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Obama's minimum wage agenda lives a short life in Idaho Capitol

Obama's minimum wage agenda lives a short life in Idaho Capitol

Dustin Hurst
February 27, 2015
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February 27, 2015

A little more than 12 months ago, President Barack Obama stood before Congress and called for a higher minimum wage, which set the political narrative for the year.

Friday in the Idaho Capitol, Boise Democrat Mat Erpelding carried forward Obama’s call, asking state lawmakers to raise the minimum wage to help low-income workers.

That’s probably the last time anyone will see the idea in the Capitol in 2015, another setback for Obama’s agenda.

Erpelding, a two-term veteran of the House, told Senate State Affairs Committee members Friday the increase would help low-wage workers catch up on basic expenses.

“While I’m pro-business, I worry about our workers,” the lawmaker said.

The Boise Democrat’s plan wouldn’t go as far as Obama’s, but it would provide a significant pay hike for minimum wage workers. Through a two-year process, Erpelding’s proposal would mandate $9.25 an hour as the wage floor.

In his 2013 State of the State address to Congress, Obama called on Congress to raise the national minimum wage to $10.10 per hour.

Erpelding rejected more radical wage plans, like the one Seattle City Councilor Kshama Sawant, a self-avowed socialist, pushed through her government. That plan raises the bottom wage to $15 an hour through a multi-year phase-in process.

“I’m not here to advocate for what Seattle has done,” he said. “This is not a living wage.”

Instead, the Democrat explained, he wants to raise the lowest wage to pressure companies to hike pay across all salary levels.

Without discussion, lawmakers unanimously introduced the legislation.

Committee Chair Curt McKenzie, R-Nampa, said he granted Erpelding a hearing on the measure only as a courtesy. McKenzie intimated the plan would go no further.

“It is an issue there is interest in,” McKenzie said. “So, it’s at least something we can look at and consider.”

Data split on the effectiveness of the minimum wage in helping the impoverished.

Obama’s Department of Labor, for instance, is a huge advocate for the government-mandated wage controls.

“The reasons for raising the minimum wage may be a no brainer, but the issue at hand is one that this administration is dead serious about,” a department staffer wrote on a blog this week.

Incidentally, Erpelding’s bill comes just days after a slew of companies, including the nation’s largest retailer, Walmart, announced they would raise wages for workers without government force. According to Reuters, Walmart alone will spend $1 billion to raise pay for around 500,000 workers.

Workers in the TJ Maxx suite of companies will also see raises, a move announced just days after Walmart’s news. NBC suggested more retailers will join the fray, which amounts to a wage war.

The conservative Heritage Foundation spiked the football for market theory after Walmart’s announcement. “The government did not force Wal-Mart’s move, nor were the company’s owners acting out of generosity,” Heritage’s Mitchell Tu wrote. “Rather, the market forced them to raise wages in order to compete for workers, so they did.”

Even the liberals at Vox.com dipped their toes in free market economics.

“In this sense, the Walmart and TJ Maxx wage hikes tell us something important about the long-term future of the economy,” wrote Matt Yglesias, Vox’s economic guru. “Higher pay at rival companies will only encourage the employees of other retail firms to quit, increasing the pressure on others to raise pay.”

Interestingly enough, the Department of Labor’s blog post failed to mention the lack of government mandates involved in the Walmart-sparked wage war.

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