The Democrats have made their midterm agenda clear: passing a minimum-wage hike, fighting the menace of the Koch brothers, and expressing loud concern about climate change without actually bringing a cap-and-trade bill to the Senate floor.
Minimum-Wage Hike: The arguments about the merits and consequences of raising the minimum wage have been hashed out elsewhere. For now, let’s focus upon how many workers would be affected by this: The Congressional Budget Office estimated that raising the minimum wage to $10.10 per hour would eliminate 500,000 jobs (with the range extending from very few to 1 million), and about 16 million low-wage workers would see higher earnings. The increased earnings would amount to $31 billion.
For perspective, the United States has a labor force
of 156 million people, with 145 million currently employed. So the increased minimum wage would be good news for about 11 percent of U.S. workers.
The Koch Brothers: Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s speeches about the menace of the Koch brothers are approaching a case of obsessive-compulsive disorder; he makes one nearly every day, and he devotes an entire page of his taxpayer-funded official U.S. Senate website to attacking the libertarian-minded philanthropists. (Strange, Reid doesn’t seem to mind the Koch Family Foundation’s donations to the University of Nevada at Las Vegas and the University of Nevada at Reno.)
Why are Reid and other Democrats focusing so relentlessly on the Koch brothers? In a mid-March poll, 52 percent of likely voters said they had never heard of the Kochs, 12 percent had a positive impression of them, and 25 percent had a negative impression of them. The Democratic turnout efforts may require a villain or bogeyman, or the Democrats may be beating the drums on the demonization campaign to intimidate other potential GOP donors. Give enough money to Republicans, and Democrats will stand up on the floor of the Senate to talk about how terrible you are, day after day.
Either way, it is hard to believe that a broad swath of the public shares Democrats’ intense desire to contain the Koch menace. In the summary of a poll on campaign financing, Gallup wrote: “Over the years, Gallup has consistently found Americans dissatisfied with the way campaigns are financed, but not especially eager for Congress to make addressing it a high priority.” Typically, Democrats never explain why the donations and actions of their own politically active billionaire supporters, like Tom Steyer, aren’t harmful to democracy.
Climate Change: In early March, 28 Senate Democrats stayed up all night to speak on their chamber’s floor to demand legislative action on climate change — a strange demand, considering that Majority Leader Reid can bring such a measure to the floor any time he wants. The problem for Reid and the others is that quite a few other Democrats don’t support it, including just about every vulnerable incumbent up for reelection this year.
Beyond that, this is an issue that most Americans don’t consider a priority right now. “At this point, Americans simply are not very worried about either the environment or climate change,” concludes Frank Newport of the Gallup Organization. Given a list of 15 issues to prioritize, Gallup respondents placed the environment as 13th and climate change as 14th, just above race relations, at 15th.
Thus, Democrats head into the midterm elections promising to solve problems that aren’t priorities to the public and are, arguably, not really problems at all. The real problem for minimum-wage earners isn’t that their wages are too low but that there are too few opportunities to move on to better-paying jobs. The Koch Brothers are using their wealth to promote ideas and philosophies that they believe will work for everyone, the same as, say, Steyer, who is using his fortune for climate-change activism.
Finally, those who subscribe to the theory that human activity is the primary driver of climate change should acknowledge that no U.S. law can do much to mitigate the process, much less reverse it. Data released by the Environmental Protection Agency in 2011 indicated that even if the United States and the entire Western Hemisphere immediately ceased to exist, , the growth in Chinese carbon-dioxide emissions alone would likely render this action moot within a decade.