As someone who voted for Bernie in the primaries and viewed Biden as the corporate, neoliberal pick for president, I must admit that Biden has far exceeded my expectations in his first two months in office.
This, of course, does not mean that I could not hold Biden accountable or that he is now my ideal pick for President. I would still replace him with Bernie in a heartbeat. It is still obvious that had it not been from the pressure of the progressive wing of the Democratic party, fueled by overwhelming grassroots support across the country, Biden would not be nearly as politically ambitious as he is today.
Before I get into why Biden has exceeded my expectations in a separate blog post, I felt that it was worth first discussing his largest failure that has managed to frustrate me and many other progressives.
Biden’s limp push for the $15 minimum wage was, by far, his biggest failure as President yet. As much as I hate crafting “what-if” scenarios due to their ambiguity, I genuinely believe that had Biden not come out on national television and repeatedly announced how he believed the $15 minimum wage would not pass, then maybe, just maybe, the Senate parliamentarian would not have ruled the way she did. Of course, this is purely hypothetical, but the issue lies in the fact that Biden did not even try to apply pressure and push for the minimum wage increase he promised to deliver.
There are many who dismiss this critique and claim that Biden simply could not have done anything to get the $15 minimum wage passed given hesitancy from conservative Democrats and the strict Senate parliamentary rules. While there are many criticisms of Biden from the left that I find petty and ridiculous (which I will get into on a separate blog post), the $15 minimum wage critique is simply not one of them.
Biden should not have created an unnecessary division between the progressive and “corporate” wing of the Democratic party since the $15 minimum wage is a policy he literally ran on. Backpedaling on his promise to push for a minimum wage increase under the lie that it had to be in a separate bill is insulting to many progressives who are politically active and understand that: 1) The filibuster will either kill the $15 minimum wage or substantially cut it. 2) That the Senate parliamentarian could have been overruled or replaced. 3) Conservative Democrats could have been pressured more as they have been on the stimulus checks.
Although the blame for the failure of the $15 minimum wage pass rests mostly on Biden, I also believe there was a progressive failure as well. Progressives did not create a substantial argument against the CBO minimum wage report which estimated that a unilateral $15 minimum wage hike would reduce employment by 1.4 million workers and increase the Federal deficit.
I found it very awkward when some progressives cherry-picked the poverty reduction findings of this same report while ignoring the unemployment aspect of it. If you want to delegitimize the CBO report (which you most certainly can, as many economists have in many op-eds), it does not help to borrow any of its findings. Although this report probably did very little to influence general public opinion, it certainly served as a much-needed political cover for conservative Democrats to justify their vote against a doubling of the minimum wage.
Progressives, rather than directly address legitimate concerns about the possible negative unemployment effects of a $15 minimum wage, kept pushing the message of “starvation wages” and brought attention to the exorbitant wealth of some of the richest people in America and how little they pay their employees. While this strategy is great for garnering populist support for a policy (as it has for Medicare For All), the $15 minimum wage already has overwhelming support from the American people. This is a rare instance where talking specifics may have actually helped a achieve political goal rather than ruin it.
Had exceptions been made to offset the economic risks of a Federal $15 minimum wage (i.e. tie it to median-income in certain regions), it would have been much easier to whip the conservative Democrat vote. But, without any support from Biden, progressives were left with their tails between their legs.
On the bright side, new economic research has shown that when large corporations, such as Amazon, bump their wages up to $15 an hour (thanks to grassroots organizers and Bernie Sanders), it creates an upwards pressure on all wages within the region. With other large companies like Costco also pledging to increase the hourly wages of their workers at or above the $15 mark, the $15 Federal minimum wage loss may not be as bad as expected.
There is much more I could criticize Biden for, but it is also important to look forward. In a future blog post, I will discuss the progressive strategy, and how it must change under a friendlier-than-expected Biden presidency.
Title Image: AP Photo/Andrew Harnik