it could be attached to the COVID bill as part of the reconciliation process. If that had happened, it would have been a gut-check vote for Manchin: Does he dare block a hugely popular long-awaited COVID stimulus in the name of tanking a minimum-wage increase tucked into it, or would he grit his teeth and vote yes?
That’s why so many lefties were demanding that Kamala Harris overrule the parliamentarian and attach the wage hike to the COVID bill anyway. But that was a nonstarter, as Manchin had also said that he’d abide by whatever ruling the parliamentarian issued. When the parliamentarian said “no dice,” that gave him extra cover to oppose the stimulus package if the minimum-wage ended up tacked on.
So now lefties are stuck — and embarrassed. Not only is there no path to raising the wage to $15 via 50 votes, they’re actually eight votes in the hole at the moment. They’d need to flip 18 in order to get this done. The White House is going to try, annnnnnd they’re going to fail:
The White House is weighing whether to engage in talks with Republicans on a minimum wage hike once Congress passes its Covid relief bill, two sources with knowledge of their strategic thinking say.
White House aides said they believe there’s room to bring Republicans into the fold because raising the minimum wage is popular across ideological grounds. They pointed to the recent $15-an-hour wage increase passed in Florida, a state that voted for Donald Trump, as evidence that the issue has widespread support…
Aides insist that talks with Republicans don’t necessarily mean moving off of $15. There are other dimensions that could be negotiated, including extending the period of time over which the wage is raised, redefining which companies are impacted, and including other provisions to help out small businesses that may have to raise wages for their employees.
If Biden’s team thinks there’s a way to entice 10 Republicans into endorsing a $15 wage, they don’t understand the modern Republican Party. The post-Trump GOP is required to practice a politics of “dominance” in keeping with the style of its leader. No matter what concessions are made to make a $15 hike more palatable to conservatives, the mere fact that the headlines would read “BIDEN PREVAILS, SECURES DEAL FOR $15 WAGE” guarantees that it won’t happen. There are stray exceptions in the caucus who take their economic populism a bit more seriously and might be willing to compromise (Hawley, most notably) but there’s no scenario in which a meaningful number of Republicans join Biden on some core progressive wishlist item, even if it’s watered down.
So the wage hike isn’t going to pass, which, again, led me to believe that today’s vote would be more of a party-line affair. What would it cost Jeanne Shaheen or Maggie Hassan to vote yes and show swing voters back home that they support the idea in principle, knowing that it won’t become reality? The latest polling via FiveThirtyEight:
Raising the minimum wage is popular with the American public, even as dramatic a raise as to $15 an hour (it is currently $7.25 an hour). This week’s Morning Consult/Politico poll found that registered voters support it 60 percent to 32 percent. An Ipsos/Reuters survey from last month found roughly the same thing: 59 percent of adults in support and 34 percent in opposition. Monmouth University this week did find less support for it, but even in that survey, 53 percent of adults still supported a $15 minimum wage, while 45 percent were against it.
This take from an AP reporter explains things well enough. To control the Senate, Democrats need to win seats in rural states. And rural states are precisely where a one-size-fits-all wage increase is going to make employers nervous:
This is obv also a regional issue. In places where majority of party's population lives, $15 an hour is close to a market reality. But lots of the country where that'd be a big jump.
So for majority of D coalition it's no-brainer. But hard to get that minority on board.
— Nick Riccardi (@NickRiccardi) March 5, 2021
All of that being so, Democrats have only two options realistically. Either negotiate with Republicans in earnest for a lower wage (Romney and Cotton have proposed $10 per hour) or elect a few more Democratic senators, nuke the filibuster, *and* somehow deliver 50 votes notwithstanding their little problem with bringing rural states along on this. Watch Bernie below vowing to get $15 done somehow even though, as I say, there’s simply no way to do it realistically. Exit question: Is Manchin going to end up tanking the COVID relief bill anyway? There’s new drama this afternoon surrounding a Senate proposal to reduce weekly federal unemployment benefits from $400 per week in the bill to $300 per week, which is what Manchin wanted. Problem is, the proposal would also extend those payments into September rather than August. Manchin is reportedly unhappy. Stay tuned.
"We are going to come back with vote after vote, and one way or the other we are going to pass a $15 an hour minimum wage. That is what the American people want. And that is what the American people need," Sen. Sanders says after his minimum wage amendment fails in the Senate. pic.twitter.com/7xwP1Sg0z7
— MSNBC (@MSNBC) March 5, 2021
Update: Lefties are unhappy about this.
Senator Sinema a little too happy for poverty wages to remain pic.twitter.com/ze2T2CGtML
— RootsAction (@Roots_Action) March 5, 2021