Gingrich, Romney spar clash on minimum wage issue

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As Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich compete to win over Republican voters based on their promises to improve the economic outlook for ordinary Americans, the leading GOP contenders have recently staked out starkly different positions on the minimum wage. As new video reveals, Romney supports raising the minimum wage each year to keep pace with inflation, a policy which Florida adopted in 2004 when an overwhelming 71 percent of voters supported a ballot initiative establishing automatic annual increases in the state’s minimum wage. Gingrich opposes raising wages for the lowest-paid workers.

Breaking from conventional GOP opposition to minimum wage increases, former Governor Mitt Romney said on video at a recent campaign event that he favors raising the minimum wage automatically each year so that it keeps pace with inflation: “My view has been to allow the minimum wage to rise with the CPI [Consumer Price Index] or with another index so that it adjusts automatically over time.”  When asked if he would support that policy as president, he responded, “I already indicated that when I was governor of Massachusetts and that’s my view.”

When asked his position on the federal minimum wage when he last ran for president in 2007, Romney did not take a position.

At a subsequent campaign event, Gingrich clashed with Romney’s position on the issue. When asked if he shared Romney’s support for raising the minimum wage. Gingrich responded, “No, and I’m surprised that’s his position.”

Earlier this month, Florida and seven other states automatically raised their minimum wage rates to keep up with inflation, the policy supported by Romney. The increases that took place on January 1 in Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Montana, Ohio, Oregon, Washington, and Vermont raised wages for more than 1.4 million workers, including more than 380,000 workers in Florida. The increased consumer spending generated by the raises will lead to an additional $366 million in GDP and create the equivalent of more than 3,000 full-time jobs, according to an analysis by the Economic Policy Institute.

During the 2008 presidential campaign, President Obama endorsed raising the federal minimum wage to $9.50 by 2011 and then indexing it based on the Consumer Price Index.  The federal minimum is currently $7.25 per hour, or roughly $15,000 a year for a full-time worker.  If it had been indexed based on the Consumer Price Index since 1968, it would be approximately $10.40 today.

Recent polling found that two-thirds of Americans – majorities of Democrats, Independents and Republicans – support raising the minimum wage to $10 and then indexing it to inflation to keep up with the rising cost of living.

“Raising the minimum wage helps working families who are struggling to make ends meet and generates additional consumer spending that our economy desperately needs,” said Christine Owens of the National Employment Law Project Action Fund. “With labor compensation now at a 50-year low and more and more Americans relying on low-wages after losing better jobs, we must raise and index the minimum wage to help Main Street recover.”

Earlier this month, NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg also called for a raise in New York state’s minimum wage, backing an effort led by New York Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver. New Jersey Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver also recently announced that increasing New Jersey’s minimum wage will be a top legislative priority this year.

Romney’s support for indexing sharply contrasts with recent Republican-led efforts to weaken minimum wage laws in the past year in states such as New HampshireMaine, Ohio, Oregon, Missouri and Florida.  In Oregon, Missouri and Florida, legislators have taken direct aim at statutes that provide for annual indexing of the minimum wage.

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.