With most tea party leaders in Congress and elsewhere opposed to a wage hike and intensely focused on dismantling President Obama’s health-care law and his second-term agenda, the prospects for raising the minimum wage this year remain slim.
The growing party division, pitting GOP officials fearful of losing the support of workers against staunch conservatives who believe an increase would harm the economy, reflects Republican nervousness about the depth of their support ahead of the midterm elections, even though polls show them poised to retain their House majority and potentially take control of the Senate.
It also comes as Obama and his fellow Democrats are placing a heavy emphasis on income inequality with a number of votes on Capitol Hill and a series of populist speeches by the president — all part of an effort to energize the Democratic base and pressure Republicans to act.
The latest GOP fissure came Friday and involved the party’s 2012 presidential nominee, Mitt Romney, whose campaign was savaged by Democrats after he said that 47 percent of Americans are too dependent on government.
Appearing on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” Romney said he parts company “with many of the conservatives in my party on the issue of the minimum wage” and thinks “we ought to raise it.”
Romney, who has previously said that the federal minimum wage should be indexed to inflation, joined a group of prominent Republicans who have urged the party’s congressional wing to consider lifting it.
The list includes former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty, who briefly ran for president in 2012, and former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum, another former 2012 contender who last month published a book lamenting the GOP’s reputation as “the party of Scrooge.”
“The issue has not yet risen to the level of attention it deserves, both inside and outside the party,” Pawlenty said in an interview. “Republicans may benefit from near-term tail winds this fall, but the demographic reality is that diverse voters have a diminishing view of Republicans and that needs to be addressed.”
Speaking Monday on MSNBC’s “The Daily Rundown,” Santorum voiced similar views. “Let’s not make this argument that we’re for the blue-collar guy but we’re against any minimum-wage increase ever,” he said. “It just makes no sense.”