Yesterday was a day of cognitive dissonance.
President Biden, one month into his term, greenlighted the first military action of his administration. The airstrikes in Syria, the administration claims, required no congressional vote because they were deployed in “self-defense,” even though the action was a response to the targeting of US occupying forces in Iraq and Syria.
The airstrikes themselves should not come as a surprise to anyone who has followed Biden’s long career as a foreign policy hawk, albeit a hawk acting under the cover of “liberal interventionism.” Syria is a perfect case in point: using the legitimate outrage against Bashar al-Assad’s genocidal policies to justify an intervention that only leads to more human suffering and a bigger geopolitical footprint for the US military.
But the speed with which Biden rammed through the Syria airstrikes stands in stark contrast to the other big news of the day: that Biden would defer to the Senate parliamentarian, who ruled yesterday that a minimum wage increase could not be included in the coronavirus relief bill. Biden’s administration announced it would not use Vice President Kamala Harris’s power as the president of the Senate to overrule the parliamentarian.
In other words, when an incredibly popular policy that would help millions of low-wage workers is at issue, it is left to languish in procedural purgatory. When an aggressive military action is on the table, it moves full steam ahead, congressional authority be damned.
As it happens, the reason Democrats are relying on the budget reconciliation process in the first place — which allows certain legislation to pass the Senate with a simple majority — is that they’ve refused to fight for the abolition of the filibuster. Even though they have majority control in the House and Senate, they’re allowing one unelected functionary — the parliamentarian — to decide which parts of a bill can and cannot pass.
It’s not as if public opinion is stopping them. Raising the minimum wage is wildly popular, supported by a majority of Republicans and Democrats alike. In the 2020 election, a $15 minimum wage ballot measure passed with 61 percent of the vote in Florida even as Biden lost to Trump in the state.
So we’re left with a dystopian reality: The Biden administration will charge through procedural hurdles to bomb a country while throwing up its hands at the first sign of resistance to raising the woefully low minimum wage, which has not been increased since 2009.
Low-wage workers will continue to suffer the double abuse of risking their safety at public-facing jobs for poverty pay. Globally, the people of Syria and elsewhere will continue to fear the might of the US military, knowing full well that the US government could be wielding its immense power to, say, force pharmaceutical companies to equitably distribute vaccines across the world.
But hey, at least we’re getting our norms back.