Minimum Wage: Paying for It

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), left, during a stop of the 'Give America a Raise' bus tour, at the U.S. Capitol on April 3, 2014 in Washington, DC.

Photograph by T.J. Kirkpatrick/Getty Images

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), left, during a stop of the ‘Give America a Raise’ bus tour, at the U.S. Capitol on April 3, 2014 in Washington, DC.

For all the reluctance of Republican leaders to talk about raising the federal minimum wage, Sen. Chuck Schumer, third-ranking Democrat in the Senate, suggests a compromise is possible.

It may cost the senator’s party, however.

In the inimitable ways of Washington, he suggests, raising a minimum wage that hasn’t kept pace with inflation since the 1960 could involve a horse trade.

“There will be a vote on Keystone,” Schumer, a Democrat from New York, said today on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” — adding that he doesn’t know how it will turn out.

The Obama administration’s delay of a decision about the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, a conduit for the bitumen of Alberta’s remote tar sands to the Gulfcoast refineries in the U.S., is prompting lawmakers to attempt an approval of their own.

This is a dilemma for the Democrats, who fear losing Senate seats in states such as Louisiana, where big oil is a big politically, and Alaska, the center of the “Drill Baby Drill” movement. Add Arkansas, North Carolina and a couple other states to that scenario, and Schumer’s party loses the Senate. At the same time, the environmental community, one of the most politically active and financially supportive bases of the party, has about as much love for Keystone as it does for fracking.

It’s not the jobs bonanza that supporters make it out to be, Schumer says of Keystone — 9,000 new jobs maybe, compared with the 288,000 added last month by a growing economy, most of those in the private sector.

At the moment, Joe Scarborough, the former Republican congressman from Florida who has made it clear he is not running for president, seems to be the leading instigator of the trade-off scenario in which Republicans accede to raising the minimum wage and Democrats learn to love Keystone.

“Would I look at a minimum wage increase if I thought there were other things attached to it that would create jobs, like Keystone and additional things?” Rep. Tom Cole, an Oklahoma Republican close to House Speaker John Boehner, said last week on “Morning Joe.” “Yeah, I think I would consider that.”

While some talk of a compromise has involved tapering that $10.10 — the federal floor now is $7.25 per hour — Schumer and Senate President Harry Reid have maintained that that’s non-negotiable. Schumer said today that, after years of lagging, the wage must be raised to a realistic level.

The compromise ought to involve the president, Cole says.

“If he were serious he would put something else on the table that would attract Republican support,” Cole said of President Barack Obama, who is pressing for a $10.10 per-hour minimum wage. “So far he hasn’t done it, I think he enjoys the rhetoric of a debate.”

The suggestion here is that the president is enjoying flogging the Republicans over a lack of concern for economic inequality than actually winning a higher minimum wage. The White House’s delay in deciding whether Keystone is an issue of national importance, the finding required in the State Department’s review, clearly puts a decision past Election Day. Only a compromise could advance both issues, it appears.

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