Joe Biden’s choice of Neera Tanden, president of the liberal Center for American Progress, to be the next director of the Office of Management and Budget, presents an opportunity for members of Congress. The next time Tanden testifies before a committee, an enterprising lawmaker should take the opportunity to probe her on the incoming administration’s proposal to raise the federal minimum wage to a $15 an hour. Tanden was once one of the main Democratic Party insiders pushing back against setting the wage that high, so it would interesting to know why she changed her mind, if indeed she truly has.
We know that Tanden was opposed to a $15 federal minimum thanks to Wikileaks. An April 15, 2015 email from Tanden, who was then part of presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s inner circle, to John Podesta, Clinton’s campaign chief, warned against setting the wage that high. “Substantively, we have not supported $15—you will get a fair number of liberal economists who will say it will lose jobs. Most of rest seems fine (obviously trade sticks out). Politically, we are not getting any pressure to join this from our end. I leave it to you guys to judge what that means for you. But I’m not sweating it,” Tanden said. She was responding to an email from New York Mayor Bill de Blasio giving the Clinton team a heads up that a coalition of progressive leaders including himself were going to endorse a $15 minimum wage. Tanden’s “we” presumably refers to the Center for American Progress, which she was running at the time.
Clinton’s campaign apparently took Tanden’s advice to heart. It dodged and weaved on the issue throughout the 2016 race, refusing to take a firm stance for most of the election. Tanden was one of five people appointed by Clinton to the Democratic Party’s 2016 platform drafting committee, which voted against adopting a $15 minimum wage amendment. Clinton herself never did fully embrace it in the 2016 race, though she did say she would sign a $15 bill if she was elected and it landed on her desk.
What a difference five years can make: A $15 minimum wage is now the Democratic Party’s official stance and something the incoming administration has pledged to enact. To my knowledge, Tanden has never publicly spoken of her efforts as a party insider to prevent this. How does she feel about it now? Has she changed her own thinking that “it will lose jobs” and, if so, why? Maybe somebody should ask the Office of Management and Budget director about it.