We The People Lose Again! Thanks, Senators!

There was, for a time, a brief glimmer of hope that the federal minimum wage rate would be raised to a living wage of $15 per hour.  That hope has now had a stake driven through its heart and is DOA – Dead On Arrival.  Why?  I could offer up a lot of reasons, such as the Senate Parliamentarian, Elizabeth MacDonough, has deemed it isn’t appropriate to tie the minimum wage to the coronavirus relief bill, but the bottom line is that it won’t fly because … the Republicans in Congress don’t want it to.

Note that some 75% of the people in this nation do want the minimum wage rate increased, and that includes 62% of Republican voters.  Also note that it has remained stagnant since 2009, twelve long years, while inflation has not.  But, of late, the Republicans in Congress do not choose to represent their constituents, the people of this country, but rather their wealthy donors, most of whom are corporate bigwigs who, quite simply, don’t want to be forced to pay their employees more than the $7.25 some of them now pay.  Here’s another way of looking at it:  If the minimum wage rate had been increased by only 65 cents each year since 2009, it would now be over $15 per hour.  Just 65 cents per year!

Still, with a tied Senate, and the tiebreaker being Vice President Kamala Harris, one might foolishly think that any piece of legislation raising the minimum wage, could be passed.  And it could, but for one little word:  filibuster.

A brief explanation of what the filibuster is:

Senators have two options when they seek to vote on a measure or motion. Most often, the majority leader (or another senator) seeks “unanimous consent,” asking if any of the 100 senators objects to ending debate and moving to a vote. If no objection is heard, the Senate proceeds to a vote. If the majority leader can’t secure the consent of all 100 senators, the leader (or another senator) typically files a cloture motion, which then requires 60 votes to adopt. If fewer than 60 senators—a supermajority of the chamber—support cloture, that’s when we often say that a measure has been filibustered. 

Senators who are against the bill being considered, but know their views are not shared by a simple majority, will refuse to end debate simply to force a filibuster, or a supermajority requirement for passage of the motion.  Rarely will you see a situation in an equally divided Senate where 60 of the 100 will agree on any damn thing!  But there are options, as New York Times columnist Jamelle Bouie explains in his recent newsletter …


jamelle-bouie

The Senate has bound itself with fake restraints

By Jamelle Bouie

Opinion Columnist

I know I am more than a little obsessed with the Senate filibuster. But my preoccupation is not without reason. I think the filibuster — or to be precise, the de facto supermajority requirement for legislation in the Senate — is both bad on the merits and a symbol of the sclerotic dysfunction of our Congress.

In the face of multiple, overlapping crises — and at least one long-term existential crisis — our elected officials refuse to act, much less take steps that would give them freedom of movement in the legislature. Instead, they hide behind rules and procedure, as if they are powerless to change both.

All of this is apropos of the news that the Senate parliamentarian, Elizabeth MacDonough, has ruled a proposed federal minimum wage hike as non-germane to the Covid relief reconciliation bill. Her ruling is not binding, but Vice President Kamala Harris, who also serves as president of the Senate, will abide by it. This means that if the Senate wants to increase the minimum wage, it will have to do so through ordinary legislation, making it subject to the supermajority requirement.

That means it isn’t going to happen, at least not anytime soon, but the point I want to make is that these are fake constraints. The Senate determines whether it will abide by the parliamentarian, and the Senate decides whether it wants to operate by supermajority. The Senate, and its Democratic members in particular, are handcuffing themselves and reneging on their promise to millions of American workers.

That Democrats are doing it to maintain their fragile coalition — to keep Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema from sinking the entire package — is only a testament to how these fake constraints render the entire process of lawmaking a farce. I would rather the Senate take a simple up or down vote, and for individual lawmakers to show where they stand, than listen to some of the most powerful people in the country explain why they are bound by rules they could change at any time, for any reason at all.

Related to this, I want to share this 2010 Connecticut Law Review article titled “The Unconstitutionality of the Filibuster,” by the congressional scholar Josh Chafetz. The key point is this: A Constitution written in the name of “We the people” is necessarily one that cannot abide a supermajority requirement for the ordinary business of lawmaking. Here’s Chafetz:

The mere fact that our Constitution has some anti-majoritarian elements should not serve as a bootstrap by which any anti-majoritarian device is made constitutionally legitimate. … Rather than use some deviations from majoritarianism to justify still others, we should take note of the essential popular sovereignty foundations of our Constitution and insist that, in such a polity, minority veto cannot be piled atop minority veto indefinitely. The Constitution — our higher law — specifies certain deviations from majoritarianism. But the exceptions should not be allowed to swallow the rule, nor should antimajoritarian devices in higher law be used to justify antimajoritarian devices in ordinary law.

We can have a supermajority requirement for legislation or we can have meaningful self-government. We can’t have both.

29 thoughts on “We The People Lose Again! Thanks, Senators!

  1. Well done, Jill. I do believe support for ending the filibuster is growing. Eventually, Manchin may decide he ‘s not all that comfortable being the only Democrat (I see Sinema as more pliable) who’s the standard bearer for a remnant of slavery.
    And there should be no qualms about it. Is there any doubt what the Republicans would do if the situation were reversed?
    In the meantime, President Biden has promised to issue an Executive Order demanding that all businesses seeking contracts with the federal government comply with the $15 minimum. That EO will help.
    The public must keep pressuring. Even $15 is terribly low. And we can pressure businesses too. When Walmart pays its workers so little that they need food stamps to survive, we taxpayers are subsidizing Walmart!
    There’s an interesting idea a few Senators are talking about that would penalize large corporations that pay less than $15; while providing tax credits to help small businesses meet that threshold.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Annie! I do hope you’re right that support for the filibuster is waning … it is ridiculous that every piece of legislation becomes a political game, rather than an action to help the people of this nation.

      I fully agree that we can … and MUST … put pressure on businesses who are treating their staff like slave labour. Our purchasing power is a strong one if we all commit to it. I’ve boycotted Wal-Mart for years over the way they treat their staff, as well as more recently Home Depot and a few others.

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  2. In my little corner of Canada minimum wage is $15.21 an hour. Unfortunately, the cost of housing in Vancouver is so high, $21.00 an hour is considered a living wage. Last night I researched U.S. wages and it blew my mind! In America an employee who receives tips can be paid as little as $2.13 an hour, it’s up to the employer to top that up to $7.75 an hour by paying out gratuities. WTF? In my line of work servers start at $15.21 plus another $4 per hour as their share of service charges billed to clients. That’s $19.21 an hour for clearing banquet tables. Overtime is paid after 8 hours a day regardless of how many hours are worked in a week. In the U.S. most workers aren’t paid overtime unless they work over 40 hours a week, it’s common practice to schedule part-timers three 12 hour shifts a week – no overtime, no benefits. It’s crazy!

    Liked by 1 person

    • You are right to be incensed. Some 1.3 million people in this nation work for below the already unconscionable minimum wage of $7.25, for it is expected that tips will supplement their income up to the requisite $7.25. Worse yet, in some cases, employers are allowed to take a portion of the workers’ tips! This nation as a whole has zero concern about the average wage earner, but only about the wealthy corporate baron who have convinced Congress and some portion of the voting public that it will result in higher prices for them if the minimum wage is increased. There are those who have convinced the voting public that those earning minimum wage only do so because they are too lazy to seek better jobs — NOT TRUE! It seems to me at this point that a tax revolt is the last ditch, only remaining solution … stop paying their salaries, and perhaps they’ll listen to us! Meanwhile, they should have to live on $7.25 for a month … not a single one of them has EVER had to worry about where their next meal was coming from, or how to pay next month’s rent! Grrrrrrrrrrrrr. You are so right … IT IS CRAZY!

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  3. Well, I guess this answers the main of the question I asked yesterday, and all I can say is, why bother having an election? The Repuglies are not going to lose, no matter who actually wins.
    How can you call yourselves a democracy, when you give one party almost absolute power to choose which legislation to pass, and which to cause to fail?

    Liked by 1 person

    • I have never called the U.S. a democracy … it isn’t. It is, by definition, a democratic republic, which is different than a pure democracy. Today, however, we are even losing some of the democratic underpinnings, thanks largely to the adulation and worship of wealth and unfettered capitalism, and we are on a path that can only lead to either a plutocracy, an oligarchy, or a dictatorship if not turned around soon. But just to clarify, rg … we don’t “GIVE” one party the absolute power to which you refer … they take it without our permission.

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  4. Sadly now we know who those in gov’t really work for. $7.25/ hr is practically indentured servitude, it ensures the poor stay poor and subservient to their corporate overlords. No one who values their true worth would work minimum wage these days. How can one live on $406/ week, $1624/ mo – before tax!? One’s whole income won’t even cover rent! I sincerely hope enough ppl wake up and vote these self serving politicians out of office. Just maddening. 😦

    Liked by 1 person

    • You are so right, and what’s even worse is the 1.3 million people who are paid below minimum wage because of the presumption that they will earn enough in tips to bring their pay up to the $7.25! Often they don’t earn that much, and under some circumstances, their employers can take a portion of their tips. The whole thing is disgusting, infuriating, and I really wish there were a way to force EVERY member of Congress to live for one month on only $7.25 per hour!

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  5. I can’t tell you how disappointed I am that an elected body can readily ignore the wishes of the people that voted them in. This is a need rather than a want after the current minimum wage has been stagnant for so long.
    Cwtch

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    • I was disappointed and infuriated. If my voice reached further, I would try calling for a tax revolt … if everybody stopped paying the federal taxes that fund these guys’ salaries, they might take notice of us and listen to what we are asking for. You’re so right … this is necessity, not luxury … this is peoples’ lives, for Pete Sake! And those arrogant bastards sit in their offices in the Capitol and decide that the 1.8 million people who are paid minimum wage OR LESS, don’t deserve to be able to afford food and rent and medical care! Grrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr.
      Cwtch

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  6. “a brief glimmer of hope that the federal minimum wage rate would be raised to a living wage of $15 per hour”
    But,
    I thought that this was one of the top priorities, and are there not other ways, between now and the next 3.5 years, to get this passed?
    And why did I think that the 15 had already passed, with a phase-in period over the next 3 or so years?
    Cub-fused,
    Shira

    Liked by 2 people

    • Well, it is one of President Biden’s top priorities, but it has to go through Congress … it’s not something he can do via executive order. A new bill can, and likely will, be introduced into the House in the near future, but whether it can pass the Senate if they invoke cloture is another question.

      A bill raising the minimum wage did pass in the House … it gradually raised it annually, rather than going to $15 all at once … in 2019, but when it reached the Senate, Mitch McConnell refused to bring it to the Senate floor for discussion, so it lay dormant until after the elections, when it was declared dead, because all pending bills become null and void when a new Congress takes over. My assessment, for what it’s worth, is that both the House and Senate will eventually agree on a bill that raises the minimum wage, but I don’t think it will be raised to $15 all at once, if at all. I think it will be incremental over a period of several years … not good enough, but it’s a start. Much will depend on whether it can be done before January 2023 when it’s quite possible that both the House and Senate may no longer have a Democratic majority.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Fair enough.
        Thanks for those details, Jill, I knew I’d heard of a bill passing that was a gradual increase. Didn’t realize that it was only in the House. 😦
        We have at least this window to work in to make life better for alot of people, at least in part.
        -S.

        Liked by 1 person

        • How I would love to make every member of Congress live in “the projects” with only $7.25 per hour to live on for just one month, so they might begin to understand what it’s like. 90% of the people in Congress today were born with a silver spoon in their mouth, never knowing financial hardship. HOW can they possibly relate to the rest of us??? Sigh.

          Liked by 1 person

            • I recall one who did, but I cannot remember now who it was or the circumstances (my mind is not what it once was!). I’ve long said that those who we elect to represent us cannot possibly understand our challenges, for most were born with a silver spoon in their mouth, so to speak. I would love for it to be a prerequisite to running for office that they live without access to their own money, only given minimum wage for 40 hours per week, in subsidized housing, or better yet, a homeless shelter … just long enough to understand that we live entirely different lives than they do.

              Liked by 1 person

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