SEPT. 7, 2016 — With Labor Day behind us, it’s not too early to handicap the biggest political fights to come after November, depending on how the presidential election turns out.
In a normal election year, these are often clear-cut, with party lines sharply drawn and partisans ready to play familiar roles. This time around, it’s different — thanks not only to Donald Trump but to the lingering bitterness among many Bernie Sanders supporters over Hillary Clinton’s perceived disinterest in upending the status quo.
But just for that reason, there’s one familiar hot-button issue primed for a rapid-fire jabbing as this year rolls into next. Get ready for a full-court press on raising the minimum wage.
Many Democrats nationwide love to use the Labor Day weekend to shine a spotlight on their plans for wage hikes. In his tweet of thanks to activists, Sanders himself listed the minimum wage first among marquee entitlement programs like Social Security and Medicare.
Over the past few years, however, those on the grassroots left have struggled to move their wage agenda forward at the federal level. So they’ve busied themselves making high-profile gains at the city and state level, hoping to build momentum for a stronger push under better national circumstances. And looking at the pre-election polls, the activists believe their chance has come.
There’s just one problem: Clinton. Although she excoriated New Jersey’s biggest Trump supporter, Gov. Chris Christie, for vetoing his state’s $15 wage bill, Clinton earned a fresh round of ire from advocates of the “Fight for $15” movement for a single higher federal minimum. For them, that magic number is more than a policy; it’s an article of faith. For Clinton? Not exactly.
“Hillary wants to raise the federal minimum wage to $12 an hour,” her campaign website explains. In her own Labor Day message, Clinton voiced support for the Fight for $15 only where economically feasible.
Well, if you think Clinton’s base is restive now, just wait until Election Day. If she loses, they’ll be in a vengeful mood, pushing their congressional representatives to go all-out for $15, out of solidarity with state and local activists who moved the ball by taking the risk. And if Clinton wins? They’ll want to set the tone by compelling the president-elect to endorse a federal $15 minimum as a sign of respect and good faith.
On a deeper political level, an even more powerful force for a $15 wage will be at work. Clinton wants the most efficient way to silence criticism from the Left. With big but weedy debates coming up on everything from finance to free trade, she too harbors a strong interest in making up for lost bona fides at a single, self-contained stroke.
How will Republicans respond? The safe bet is, in unison.
With the wage debate, Democrats are poised to find out more broadly just how much political momentum they really have.