Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

How Do Democrats Counter Obamacare? Batter Republicans on Minimum Wage

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

How Do Democrats Counter Obamacare? Batter Republicans on Minimum Wage

Article excerpt

Senate Republicans on Wednesday used a procedural vote to block Democrats from raising the federal minimum wage to $10.10 an hour. But just as Republicans hammer away at the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, day in and day out, expect Democrats to keep pounding at this issue and others related to their agenda of economic fairness.

"There will be a second vote. Then there will be a third. And we'll get closer to the election, and we'll see how people feel," said Sen. Tom Harkin (D) of Iowa, who sponsored the bill.

But many Republicans don't think they'll feel any pain for holding firm against $10.10, which they see as too high, too fast. (The hourly minimum wage would be raised from $7.25 in three annual steps, and then be indexed for inflation.) More importantly, the increase is a hardship on businesses and thus a job killer, they argue. Polls show that while a large majority of Americans favor increasing the minimum wage, they don't if the tradeoff means more people out of work.

The independent Congressional Budget Office reports that a wage increase to $10.10 could cost 500,000 jobs - though it also says that, overall, the increase would move 900,000 people above the poverty threshold.

On Wednesday morning, Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell (R) of Kentucky took to the floor to say that 6 in 10 Americans "oppose a bill like this if it means losing hundreds of thousands of American jobs." He accused Democrats of downplaying the negative effects of a minimum wage increase just as they did the downsides of Obamacare. He pointed to new federal data on Wednesday that showed the US economy slowing to a mere 0.1 percent annualized rate of growth for the first quarter.

"We view any discussion about the minimum wage to be just another opportunity to point out that [Democrats] haven't gotten the job done," says GOP pollster Ed Goeas of the Terrance Group in Washington. A new ABC/Washington Post poll shows that only 28 percent of Americans think the economy is getting better; 71 percent say it's either getting worse or stagnant. Meanwhile, the president's approval rating is at 41 percent, the lowest in his presidency.

Democrats counter that Republicans block the increase at their peril. They point to 1996, when the GOP controlled the House and the Senate, and then-House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R) of Georgia swung behind a minimum-wage increase for fear of being punished at the ballot box.

Perhaps more importantly, Democrats believe that the minimum wage and other income inequality issues, such as gender parity in pay, will increase the turnout of Democratic voters - the key to November's midterm elections - and their ability to retain control of the Senate.

Instead of talking about the recovery, "the more powerful set-up for Democrats' economic message is the contrast with CEOs and the 1 percent whose incomes have soared, while everyone else works hard just to get by. …

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