By Christi Parsons, Tribune Washington Bureau
WASHINGTON — Raising the minimum wage makes sense to anybody who has ever worked an hourly job, President Barack Obama said in a freewheeling and highly personal argument he debuted on Wednesday.
Speaking to a crowd in New Britain, Conn., Obama praised a local businessman who used to “flip burgers” and is now a vocal advocate for raising the minimum wage.
The old pay stub that the dairy owner carries around “looks like the paycheck I got when I was working at Baskin-Robbins,” the president said of the job he held when he was a teenager in Honolulu.
When an audience member called out that the idea is “just common sense,” Obama picked up the refrain, laughed, and repeated it over and over again.
“It’s just common sense!” he said, as the crowd howled. “That’s all it is! It’s just common sense! That’s all I’m saying.”
The seemingly off-the-cuff riff came as Obama delivered a message he has given time and again during the past two months. The nuts and bolts of the address were the same as before. He noted that he has ordered federal contractors to pay their employees $10.10 an hour and called on Congress to make that the standard throughout the country. The current federal minimum wage is $7.25.
Republicans were no more moved than before. Raising the wage could cause employers to lay off or decline to hire low-wage workers, Speaker John A. Boehner’s office replied, citing a recent Congressional Budget Office analysis.
“When folks are still struggling to find work in this economy, why would we make that any harder?” asked Brendan Buck, the spokesman for the Ohio Republican.
The White House frequently cites other facts from the CBO projections, including the estimate that the higher wage would increase earnings for 15 percent of the nation’s workforce.
Obama repeated his usual talking points Wednesday afternoon. But in the Central Connecticut State University gym, surrounded by New England governors, Obama was on a more emotional roll.
Republicans are so opposed to everything he does, he joked, that he’s thinking about taking a stand against the minimum wage to see if that will get them on board.
“Republicans don’t want to vote,” he said, making fun of one GOP argument he said he has heard — that it’s time to repeal the current minimum wage.
Doug Wade, former burger flipper and current president of Wade’s Dairy in Bridgeport, Conn., knows that doesn’t make sense, Obama said.
Wade, according to the president, writes opinion pieces and talks to elected officials about raising the standard of living for workers. Wade spoke at a public event in February in favor of wage increases and said his business has 48 employees who all earn more than $10.10 an hour, according to the Hartford Courant.
“He spent most of his life as a registered Republican,” Obama said. “This is not about politics. It’s about common sense.”
AFP Photo/Saul Loeb