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Sinema has time to come out strong for policies popular across Arizona

Kyrsten Sinema

Kyrsten Sinema

On March 5, Sen. Kyrsten Sinema caused an uproar with her vote against the inclusion of the $15 minimum wage increase in the Covid relief bill. Her exaggerated thumbs down enraged many, who saw the demonstration as inappropriately “gleeful” when denying a living wage to 839,000 Arizonans and millions of Americans whose lives could’ve been improved with the provision.  

Abigail Jackson

Abigail Jackson

Sinema argued that her vote wasn’t about wages, but about Senate procedure. According to Sinema, a higher minimum wage didn’t belong in the Covid relief bill. Instead, she says, the Senate should tackle it through a separate, standalone bill. But this is not the whole story.   

The truth is, the only reason Democrats were attempting to include the wage increase through the Covid bill is because of Sinema herself. Sinema is one of two Senators standing vocally in the way of eliminating the filibuster, an arcane procedural rule that allows a minority of Senators to block major legislation from ever being voted on. 

As the makeup of the Senate currently stands, this means that Republicans have veto power over most Democratic priorities, despite a Democratic majority in Washington. As long as the filibuster remains in place, there is simply no chance of passing a higher minimum wage. Because the Covid relief bill went through the budget reconciliation process, an obscure Senate maneuver that allows some budget-related bills to pass with just 51 votes, the Covid bill  was one of the  only opportunities for Democrats to pass the $15 minimum wage increase that President Biden promised voters during the 2020 campaign.  

The defense behind Sinema’s position, both on the wage increase and on the filibuster, is that Sinema knows her constituents better than anyone, and that what they want from her is bipartisanship, which she believes the filibuster protects. The underlying assumption is that to win in Arizona statewide, Democrats have to work closely with Republicans, even if it means abandoning the chance to pass popular, common-sense policies. 

While this may have been true several years ago when Sinema was first coming into power, in 2021, times have changed. We are now a full year into the Covid crisis and in a distinctly different political landscape–what Arizona voters really want to see is results.  

New polling conducted by Data for Progress of likely Arizona voters found that 62% of voters support the $15 minimum wage increase, and 61% think that passing major legislation is more important than the filibuster. For a state where Democrats make up only 32% of registered voters, these numbers are significant, demonstrating that progressive policies are actually popular in Arizona, and the filibuster less so.  

The data reflects that Sinema has made the wrong analysis with her continued prioritization of the filibuster over delivering results. Arizona families are struggling to pay bills and put food on the table. They simply do not care about procedure when it comes to passing major legislation that will improve their lives, like raising wages. 

Of course, Sinema argues that she is simply protecting the minority and that respecting their opinions will result in better common-sense legislation. This sounds pleasant, but relies on the assumption that Republicans are open to negotiation. The Covid bill that passed received not a single Republican vote at a time of such widespread suffering. It is clear that Republicans have no interest in good faith negotiations with Democrats.  

Will Sinema really let the ideal of so-called “bipartisanship” prevent her from doing anything to pass the popular legislation that Arizona voters support, like the raising the wage? So far, the answer seems to be yes. But there is still time for Sinema to come out strong in favor of the policies that are popular across Arizona, but that may not be “bipartisan” in the Senate.  

If Sinema wants to keep her reputation of legislating in line with Arizonans (and her job), she should start to actually do that by eliminating the filibuster and getting to work to raise wages, pass democracy reform, and more.    

Abigail Jackson is communications coordinator for Progress Arizona.  

2 comments

  1. This points to a consistent problem: Democrats talk about working together in a bi-partisan manner, respecting the wishes of the minority. Republicans simply take what they want. This exemplifies a very basic philosophical difference between parties in their beliefs about duty to others.

  2. Ms. Jackson’s ramblings reflect a far greater ignorance of economics, the U.S. Constitution, and our system of governance than even Senator Sinema has demonstrated. We hear the term “democracy” tossed about so carelessly these days that many people expect a system of “majority rule,” but that’s not how a Constitutional Republic works.

    Her discussion about the filibuster is myopic and overlooks the obvious—when democrats are in the minority, they certainly don’t talk about eliminating the filibuster. When democrats are in the minority, they certainly don’t like when republicans tack completely unrelated measures onto “must pass” legislation. What’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander, Ms. Jackson.

    The reason for requiring a super-majority in simple—it is far too easy for the majority to trample on the rights of the minority. Most legislative ideas are poorly crafted and often exceed the authority that we have granted to our government. For example, the Constitution grants no authority to the federal government to control the price of any commodity, including human labor.

    Even if it were legal for the federal government to set a minimum value on labor, it’s a bad idea from a purely practical standpoint. We know from past experience that every increase in the minimum wage is accompanied by a commensurate drop in employment levels. Yes, those getting a raise are better off but those who lost their jobs are worse off. One can’t really expect a business owner to simply “eat” the additional cost of supplying their product, layoffs and higher prices invariably follow suit.

    I certainly have my differences with Senator Sinema, but on these two issues, she got it right.

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