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Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) and the Republican majority in the House of Representatives may have no intention of ever bringing a minimum-wage increase to the floor for a vote, but that doesn’t mean that liberals will allow the issue to die quietly.

In an effort to raise political pressure on Republicans, AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka is challenging Heritage Foundation president Jim DeMint to debate raising the $7.25-per-hour federal minimum wage. Trumka and the AFL-CIO, the nation’s largest labor federation, strongly support the Democratic plan to increase the minimum wage to $10.10 per hour. DeMint and Heritage, arguably the most prominent conservative think tank, disagree (in fact, while DeMint was serving in the Senate, he proposed an amendment that would have effectively abolished the federal minimum wage altogether).

“On behalf of the twelve and a half million hard-working men and women of the AFL-CIO, I would like to invite you to join me to participate in a public forum on the minimum wage,” Trumka wrote in an open letter to DeMint, dated March 11.

“It is clear that the AFL-CIO and the Heritage Foundation have starkly contrasting opinions on this crucial issue,” he continued. “I think that the public would find an in-depth conversation between the two of us to be illuminating about what is at stake for our nation.”

DeMint has thus far declined to take Trumka up on his offer, leading the AFL-CIO to launch a social media campaign pressuring him to accept. That tactic surprises Mike Gonzalez, the Heritage Foundation’s vice president for communications.

“The AFL-CIO should know very well that we responded to the invitation on Thursday, March 20 and said that we would be very happy to have our Senior Policy Analyst on Labor Economics James Sherk debate Mr. Trumka, or anyone else at their union, on the issue of the minimum wage,” Gonzalez told The National Memo. “James has been researching this policy area for years. The nation would indeed benefit greatly from a public and detailed examination of this question. What is the AFL-CIO afraid of?”

The AFL-CIO retorts that DeMint, as the public face of the think tank — and, thus, of the opposition to a minimum-wage hike — should have the courage to make the case himself.

“I’m not too surprised Mr. DeMint is afraid to debate,” AFL-CIO director of communications Eric Hauser told The National Memo in an email. “If I thought the minimum wage should be zero, I probably wouldn’t want to debate either. But a big part of life is facing your fears. Certainly millions of American workers bravely do that every day. I hope Mr. DeMint is willing to face his fear and debate President Trumka on the minimum wage.”

If DeMint, Sherk, or any other opponent of an increased minimum wage took the podium opposite Trumka, winning over the audience would be an uphill fight. Polls have consistently shown that an overwhelming majority of American voters support raising the minimum wage. In fact, recent surveys suggest that Tea Party Republicans are the only political group that opposes increasing the rate (Democrats, Independents, and moderate Republicans all support a raise).

Additionally, many economists dispute the Heritage Foundation’s claim that raising the minimum wage would destroy 300,000 jobs. Over 600 economists — including seven Nobel laureates and eight former presidents of the American Economic Association — have signed an open letter to Congress arguing that “the weight of evidence now [shows] that increases in the minimum wage have had little or no negative effect on the employment of minimum-wage workers.” And even some analysts — such as those at the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office — who do believe that raising the minimum wage would cost some low-income workers their jobs also acknowledge that a higher wage would lift many more Americans out of poverty.

Democrats have made no secret of their desire to make the minimum wage a centerpiece of their 2014 midterm election campaigns. Trumka’s challenge to DeMint reflects liberals’ determination to keep the issue front and center in the coming weeks and months — with or without the help of a recalcitrant Congress.

Photo via Wikimedia Commons

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Reprinted with permission from AlterNet

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