After the Senate GOP blocked President Barack Obama's major legislative push, raising the minimum wage from advancing on Wednesday, April 30, 2014 Obama delivered a speech in the East Room of the White House later in the afternoon criticizing the Republicans for blocking the Minimum Wage Fairness Act and renewed his pledge to get the minimum wage raised. The Senate Republicans led a filibuster and prevented the bill to advance with a vote of 54 for and 42 votes against when 60 votes were required for cloture, ending the debate and advancing the bill. The fight over the minimum wage has become a central campaign focus between the Democrats and the Republicans, with points with the voters mattering more than if the legislation would actually help Americans.
President Obama's speech at the White House's East Room included all the themes and arguments for raising the minimum wage, but now he no longer urged the Republicans to pass the bill. Obama flanked by minimum wage earners who would have benefits from the legislation, praised the states that are raising wages and the businesses that are choosing to pay more to their workers. In what was very much a campaign speech the president reserved most of his wrath for the GOP, and spent most of his time chastising the Republicans for voting against raising the minimum wage and in general any legislation that will help Americans improve their economic situation.
Commenting directly about the Senate vote earlier in the day, Obama observed; "We saw this morning a majority of senators saying yes, but almost every Republican saying no to giving America a raise…. And then if they keep putting politics ahead of working Americans, you can put them out of office." The president explained the ramifications of the vote against the raise, which would not have added to the deficit; "They said no to helping millions work their way out of poverty -- and keep in mind, this bill would have done so without any new taxes, or spending, or bureaucracy. They told Americans like the ones who are here today that "you're on your own" -- without even looking them in the eye." Obama tried to portray the vote as an act of cruelty, inhumane and politically motivated.
The president wanted to make a biased contrast portraying the Democrats as caring and working for the middle class, and the Republicans as only concerned about the wealthy, stating; "This is a very simple issue. Either you're in favor of raising wages for hard-working Americans or you're not. Either you want to grow the economy from the middle out and the bottom up, so that prosperity is broad-based, or you think that top-down economics is the way to go."
President Obama reiterated that the Republicans' recent activities show they do not care for the middle-class, they continue repealing the health care law, the Affordable Care Act, passed a budget that cuts social programs, refused to pass the equal pay bill and refused to pass the unemployment benefits extension bill. Obama listed the examples to back his claims, saying; "Republicans in Congress have found the time to vote more than 50 times to undermine or repeal the health care bill for millions of working families. Earlier this month, they voted for a budget that would give the wealthiest Americans a massive tax cut while forcing deep cuts to investments that help middle-class families. And on top of that, they've blocked our efforts to make sure women receive equal pay for equal work…. They've stood in the way as we've fought to extend unemployment insurance for parents who need a little help supporting their families while they're out looking for work."
President Obama indicated that Republicans are focusing so much on politics they are not doing anything to help Americans; "Republicans have failed to dismantle the Affordable Care Act, and they've increasingly failed to do anything when it comes to helping people who work hard get ahead." Obama advised Americans than they can use their vote in the midterm election to express their opposition to the GOP refusing to pass helpful economic legislation. Obama stated; "They've increasingly failed at doing anything to help people who are working hard to get ahead. If there's any good news here, it's that Republicans in Congress don't get the last word on this issue, or any issue. You do. The voters."
President Obama vowed to continue to fight for this pay raise, declaring; "Change is happening, whether Republicans like it or not. And so my message to the American people is this: Do not get discouraged by a vote like the one we saw this morning. Get fired up. Get organized. Make your voices heard. And rest assured, I'm going to keep working with you ... to raise wages for hardworking Americans." The president urged Americans and voters to get involved and pressure their representatives and Senator through any means, personal anecdotes, Twitter. Obama even advocated that Americans threaten their representatives telling that "that if they keep putting politics ahead of working Americans, you'll put them out of office."
The Senate bill to raise the minimum wage is sponsored and authored by two Democrats, the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Chairman and Iowa Senator Tom Harkin and California Representative George Miller. The Minimum Wage Fairness Act would raise the wage from $7.25, the minimum wage since 2009 to $10.10 for all American workers. The president's plan and the Senate's bill for increasing the minimum wage in three increments raising the minimum hourly wage until it finally reaches $10.10 by 2016, raise tax credits, and have legislation indexing the minimum wage so it will automatically be raised to meet inflation and the rise in cost of living, and raising the minimum wage for tipped workers from $2.13 an hour to $4.90. The bill however, included a tax code change which Roll Call explained "would extend higher limits on expensing." Because of the tax code change the bill needed actually to be originally passed by the House of Representatives first "to avoid a constitutional challenge."
The bill to raise the minimum wage would have faced opposition in the Republican House of Representatives from the Speaker John Boehner, R-OH who has numerous times stated that raising the minimum wage will result in fewer jobs for the lower income bracket. The Republican Congress is reluctant citing an Office of Management and Budget's (OMB) recent report stating jobs will be loss as a result of a raise. According to the OMB 500,000 jobs would be lost, but 16.5 million Americans would benefit, and 900,000 would be raised above the poverty level. A new Bloomberg poll released on Monday, April 28 indicated that 58 percent of Americans find it "unacceptable" to raise the minimum wage, if it results in job losses.
Republicans in the Senate also opposed the bill, because it would lead to jobs losses and stifle job creation. Many Republicans also find that the raise is too much and prefer the $9 amount the president proposed in his 2013 State of the Union Address. While for others the mere fact that that Sen. Reid opposed adding any amendments was a turn-off, adding Republican provisions sweetens the deal and can make a bill more acceptable to opposing Republicans. Ignoring the GOP's arguments against this particular Senate bill, President just focused on the "fact, some of them want to scrap the minimum wage entirely."
President Obama and Sen. Harkin however, oppose a compromise on the pay raise standing firm, with Harkin having stated; "We will not compromise on $10.10. That just gets us above the poverty level." The president and Sen. Harkin claim Republicans oppose the minimum wage because they believe only the youth work in minimum wage jobs when in reality they average age 35, half are women, 7 million are raising families. Additionally, the Council of Economic Advisers estimates that when that is done a total of 28 million Americans will benefit. President blamed the GOP for those Americans losing out, saying; "because Republicans in Congress said "no" to even allowing a vote on the floor of the Senate, these folks are going to have to wait for the raise they deserve."
Raising the minimum wage is central to the president's economic opportunity to give Americans the chance to reach the middle-class. President Obama explained; "we believe that in the wealthiest nation on Earth, nobody who works full-time should ever have to raise a family in poverty. That's a basic principle. And at a time when those at the top are doing better than ever, while millions of Americans are working harder and harder just to get by." The economic opportunity program consists of four elements; creating good paying jobs, technical job training programs, education initiatives from Pre-K to college, and fair wages including equal pay for equal work and raising the minimum wage. Since delivering his State of the Union address in January the president has been pushing Congress to raise the minimum wage. Obama wants to lift the wage up from $7.25 to $10.10 for all American workers by 2016, and continued to urge Congress to pass legislation.
Although Congress has yet to raise the minimum wage Obama has been pursuing two alternatives to bypass Congress, he signed an executive order to raise the minimum wage for federal contract workers, and has been urging governors to raise the minimum wage in their states. The president has followed through on his promise of a year of economic action by raising the minimum wage for federal hourly and tipped contractors through an executive order on Wednesday afternoon, Feb. 12.
Since Obama's first call to raise the minimum wage in his 2013 State of the Union Address, 10 states have raised the minimum wage plus the District of Columbia. In March, Connecticut raised the minimum wage to $10.10 the highest rate in the country, earlier in April Maryland raised their minimum wage, while on Wednesday, April 30, Hawaii also raised their minimum wage to the $10.10 mark. President Obama applauded their efforts saying; "Now the good news is outside of Washington folks aren't waiting…. So the actions that have been taken in just four states -- Maryland, Connecticut, Minnesota, and Hawaii -- means that over a million workers will see a raise."
President Obama also praised and highlighted businesses that have taken the initiative themselves to raise their minimum wage. So far Obama has praised Costco, the Gap, Cafe Beauregard in New Britain, and Pi Pizzeria in St Louis, Missouri and Zingerman's Deli in Michigan, and most recently Obama highlighted Desi Shack, a privately owned restaurant. Obama explained that these businesses are "increasingly choosing to raise wages for their employees because they know it's good business. They know that it means employees are more likely to stay on the job, less turnover. It means that they're going to be more productive, and customers see the difference."
According to the recent polls Americans support a raise to the minimum wage. The most recent poll conducted by ABC News/Washington Post and released on Tuesday, April 29 found support for the minimum wage increase was 49 percent for and 33 opposed. A Bloomberg poll from March found support at 69 percent. A Quinnipiac survey from January released when the president first announced the initiative in his State of the Union Address showed that 71 percent of Americans in general support raising the minimum wage, and a majority of Republicans at 52 percent support the raise. And a CBS News/New York Times poll published in February showed that two-thirds of Americans support a raise. President Obama used the polls to argue his point that the Senate is not in touch with what the majority of Americans feel, indicating that "In fact, about three in four Americans support raising the minimum wage," and "understands that America deserves a raise."
President Obama concluded that he is going to keep up his pledge to make this year a year of economic action. Obama promised Americans he going do whatever he can possibly do, saying "I'm going to keep offering my support to every business owner, and mayor, and governor, and county official, and legislator, and organization that's working to give America a raise." Obama believes "change does not come from Washington, it comes to Washington from all the folks out there who are working hard. Americans want the people they send here to set aside the old political arguments and move this country forward. With enough determination and enough persistence, the American people will ultimately win out."
Obama and Democrats have chosen economic opportunity and raising the minimum wage as their key issue in the midterm election campaign. The Democrats are on the edge where they might lose six seats and their control on the Senate. They already realize regaining control of the House of Representatives is virtually impossible at this point. Republicans have the advantage according to CNN as the midterm elections get closer. A new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll from Wednesday, April 30 that asks voters who should control Congress demonstrated that among Americans who plan to vote in the midterms the GOP are leading 53 percent to 38 percent. This is because Republicans are more interested in the midterms than Democrats and more apt to vote this November. A CBS News poll indicated that 78 percent of Republicans intend to vote in November, but only 68 percent of Democrats plan to.
Presidents often see their parties lose seats in the second midterm elections of their terms, and Obama and Democrats are trying to curb that precedent. President Obama and Democrats have been forcing legislation on the Republicans without allowing compromises or added provisions that they know will fail just to highlight in this election year the difference between Republicans and Democrats and caring for the middle class. Despite public support for the initiative, raising the minimum wage has not energized the base and voters as much as the Democrats had hoped. President Obama will no doubtably continue on closer to the elections with similar addresses, boasting of his administration's accomplishments, focusing on economic issues important to the Democratic base and included in the Obama budget and attack, attack and mock the Republicans hoping it will be enough to keep the Senate come November.
- President Barack Obama's Remarks on Raising the Minimum Wage and Unemployment Benefits Extension, April 30, 2014
Bonnie K. Goodman is the Editor of the Academic Buzz Network, a series of political, academic & education blogs which includes History Musings: History, News & Politics. She has a BA in History & Art History & a Masters in Library and Information Studies, both from McGill University, and has done graduate work in Jewish history at Concordia University as part of the MA in Judaic Studies program. Her specializations are US, Canadian & Israeli politics.