NOGALES, Az — You’ve seen the gifs, you’ve read the tweets, and you probably Googled how much that Lululemon bag cost that she carried the cake in. (I guess it’s around $150 btw. That’s about 20 hours of work based on the current national minimum wage, and that’s assuming you don’t have bills to pay or mouths to feed.)
Yes, I’m referring to Arizona Senator Kyrsten Sinema’s “no” vote on raising the minimum wage. Although Sinema has established herself as a middle-of-the-line Democrat who favors bipartisan cooperation over strict partisanship (over the last four years, Sinema has voted with the GOP approx. 25% of the time), it did come as a shock to many that she voted against a move to include a gradual increase of the national minimum wage in the COVID relief bill.
This surprise was in part due to her perceived support of raising the minimum wage previously, even Tweeting in 2014 that the issue is a “no brainer.”
Just wow. https://t.co/aSQm7WLAci
— Mark Pocan (@MarkPocan) March 5, 2021
Even more shocking to many, however, was the manner in which she gave the vote, giving an enthusiastic “thumbs down” on the Senate floor while wearing an expensive Lululemon bag that also happened to have a cake in it for Senate staff. The Senator’s whole mood there just felt a little tone-deaf, to be sure. Many have even dubbed her a modern Marie Antoinette, the French monarch who when informed that the people of France couldn’t even afford bread famously responded by saying “let them eat cake!” It’s a fairly extreme comparison, but the parallels are not lost on me.
I’m not here to add to the criticism of Senator Sinema’s choices of wardrobe, accessories, or her chipper attitude while voting to deny so many Americans a living wage. There is already so much of that, and her office has already responded to the criticisms and commentaries as “sexist,” (My favorite reaction to that response came from Nina Turner of Ohio, who upon seeing the Senator’s statement, said that “denying women a living wage is sexist.”) I have no desire to be labeled as “sexist” or “misogynistic,” but in reality, I’m less interested in what the Senator was wearing, and much more interested in her reasons for voting “no.”
I’ll provide you with some brief context that might help to understand the Act as it was proposed, and maybe some that will help to understand why certain Democrats opted to kill the bill. Mainly, though, I want to focus on why Senator Sinema, the other six Dems and even the Republicans should have absolutely voted “YES” on “Raise the Wage.”
I’m not going to dig too much into her background, but if you’re interested there are innumerable resources for you regarding that subject. Here’s a good place to start:
‘Raise the Wage Act’ S.53
The act, proposed by Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, was intended to gradually raise the national minimum wage until it reached $15.00/hr in 2025. This hit a roadblock when the Senate Parliamentarian (a nonpartisan position who advises the Senate on rules and procedures) stated that including the motion in the COVID relief bill was not allowed, citing the “Byrd Rule.” This left the act in a bit of a gray area and called its future into question. Another roadblock came in the form of claims that the increase would negatively affect their ability to run a successful business. Democrats, who pride themselves as being pro-small business, were forced into a tight corner.
When it came down to the Senate vote, a total of seven Democrats and one Independent voted with Republicans to block S.53 from being included as part of President Biden’s COVID relief package. I’m choosing to focus on Senator Sinema for two reasons, one of them being the aforementioned bag she was carrying and her tone-deaf attitude portrayed while voting, but also because she happens to be my Senator, and since I don’t vote in any of the other states, any commentary I provide on the remaining nay-voters could easily be ignored by them and their constituents.
Why Sinema Should Have Voted YES
I’ve reached out to Senator Sinema’s offices in Arizona and DC for a comment on her reasons for voting against the bill, but she has yet to respond, leaving me to speculate. If the advice of the parliamentarian and her concerns for small businesses are in fact the reason she gave S.53 a “thumbs down,” then I can understand that to a degree, but doing a bit of research provides more than enough info to easily tear down those arguments. It’s a reasonable place to begin, so let’s start there:
The Byrd Rule prohibits the Senate “…from considering extraneous matter as part of a reconciliation bill or resolution or conference report thereon.” COVID relief falls squarely into the category of a “reconciliation bill” and according to the Senate Parliamentarian, “Raise the Wage” is an extraneous matter, meaning that it is unrelated to the nature of reconciliation. That is a difficult argument to make, though, when other matters, such as drilling for oil in a wildlife refuge in the Arctic, were able to pass under reconciliation. Raising the minimum wage would result in long-term benefits for millions of American workers who have struggled to make ends meet during the pandemic. How is that not related to the nature of this reconciliation?
Then there are the alleged effects on small businesses. This can be resolved with simple math. When there is more money for people to spend, they will spend it. They will spend it at the same small businesses that will allegedly suffer the consequences. Countless reports back up the financial benefits small businesses would gain from a wage increase
If your argument is that it will drive up prices, then just look at prices on practically any item 10 years ago compared to now. Inflation occurs without minimum wage increases. Increasing the household income of lower-earning families will help them to finally be able to at least keep up.
It’s Also a Race and Gender Issue
Did you know that 47% of American frontline workers make less than $15/hr?
Did you know that 32 million workers, including a third of all Black American workers and 26% of all Latino workers would have benefited from a minimum wage increase? Did you know that 23% of those are Black and Latina women?
Did you know that 64% of all frontline workers are women, including retail and service industries where minimum wage is common? Did you know that on average in the U.S. women only make $.81 for every dollar a man makes? In Arizona, Sen Sinema’s state, this number is only slighlty higher at $.84.
Did you know that the median annual household income for a Black family in America is $17,150 and that the median annual household income for a white family is almost 10 times that much at $171,000?
Let’s Make It Personal, Senator
According to research done by MIT, in order for an individual Arizonan to survive in the state, they need to make at least $14.94/hr. This increases dramatically for families, especially those with only one working parent. The required minimum wage in Arizona is $12.15/hr. An increase in the national minimum wage would require the state to address this disparity and give residents a wage they could actually survive on.
Let’s make it even more personal…
As a member of the Senate, Sinema makes a base salary of $174,000/yr. Let’s break down some numbers, shall we?
If Senator Sinema worked an average 40 hour/wk job and was paid hourly, she would be getting making $83.65/hr. That comes out to $3,346, or $6,692 bi-weekly. How many blue-collar Arizonans, or Americans for that matter, can say they make that much?
I’m not saying that every American should make at least $84/hr, although that would be nice. What I’m saying here is that there are way more reasons that Senator Sinema, and everyone else, should have voted yes on S.53 than there are reasons to have voted no. Furthermore, the assumed reasons for having voted no are easily disproven.
It’s also worth mentioning, Senator, that your term ends in 2025, the same year a $15 minimum wage would have taken effect. It’s not much of a stretch to suggest that any potential opponents you may face in the 2024 election, and well as the voters, will still remember your “Marie Antoinette” moment, and they might just hold it against you.
Joseph Paul Wright is a freelance journalist based in Nogales, Arizona. He tweets from @joewrightwrites.