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Why the muted GOP reaction to Biden's minimum-wage move matters

When Obama raised the minimum wage for contractors, Republicans were apoplectic. When Biden did the same thing, the GOP reaction was ... different.


On Jan. 28, 2014, the White House let the public know that then-President Barack Obama would sign an executive order, raising the minimum wage for federal contractors. It was later that same day when the Wall Street Journal published an op-ed from Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), condemning the Democrat's move.

Of all the troubling aspects of the Obama presidency, none is more dangerous than the president's persistent pattern of lawlessness, his willingness to disregard the written law and instead enforce his own policies via executive fiat. On Monday, Mr. Obama acted unilaterally to raise the minimum wage paid by federal contracts.... The president's taste for unilateral action to circumvent Congress should concern every citizen, regardless of party or ideology.

The Texas Republican was apparently so outraged over Obama's minimum-wage move that the same op-ed lamented the Democrat's "imperial presidency."

A day later, on Jan. 29, 2014, a variety of other Republicans joined the offensive. The Hill published this report:

Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said Republicans would not sit idly by as Obama takes unilateral actions like raising the minimum wage for federal contractors to $10.10 an hour. "We're going to watch very closely, because there's a Constitution that we all take an oath to, including him, and following the Constitution is the basis for House Republicans," Boehner said.

This came to mind seven years later because President Joe Biden took a nearly identical step yesterday, issuing a new executive order that raised the minimum wage for federal contractors to $15 an hour.

The response from congressional Republicans was ... effectively non-existent.

In fairness, there are more than 250 GOP lawmakers on Capitol Hill, and it's possible that some of them were displeased with the president's new policy. But I made a good-faith effort to uncover any kind of complaint about Biden's minimum-wage move, and I couldn't find a thing.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), for example, ignored the news -- no press releases and no tweets -- and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) was similarly uninterested.

If Ted Cruz was bothered by Biden's latest executive order, he kept his disappointment to himself. The Texan had nary a word about the president "acting unilaterally" in a way that "should concern every citizen, regardless of party or ideology."

All of which got me wondering why Obama's policy of raising the minimum wage for federal contractors caused widespread Republican apoplexy, while Biden's nearly identical policy was met with shrugs and indifference.

I won't pretend to know what folks like McCarthy and Cruz are thinking, but there are a few possibilities. For example, it's possible GOP officials realize that minimum-wage increases are popular, so they don't see much of an upside to launching an attack on this front.

Maybe Republicans are distracted by trivia such as fake stories about non-existent meat bans. Perhaps GOP leaders realize that the fierce response to Obama's 2014 order amounted to nothing, so there's no point in doing it again. Maybe the whole "imperial presidency" nonsense lost its salience for Republicans when Donald Trump furiously tried to circumvent Congress on a wide range of issues.

Or perhaps there's some unexplained difference between Barack Obama and Joe Biden that causes GOP officials to respond differently, even in response to the same policy efforts.