When You’re Starving, Half a Loaf Could Still be a Great Deal

Ideas and Issues
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February 28, 2021

Pearl River     The Biden stimulus bill won’t deliver on a minimum wage increase, nor will it correct all of the defects in the Affordable Care Act or bring world peace in our time, but it has many benefits, and I can hardly wait. At the same time, in these areas and many others, there is more work that needs to be done, and while we all put our shoulders to the wheel for a full loaf, it’s worth thinking about how to get as much as we can while the opportunity still exists in this interregnum before the next election.

I’m confused by some Congressional spokespeople who argue that they made a promise of $15 per hour and are duty bound to deliver it. Sounds good to me, but reality does intrude. It’s not an individual commitment, but a collective responsibility, and that means winning more elections at all levels from local to state legislatures to Congress itself. Reportedly, there is discussion in Washington of a Plan B on $15 per hour that would require Fortune 500 companies to pay that sum as a minimum rate. That’s interesting, although I have no idea whether it’s legal, and would bet there will be lawsuits that linger through much of Biden’s term. It’s still worth remembering that many states and companies, including huge number of employers of essential workers numbering millions, are stuck at $7.25. President Biden has indicated he could live with $12 per hour by 2025. Some Republicans have come close to that figure. In Louisiana, Mississippi, Texas, and the like, $12 per hour sure sounds good. There needs to be a Plan C that starts to put together the coalition to finally raise the federal minimum wage to that level. Remember, it’s a minimum, and nothing will stop cities and states, where it is possible, to scaffold up from these levels, in fact it would be easier to do so.

On the Affordable Care Act, the stimulus reportedly would make it possible to add 1.2 million people in coverage by increasing subsidies and even allowing more middle-income families to buy into the marketplace. Sounds like a good start. The filibuster rule will prevent wholesale improvements, but what is the chance for a Plan B there that puts a cap of some kind, darned near any kind, on deductibles that would make the cheap plans companies with more than 500 workers are able to pay worth a worker’s purchase? Pretend compliance by these companies is a farce. We’ve seen deductibles in the $5, $6, and $7000 level. The Massachusetts model under then Governor Romney had a cap. Where’s the deal that can be made there?

I can still remember, painfully, the Obama majorities and our failure to get anything through on immigration on “the nothing but the full loaf” strategy. Heck, I can remember our failure to make a deal on Nixon’s Family Assistance Plan, which has meant millions sentenced to abject poverty while we insisted on “Adequate Income Now” at $5400 for a family of four.

Speaker Pelosi famously dissed former Freedom Caucus representative Mark Meadows when he was serving as Trump’s chief of staff about his years of obstruction resulting in his not knowing “how to make a deal.” While fighting to move the country forward, I hope that we are working to help a bunch of people in the House and Senate behind the scenes to make the deals that might not raise all boats in one great flood, but could pull a huge number of us over the water line to economic safety.