Voters deserve to get the minimum wage they voted for

President Joe Biden lacks the political capital to fulfill his promise

James Dobson, Contributing Writer

President Joe Biden promised on his campaign trail to raise the federal minimum wage from the current rate of $7.25 per hour to $15 per hour, an assurance that garnered support among Democrats. So far, despite the Democratic Party’s control of the White House, Senate and House of Representatives, that promise has been hollow.

A broad $15 minimum wage likely doesn’t make sense on a national level, as businesses in rural areas, where the cost of living is significantly cheaper than in more urban areas, will have a difficult time retaining some employees. However, a wage hike is desperately needed in other areas where the cost of living is higher, as many find themselves working multiple jobs and still struggle to afford basic necessities such as food and rent.

The closest this minimum wage hike has gotten to becoming a reality is during the negotiation of the recent COVID-19 relief bill. An original version of this bill included raising the federal minimum wage to $15 per hour. However, this component of the bill was cut out after Elizabeth MacDonough, the Senate parliamentarian who interprets Senate rules, deemed it inapplicable to include in the relief bill.

“We are deeply disappointed in this decision,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said in a statement shortly after the minimum wage increase was taken out of the relief bill. “We are not going to give up the fight to raise the minimum wage to $15 to help millions of struggling American workers and their families. The American people deserve it, and we are committed to making it a reality.”

President Joe Biden doesn’t have the backing to deliver on his promised $15 minimum wage. (Photo from Phil Roeder/Flickr)

While the federal minimum wage likely won’t be raised to $15 anytime soon, that doesn’t mean progress can’t be made for Democrats who want to see steps taken in the right direction. Sens. Krysten Sinema (AZ) and Joe Manchin (WV), two moderate Democrats who do not support the $15 federal wage, have said that they would vote for an $11 federal minimum wage instead. This would still be an increase of $3.75 per hour from the current amount.

Accomplishing this, despite it not being what many Democrats initially promised, would still have a significant impact on struggling families and those trying to escape poverty. It would also be a much-needed first step in the right direction, as the federal minimum wage has not increased in over 10 years.

While the $15 minimum wage has the potential to help a lot of people, especially the many minimum wage earners struggling during the pandemic and who will continue to struggle in its aftermath, there simply is not the political capital for the Democrats to accomplish it right now. If they wanted to do it, the way to do so would have been to win more Senate seats in 2020 to get a more secure majority. As it stands, the Senate is split, but Democrats control it with Vice President Kamala Harris breaking the tie. This doesn’t leave much room when accounting for moderate Democrats, such as Sinema or Manchin, who may not always be fully in line with the more progressive Democratic agenda.

Many members of Congress are adamant supporters of the minimum wage. Some have proposed putting heavy pressure on their own party to get the federal minimum wage to $15, such as methods like when certain Democrats threatened not to vote to reelect Nancy Pelosi for House Speaker until she held a vote on ”Medicare for All” earlier this year. However, political maneuvers such as these only serve to hurt their own party.

The Biden administration understands the danger to his own support system and as such seemed to, at least for the time being, stop actively fighting for this minimum wage change despite it being one of its prominent campaign promises. Shortly after the $15 minimum wage was removed from the COVID-19 relief bill, Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, said that Biden was “disappointed in this outcome” but “respects the Senate’s process.”

While, for the time being, the $15 federal minimum wage seems to be off the table, Democrats still have their Senate and House majorities guaranteed until 2022, and a lot more promises to work on while they hold their power. If they win over enough voters to expand their Senate majority during the midterm elections in two years, Americans have a much better chance of getting the minimum wage raised to $15 at that point. For now, though, the reality is that there is simply not enough political will to accomplish this goal.