House panel delays minimum wage hearing after finding GOP witness Joseph Sabia's homophobic blog post

Key Points
  • A House committee delayed a planned hearing on raising the federal minimum wage to $15 per hour after it discovered a homophobic blog post written by a Republican witness. 
  • Joseph Sabia, a San Diego State University economics professor, was set to testify on the "consequences" of the policy. 
  • Democrats aim to push for a $15 per hour federal minimum wage when they control the House next month. 
Fast-food workers and supporters fight to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour.
Getty Images | James Leynse / Corbis Historical

A House panel delayed a hearing on the minimum wage planned for Wednesday after a homophobic blog post written by a Republican witness surfaced.

Members of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce decided not to go on with the hearing after they discovered the post from San Diego State economics professor Joseph Sabia, said Marty Boughton, a press secretary for the panel. Politico first reported the reason for the delay.

As Democrats push for a $15 per hour federal minimum wage, Republicans who hold a House majority until next month scheduled the hearing about the policy's "consequences for workers and small businesses." Sabia was set to testify on the effects of raising the wage floor.

In the 2002 post captured in the internet archive Wayback Machine, Sabia proposes to "tax and regulate homosexual acts" along with any taxes on smoking and fatty foods. The professor writes:

In gay sex, we have an activity that is clearly leading to disastrous health consequences. What rational person would engage in this sort of activity? There is only one solution — let's tax it.

He goes on to write:

In all seriousness, the bottom line is this — the government has no business interfering in the lives of smokers, fatties, or gays. In America, each citizen ought to be free to choose the risks he is willing to take and the potential rewards (or costs) he may receive. He should be free to make choices that could lead to heart disease, diabetes, or HIV. And if these bad outcomes materialize, he should not look to the public dole for relief.

In a statement, Sabia apologized and said the post was satirical.

"I regret the hurtful and disrespectful language I used as a satirical college opinion writer 20 years ago," he said in an email. "My peer-reviewed professional work on veterans' health, school shootings, discrimination against LGBTQ individuals, the opioid crisis, and the minimum wage are a more accurate representation of my more than 14 year career as an applied microeconomist."

In a subsequent statement, Sabia also denied allegations of homophobia. He said he is "a gay man in a long-term, committed relationship and these charges of homophobia deeply hurt both me and my family."

San Diego State also said it "unequivocally rejects any sentiment which seeks to undermine or devalue the dignity of any person based on their gender, orientation, ability, or any other difference among people which has been an excuse for misunderstanding, dissension or hatred.

Rep. Mark Takano, the California Democrat and ranking member on the subcommittee that scheduled the hearing, called it "an absolute shame and a disgrace" that the GOP invited Sabia as a witness. The writings "should automatically disqualify anyone from speaking as an expert" before a congressional committee, he said.

"Instead of simply postponing this hearing — which would have been the first hearing on the federal minimum wage that Republicans have held in 8 years — my Republican colleagues on the Committee should have issued a strong rebuke disavowing this witness and let the hearing go on," he added.

Before Sabia released his statement, Rep. Carol Shea-Porter, a New Hampshire Democrat and committee member, said Sabia should apologize "for these deeply hateful words" or "attempt to defend the indefensible to his students at UNH and San Diego State University." She contended that Republican members "wanted to avoid the embarrassment of having [Sabia] in the witness chair."

Boughton, a spokesperson for the majority side of the committee, declined to comment on the Democrats' criticism.

Rep. Bobby Scott, the Virginia Democrat who will likely lead the Education and the Workforce committee next month, plans to quickly push for a $15 per hour federal minimum wage. While many states and cities have raised their pay floor in recent years, the federal minimum wage has not increased since 2009. It stands at $7.25 an hour.

Democrats see it as a winning issue as they try to cast themselves as better for the working class than the GOP.

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