March 8, 2021 at 5:00 am ET
Just over a week ago, we learned the parliamentarian of the United States Senate rejected the idea of using the process known as reconciliation to pass a minimum wage increase for the nation. This was a blow to many progressives in the Democratic Party, who were hoping to get this national pay increase by attaching it to the $1.9 trillion pandemic relief bill that may become law by going through reconciliation. Of course, the benefit of reconciliation is that it only requires Democratic votes.
Now, many progressives, upset by this decision by the parliamentarian, are suggesting that President Joe Biden is at risk of abandoning the progressive principles he advocated in order to get elected. This rationale is misguided, because it was the parliamentarian who made this decision and not the president. Does anyone think that Biden, who grew up in blue-collar Scranton, doesn’t support raising the minimum wage?
Calls by some Democrats to fire the parliamentarian — and bring in one more amenable to allowing a minimum wage increase to go through reconciliation — are understandable. After all, we haven’t had a minimum wage increase in more than 11 years, and for tipped employees, a wage increase hasn’t been seen in decades. I made the same wage waiting tables at Ruby Tuesday in mid-90s that many servers earn today.
But at least two Senate Democrats oppose including a minimum wage increase in the $1.9 trillion-dollar COVID-19 relief bill. If they indeed vote against this legislation because it includes a minimum wage increase, Democrats would need to pick up at least two Republicans, or the bill could die on the Senate floor. If Senate Majority Chuck Schumer fired the parliamentarian in order to find a more pliable one, would this help bring along Republican votes in the Senate? No way.
Worse, calls for the firing of the parliamentarian risk inflaming partisan tensions. Today, this divisiveness – between fellow Americans – is perhaps one of the greatest risks we face. Biden won the election by promising to end this disharmony that was tearing our country apart.
In addition to calling for a firing of the Senate parliamentarian, some progressives have also called for eliminating the filibuster in the Senate. The filibuster allows 40 Senators to block most legislation. Hence, Republicans currently serving in the evenly divided, 50/50 Senate have ample opportunities to block Biden’s policy agenda.
But progressives should keep in mind that in the first half of President Donald Trump’s administration, the only thing stopping Republicans from total control of the federal government was the Democrats’ use of the filibuster in the Senate. Then-Majority Leader Mitch McConnell did not eliminate the filibuster, even though Trump urged him to do. Should Democrats now be more partisan than even Mitch McConnell? Again, this doesn’t align with Biden’s agenda of uniting Americans.
Democrats typically win contested elections by not being overly progressive. For example, we recently won two Senate seats in typically conservative Georgia and neither of those candidates ran as especially far left — for instance, they didn’t talk about “defunding the police” during their campaigns.
Democrats won those two seats in part because Stacey Abrams did the hard work of registering Black voters. Keep in mind, the Pew Research Center discovered that 25 percent of Black Democrats identify as conservative, while 43 percent identify as moderates. So, when progressives claim to be speaking for Black voters, they are — but they may only be speaking for the 30 percent that describe themselves as “liberal.”
Attacking each other creates openings for Republicans — after all, it was this divide between Democrats that helped propel Trump into the White House.
Like many Americans, I am tired of the never-ending partisanship in our nation’s capital. The calls for political warfare – on either side of the partisan divide – are destructive to the spirit and well-being of this nation.
Gary Meltz served as press secretary for former Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), and is currently the principal at Meltz Communications, a crisis and political risk management firm.
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