Democrats have repeatedly said that they hope the minimum wage will be a big issue this election season.
Six months from the midterm elections, their wishes are coming true. House Republicans voted in March to block a bill that would have raised the minimum wage; some Republicans seem to be rethinking their position on this and other issues relevant to working-class Americans.
Former GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney was the latest to speak up, saying today that he thinks it’s time to raise the minimum wage. The last time he did that, on the campaign trail in 2012, he got in hot water with conservatives who called him out of step with the party, prompting him to reverse himself.
But now, Romney and a few other Republicans have started to push for their party to shift its stance on working-class issues.
“I think we ought to raise it,” Romney said on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.” “Because, frankly, our party is all about more jobs and better pay, and I think communicating that is important to us.”
Last week, on the same show, former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty said that Republicans need to change their position on the minimum wage. Minnesota has one of the lowest minimum wages in the nation, at $6.15 an hour; Pawlenty vetoed a bill that would have raised it when he was governor.
“Republicans should support a reasonable increase in the minimum wage,” Pawlenty said. “If you’re going to talk the talk about being for the middle class and the working person, if we have a minimum wage, it should be reasonably adjusted from time to time.”
Earlier this week, former GOP presidential candidate Rick Santorum agreed.
“But let’s not make this argument that we’re for the blue-collar guy, but we are against any minimum wage increase ever. It just makes no sense,” the former Pennsylvania senator said on “The Daily Rundown.”
Admittedly, none of the three Republicans who have spoken up on this topic have anything to lose at the moment by supporting a minimum wage increase. Only Santorum has even spoken about running again — in his case, for president, in 2016.
Still, their change in position could be significant. Republicans facing tough re-election campaigns may have to decide, sooner rather than later, whether to join Romney, Pawlenty and Santorum in their support of raising the minimum wage.
Proposals to increase the minimum wage have been introduced in several Republican-controlled state legislatures, including Wisconsin, Ohio and Pennsylvania. Although the bills are not likely gain traction, they could prove to be talking points as the governors of all three states run their re-election campaigns.
The Democratic opponents of Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett say they will make increasing the minimum wage a prime issue in the campaign. Corbett said earlier this year he doesn’t think Pennsylvania’s minimum wage should rise beyond its current rate of $7.25 an hour.
Former Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown, now running for a Senate seat in New Hampshire, said last week that raising the minimum wage would cause prices to rise, and that he opposed it. Democrats seized on the issue and criticized his position.
In swing states such as Ohio and Florida, Republicans may be sheltered from any criticism about raising the minimum wage because both states have tied the minimum wage to cost-of-living increases since 2006.
Still, Democrats may be able to point out that minimum wage increases have been passed by some legislatures in Democratic-controlled states. The minimum wage in California will rise to $9 from $8 an hour on July 1 of this year; Connecticut’s minimum wage rose to $8.70 on Jan. 1 and will go to $10.10 by 2017. Delaware, Maryland, Minnesota, New York and the District of Columbia will all see minimum wage increases in the next year.
Romney’s evolving position was first discussed in New Hampshire in January 2012, when he said that he thought the minimum wage should be tied to the Consumer Price Index so that it rises with inflation. That position, which none of his fellow GOP candidates supported, drew criticism from some conservatives, including Steve Forbes.
The Wall Street Journal also weighed in, writing: “A higher minimum wage always polls well, though it is rarely a major issue for voters. It’s worrying that Mr. Romney, who has based his candidacy on his ability to create jobs, would endorse a policy that would make it more expensive to hire people.”
A few months later, Romney backtracked on his comments, saying, “Right now there’s probably not a need to raise the minimum wage,” on the “Kudlow Report.”
In the interview today, Romney again ruled out a run for White House in 2016, after unsuccessful attempts in 2008 and 2012.
“I’m not running for president in 2016,” Romney said, suggesting there were a number of qualified prospects, including his former running mate, Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, Govs. Chris Christie of New Jersey and Scott Walker of Wisconsin, and U.S. Sen. Rob Portman.
While a few die-hards have advocated another Romney bid, the former Massachusetts governor has repeatedly made clear his uninterest, saying on CNN earlier this year, “I’ve had my turn.”
He was even more adamant in a January interview with The New York Times. “Oh, no, no, no. No, no, no, no, no. No, no, no,” Romney said.