Yesterday, 43 Senate conservatives did the bidding of the business lobby and filibustered the House minimum wage bill.
They want to further the phony notion that even the tiniest raise in the minimum wage is a job killer that must be offset by special interest handouts -- never mind the hundreds of billions of tax breaks business owners have already received while inflation has degraded the value of the minimum wage.
So, what should the response to the right-wing be? Stand on principle, face down conservatives, and insist on a "clean" bill free of business giveaways? Or accommodate, and compromise on a "dirty" bill?
As of now, the Senate leadership plans to accommodate.
Last week, the Senate Finance committee approved a bill loaded with tax breaks. In turn, the Senate leadership didn't really try to break the filibuster. According to Congressional Quarterly, they went through the motions of having a vote, putting no pressure on conservatives, expecting to fail. Then they could lean on House leaders, in the eventual House-Senate conference, to give up on enacting a clean bill -- in the supposed name of pragmatism.
But is that really pragmatic?
Why don't all Senators follow the lead of Senator Jim Webb's national address?
He laid out a core principle: "we should measure the health of our society not at its apex, but at its base." He explicitly pointed to the House minimum wage bill as the first step in improving the health of our society. Then, he made crystal clear if President Bush didn't join Congress in implementing that principle, "we will be showing him the way."
That's how House leaders approached the bill. They didn't kowtow to the conservative minority. They showed them the way.
They put conservatives on the spot, and dared them to vote against a clean bill giving America a raise. There was no party-line vote, like we had in the Senate yesterday. Under pressure, 82 Republicans saw the political writing on the wall, and joined the Democratic majority for a principled, bipartisan success.
Now is not the time to accommodate Senate conservatives and the business lobby. Now is the time to put the pressure on and show them the way.
We don't need to wait for politicians. We in the grassroots can begin to apply the pressure.
Blogger Bob Geiger has already got the ball rolling, holding up to the sunlight the 18 Senators up for re-election in 2008 who filibustered a raise in the minimum wage. (UPDATE: The Reality-Based Community also calls for pressuring Senators up for re-election, and Angry Bear demands "an up-or-down vote".)
To break the filibuster, we only need six of those to feel enough pressure and realize they can't win re-election by keeping their boots on the necks of America's workers.
Either we break the filibuster now, and take a strong first step towards building an economy that works for everyone.
Or Senate conservatives remain stubborn, kill a widely popular bill, and dig their own political grave. That will only weaken the right-wing, allow us to take even bolder, more progressive steps in the near future.
That's how you pragmatically advance your principles.
Bill Scher blogs for Campaign for America's Future