Obama enlists companies in minimum wage campaign

Neil Munro White House Correspondent
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The White House is using its influence over companies to portray GOP legislators as hostile to the millions of November voters who would gain from an increased minimum wage of $10.10 per hour.

President Barack Obama praised a Wednesday decision by Gap Inc. to raise tends of thousands of employees’ minimum wages to $10 per hour. He’s already made prominent and friendly visits to Costco and other employers that pay their workers above minimum wage.

Wal-Mart, the nation’s largest retailer, has announced it remains neutral on the issue. “We’re looking at the impact of some of the proposals that exist out there,” Wal-Mart’s spokeswoman, Brooke Buchanan, told The Daily Caller.

That announcement spiked Democrats’ hope of getting Wal-Mart on their side. But the company has not asked its trade associations, such as the National Retail Federation, to stop lobbying against the popular proposal, said Buchanan, a former staffer for Republican Arizona Sen. John McCain.

It’s a very popular idea.

A March 2013 Gallup poll reported 71 percent support for a $9 wage.

The support rose to 76 percent in November, said Gallup.

A Washington Post/ABC News poll showed 66 percent support, with 31 percent opposition.

The GOP’s opposition to a higher minimum wage was greatly aided by a Tuesday report from the Congressional Budget Office, which said that a minimum wage of $10.10 per hour could benefit 16.5 million people, but also eliminate 500,000 mostly low-wage jobs by 2016.

The possible loss of 500,000 gives many GOP legislators a decent and rational reason to reject emotional demands on the campaign trail for wage increases.

But the GOP’s control of Congress didn’t stop the 1996 minimum-wage increase from $4.25 to $5.15 an hour, outgoing White House economic chief Gene Sperling said Thursday.

In 1996, the GOP’s majority leader was Texas libertarian Rep. Dick Armey, an economist who opposed a minimum wage.

“There is such a strong value in the American culture, the American values system, that [says] someone who works full time should have a degree of dignity … should not have to raise their children in poverty, that [pressure for an increase] cuts across the entire political spectrum,” Sperling said at an event organized by Politico.

Legislators “will have to think very, very hard before they say no to a raise for 24 and half million people in 2014,” he warned.

The pressure also includes a group of wealthy investors and business leaders, organized by a liberal activist group, the Agenda Project.

“It is past time for the minimum wage to rise to the level that approaches the poverty level,” said Leo Hindery, the managing partner of InterMedia Partners, and a member of the group, dubbed Smart Capitalists for American Prosperity.

“Ten times it has been on the ballot [in states], 10 times it has won,” said Tal Zlotnitsky, another member of the group. He runs a high-tech company, iControl Universal Collaboration Solutions.

“The support for those who are against this will melt” before the election, predicted Woody Kaplan, an investor and Democratic donor from Boston. “This will be less of a partisan issue,” he said.

The minimum wage needs to be raised, partly because new technology is radically changing the workplace, said Garrett Gruener, the executive chairman of the board at Nanomix, an investment firm in California.

“The effect of the new technologies that are coming are going to dramatically increase the productivity of the economy, and we have to figure out how to redesign the [political] deal with people who work in the minimum-wage sector,” Gruener said.

The advocacy group also includes Ron Unz, the libertarian software developer who used California’s ballot initiative — and strong support from Hispanics — to block Spanish-language teaching in the state.

Unz is pushing for a $12 minimum wage in California, which he said will push companies to invest in high-tech, high-wage workplaces, rather that low-tech, low-wage sweatshops, farms and factories, which are often populated with low-wage illegal immigrants.

Wal-Mart’s P.R. move suggests Wal-Mart may agree to a minimum-wage increase, Unz predicted.

“For over a half-century, they have been one of America’s greatest business success stories, and it has only been the failed government policies of the last couple of decades that have forced them into a race to the bottom on wages.”

“If the government provides them a level playing field on wages… tens of millions of American workers will be spending their much larger paychecks at Wal-Mart and all our other retailers,” he said.

“If Wal-Mart takes a leadership role in supporting a higher minimum wage and returning America to the prosperous, middle-class society we were in the 1950s and 1960s, our entire nation will owe them a huge debt of gratitude,” Unz added. “Besides, if you raise the wages to $10 or $12, suddenly Americans would be much more able to take that job, and the pressure to hire people illegally would diminish.”

Obama is likely to the keep the political pressure on all the way to November.

“I applaud Gap, Inc. for announcing that they intend to raise wages for their employees beginning this year — a decision that will benefit about 65,000 workers in the U.S.,” he said in a Feb. 19 statement.

Congress should pass a pending bill that would set the minimum wage at $10.10, and “lift wages for more than 16 million workers — all without requiring a single dollar in new taxes or spending,” Obama said.

“It’s time to… give America a raise,” said Obama, repeating the slogan intended for the fall elections.

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