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In his State of the Union address this week, President Barack Obama proposed an increase to the federal minimum wage, from the current $7.25 an hour to $9.
And lest anyone hasten to cast that as a partisan proposal, Obama claimed to have support on the idea from an unlikely source: former presidential rival Mitt Romney.
"Working folks shouldn't have to wait year after year for the minimum wage to go up, while CEO pay has never been higher. So here's an idea that Gov. Romney and I actually agreed on last year: Let's tie the minimum wage to the cost of living, so that it finally becomes a wage you can live on," Obama said.
We know from last year’s dogged fight for the White House that Obama and Romney agreed on very little. But what about the minimum wage? We decided to check it out.
Running for Senate
Romney first expressed support for the idea of an indexed wage increase back in 1994, when he ran for U.S. Senate in Massachusetts against Ted Kennedy.
(Indexing the minimum wage means pegging it to a common measure of inflation, such as the Consumer Price Index. The idea is that when prices overall go up, the minimum wage would go up, too. Obama used the term "the cost of living" to refer to inflation, but the concepts here are the same.)
Kennedy criticized Romney for opposing a 30-cent increase to the minimum wage, which was then $4.25 an hour. In defense, he said he favored increasing it even more by tying it to inflation.
"I think the minimum wage ought to keep pace with inflation. I think the minimum wage is a good thing to have in our economy and I think it ought to be updated. We've had some inflation since the time it was set at $4.25 in April 1991, so I think an inflationary increase is appropriate," he said at the time.
Inflation had risen about 11 percent over the previous three years, so Romney's plan would have boosted the minimum wage by about 45 cents.
As Massachusetts governor
In 2006, Romney vetoed a bill passed by the Massachusetts legislature to raise the state’s minimum wage to $8 an hour over two years. Again, he defended the decision by asserting that the wage should increase modestly and regularly and be indexed to inflation.
He sent the plan back to lawmakers with a proposal to hike the minimum wage from $6.75 to $7 an hour, and study further increases every two years.
His spokesman told the Boston Globe, "The governor is not opposed to a minimum-wage increase, but he thinks it should be in line with inflation, so that's what he has put on the table. This is logical and consistent with what the governor has supported in the past."
Running for president
At a New Hampshire campaign event in January 2012, Romney was asked about his stance on raising the minimum wage.
"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," he said.
The interviewer followed up, asking, "So you’d support that as president?"
"I already indicated that when I was governor of Massachusetts, and that’s my view," he responded.
He confirmed in February that his opinion had not changed, which drew quick criticism from conservative players such as Steve Forbes, the Wall Street Journal editorial page and the Club for Growth.
Romney’s positioned shifted a bit after that. In a March interview on CNBC he conceded that the timing wasn’t right to raise the minimum wage during an economic recovery:
"On a regular basis, I said in the proposal I made (as governor of Massachusetts), every two years, we should look at the minimum wage, we should see 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. So that would tell you that right now, there’s probably not a need to raise the minimum wage."
Obama said that tying the minimum wage to the cost of living is something he and Romney "actually agreed on."
As far back as 1994, Romney favored this approach. He reiterated it in 2006 while governor of Massachusetts, and again as the Republican nominee for president last year. Under criticism on the national stage, he did back away slightly from that position given the fragile economy in 2012.
None of this is to say that Romney would support Obama’s current proposal to boost the minimum wage to $9 an hour. But Obama was on firm ground claiming that at least for most of Romney’s political career, the former rivals were in agreement on indexing the wage. We rate Obama’s statement Mostly True.
Boston Globe, "Romney recasts his minimum-wage plan," Oct. 17, 1994, via Nexis
Boston Globe, "Romney rejects minimum wage," July 22, 2006, via Nexis
Youtube, "Gov. Mitt Romney: Raise Minimum Wage to Keep Up with Inflation," Jan. 7, 2012
New York Times, "Business and Political Experiences Pull Romney 2 Ways on Economy," Aug. 27, 2012
Associated Press, "Romney supports automatic hikes in minimum wage," Feb. 1, 2012
CNBC, "What Romney Really Believes About Minimum Wage," Feb. 13, 2013
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