It looks like Democrats may be planning to make an increase in the federal minimum wage an issue during this election season. It’s been three years since the last increase, which set the minimum wage at $7.25. During that intervening time seven percent of its purchasing power has been lost; a family of four relying on a minimum wage income in 2012 is now $7000 below the poverty line. An increase is also popular. A Zogby poll taken in June found that seven out of ten likely voters would support legislation to raise the minimum wage to $10 an hour.
Mitt Romney would really rather that we not talk about the minimum wage, and for all the familiar reasons. His record on the issue while he was our Governor raises red flags for Rush Limbaugh and the Club for Growth that he’s some kind of moderate. His record afterwards shows him in the familiar position of cutting some corners on the truth.
But heck, it was exactly six years ago that Romney made his record on the minimum wage, so let’s talk about it.
Here’s what he said about his record in a March interview with Larry Kudlow on CNBC. He had just gotten taken to the woodshed by the Wall Street Journal for suggesting that the minimum wage be tied to inflation:
Kudlow: A lot of conservatives, led by the Wall Street Journal editorial page, were horrified when you said you want to index the minimum wage for inflation. And they said, “Look, that’s just going to raise the minimum wage. That’s going to raise the unemployment rate, especially for young people, especially for minorities. It’s sort of a little bit of unfinished business.” Why do you want to raise the minimum wage? Why do you want to index it for inflation?
Romney: Well, actually, when I was governor the legislature passed a law raising the minimum wage. I vetoed it.
Romney: And I said, “Look, the way to deal with the minimum wage is this. On a regular basis,” I said in the proposal I made, “every two years we should look at the minimum wage, we should look at what’s happened to inflation. We should also look at the jobs level throughout the country, unemployment rate, competitive rates in other states or, in this case, other nations.” So, certainly, the level of inflation is something you should look at and you should identify what’s the right way to keep America competitive.
In his effort to please the base, Romney neglected to mention that, while he did veto the bill that the Legislature sent him, raising the minimum wage from $6.75 to $7.50 in 2007 and to $8.00 in 2008, that veto came only after his unsuccessful attempt to persuade the Legislature to agree to a smaller increase, to $7.00. Omitting that part in the Kudlow interview created the erroneous but appeasing impression that, as Governor, he had opposed any increase. On the other hand, he did accurately describe his proposal to “look” at the minimum wage every couple years. Contrary to Kudlow’s comment, Romney never suggested indexing the minimum wage to inflation. He merely said he would take inflation into account, along with enough other undefined factors that it would be a very rare occasion indeed that he would have to conclude that a minimum wage increase was necessary. Only today’s Republican party would equate that with “indexing.” No wonder he hopes the subject never comes up.
One other thing — this one for those of us who support a minimum wage increase. Romney defended his 25 cent increase on the ground that it was consistent with “the current rate of inflation.” This of course misses the point of a minimum wage increase, which is to restore the buying power that was lost since the time of the last increase, in this case five years earlier. A quarter per hour would definitely not have done the trick.
That’s Mitt. Offering the working class a specious argument in support of a lousy deal and then lying to his rich friends about the whole thing.
PS: Of course, Romney’s veto was overridden by the Massachusetts Legislature. Scott Brown voted for the override. There wasn’t a legislator who didn’t.