The contrast between the procedural difficulty of pushing a modest pay increase for millions of workers through the Senate and the relative ease with which President Joe Biden—without congressional approval—launched a deadly bombing campaign in Syria late Thursday was the subject of much discussion and outrage as the president’s lethal operation overseas coincided almost simultaneously with the Senate parliamentarian’s advisory ruling against a popular $15 minimum wage measure.
The two events, according to progressive critics and political commentators, spotlighted how existing institutional constraints are heavily biased against the advancement of working-class interests but do little to prevent the commander-in-chief from unilaterally bombing foreign nations on the basis of highly dubious-to-nonexistent legal authority.
“Can’t get Americans their relief checks in the
midst of a historic pandemic for which the nation’s economy was
effectively shut down, but bombing Syria some more is a first 100 days
—Elizabeth Bruenig, New York Times
“Personally I think it should be easier to raise the minimum wage than to drop bombs on Syria,” tweeted The New Republic‘s Kate Aronoff.
Pointing to the Senate’s legislative filibuster as a key obstacle in the way of even minor policy changes, Matt Yglesias of the Slow Boring newsletter wrote sardonically on Thursday that “the genius of America is you need a 60-vote supermajority to raise the minimum wage, but the president can bomb some militia in Iran based on … I dunno … an AUMF from two decades ago that was about something else entirely or something.”
While Biden had no issue bypassing congressional oversight to launch an attack on border-crossing station in eastern Syria, the White House suggested late Thursday that having Vice President Kamala Harris overrule the non-binding opinion of the Senate parliamentarian—an unelected official with no constitutional authority—would be a bridge too far, despite the fact that the Constitution empowers her to do so.
Biden “respects the parliamentarian’s decision and the Senate’s process,” White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said in a statement.
“We assassinate people by drone strike and have a literal prison colony in Guantanamo but where we draw the line is ignoring the Senate parliamentarian when [she] says no to a minimum wage hike,” tweeted The Intercept‘s Ken Klippenstein.
After lamenting the highly undemocratic nature of a system in which “some unheard of parliamentarian ends up deciding whether or not a law gets passed to give millions a raise,” Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) tweeted Friday morning that “we cannot stand up for congressional authorization before military strikes only when there is a Republican president.”
“The administration should have sought congressional authorization here,” said Khanna. “We need to work to extricate from the Middle East, not escalate.”