Kevin Drum and Kos have both come out in favor of linking the minimum wage to congressional pay. This is an idea that I have long been a fan of, though I don’t claim that it was an original thought for me. I wish I knew where I first heard it so I could give due credit.
I think I came across the idea during or after the ’92 election. Clinton was in favor of raising it pointing out that it hadn’t changed during the previous twelve years of Republicans in the White House. Bush Sr. was not only against raising it but actually wanted to lower it for service workers through the mechanism of his bogus “training wage.” Somewhere, among the white noise of the talking heads, I remember someone counting up how many times Congress had given itself a raise while refusing to do anything for the working poor. Their solution was to tie the two together. I thought it was a fair and elegant solution and nothing has changed my mind since. It has been a permanent and prominent plank of my if-I-ran-the-world platform for the last dozen years.
My own variation of the plan is this. I want a constitutional amendment that defines the pay for all of the elected positions defined in the constitution (President, VP, and both houses of Congress) in terms of multiples of the minimum wage. This would enshrine the minimum wage in the constitution and further limit the ability of our elected leaders to play games with their pay. I think this would be a perfect follow up to the 27th amendment, which postpones raises congress votes for itself till after the next election.
Normally, I’m against demanding constitutional amendments as a solution to every problem. The constitution should be reserved for general principles not specific legislation. And even then, the principles should be very carefully considered. Too many people want to amend the constitution to create an exception every time they find the first amendment too restrictive or too lenient (I should be able to stick my religion in your kids’ face but you shouldn’t be able to insult the flag). In fact, I pretty much have a knee jerk reaction of being against any amendments until convinced that there really is no other way around he problem.
The minimum wage is one of my two exceptions to this rule. The other exception is that I really think we need an amendment barring owners of local businesses from appearing in their own TV ads. I might be able to get a mass movement behind this. If you won’t do it for yourself, think of the children.