President Barack Obama has decided to make raising the minimum wage the key issue for the midterm elections in order to help the Democrats maintain control of the Senate. This past week President Obama has brought up the issue during his fundraising trip for the Democratic Party in Connecticut and California, on the White House website, emails to supporters, on Twitter and in his week address entitled “America Is a Place Where Hard Work Should Be Rewarded” released on Saturday morning, Oct. 11, 2014.
The president spoke at a private fundraisers in Greenwich, Connecticut on Tuesday, Oct. 7, 2014, and then at actress’ Gwenyth Paltrow’s home in Los Angeles on Thursday, Oct. 9 where he listed his administration’s successes. Obama discussed the current state in foreign policy including the fight against ISIS, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, his recent United Nations speech, Russia and the Ebola outbreak. The president also highlighted his domestic policy achievements with the economy, jobs creation, health care reform, energy, technology and education, the basis of his economic opportunity agenda to help the middle class. Obama has now repackaged it calling it “new foundation for growth and prosperity.” Policies that appeal to the targeted voters, middle class Americans.
Additionally, the president spoke of what needs to still be done, and to him it all boils down to raising wages; closing the gender pay gap and raising the minimum wage. Obama pointed out at the LA fundraiser about raising the minimum wage; “the good news is that there are some things we could do right now that would deliver on that promise. If we raised the minimum wage — which hasn’t been raised in seven years — 28 million people would be helped.”
Despite the GOP opposition to raising the minimum wage, based on partly on their belief that it causes job losses, and only helps teenage workers. Obama emphasized, “The average beneficiary of a hike in the minimum wage is 35 years old, disproportionately women — folks who are trying to raise kids just like these two. And it’s hard to do on $14,000 a year.” In his weekly address Obama reiterated his same points on the minimum wage, but added how much it would help those that make these wages and the economy; “that extra money would help them pay the bills and provide for their families. It also means they’ll have more money to spend at local businesses – which grows the economy for everyone.”
Since his State of the Union address in January President Obama has been advocating the need to raise the minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10 an hour and to raise the wage for tipped workers as well. Since the Republicans in Congress have been blocking the passage of a bill to raise the wage, and last did so to a Senate vote in April, Obama has been taking his own action, signing an executive order to raise the wage for federal contractors.
The president has also been working with state governors urging them to raise the minimum wages in their states so far “13 states, 21 cities and D.C. have gone around Congress to raise their workers’ wages.” In the midterm election, five states have a referendum on the issue on their ballots. Obama pointed out that it is a popular measure even though Republicans widely oppose it, and mentioned in his weekly address that; “on Friday, [Oct. 9] a coalition of citizens – including business leaders, working moms, labor unions, and more than 65 mayors – told Republicans in Congress to stop blocking a raise for millions of hard-working Americans.”
Additionally, Obama tried to sell his economic program and raising the minimum wage raise to millennials at Town Hall on Innovation at Cross Campus in LA on Thursday, Oct. 9. Young Americans born after 1981 are disenchanted by Obama’s presidency, but the demographic is needed to help the Democrats keep the Senate. Obama discussed the “examples of things that we know would help grow the economy faster, increase wages and incomes, give more opportunity to entrepreneurs.” This includes elements of his economic program such as increasing grants and loans for college education, raising the minimum wage, and the closing gender pay gap.
The president also called in reinforcements from his administration, including, Vice President Joe Biden and Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez. Vice President Biden conducted a roundtable with LA Mayor Eric Garcetti at the LA Baking Company on Oct. 7 on raising the minimum wage. Biden declared, “No one in America should be working 40 hours a week and living below the poverty level. No one. No one.” The vice president believes raising the minimum wage is the least the government can do to help ease the load for those in poverty; “Giving someone a wage that takes them out of poverty is just the minimum, the bare minimum we should be doing to begin to reestablish economic growth in this country.” Biden repeated Obama’s message that the raising the minimum wage will increase economic growth, contradicting the Republicans. The vice president concluded, “When the middle class does well, the wealthy do very well, and the poor have a shot. They have a ladder up.”
While Secretary Perez authored a White House email with the subject heading “How $10.10 would affect you” sent out to subscribers and supporters on Friday, Oct. 10. Perez also repeated the same messages that Obama and Biden expressed earlier in the week on raising the minimum wage. Perez’s message differed in that he still urged Congress to pass the bill to raise the minimum wage, writing, “Right now, there’s a bill before Congress that would raise the national minimum wage to $10.10 — without any new taxes or new spending. And not only would it help workers survive, it would help the whole economy grow.
When the minimum wage raise bill was finally put to a vote in the Senate, Republicans led a filibuster blocking and preventing the Minimum Wage Fairness Act from advancing. On Wednesday morning, April 30, 2014 there was a vote of 54 for and 42 votes against then bill when 60 votes were required for cloture and advancing the bill. Republicans still oppose raising the minimum wage because they believe it will lead to job losses and at the very least stifling of job creation.
As part of his message that the Democrats care for the plight of the middle class, while Republicans are only interested in the wealthy and corporate America, Obama blames them entirely for the problems that still plague the country. The president was in campaign attack mode at the Greenwich fundraiser. There Obama explained why there are setbacks to the economic recovery; “The reason is, is because you’ve got a Republican Party, particularly in the House of Representatives, that’s been become captive to a very narrow, ideological set of beliefs that think government has no role to play in providing opportunity.” Continuing the president denounced their laissez-faire economic policy tradition, criticizing that Republicans “believe that if as long as folks at the very top are doing well and we eliminate regulations on polluters and the financial system, somehow prosperity will trickle down.”
Obama repeated a phrase he believes sells Americans to vote for Democrats, if they want there to be a chance for the minimum wage and his economic program to ever be passed by Congress and be law for all Americans. Obama declared; “My name is not on the ballot, but our values and our ideals and the things that generations have fought for to make this a fair, more prosperous, more equal, more just place — those values and ideals are at stake.” The GOP turned the tables and have adopted the phrase to make the midterms a referendum on President Obama and his policies. For Obama the only solution is “at minimum — make sure that we continue to have a Senate that believes in those things that will open up opportunity to everybody.”
In the spring, the unemployment benefits extension, the renewal of the Emergency Unemployment Compensation (EUC) program seemed like one of the issues the Democrats would rally behind for the midterms, that has not happened. The bill, the Emergency Unemployment Compensation Extension Act of 2014 passed in the Senate in April, but then expired on May 31, 2014, without the GOP controlled House of Representatives putting the bill to a vote, because it did not include job creation measures. The bill’s authors Senators Jack Reed, D-RI and Dean Heller, R-NV unveiled a new bill on Tuesday, June 24, 2014, but the bill failed to move beyond the committee stage.
In the months since then the unemployment rate has fallen to 5.9 percent. The long-term unemployment rate however, is still high with three million Americans that have been “unemployed for longer than 27 weeks,” the threshold be considered long-term unemployed. The September jobs report indicated that they represent 31.9 percent of all unemployed Americans, up from the 31.2 percent share they represented in August. The issue is more unpopular and controversial to voters than the raising the minimum wage, since conservatives believe the long-term unemployed are “lazy” and do not want to work, and prefer to accept government money rather than work. Many long-term unemployed are women and low wage earners and in general, employers have a prejudice towards the long-term jobless making it difficult for them to get a job.
The Democrats are on the edge where the polls show that they might lose six seats and their control on the Senate. 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. Despite public support for the initiative, raising the minimum wage has not energized the base and voters as much as the Democrats had hoped. Still it is an issue, that affects Democrats targeted demographic, and where the two parties greatly differ. Obama and the Democrats can use the issue to say they are helping a segment of the American voters that have not yet recovered from the great recession.
- Raise the Wage | The White House, Oct. 10, 2014
- President Barack Obama’s Weekly Address: America Is a Place Where Hard Work Should Be Rewarded, Oct. 11, 2014 — Transcript | mp4 | mp3
- Remarks by President Barack Obama at a DNC Event — Los Angeles, CA, Oct. 9, 2014
- Remarks by President Barack Obama in a Town Hall on Innovation — Los Angeles, CA, Oct. 9, 2014
- Remarks by the President at DSCC Event, Oct. 07, 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. She covers US, Canadian & Israeli politics, with a particular focus on the Obama presidency, Congress, domestic policy, and elections.