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Slate’s Dave Weigel On The Minimum Wage Debate And The GOP Screwing Military Retirees

Friday, January 17, 2014

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HH: Dave, welcome. Who do we blame for that? Was that a Marlon fail?

DW: I think that was an AT&T fail, or I could blame society. I’m not going to blame myself, certainly.

HH: Of course not. Nor will we, we’ll blame the intern, which brings me to the minimum wage, which is too high for the interns that work at the Hugh Hewitt Show, Dave Weigel. But your piece about Ron Unz, who I’ve been interviewing for I think he ran for governor in ’92, I can’t remember if it was ’92 or ’96.

DW: ’94. He was primarying Pete Wilson, I think.

HH: Yeah. And so I’ve been interviewing him for 20 years. He’s a very smart guy. Before we debate it, tell people what you will be writing about at Slate later tonight.

DW: It should be up soon. I talked to Unz, and again, as you point out, one of many people who have talked to Ron Unz about this, and he makes the point that because conservatives should want Americans to make good wages, because the best way of doing this is raising the minimum wage and keeping people off welfare, et cetera, he is sponsoring a ballot measure. You’re probably going to hear about next week, I mean, he says he’s got, balloting, because it’s got to come down next week in California. They’ll get a chance to raise it to $10 dollars next year and then $12 dollars in the future. So California will kind of lead the nation. I know that speaking at the Sea-Tac area in Seattle, there’s a different ballot measure to raise it to $15. This is less ambitious than that, but would be, I think, the highest the country.

HH: Now he makes the argument that this in fact causes employment to go up and growth to expand. Am I correct about that?

DW: He does. I mean, he says he’s kind of come to see the light on this, that he once believed in the economic sense that told people raising minimum wage is just a curve. Raise the minimum wage, you’re going to get people firing their lowest income employees, shrinking the size of their companies. He points to the newer studies, and he actually, when we talked, I’m not sure it made it in the piece, that referred to studies that some liberals had conducted about the effect on raising wages in areas where Wal-Mart employed a lot of people. And he just doesn’t think it’s going to happen. And he thinks the overall growth effect, the overall effect of getting people off public assistance is going to be more than enough to offset whatever problems conservatives might have with this.

HH: Well, let me, one of the problems with the minimum wage debate I’ve always had is they never talk to small businesspeople. Now I am actually a small businessman. I run my show. I have the interns, and I’ve always paid my interns ten bucks an hour, because it’s the easiest way to keep, you know, the Pittsburgh Steelers math. Multiply their number of hours by ten and pay them. And a lot of people don’t pay their interns, but I do. If you raise that, I don’t stop hiring interns. I stop hiring as many interns. So the four interns as opposed to five will be better off, but the fifth will be out of work. Did he confront this problem? It’s really not that you’ll end up firing everybody. It’s just that the marginal employee goes out the door.

DW: We talked a bit about that. He was just very optimistic. And if you bring him on the show, I’d suggest putting that question to him, too. There’s not a full study on what this has done, what this might do at the marginal level at some business that hires, you know, that pays three or four employees. This is, I guess the way he framed it was this is a choice between doing this and a choice between maybe expanding earned income tax credit. And he said look, if you’re going to consider the option of giving the people at the poverty level a check, say, get a certain level of income, or you’re going to put a tax on employers, we don’t want to tax anyone. But the tax on employers makes the most sense. And getting those people into the economy, we don’t know what the effects will be. I mean, the effects of taking somebody off years of welfare payments, years of food stamp assistance, et cetera, and getting some kind of minimum wage job, the effect of people who have gotten out of the economy because getting that welfare check is more lucrative. And it’s more lucrative. I think the Cato Institute numbers from last year is still operative. You get those people in the job market, if you had some loss on the margins, in general, it’s better for the whole in general. And who knows what happens when those people become consumers? So I’d see what he says, and I talked to him for 20 minutes, and we kind of batted it about. But you probably know more about this than I do. I have colleagues. I don’t have employees. So I come at it from a different way.

HH: Well, I will do that, and it’s fascinating that you wrote this. He did, however, take a few jabs at Marco Rubio, as did you by saying that he’d copped from conservative intellectuals like Yuval Levin.

DW: Well, what’s wrong with that?

HH: Well, copped is…

DW: We all cop from intellectuals.

HH: Having learned from. Copped makes it sound like you’ve done a snatch, you know, an eat and run, where you’ve sat down at the Howard Johnsons and bolted, which I’m sure you’ve never done, Dave Weigel. But that’s copping, to study deeply.

DW: I guess, yeah, I’ve been reading too much Dashiell Hammett. I probably should have used a different word.

HH: Oh well. Now my last question for you is, this is not related to the Slate piece which isn’t up, yet. I got the advanced text. I feel very, very privileged.

DW: Exclusive, yeah.

HH: The cut to the military active duty retirees, that’s the term meaning those who are on active duty eligible to retire.

DW: Right.

HH: Is that a story in your worldview? Do people talk about that inside the Beltway?

DW: No, the reason I wrote a little bit about it, and I thought your interview with Paul Ryan was very good, and he was put under pressure, I couldn’t count, maybe 18 times on why he thought that was sellable. It hasn’t gotten a ton of coverage, because I think in Washington, and I’m, you know, being driven through Washington by a cab right now as we talk about this, looking at the people who might be affected. In Washington, the story was that an omnibus passed and we could stop worrying about this. It wasn’t about who was being cut specifically. So there was very, the stories about who would lose a pension, who would lose access to the program they were used to, whether some political science department would get a cut, that was kind of a sub rosa story. And what is interesting about this, because, was that this was the one long term entitlement, why am I saying entitlement? That’s loaded, and you know that. One long term spending cut Ryan was promoting when he sold the budget to people. As you pointed out, when he sold it, a lot of Republicans voted for it thinking they would be able to undo it later. And even, I talked to John McCain, who was the one Republican guy I talked to who was positive about the general idea of cutting back on the growth of pensions, you know, citing Robert Gates saying it needed to happen at some point. He was hopeful that maybe it’s restored in some capacity, and then they’d go back and take another whack at it in 2016.

HH: Dave Weigel, don’t go anywhere if AT&T will keep you. I want to follow up on this after the break in a cab from D.C. live.

— – – –

HH: Dave, just breaking, the Senate passed the omnibus, 72-26, minutes ago. So the question is now do the Republicans reap the whirlwind. They made hay out of no one reading Obamacare. You have to pass the bill to find out what’s in it. No one has read this. Mark Steyn began the hour by pointing that out. It is absolutely unread. It hits the military hard. It is all borrowed money. Do the Republicans pay for this some way?

DW: I think some of the guys who have competitive primaries might have to answer about that. Most of the rest of the party probably won’t. You and I were talking right before the break about how this affects military pensions. The one part they restored in the omnibus which made some people happy, and some members I talked to ready to vote for this, was the people who were getting, active duty military who were getting pensions because they leave after being disabled, widows of veterans. Those people get their pensions restored. The rest are left up in the air. And people are aware of that. People are aware that this did not restore all of those pensions. The rest that I’m not sure they’re aware of, and this is 1,582 pages. This was the sort of spending bill they said they needed to get not just under control, but they needed to fully vet every time that it came up. And I think what happened was Republicans won in 2010. They ran the Congress, the House, I mean, two and a half years, three years, in kind of crisis circumstances where there never was a budget. So they’ve in a sense given up on the crisis mode of politics, and they have acquiesced to the old style let’s just get what we can out of a budget, pass it in a hurry and get out of town style. I don’t think that’s what anyone expected when they voted for them. And the degree to which Republicans did not raise a fuss or demand more time to read this, is a little bit depressing if you thought these guys would fulfill that promise to read everything before it was passed. And actually, Rand Paul had a bill that would require the public reading on the floor of the Senate on every bill before it was voted on. That’s not gone anywhere, and he’s not even talking about it anymore. Not to be cynical, I don’t know how many of your guests or listeners are cynical, but it seems like that was a good thing to run on, not as important a thing for them to live by.

HH: Oh, I think that the blowback from this is going to be intense, and not just in primaries, but perhaps in the leadership election of 2015. Are you going to the House Republican retreat in two weeks, Weigel?

DW: I am going to that. It’s in Maryland. It’s a little bit closer than the last one. You know, they’re usually pretty good about giving access to the media. The best person, I should say, who ever covered this, or the best reporter, was Bob Costa, who found some way that none of us could understand to talk off the record to these guys in between meetings. I’m going to try to copy his witchcraft and do the same thing. But generally, what happened last year was that they came up with this plan of scheduling the various opportunity moments for the Republican Party. It didn’t really work. I’m interested in what they say this time.

HH: I hope you’re there. I’ll be reading it from Slate.com. Dave Weigel, thank you.

End of interview.

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