Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) has long been on a crusade to increase the minimum wage to $15 per hour. After being blocked by the Senate parliamentarian on the question of whether the minimum wage increase could be included in the pandemic relief package working its way through the chamber, Sanders filed it on Friday as an individual item to get all senators on the record. The results were quite surprising.
Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Krysten Sinema (D-Ariz.) were already assumed to not support the $15 mark. But opposition among the Democratic Party’s conservative wing was much deeper than that. Six more Democrats voted against the measure aside from them, for a total of eight: Jon Tester of Montana, Jeanne Shaheen and Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire, Angus King of Maine (an independent who caucuses with the Democrats), and finally Chris Coons and Tom Carper of Delaware.
All these senators are from purple or red states — except Carper and Coons, where Biden won by 19 percentage points. (Those two are doubly suspicious as both are close to Biden personally and Coons is well-known as his voice in the Senate.)
But needing to run for re-election in a hard state is no excuse. A $15 minimum wage is extremely popular — polling between 59 percent and 67 percent approval, depending on the poll — and almost certainly more popular than every one of these senators in their home states. A minimum wage hike has not failed to pass at the state level since 1996. Voting against such a policy is therefore a considerable political risk, though it also no doubt increases the chance these senators will have comfy post-office sinecures in the corporate sector, should they so desire.