–Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.), chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, interview on “The Rundown with Jose Diaz-Balart,” April 13, 2015
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) is the third Republican to throw his hat in the presidential race, casting himself as a young, next-generation leader with new ideas. Wasserman Schultz challenged that message, and questioned his record in an interview the day he was set to announce his candidacy. Her comments immediately were circulated on social media.
Appearing in her capacity as DNC chairwoman, Wasserman Schultz attacked Rubio’s economic policy stances as being trite and traditionally Republican. She said Rubio has called raising the minimum wage “silly,” suggested that fighting for paycheck fairness for women is a “waste of time,” and has proposed a tax plan that cuts taxes for the “wealthiest, most fortunate Americans.”
The Fact Checker obviously takes no position on Rubio’s policy ideas or whether he is, in fact, a tinsel-packaged prune. But since Rubio is now a presidential candidate, it is worth exploring what he did say about raising the minimum wage and equal pay, and what his tax plan entails.
Are Wasserman Schultz’s characterizations of Rubio’s stances accurate?
Raising the minimum wage
DNC staff sent us two instances where Rubio used the words “silly” and “waste of time” while talking about raising the minimum wage. But his answers in the context of the interviews are more nuanced than that. In both instances, Rubio discussed his opposition to the president’s executive order to raise the minimum wage to $10.10 for federal contractors; he disagreed with the notion that the proposal is the “cure-all” that will lift low-wage Americans out of poverty.
In a February 2014 PBS interview, Rubio was asked whether he believes raising the minimum wage is the “foundation” for bridging wage gaps, as suggested by a Democratic lawmaker in a previous PBS interview. Rubio disagreed, saying: “That’s certainly not the foundation of it. I understand that they (Democrats) may support that policy initiative (raising the minimum wage to $10.10). But to argue that raising the minimum wage is going to create upward mobility is, quite frankly, silly; $10.10 an hour isn’t the American dream.”
Rubio has called raising the minimum wage a “stale” idea, and questioned whether the minimum wage law works. Instead, he says he supports jobs that pay “$30, $40, $50 an hour,” and that “you cannot rebuild the American dream, you cannot reinvigorate a vibrant middle class on $10.10 an hour or $16 an hour, for that matter.”
Rubio tells the story of a single mother with two children, who works as a receptionist at a medical clinic. Raising the minimum wage to $10.10 would not help her, he says, as she earns just above the minimum wage. The only way she can increase her income is by becoming a technician or a medical assistant. That requires higher education, which is difficult for her to achieve as a working single mom, he says.
In his anti-poverty proposal, he proposes replacing the earned income tax credit with a federal wage enhancement program for low-wage jobs. He proposes coupling the program with education initiatives to allow alternative ways to give school credit that makes higher education more affordable and flexible than a typical college program.
In another interview provided by the DNC, Rubio was asked during a January 2015 forum whether he believes there should be a federal minimum wage at all, given his stance against raising it. He answered that he does not support repealing the minimum wage “as a practical matter,” but his “problem with raising the minimum wage is not that I want to deny someone $10.10. I’m worried about the people whose wage is going to go down to zero because you’ve now made them more expensive than a machine.”
Paycheck Fairness Act
As noted by DNC staff, Rubio was among the Senate Republicans who in 2014 voted against advancing the Paycheck Fairness Act. The legislation, among other things, proposed to allow employees to sue for wage discrimination, protect employees from retaliation for sharing wage information and require employers to prove that wage differences were not based on the employee’s gender.
Senate Republicans argued such legislation would result in frivolous litigation and blamed Democrats for pushing the bill to score political points. Senate Democrats said the bill would ensure women receive equal pay.
Wasserman Schultz said Rubio suggested that fighting for paycheck fairness was a “waste of time.” He did use those words in an April 2014 CNN interview prior to his no vote on the legislation. But again, the context is important.
Here’s what Rubio said: “The proposals before the Senate now are really geared toward making it easier to sue an employer. Again, I understand the political benefit of highlighting that, and why they’re [Democrats] doing it. But it isn’t going to solve the core of the problem, and I just think we’re wasting time. Meanwhile, an entire generation of women is caught in low-paying jobs with no way to emerge from that to a better-paying job.” (Rubio again told the story of the same medical clinic receptionist.)
More broadly, on whether women and men should have equal pay based on skill, Rubio said it is a “legitimate issue that we need to focus on in the country, primarily because we have too many women who are trapped in low-paying jobs for multiple different reasons.”
While women being trapped in low-paying jobs is not the same thing as attaining equal pay, Rubio did speak about equal pay later in the interview.
When the interviewer pointed out that women on Rubio’s staff are paid less than men on average, Rubio noted that there is a disproportionate number of women in his office who are legislative assistants. But there also is upward mobility because people can be promoted out of those jobs, he said. When it comes to two people working the same job in his office, people are paid “based on their skill and their ability, and not their race, their gender, or anything of that matter. And I think that’s going to be the way society develops as we move forward,” he said.
In March 2015, Rubio and Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) released the “Economic Growth and Family Fairness Tax Reform Plan,” which they billed as a pro-family and pro-growth proposal to overhaul the tax code.
Wasserman Schultz said Rubio’s plan increases taxes on the middle class, and proposes tax cuts for the “wealthiest, most fortunate Americans.”
Among other things, the plan would consolidate personal income tax into two brackets — 15 percent and 35 percent. That means the lowest tax bracket at the current lowest 10 percent would face a hike of 5 percentage points, while the top rate at 39.6 percent would receive a break of 4.6 percentage points. Wasserman Schultz and other Democrats have criticized the plan for proposing to raise taxes on middle-class taxpayers, saying those paying a top rate of 25, 28 or 33 percent will see their marginal rate rise. The plan also cuts taxes on business and investment income, and would reduce the corporate tax rate to 25 percent from the current 35 percent.
DNC staff noted that the Lee-Rubio tax plan would limit home mortgage deductions, and eliminate all itemized deductions except for ones for charitable contributions. While the plan suggests this move would simplify the tax filing process, the DNC noted that it would get rid of breaks that benefit the middle class.
It is too early to tell whether simplifying the tax brackets to 15 and 35 percent will hurt people who are currently taxed below the 35 percent rate. Plus, whether the plan is “just a replication of more of the same” will depend on an individual’s political view.
But it is important to note that Republicans have had mixed responses to the plan. Those who want to see tax cuts across the board are not too thrilled. And the token family-friendly provision in the plan — to expand child tax credits — has been criticized as a proposal that would add to the federal deficit.
The Pinocchio Test
It is clear Wasserman Schultz disagrees with Rubio’s economic policy stances, but that does not give her the license to take his quotes out of context. He has used words like “silly” and “waste of time,” but not in the egregious context that Wasserman Schultz describes. We account for some slip-ups or mischaracterizations politicians may make during live TV interviews like this one. We don’t intend to split hairs, but it is important to consider the strong impressions that her statements created.
By saying he called raising the minimum wage law “silly,” it sounds as though he opposes higher wages for Americans. By saying he called the Paycheck Fairness Act a “waste of time,” it sounds as though he opposes equal pay for women and men. We looked at the context in which Rubio described his opposition to raising the minimum wage and to the Paycheck Fairness Act, and found his answers were much more nuanced and comprehensive than how she characterized them. When it comes to his tax policy, Wasserman Schultz certainly is free to criticize and opine on whether it is “more of the same.” But it is important to note that there is not a Republican consensus backing the Lee-Rubio tax plan.
We wavered between Two and Three Pinocchios. But the DNC chairwoman bears the responsibility to speak accurately, so we leaned toward Three.
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