President Barack Obama called on Congress to raise the minimum wage, in the first of a series of public appearances meant to rally support for the increase.
Obama made his appearance Wednesday in a college gymnasium in New Britain, Connecticut, along with four New England governors who have raised their own states' minimum wage above the federal minimum. The president dubbed them "the justice league of governors."
It was the first in a series of appearances aimed at rallying public support, and putting pressure on Congressional Republicans who oppose the increase. The president wants to raise the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour, from $7.25.
The last increase was in 2007.
In his speech Wednesday, Obama placed the responsibility squarely on his party's Republican opponents: "The problem is Republicans in Congress oppose raising the minimum wage. Now, I don't know if that's just because I proposed it. Maybe I should say I oppose raising the minimum wage. They'd be for it. That's possible," he said.
> Who's hiring now?
The president was joined by Governors Dan Molloy (D-Conn.), Deval L. Patrick (D-Mass.), Peter Shumlin (D-Vt.) and Lincoln Chafee (I-R.I.). All have worked to push through increases in the mandated minimum wages in their own states.
Connecticut's governor played a featured role in one of the most recent exchanges of harsh words that has marked this escalating political debate. After a White House meeting of the National Governors Association, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, a Republican, accused the president of "waving the white flag of surrender" on jobs and economic growth by seeking a minimum wage increase. Governor Molloy called Governor Jindal's comment "the most insane statement I've ever heard."
President Obama and the Democratic Party are working to push the issue to the forefront in time for the Congressional midterm elections later this year.
There already is considerable popular support for the increase. In the most recent poll on the issue by The Wall Street Journal and NBC News, released in December, 63 percent favored boosting the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour.
There are signs that opposition to the increase could spell trouble for a candidate this year. In a new poll by The Washington Post and ABC News, 50 percent of those polled said they are more likely to vote for a candidate who supports the minimum wage increase. That was the highest support for any issue mentioned in the poll, conducted in late February and the beginning of March.
The Democrats' argument got a boost from a report issued by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, which estimated that an increase in the minimum wage would lift about 900,000 Americans out of poverty.
That would also reduce federal spending on food stamps by about $4.6 billion, according to a new report from the liberal-leaning Center for American Progress.
Many full-time workers in low-paid jobs are now eligible for food stamps. The government's official "poverty threshold" is currently $19,530 for a family of three. A family with an income less than 130% of that figure is eligible to receive food stamp benefits.
Opponents of the increase argue that a higher minimum wage would kill job creation and hurt businesses just recovering from a devastating recession.
Before the speech, the president had lunch with the four governors at a restaurant whose owner pays his employees considerably above the current minimum wage.
> Top 10 Companies Hiring