Obama frames minimum wage fight in global terms

Posted at 12:23 AM, Mar 06, 2014
and last updated 2014-03-06 00:23:49-05

NEW BRITAIN, Connecticut (CNN) — In the midst of managing the nation’s response to the ongoing crisis in Ukraine, President Barack Obama enlisted the help of some fellow executives on Wednesday to continue his fight for an increase in the nation’s minimum wage.

To help make his case, Obama put his domestic fight in an international context, making a veiled reference to incidents abroad by characterizing the struggles of protesters around the globe as a search for American-style opportunity.

“There’s been a lot of news about foreign affairs around the world over the last several days, but also for the last couple years, and one of the things you see – a trend you see, it doesn’t matter if it’s in Central Europe or the Middle East or Africa, individuals want a chance to make it if they try,” Obama said, adding that kind of opportunity is precisely what makes the United States so special.

“But we’ve got some work to do to match up our ideals with the reality that’s happening on the ground right now.”

Appearing alongside four New England governors here at Central Connecticut State University, Obama praised their work to increase wages on a local level while decrying inaction in Congress for the failure to approve an increase nationwide.

“If we’re going to finish the job, Congress has to get on board,” the President said, contending that public opinion amongst both political parties is on his side. “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.”

All four states represented on stage by their elected leaders – Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Vermont and Connecticut – have wage floors higher than the level set by the federal government.

On a conference call Tuesday previewing the President’s event, outgoing head of the National Economic Council Gene Sperling said that increasing the nation’s minimum wage to $10.10 per hour would help between 24 million and 28 million people, depending on how you calculate it.

“For the President, this is about values; that work should mean you raise your family with dignity,” Sperling said. “It’s about doing something about reducing economic inequality. It’s about ensuring that we have real opportunity and a growing middle class. It’s about helping middle-class families get a little more security and making it a little easier for people to move up. And it’s just about economic common sense.”

Members of the Connecticut Congressional delegation also participated in Tuesday’s call and defended the President’s selection of their state to host his latest minimum wage sales pitch.

Arguing that Connecticut is “leading the way” when it comes to wages, Rep. Rosa DeLauro pointed to a recent increase in the state’s minimum wage from $8.25 to $8.70 per hour at the beginning of 2014, and an increase to $9 an hour scheduled for 2015.

“We in Connecticut should not be punished for doing the right thing when other states are in a race to the bottom by keeping a really artificially low — unconscionably low minimum wage,” said Rep. Elizabeth Etsy.

DeLauro acknowledged that passing a nationwide increase in the current Congress will likely be an uphill climb, but argued that doesn’t mean she and her colleagues shouldn’t keep fighting.

“To turn around and say that we’re not going to take it on because there is a political environment that is hostile in some instances to it, then what are we about? Where do our values lie?” DeLauro asked, pointing to public efforts by both Obama and Connecticut Gov. Dan Malloy as evidence of political momentum.

“You just don’t wring your hands and stand at the side of the road,” DeLauro said. “You stand your ground and you fight.”

After departing Connecticut, Obama heads to the Boston area for two fundraisers Wednesday night on behalf of the Democratic National Committee. The first will take place in Cambridge, where the President will participate in a roundtable discussion with approximately 25 donors. He’ll then head to the Artists for Humanity EpiCenter in Boston for a dinner with roughly 70 donors. Tickets for both events range from $5,000 to $20,000 per person.

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