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Here's the reality behind the fights over conservative Democrats

March 4, 2021 in Blogs

By John Stoehr

On Saturday, the US House of Representatives passed a covid relief package totaling almost $2 trillion. The US Senate is taking up the bill this week. The upper chamber will probably send it to the president as-is, mostly, but for a major exception. It’s unlikely to contain provisions for raising the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour.

That’s bad, but not as bad as some might have you believe. For one thing, the base wage is not $7.50 an hour everywhere in the country. As with many things, there exists a patchwork system of compensation with various rates even within states. (Local governments can set their own minimums as long as state governments allow it.) To be sure, working for the minimum here in New Haven is essentially working for free. The minimum goes farther, however, in cheap-living states like North Dakota and Idaho.

US Sens. Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema, perhaps the most conservative Democrats, don’t support raising the federal rate in large part because they have little incentive to. West Virginia and Arizona, respectively, have minimum rates higher than the federal rate. To the extent they had any incentive, it vanished after the Senate parliamentarian, who adjudicates rules of the chamber, said minimum wage provisions did not meet the requirement needed to pass legislation with a simple majority, not a normal 60 votes.

Some say, not unreasonably, that Manchin and Sinema are problems because they are conservative. (Manchin, I hasten to add, is the subject of rage-tweeting far more than Sinema is). The solution, some progressives say, is knocking them off. Take a page from the “Tea Party movement” and primary them out of existence, just as fascist Republicans primaried “moderate” GOP incumbents out of existence. That, to me, is interesting, even exciting, I confess, but in the end, beside the point. It may be true that being conservative is the problem, but the problem is probably less exciting. It’s about incentives. What are they willing to do and why are they willing to do it?

Before I go on, remember this important fact. Fifty-seven senators voted to convict Donald Trump of inciting insurrection against the United States government. That included Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema (as well as Mitt Romney and six other Republicans.) Every single county in West Virginia went to the Republican candidate in 2020. Vast numbers of voters there no doubt believe the former president …read more


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