Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Being In Congress Bites

Increasingly over the next few weeks, if you haven't already heard or seen political advertising for primary races in the 2014 midterm elections, we can almost guarantee you will. Avoiding being bombarded in that kind of situation will be like trying to handle snakes without getting bitten - a task crazy snake-handling preacher Jamie Coots just proved isn't exactly realistic.

In short, the 2014 election races have begun.

While the data-driven accurate political journalism of both Nate Silver's new team, and Ezra Klein's new group aren't yet ready for the 2014 elections, there is already some data - both scientific and anecdotal - that's already available. In short, for both Democratic and Republican politicians, the information we're seeing now could have some serious bite for this fall's elections, if the data continues through this fall as it is now.

To start with, Congress' current job approval rates, for both Democratic and Republican politicians, is still hovering near it's worst levels ever. To most thinking people, that level of disgust might spur members of Congress to pass a nearly universally popular bill, so they had some kind of achievement to sell voters come next autumn - for example, raising the federal minimum wage.

Conveniently, the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office released a report on Tuesday that focused on what the impact would be of raising the federal minimum wage. The result was positive, if not a bit confusing.

The report effectively showed that if the economy continues its sluggish upward trend, a national minimum wage increase would likely help more than 16 million Americans, and would bring nearly a million working Americans out of poverty. There would be a price though, as a relatively small number of Americans - around 500,000 - would find their income go down. They might even lose their jobs.

According to a Gallup poll this week, though, unemployment and underemployment are considered the number one problem for all Americans.  A Federal minimum wage increase would help solve the underemployment problem, and if Congress would actually do things to help improve the economy, it's likely any economic drag from an increased minimum wage could be cancelled out by significantly greater economic growth.

Immigration reform is also a high priority for Americans right now - and as another Gallup poll confirmed, those Americans in favor of reform now equal the number who only want border enforcement. Immigration reform has also been proven to improve the economy, something even sane conservatives admit when they're being honest.

In short, Americans want more jobs, better paying jobs, and immigration reform, all items that Congress could help provide in the run-up to the fall elections.

However, as Robert Costa reported on Monday, Republicans in Congress have effectively said they can't handle voting on any major legislation this year - like immigration reform - for fear of angering their extremist base. Even if members of Congress intellectually wanted to pass the bill, as Greg Sargent has been saying for over a year, Republican leadership simply doesn't have the will to do what the majority of Americans want.

As the growing number of Congresspersons and Senators deciding not to run for re-election this year proves, it must really bite right now to be a member of Congress.