On Thursday, during a Senate Budget Committee hearing about a proposal to gradually raise the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) got schooled by Costco CEO Craig Jelinek. The CEO pointed out that Graham’s idea that a higher minimum wage would be a “devastating blow” for certain small businesses doesn’t exactly square with the fact that a lower minimum wage would be a “devastating blow” for employees. How healthy really is a business if their employees can’t even provide for their basic needs because of low wages?
Graham, who is actually the top Republican on the committee, commented as follows:
‘My concern is not really about Costco, because I think anybody that makes $158 billion… whatever the number is, you can absorb some increase in costs. I’m worried about the small business owner who is struggling because COVID has reduced their capability to earn a living. Do you understand where I’m coming from?’
Jelinek replied in the affirmative. Graham continued as follows:
‘If you own a restaurant or a hotel and nobody can travel in the country and seating capacity has been reduced by half or more, the revenues are down — can you understand why an increased mandate from the government in terms of costs would be a devastating blow?’
Jelinek replied as follows:
‘No, I can’t understand why it would be a devastating blow. I think it’s a devastating blow to the employees.’
Graham, who cut Jelinek off mid-thought, added the following:
‘Let me see if I’ve got this right. You can’t understand why a restaurant in South Carolina who has got half seating capacity because of COVID, barely hanging on, it would be devastating to them to increase their cost in terms of doubling the minimum wage? You don’t understand that?’
Jelinek noted in reply that he wasn’t necessarily proposing a doubling of the minimum wage. As Senate Budget Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) chimed in, the minimum wage proposal under consideration was slated to raise the minimum wage over a period of five years rather than all at once. Check out the interaction below:
At the time of the hearing on Thursday, members of Congress were awaiting a conclusion from the Senate parliamentarian about whether a minimum wage increase could be passed in the chamber through a means called budget reconciliation, which would allow for the measure to pass with no Republican support because of the current party breakdown of the Senate. Budget reconciliation measures only need 51 votes to pass, and Democrats currently have a 51st vote on their side because of Vice President Kamala Harris’s role as a tiebreaker in the 50-50 split chamber.
Speaker Pelosi on the looming Senate parliamentarian ruling: "We are very, very pleased with the case that has been made. We will pass— we will pass a minimum wage bill. We must pass a minimum wage bill."
— Kyle Griffin (@kylegriffin1) February 25, 2021