With the infusion of tea party candidates into the GOP this year have come the reemergence of once-marginalized right-wing ideas, like repealing the federal minimum wage. GOP Senate nominees John Raese of West Virginia, Rand Paul of Kentucky, Linda McMahon of Connecticut, Joe Miller of Alaska, and Dino Rossi of Washington, along with Minnesota GOP gubernatorial nominee Tom Emmer, have all expressed support for lowering or eliminating the federal minimum wage. Miller even called the policy unconstitutional.
Appearing last night on Lawrence O’Donnell’s new show on MSNBC, Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele was asked about this growing movement among Republican candidates. Instead of denying that the GOP wants to eliminate the minimum wage, Steele dodged the question, giving his familiar excuse, “I don’t do policy.” He was also unable to name the current minimum wage:
O’DONNELL: So Michael, do you want to make a Republican Party commitment to minimum wage workers that you absolutely will not consider repealing or reducing the minimum wage?
STEELE: Nice try, Lawrence. I don’t do policy, I do political, so you need to talk to our legislative leadership and ask them what their position is going to be on the minimum wage.
O’DONNELL: So do you think it’s a good idea? Do you think it’s good politics to reduce the minimum wage?
STEELE: It doesn’t matter to me what I think. What matters is that the effort that we put on the ground to help our candidates win this November–they are taking their messages directly to the people, the people are responding, and they’ll get the final say on November 2 at the ballot box.
O’DONNELL: By the way, what is the minimum wage?
STEELE: [Laughing] You really like the minimum wage, don’t you? I want to talk about a lot more things beside one issue Lawrence.
Watch it (beginning 3:20):
In case Steele hasn’t looked it up by now, the federal minimum wage is $7.25. And while Steele doesn’t “do policy,” that’s never stopped him from weighing in on a host of other policy debates, from the Bush tax cuts, to efforts to help small businesses, to the war in Afghanistan.
Steele’s refusal to answer the minimum wage question suggests there may be division within his party on the issue, and thus he is hesitant to publicly come down either way. Of course, attacks on the minimum wage are nothing new for conservatives, and the idea of eliminating the policy has been recently pushed by Fox News, along with a book funded by the right-wing mega donors Charles and David Koch.
It should be noted that despite fear mongering on the right, when the minimum wage went up to its current level in 2009, the higher wage provided “a cushion to the economy when it is most needed,” by quickly boosting consumer spending by $4.9 billion, the Economic Policy Institute found.