In March of this year, the House GOP unanimously voted against raising the federal minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10 an hour over three years.
Almost nine months later, after a government shutdown and a budget deal that did not include an extension of emergency benefits for the unemployed, the party’s position has not changed, even as public opinion swells in favor of increasing the wage. A recent Washington Post/ABC News poll found 77 percent in favor of a hike.
The New York Times reports that an official from the Obama White House met with allies in the labor movement and Congress earlier this month to coordinate a Senate vote with grassroots efforts to advocate for the policy.
“You can make a very strong case that this will be a helpful issue for Democrats in 2014,” President Obama’s senior advisor Dan Pfeiffer said.
The president first proposed the rate hike in his State of the Union address in January.
In conservative-leaning states, Democrats hope to put the issue on the ballot “as a way to shift the political conversation back to their preferred terms,” according to the Times. In states like Arkansas, Alaska, and South Dakota, the Democratic Party is looking to use the issue to pick up or protect vulnerable Senate seats.
For Democrats and advocates of a minimum-wage increase, the argument is quite simple: Raising the wage is just one of the ways the country can begin combating growing income inequality.
The GOP, however, claims that raising the minimum wage would actually have an adverse effect on the economy, slowing its recovery.
“Why would we want to make it harder for small employers to hire people?” House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) said recently, implying that a higher minimum wage will discourage small businesses with less funds to hire more workers. With a CBS News poll last month showing that a majority of Republican voters – 57 percent – support raising the minimum wage, the Speaker’s argument holds little weight even with his party’s own supporters.
At the aformentioned meeting earlier this month, presidential advisor Gene B. Sperling pointed out that Republican leaders decided in 1996 to agree to an increase in exchange for help for small businesses rather than letting it become an election-year issue. But today’s GOP seems to lack the willingness to hand President Obama any victory, even if it might help them.
An estimated 14.2 percent of workers would benefit from an increase in the federal minimum wage, according to the Economic Policy Institute.
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