Obama, at Michigan campus, mocks GOP stands on health care and minimum wage

President Obama called the GOP’s latest budget plan a “stinkburger” in a speech here Wednesday, employing a series of zingers to draw a contrast with Republicans on the economy in an election year.

In a speech to an enthusiastic crowd of 1,400 at the University of Michigan, Obama repeatedly mocked Republican ideas about how to improve the economy and touted his own proposal to raise the minimum wage, and poked fun at GOP attempts to repeal his landmark health-care law.

Obama, who visited the local Zingerman’s deli for a reuben sandwich before the speech, said Republican proposals to cut taxes for wealthier Americans and scale back federal investment in education are so shopworn “it’s like that movie ‘Groundhog Day,’ except it’s not funny. If they tried to sell this sandwich at Zingerman’s, they’d have to call it the ‘stinkburger’ or the ‘meanwich.’ ”

The president’s appearance here in eastern Michigan was his latest bid to pressure Republicans to support his proposal to raise the minimum wage from $7.25 an hour to $10.10, which he promoted in January in his State of the Union address. Republicans oppose the plan, citing federal estimates that it could eliminate up to 500,000 jobs even as it raised wages for many more workers.

Obama appeared energized as he left Washington a day after receiving better-than-expected news on sign-ups at health-
insurance exchanges, which topped the White House goal of
7 million. Democrats fear that public opposition to the health-care law and the president’s low job-approval ratings could help Republicans win control of the Senate and make further gains in the GOP-controlled House in midterm elections this fall.

Rep. Gary Peters (D-Mich.), who is running for the Senate, traveled with Obama to Ann Arbor aboard Air Force One and embraced the president’s agenda.

Asked whether he worries that Obama will be a drag on Democrats in competitive races, Peters, who joined Obama at the deli, said he will “work with the president on issues that are important to Michigan. In my race, I’m on the ballot with a track record as a progressive advocate. That’s what matters.”

The fall elections also loomed over Obama as he made a stop Wednesday night in Chicago, where he attended two fundraisers for the Democratic Party.

In his remarks at the university, Obama went on the offense on health care, mocking Republicans for having “one original idea, which is to repeal Obamacare” — a line that drew laughs from the crowd.

In the state that is the home base of the U.S. auto industry, the president cited the example of Henry Ford, who Obama said gave workers raises so they could “afford to buy the cars they were building.”

Obama said the GOP will have to make clear whether it supports paying the lowest-earning workers more money: “You’ve got a choice: You can give America the shaft, or you can give it a raise.”

On Capitol Hill, Senate Democrats began rallying public support for their minimum-wage bill. But Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), who has been a critical broker of other bipartisan compromises passed by the Senate in recent months, said she’s exploring a deal that would raise the federal minimum wage to a lower level than Democrats want.

Based on conversations with senators of both parties, Collins said, the Democratic proposal to raise the minimum hourly wage to $10.10 “is not going to get through the Senate, much less the House.” But she declined to specify a new wage proposal, saying only that the Democratic proposal is too high, “particularly given the still-fragile economy.”

Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.) said Democrats plan to bring their proposal up for a vote as early as next week “and do our best to get enough Republicans to pass it.”

“If it doesn’t pass — at that stage, procedurally or otherwise — we need to be open for conversation,” Durbin said. “But first, we want to make our stand for what we believe to be a fair minimum wage for all Americans.”

O’Keefe reported from Washington.

Ed O’Keefe is a congressional reporter with The Washington Post and covered the 2008 and 2012 presidential and congressional elections.
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