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February 21, 2014 1:05 PM Which Way the Wind Blows

By Ed Kilgore

As Greg Sargent points out today, it hasn’t been so long since the last time Democrats decided to make a minimum wage increase the focal point of a midterm congressional campaign:

Folks forget this, but the minimum wage was absolutely central to the House Dems’ strategy in the 2006 midterms. That year Dems campaigned on a “Six for ’06 Agenda” — a set of initiatives focused on jobs and wages, national security, affordable health care, and energy independence. Dems won both houses, and the minimum wage hike was signed into law the following year.
In 2007, a lot of Republicans, including some who are still in Congress, voted for the increase. This year, it will probably not get a House vote at all. This will come even as Republicans refuse to act on immigration reform and extending unemployment insurance. Meanwhile, they will probably fail to coalesce around a GOP alternative to fix the health care system, even as they campaign on a platform of rolling back Obamacare’s expansion of health coverage, which will continue throughout the year to untold numbers of real people.

Since 2006, of course, the Republican Party has moved significantly to the Right, and if its congressional members were given a secret ballot on the subject, they would almost certainly vote for abolition of the minimum wage altogether. But beyond that, it’s just a completely different political climate. In 2006, Republicans were the “party in power” dealing with the “six-year curse,” a sluggish economy, an unpopular war, a restive “base” and an agenda nobody much liked. Now, most of these shoes are on the other foot, and although Republicans haven’t by any stretch of the imagination improved their thinking about how to deal with poverty and income inequality, they are far less worried about suffering for it at the polls. That’s just how it goes.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.

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