By Ralph Nader
If you were the Democrats and you were looking for a good vote-getting midterm election issue, what criteria would you use? How about an issue with 70-80 percent support in polls? How about one that is bipartisan — supported by Republicans like Mitt Romney, Tim Pawlenty, Rick Santorum and Bill O’Reilly? How about one that is national in scope, with plenty of local, grassroots energy? What about one that is simple and easy to understand, unlike Obamacare. What about one that offers tax savings and stimulates our economy understandably and is concrete — a real pocketbook issue. What about one with a big constituency, specifically 30 million hard-pressed workers and their families, needing the necessities of life?
If the Democrats want any chance of succeeding in defeating the cruelest, anti-worker, anti-consumer, corporatist Republican Party in history this November, they have to get into serious high visibility mode about raising the federal minimum wage. No more lip service or half measures! As corporate profits and CEO pay soar ever higher, 30 million hardworking Americans — two-thirds women and two-thirds employed by large corporations like Walmart and McDonald’s — are making less today, adjusted for inflation, than they did in 1968! Raising the stagnant minimum wage, which has been stuck at a paltry $7.25 per hour since 2009 must be the front burner issue for the upcoming November elections.
With polls predicting that the Republicans are likely to control the House and Senate next year, President Obama better barnstorm the country and meet with hard-pressed workers of all backgrounds for a $10.10 federal minimum wage.
Just take a look at recent polling data which shows that over 70% of Americans are in favor of raising the minimum wage. That’s nearly three out of every four Americans. With such overwhelming public support, where is the Democratic leadership in Congress? Why are they just talking about it but avoiding an all-out offensive on this decisively winning election issue? If they are not willing to vigorously act in the interest of these American people, then why don’t they escalate the media buys and the grassroots organizing in the interest of the survival of the party? The minimum wage is buried as one of seven points in House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi’s (D-CA) so-called “Middle-Class Jumpstart” package.
Last March, Democrats in the House of Representatives proposed an amendment to a bill that would raise the federal minimum wage. It was unanimously voted down by the clenched-teeth Republicans. Following in April, the Senate tried to bring legislation raising the federal minimum wage to a vote. Yet again, corporatist Republicans opposed raising the federal minimum wage by threatening to filibuster. The Senate leadership was short of the 60 votes necessary to defeat the emailed intention to filibuster.
Speaker John Boehner once told The Weekly Standard that he’d “commit suicide” before voting on a clean minimum wage bill. And just this week, a leaked audio from a meeting of wealthy conservative funders revealed U.S. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) vowing to block any vote on the minimum wage. “We’re not going to be debating all of these gosh darn proposals,” McConnell told the audience of millionaires and billionaires. “These people believe in all the wrong things.” Shouldn’t these cruel words be widely disseminated to beat McConnell in Kentucky and his party of plutocrats in November?
The Democrats should be steamrolling these Wall Street Republicans.
The Fair Minimum Wage Act of 2013 (H.R. 1010), sponsored by Rep. George Miller (D-CA), seeks to partially rectify the dramatic decline in the purchasing power of the minimum wage by modestly raising it to $10.10 over three years. Most Congressional observers believe that if H.R. 1010 is brought to a roll call vote, it will pass. Thus, simply forcing a minimum wage raise vote past corporatists like House Speaker Boehner and McConnell is all that is standing between 30 million Americans and fairer wages.
The benefits are many. The low wages offered by America’s profitable corporations do not just affect workers; they affect all taxpayers as well. Workers making $7.25 an hour often cannot afford to buy food, pay rent, or get adequate healthcare. As a result, these employees must turn to taxpayer-funded government safety nets such as food stamps, Medicaid, the earned income tax credit, and housing-assistance programs. A $10.10 minimum wage would make life easier for these workers and their families. It would even strengthen the economy by increasing the consumer spending of millions of Americans. Therefore it’s no surprise that some prominent out-of-office Republicans like Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum and Tim Pawlenty have expressed their support for raising the federal minimum wage.
Earlier this year, Rep. Tim Bishop (D-NY) filed a discharge petition to force an up or down vote on H.R. 1010. To date, 195 House members have signed the petition. Only 23 more member signatures are needed to bring H.R. 1010 to a vote.
There has been a stunningly insufficient effort by House Democrats, the few concerned Republicans, labor unions and poverty organizations to mount a serious effort find and persuade 23 more House members needed to activate the discharge petition to get the vote. Shockingly, few progressive leaders have raised the discharge petition to the press nor pressured non-signers publicly since March. The silence from Democratic leadership and the White House is shameful. What are they waiting for? (U.S. Labor Secretary Thomas Perez is a notable exception — he made a cross-country speaking tour this past week on the occasion of Labor Day discussing the benefits of raising the minimum wage, among other issues.)
The Time for a Raise campaign just released a study identifying 55 Members of Congress who have yet to sign H.R. 1010’s discharge petition to bring a federal minimum wage raise to a vote, but who could be susceptible to pressure on the issue. Visit Give1010AVote.org to see the report.
Here’s a fact that might jolt some apathetic citizens into action, as well as make some members of Congress sweat: While tens of millions of Americans live on a poverty-level $7.25 per hour, their hired hands in Congress, working a 40-hour work week, are making $83 per hour plus generous healthcare and pension benefits. How can these elected officials “represent” millions of Americans earning poverty-level wages? They can’t when they are beholden to the Walmarts and the Wall Streeters.
Labor Day weekend is an opportune time to press members of Congress to get serious about the necessities of 30 million long-suffering American workers. It only takes five minutes for you to call, write or email your member of Congress and ask them to sign Rep. Bishop’s discharge petition, if they have yet to. Even better, rally around the local offices of your Senators and Representatives. It’s time to get serious; it’s time to give $10.10 a vote in September.
Visit timeforaraise.org for more information on the campaign to raise the minimum wage.