Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) in an interview Tuesday blasted President Obama's move to require new federal contractors to pay their employees above $10.10 a "constitutional violation." "We have a minimum wage. Congress has set it. For the president to simply declare I'm going to change this law that Congress has passed is unconstitutional," King said. The Iowa congressman suggested that there would be a legal challenge to the move, and said that the nation never "had a president with that level of audacity and that level of contempt for his own oath of office."
The White House probably didn't expect congressional Republicans to celebrate President Obama's new policy raising the minimum wage for employees of government contractors. But this isn't one of the options available to GOP lawmakers.
On the substance, the congressman seems confused. Obama isn't declaring a change to federal law -- the federal minimum wage won't be, and can't be, changed through executive order.
What Obama has done -- and what Steve King should have looked into before talking to reporters -- is use his regulatory authority to establish conditions for businesses that contract with the government. According to the administration, Congress already gave the president this authority when lawmakers wrote current law.
Even House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), who complained about the policy on economic grounds, didn't question the legality of Obama's move.
But King's wrong on the politics, too.
A minimum-wage increase is wildly popular and enjoys broad support from across the political spectrum, and yet it can't pass in Congress because of unyielding Republican opposition. The president can't change the law, but he can help give some Americans a raise.
The more GOP officials throw a tantrum, the better it is for Obama -- he'll be the one fighting for higher wages, while Republicans position themselves on the wrong side of public opinion. It's not exactly a winning talking point: "We're outraged the president is doing something popular without giving us a chance to kill it."
Indeed, King added this morning, "I think we should bring a resolution to the floor and say so, and restrain this president from his extra-constitutional behavior."
If Obama has engaged in extra-constitutional behavior, Steve King hasn't identified it, but if House Republicans want to start some kind of political war over a minimum-wage increase in an election year, I have a strong hunch Democrats would be delighted.