Obama stuck to economic themes when speaking Wednesday in Washington, D.C. (Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images)
Outside Congress, Democrats and labor unions are fighting for an increase in the federal minimum wage. But inside the Dome, Democrats are strapped for political capital to pass legislation as they engage in a multifront battle against Republicans to extend jobless benefits and protect social programs cut by the sequester.
Even approving unemployment benefits before the end of 2013 is shaping up to be a tough haul for Democrats, who so far have failed to negotiate an extension as part of year-end budget talks. And though senators such as Tom Harkin of Iowa have proposed minimum wage legislation, it’s unclear whether there’s any room to attach such a proposal to pending must-pass bills such as the defense authorization. And there certainly is not a strong desire from the GOP-controlled House to pass a stand-alone bill.
But as Republicans try to avoid discussing the issue of pay minimums, Democrats are increasingly turning to it, boosted by a shift in the White House’s economic talking points and current labor unrest nationwide. On Wednesday, President Barack Obama made boosting minimum pay for American workers one of the cornerstones of a major economic address on income inequality. On Thursday, fast-food workers in 100 cities engaged in a strike over wages, including federal contract workers just a stone’s throw from the Capitol at a McDonald’s in the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum.
“A broad majority of Americans agree we should raise the minimum wage. That’s why, last month, voters in New Jersey decided to become the 20th state to raise theirs even higher,” Obama said in his speech in Washington. “I agree with those voters, and I’m going to keep pushing until we get a higher minimum wage for hard-working Americans across the entire country. It will be good for our economy. It will be good for our families.”