House Speaker John Boehner dismissed President Barack Obama’s call to raise the federal minimum wage while congressional Republicans panned other proposals in the State of the Union address.
“When you raise the price of employment, guess what happens? You get less of it,” the Ohio Republican told reporters at a news conference Wednesday in Washington. “Why do we want to make it harder for small employers to hire people?”
In his speech last night to a joint session of Congress, Obama proposed raising the hourly federal minimum wage to $9 from $7.25 by the end of 2015. That would return the wage to its highest inflation-adjusted value since 1981, under President Ronald Reagan, according to a White House fact sheet.
The president also urged Congress to pass immigration legislation and stricter gun-control measures, proposed making preschool available to all 4-year-olds, and asked for $50 billion in infrastructure spending.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell today called Obama’s speech a “liberal boilerplate that any Democratic lawmaker could have given at any time in recent memory.” The audience “got more of the same” from the president, McConnell said in a Senate floor speech.
“He advocated tax reform, but mostly as a way to increase the size of government, not as a way to increase our competitiveness,” said McConnell, a Kentucky Republican. “He spoke of workers’ minimum wages, instead of their maximum potential.”
The last federal minimum-wage increase was in 2009, the first year of Obama’s presidency, though it came out of a 2007 law signed by President George W. Bush. A new increase would affect an estimated 15 million people. Obama also suggested making the minimum wage rise with the cost of living.
Boehner signaled an increase had little prospect of passing the Republican-controlled House.
“Our goal is to get people on the ladder and climb that ladder so that they can live the American Dream,” the speaker told reporters.
“A lot of people who are being paid the minimum wage are being paid that because they come to the workforce with no skills and this makes it harder for them to acquire the skills they need in order to climb that ladder successfully,” Boehner said.
Still, Representative Paul Ryan, a Wisconsin Republican, said on CNN that Obama’s statements on immigration were “pretty productive.”
The president said he wanted strong border security and “a responsible pathway to earned citizenship,” including paying taxes and a “meaningful penalty” and getting in line behind others seeking to enter the country legally.
“He used measured words that were productive with respect to immigration,” said Ryan, his party’s vice-presidential nominee in 2012. “I think that’s an area where we have a good chance of getting something done.”
Obama said he would encourage new manufacturing jobs and act to reduce pollution. He didn’t say what his proposals would cost, saying only that they wouldn’t add “a single dime” to the deficit.
“He mentioned a number of new items on spending; I didn’t hear how we are going to pay for them,” said Senator Kelly Ayotte, a New Hampshire Republican. “How do we pay for them when we are already facing a very challenging fiscal situation right now?”
Representative Randy Neugebauer, a Texas Republican, said the address “is the same speech that the president has been giving over the last 4 1/2 years,” calling for “more taxes, more spending, more government.”
“The president continues to subscribe to a very liberal and progressive agenda” that isn’t “going to fare very well” in Congress, Neugebauer said.
Representative Sander Levin, a Michigan Democrat, dismissed Republican complaints that Obama wasn’t specific about how to curb entitlement programs such as Medicare or avert $1.2 trillion in across-the-board spending cuts, known as a sequester, set to begin March 1.
“Tonight wasn’t the night for all the specifics,” Levin said in an interview. “It was a ‘let’s-do-it’ speech.”
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