“Nobody working full time should have to live in poverty.” This firm statement of equality comes — surprisingly — from a July 2006 letter from 26 House Republicans to then Majority Leader John Boehner. The letter goes on to say: “We believe it is time for Congress to take responsible action to raise the minimum wage and ensure our hard working constituents can provide for their families.”
This sentiment doesn’t sound much like the 2014 rhetoric of the craven, corporatist Republican Party, yet six of those original signers are still in Congress today. They are Rep. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W. Va.), Rep. Michael G. Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.), Rep. Peter T. King (R-N.Y.), Rep. Frank A. LoBiondo (R-N.J.), Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-N.J.) and Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.). Unfortunately, these six have chosen to abandon or ignore all recent proposals to raise the minimum wage, an issue that is supported by over 80 percent of the American people. Millions of Americans today are working full-time jobs and are living in poverty — what has changed for these members of Congress since 2006?
Boehner himself has repeatedly called raising the minimum wage “bad policy” and “a job killer.” This is in direct conflict with the opinions of numerous economists who argue that a higher minimum wage would have little negative effect on employers. According to a report from the National Employment Law Project (NELP), two-thirds of low-wage workers are employed by large, highly profitable multinational corporations. Low wages at these profit-rich giants such as Walmart and McDonalds result in the government paying billions of dollars in government assistance for their struggling employees. This cost is ultimately transferred to taxpayers — an issue that many fiscally-minded conservatives are starting to recognize. After all, why should taxpayers shell out $1.2 billion a year to help McDonald’s pay its workers while the fast-food giant rakes in $5.5 billion in profit?
So where is the leadership of John Boehner? What will it take for Speaker Boehner to schedule a vote in the House of Representatives on raising the minimum wage?
Mr. Boehner’s past statements are not encouraging. Consider that Boehner told The Weekly Standard back in 1996 that he’d “commit suicide” before voting on “a clean minimum wage bill.” Perhaps it should come as no surprise — after all, Boehner is so firmly on the side of corporate profits over the interest of the people that I have suggested in the past that he wear a suit comprised of the logos of his many corporate sponsors, much like a NASCAR driver. (Here’s a mockup.) Boehner can thank these wealthy corporate paymasters for much of the $18 million he raised in the 2012 election season — running unopposed!
Public opinion is clearly not on Mr. Boehner’s side. A recent poll shows that 80 percent of Americans, including 62 percent of Republicans, support raising the minimum wage.
Today, the poverty line for a single parent with two children is $19,790 per year, which by 2016, adjusted for inflation, will be $20,633 per year. This is considerably more than the yearly salary for a full-time minimum wage worker. The admonition of those House Republicans, who in 2006 supported raising the minimum wage, is still a living reality for many millions of toiling workers.
The current minimum wage is $7.25 per hour — $15,080 per year. The living wage for a single parent with two children in John Boehner’s own Butler County, Ohio is $22.41 per hour according to MIT’s “Living Wage Calculator.” This works out to about $46, 609 per year.
Simply put, John Boehner is actively working against the interests of his own constituency. He is firmly and unabashedly in the pockets of big money interests and has turned his back on the needs of the American people and their children.
Perhaps the six Republican Congresspersons named above — “The Minimum Wage Six” — could be convinced to come back to the position they once held, that nobody working full-time in America should have to live in poverty. Perhaps a push within Boehner’s own party might change his rigid, anti-worker stance. Thirty-nine House Republicans and 24 Republican senators voted to increase the minimum wage in 2007. Seven years later, the plight of American workers has worsened and the moral and economic reasons for raising the minimum wage are even more compelling. Rep. Tim Bishop (D-N.Y.) recently filed a discharge petition that, if successful, would force a vote on the minimum wage on the House floor. Some Republican House members, like West Virginia representative Shelley Moore Capito, have said they look forward to a debate about raising the minimum wage. She and other Republican House members now have the opportunity to put words into action by signing Rep. Bishop’s discharge petition to have that public debate.
Mr. Boehner has hidden behind his robotic, bad rhetoric for far too long. At the very least, he should allow a vote on a bill that restores the minimum wage to its purchasing power in 1968. This would restore one-third of the purchasing power lost by consumers over the past 46 years. It’s good for workers, good for the economy, and good for taxpayers.
Is it the job of members of Congress to serve the interests of their corporate pay masters or to support the working class of 30 million Americans whose wages have failed to keep up with inflation as corporate profits and bosses pay have soared?
See TimeForARaise.org for more on our work on this issue.
Ralph Nader is a consumer advocate, lawyer and author of Only the Super-Rich Can Save Us! He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, published by AK Press. Hopeless is also available in a Kindle edition.