Raising the Minimum Wage for Working Men and Women in California and the Rest of America

Missing Ingredient on Minimum Wage: A Motivated G.O.P.

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WASHINGTON — Each of the three previous presidents — two Republicans, one Democrat — signed an increase in the federal minimum wage.

Why not President Obama?

Given Mr. Obama’s emphasis on income inequality, and the popularity of an increase in opinion polls, you would think he would. But the story of recent increases underscores the indispensable ingredient he so far lacks: a Republican leader strongly motivated to make a deal over the party’s philosophical objections.

In 1989, it was a new Republican in the White House. President George Bush, while campaigning to succeed Ronald Reagan, had promised “a kinder, gentler America.” The Democrats then controlling both houses of Congress set out to take him up on it.

In 1996, it was a new Republican Senate leader. Trent Lott took over after Bob Dole, then running for president against the incumbent Democrat, Bill Clinton, resigned his Senate seat.

Mr. Clinton, who had battled fiercely with the House speaker, Newt Gingrich, and Mr. Dole, emerged with the upper hand after a government shutdown. Mr. Lott sought to get the legislative wheels turning again to help Republicans preserve their Senate majority in that November’s elections.

“The thing that was completely balled up in the spokes was the minimum wage,” Mr. Lott, now a lobbyist, recalled in an interview. So he shepherded a two-stage rise to $5.15 an hour that included some tax breaks for businesses.

Mr. Lott got what he wanted. Two days after signing the minimum-wage increase, Mr. Clinton signed a separate compromise overhauling the welfare system. Republicans added two seats to their Senate majority in November.

• Category: National, Notable • Tags: John Harwood