President Obama and the rest of the Democrats are barnstorming across the nation to talk about the raising the minimum wage. What better way to deal with the president's low poll ratings than by trying to change the subject to something that polls well for his party?
There’s another reason why Democrats are pursuing this particular issue: it is policymaking on the cheap – at least for Obama’s administration. After all, raising the minimum wage doesn’t cost the government anything. The costs of compliance are borne entirely by private business.
Which is telling in its own way because until recently Obama didn’t sweat blowing taxpayer money in a big way to appeal to voters. He came into office arguing that the prior administration had gone too far in trying to roll back government spending. What he said the economy needed was to throw hundreds of billions of dollars at shovel-ready stimulus projects and green energy companies. We could literally spend our way to prosperity.
“The private sector is doing fine. Where we're seeing weaknesses in our economy have to do with state and local government,” Obama said back in 2012. The real problem was that governors and mayors “don't have the same kind of flexibility as the federal government” to keep on spending.
Voters were told that government intervention could also cure capitalism’s failings by bailing out the auto industry – never mind that the real problem was GM and Chrysler’s domination by unions.
And finally the nation was told it needed to pass a new health care entitlement to rein in the deficit. Doing so would also add 400,000 jobs, according to noted health care economist Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.
Well, the Democrats got their wish list. The stimulus ran through $787 billion without repairing the economy and the auto bailout blew another $10 billion. Even the defenders of those efforts didn't bother to argue that either created a net gain in jobs. Meanwhile, Obamacare remains a shambling wreck and the federal deficit continues to swell. Unemployment is low only because unprecedented numbers of Americans have given up looking for work.
Resorting to pushing for a minimum wage hike is a tacit acknowledgement by Democrats that their prior efforts to repair the economy have failed and even they no longer think the path to prosperity is rampant spending. They now think their only economic card is to raise a wage that federal data shows only 4.7 percent of Americans actually earn - an action that even the Congressional Budget Office said would cost half a million jobs.
That doesn't matter to Obama. Speaking in Ann Arbor, Mich., on Wednesday, Obama said "giving America a raise" to $10.10 an hour "is also a job for business," claiming it would improve productivity and worker retention. If it's that good, why isn't everyone doing it?
Note also that they are only pushing for the raise now, having not bothered earlier, especially before 2011, when Democrats still controlled Congress.
They didn’t bother then because they knew it wouldn’t fix things. Pushing for it now is the political equivalent of “Hey! Look over there!”