Who Needs Congress to Raise the Federal Minimum Wage? (March 6, 2013)


President Obama’s now legendary State of the Union address, delivered before a joint session of Congress last month, touched on several notable issues that the POTUS plans to incorporate into his second term agenda. As of midnight last Friday, we now know that one of the Presidents’ goals: the negotiation of a budgetary deal that would take the place of the unpopular sequestration maneuver, was a dismal failure. In part, the inability to secure a new plan can be blamed on an important miscalculation on the part of the POTUS. Believing (incorrectly it seems) that the GOP would place concern for the immediate cuts to defense spending above its commitment to opposing him at every turn, Obama played the waiting game – and lost.

So that’s one down from the State of the Union with many to go. The increasingly comprehensive paralysis on Capitol Hill inspires little confidence that deeply partisan issues like gun control and immigration reform will be dealt with in an expeditious and logical fashion. The majority of Americans have been placed in the same uncomfortable position as the Commander-in-Chief: gamely rooting for members of the House and Senate to do the jobs to which they’ve been elected, while suspecting a whole lot of nothing in the end. Our collective silver lining gut feeling, which is all we really have to sustain us at this point: is that somehow, someway, Congress will be divested of its ability to hold the fiscal, social and foreign policy of the nation hostage. It’s perfectly arguable that the rise of a viable third political party has never been more necessary.

We’ve grown so accustomed to our “do nothing” government as the root cause for so much of what ails our country, it’s often easy to forget that we really don’t have to depend on lawmakers to come to the rescue. Sometimes the solutions are just sitting there staring ordinary citizens and the private sector in the face.

Take, for example, President Obama’s stated intent to advocate for an increase in the Federal minimum wage. During this portion of the State of the Union address, the President framed the issue in this context: “Tonight, let’s declare that in the wealthiest nation on Earth, no one who works full-time should have to live in poverty, and raise the federal minimum wage to $9.00 an hour…This single step would raise the incomes of millions of working families.”

The minimum wage, which currently sits at $7.25 an hour, has held steady since 2009. The President is proposing an increase to $9.00 that would take effect in 2015. This is the sort of common sense idea that one might expect could be embraced by members occupying both side of the political spectrum. Of course, that’s not true. The opposition from the business community is to be expected, and upon remembering that most of the Republican Party rests comfortably inside the corporate pocket, most of us are well prepared for yet another showdown.

But in considering the potential squashing of another effort to assist the beleaguered working and middle classes, it occurs to me that this isn’t an issue that should require Congressional intervention. In anyone else tired of reading about the record-breaking profits and hoards of cash enjoyed by American companies, even as workers struggle to hold onto jobs that pay them flat wages?

Call me naive but I’d like to see the media machine hold some freaking feet to the fire. For example, why is pharmaceutical giant Bristol-Myers Squibb planning to layoff nearly 500 additional workers, when 2012 fourth quarter profits were up over 22 percent? Why isn’t Anderson Cooper keeping the company and scores of other greedy operations like it, honest with these types of questions? Why is it continually viable to discuss making the economy work for business, without any concern for the people who are responsible for the flush state of a company’s bottom line?

Against the backdrop of a government “for the people, by the people” which does seem to serve all parties except individuals’ sense that revolution is inevitable grows more palpable. With regard to the increase of the Federal minimum wage, with a little partnership from the media, we shouldn’t need Congress to act. The Tea Party is supposedly all about individual initiative, right?


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