One of the top priorities for Democrats is raising the Federal minimum wage from where it stands at $7.25 per hour today to $10.10 by 2016. They argue that this will help workers employed in low-paying jobs, whereas Republicans counter that it will drive businesses to cut jobs to compensate for the higher minimum wages. On Tuesday, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO)—whose reports are often treated as political trump cards because the bureau is non-partisan—released a report that provided both sides with some cannon fodder, although the results seem to favor the Republicans more. On the one hand, the CBO found that by the end of 2016, 16.5 million people would have higher weekly incomes if the minimum wage rises to $10.10 per hour. On the other hand, it estimated that about a half a million people would lose their jobs (although it could be as many as a million or some unspecified “very slight decrease”). In response to this finding, some Democrats have engaged in damage control, arguing that raising the minimum wage does not actually affect unemployment. For instance, Jason Furman, the Chairman of the President’s Council of Economic Advisers, said that the report, at least in that respect, “goes outside the consensus view of economists”.
Yesterday Representative Rush Holt (D-NJ) announced that he would retire at the end of this Congress. Holt is something of an anomaly for the Legislature: He’s a scientist. Aside from Holt, there is only one other physicist (Illinois Democrat Bill Foster) and a handful of others trained in the sciences. “In short, even under a very broad definition of scientist, only about three dozen members fall into the category. Compare that to the 214 members from both chambers who have worked in business. Or the 211 who have a background in law”, writes Sean Sullivan of The Washington Post.
Today primary election challenges to incumbents are commonly listed as the causes for polarization and gridlock, since these contestants are often more conservative or liberal than the officeholders. Political science professor Robert Boatright, however, argues, “There’s just one problem with the idea that primaries have become more common and important: It’s dead wrong.” According to his tabulation, the number of primary challenges in recent years has not greatly increased over historical averages. It is just that we are paying more attention to them, and the new candidates are raising more money. Additionally, they generally don’t win. The last to win election to the Senate was John Sununu in 2002. “In fact, actuarial tables show that statistically, the average incumbent has a greater chance of death before the next election than of losing to a primary challenger”, writes Boatright.
One of our topics of interest at the Congressional Institute is Executive-Legislative relations, and naturally, we wish for the Congress to be the preeminent political power in the Federal government. But we can’t deny that the Congress often takes a back seat to the President with his bully pulpit. Today, The Wall Street Journal’s Washington bureau chief Gerald Seib argues that the Presidency’s rise in power will outlast President Barack Obama. There are a number of reasons for this, but one of the most troubling for those who support legislative prerogatives is that Congress’ own inefficacy has made it possible. (Warning: Paywall)
And for our latest post: Are Most Members of Congress Really Millionaires?