Why Is the So-Called Congressional Freedom Caucus Frozen Against a Living Minimum Wage?

Over the past year, there have been significant advances in wages for working-class Americans. Many cities and states have increased their minimum wages providing millions of Americans with a long overdue raise. In Congress, however, progress is nonexistent. Between party infighting, futile "Obamacare" repeal efforts and corporate lobbying, there has been too little focus on long-needed new policies and solutions for suffering Americans. Where is the fervor for raising the federal minimum wage which is supported by 75 percent of Americans? What a defining statement it would be for Congress to unite and act on a pressing issue that affects millions of workers whose frozen minimum wages have been gutted by inflation for many years.

There has been much attention as of late on the influential, extremely rightwing so-called House Freedom Caucus. The Freedom Caucus -- which has just 36 openly identifying members according to Roll Call -- has played a large role in the tumultuous selection of the next Speaker of the House. Many of these Freedom Caucus members are relatively new in Congress, having spent only five years or less in office. They want to be portrayed as brash, outspoken, and unwilling to compromise on their ideals. The Freedom Caucus mission statement reads: "The House Freedom Caucus gives a voice to countless Americans who feel that Washington does not represent them. We support open, accountable and limited government, the Constitution and the rule of law, and policies that promote the liberty, safety and prosperity of all Americans." Notice the absence of the phrase "more justice" for the people.

It's time for these ideologically-driven, upper-income members of Congress -- renowned for their tendency to battle their own party leadership as well as their Democratic colleagues and President Obama -- to show some true gumption and get behind a winning issue that truly matters to working Americans -- conservative or liberal. These members should follow through on their rhetoric about promoting "the prosperity of all Americans" instead of supporting a corporatist, anti-worker agenda. The Freedom Caucus could reinvent their image as obstructionists by working to pass a meaningful increase in the minimum wage this year. Why, just adjusting it to inflation since 1968 would take it from $7.25 per hour to about $11 per hour. (Labor productivity has doubled during that period.)

Here are some facts about raising the minimum wage for them to consider.

  • You can't survive on $7.25. $15,000 gross a year is far below the $24,000 poverty threshold for a family of four.
  • A higher minimum wage will lead to less people on welfare: A 2014 study by the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) found that raising the minimum wage to 10.10 an hour would lead to a savings of 7.6 billion in social welfare programs.
  • Raising the minimum wage is popular. According to a poll by Hart Research, 75 percent of all Americans support a minimum wage hike. And a separate poll by the American Sustainable Business Council found that 61 percent of small business owners support raising the minimum wage.
  • Raising the minimum wage helps the economy. Modern studies show no employment effect due to moderate minimum wage changes; in fact, EPI predicts a 32.6 billion stimulus effect.

It's important to note that raising the minimum wage is not a "liberal" issue. Outspoken conservative voices such as Fox News host Bill O'Reilly, conservative author Phyllis Schlafly, and presidential candidates Ben Carson and Rick Santorum support raising the minimum wage.

Other supporters are Margot Dorfman, CEO of the U.S. Women's Chamber of Commerce and Craig Jelinek, the CEO of retail giant Costco.

Members of the Freedom Caucus should move beyond their role as outspoken dissenters and take strides to help the people they supposedly represent. By supporting an increase in the minimum wage, Freedom Caucus members can claim a significant victory in fulfilling their stated purpose to promote small businesses and reduce spending by the government. Paying a fair minimum wage is a left-right issue worth converging on -- to the benefit of all Americans.

Visit timeforaraise.org for more information.

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