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Activists fear Biden’s commitment to higher minimum wages

Washington – Union activist Terence Wise recalls being laughed at almost 10 years ago when he began demanding a national minimum wage of $ 15 an hour. Almost a year after the pandemic happened, the idea isn’t very interesting.

Coronavirus refocuses on the challenges faced by hourly employees who continue to work in grocery stores, gas stations, and other face-to-face locations, even though many employees have moved to virtual environments. Is matched. President Joe Biden has responded to a large pandemic bailout bill by including a clause that more than doubles the current minimum wage from $ 7.25 to $ 15 per hour.

But that effort faces unexpected obstacles. Biden himself. The president seems to have undermined the impetus to raise the minimum wage by acknowledging the dim prospects in Congress facing political opposition and procedural hurdles.

It’s frustrating for activists like Wise who are worried that their victory is being robbed at the last minute, despite the administration, which is otherwise a frank ally.

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Wise, 41-year-old department manager at McDonald’s in Kansas City and national leader in the organized labor movement Fight for 15, said: “They need to feel pressure.”

The minimum wage debate highlights one of the central tensions that emerged in President Biden’s early days. He won the White House, promising to respond to a pandemic with a barrage of liberal policy proposals. However, as a 36-year Senate veteran, Biden is particularly tuned to Capitol Hill’s political dynamics and can be insensitive to his assessment.

“I don’t think it will survive,” Biden recently told CBS News, referring to the increase in the minimum wage.

Biden’s remarks have some sort of political realism.

Because the Senate is evenly divided, the proposal itself does not have the 60 votes needed to reach the floor. Democrats can use the esoteric budgeting process of attaching a minimum wage to a pandemic response bill and passing it with a simple majority vote.

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But it’s still not easy. Some moderate Democratic senators, including Joe Manchin in West Virginia and Kristen Cinema in Arizona, said they should either completely oppose hiking or not be included in the pandemic law.

Senate parliamentarians could further complicate matters with the ruling that minimum wage measures cannot be included in the pandemic bill.

So far, the most progressive Senate supporters of the bill have not openly pressured Biden to step up its minimum wage increase campaign.

Senate Budget Committee Chair Bernie Sanders said the focus was primarily on getting approval from parliamentarians to add provisions to the pandemic bill. Senator Elizabeth Warren, who challenged Biden from the left to nominate a Democrat like Sanders, just tweeted that Democrats “should correct this wrong.”

However, some activists are encouraging Biden to become more active.

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Rev. William J. Barber II, co-chair of the Poor People’s Campaign, said Biden had a “duty” to ensure a minimum wage increase, and a minority of Americans “returned to work first.” He was the first person. ” During a pandemic, you get infected, get sick first, die first. “

“We can’t get relief at the end, get proper treatment at the end, and get paid,” Barber said. “Respect, protect and pay for us.”

The federal minimum wage has not been raised since 2009, the longest unraised growth since its inception in 1938. After adjusting for inflation, the purchasing power of the current $ 7.25 wage has fallen by more than $ 1 over the past 11 years. ..

The Democratic Party has long promised to raise it — support for a minimum wage of $ 15 was included in the party’s 2016 platform of politics — but it hasn’t happened.

Proponents say that the workers who earn the coronavirus are of a disproportionately colored race, so the coronavirus has made higher minimum wages more and more urgent. The Liberal Institute for Economic Policy found that more than 19% of Hispanic workers and more than 14% of black workers earned hourly wages below the Federal Poverty Guidelines in 2017.

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According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, blacks, Hispanics, and Native Americans in the United States also have two to four times the COVID-19 hospitalization and mortality rates of whites.

Voters are an important part of Biden’s constituency, accounting for 38% of his support in the November elections, according to AP VoteCast, a national survey of voters.

The White House says Biden hasn’t given up on this issue. According to his aide, his comments on CBS reflected his own assessment of where parliamentarians dominate based on his decades of experience in the Senate dealing with similar negotiations. ..

Biden suggested in an interview with CBS that he was ready to “individually negotiate” a minimum wage increase, but White House spokesman Jen Psaki was actually cut off from the final coronavirus. If not provided further details about the future of the proposal. Aid bill.

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One option could be to force the passage by dismissing MPs with Vice President Kamala Harris as chair of the Senate. However, Saki made it clear that he was against this. “Our view is that parliamentarians are usually the ones chosen to make decisions in an independent way.”

Navin Nayak, executive director of the Center for American Progress, the political arm of progressive think tanks, said he wasn’t surprised by Biden’s reputation, but felt that the White House was working in good faith.

Other progressive groups, such as Nayak and MoveOn, worked closely with the Biden team during the transition to the White House to ensure that priorities were reflected in the COVID bailout bill. It was also mitigated by including a $ 15 hourly minimum wage increase. Temporary expansion of child tax deductions and rental support.

“They aren’t putting it in to lose it-they are putting it in to win it,” Nayak said.

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Nayak also said Biden’s comments helped save millions of Americans from poverty, but increased the federal deficit as employers reduced their more expensive workforce to 1.4 million. He said he came before the Congressional Budget Office’s prediction of sacrificing jobs.

Sanders and other supporters were less pessimistic about the legislative potential than the president, arguing that the minimum wage increase could work as part of the COVID bailout and refused to discuss alternatives. .. They argue that the CBO’s finding that raising the minimum wage increases the deficit means that it affects the budget and should therefore be allowed. But it’s ultimately up to the Senator.

For Wise, the potential parliamentary hurdles are thin compared to real-world reality.

He earns $ 14 an hour and his fiancée works as a home health professional. However, when she entered the quarantine because of possible exposure to the coronavirus, he missed the job of caring for his three daughters. It didn’t take long for my family to be notified of the eviction.

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People say, “That’s what we think is wrong. We’re going to work. We’re productive. We’re law-abiding citizens,” Wise said. “You don’t have to do that.”

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Contributed by Associated Press writers Alan Fram and Kevin Freking.

Copyright 2021 AP communication. all rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without permission.

Activists fear Biden’s commitment to higher minimum wages

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