NEW BRITAIN, Conn. — President Obama challenged Congress to raise the minimum wage in a rousing address to college students here Wednesday, saying that allowing low-paid workers to raise their families in poverty “violates a basic sense of who we are.”
“This is not a small thing. This is big deal,” Obama said, touting his proposal to raise the federal wage minimum from $7.25 an hour to $10.10 before a crowd of 3,000 at Central Connecticut State University.
“It makes a big difference in the lives of a lot of families,” the president continued.” So members of the Congress have a choice to make. It is a clear choice: Raise workers’ wages, grow our economy, or let wages stagnate further, give workers what amounts to another pay cut.”
A day after presenting his $3.9 trillion fiscal 2015 budget request to Congress, Obama traveled here to meet with four New England governors who support his wage hike push and to press his agenda to a far more receptive audience.
But Republicans, who oppose the plan, reacted with skepticism from Washington. GOP leaders have cited a Congressional Budget Office report that found the president’s proposal would cost 500,000 jobs even as it lifted 1 million out of poverty and increased the earnings of 16.5 million low-wage workers.
“We know beyond dispute that raising the minimum wage will destroy jobs for people who need them the most,” Brendan Buck, spokesman for House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio), said in a statement after Obama’s speech. “When folks are still struggling to find work in this economy, why would we make that any harder?”
In his visit, Obama sought to highlight the work four governors — Daniel Malloy (D-Conn.), Deval Patrick (D-Mass.), Peter Shumlin (D-Vt.) and Lincoln Chafee (I-R.I.)-- had done in trying to raise wages in their states. Obama noted that six states had hiked their minimum wages since he first called for a federal increase last year.
The president and Labor Secretary Tom Perez, who accompanied Obama on the trip, joined the governors for lunch at a local diner, Cafe Beauregard, which pays workers $10 an hour.
The diner’s owner “knows what it’s like to work all his life, and he understands that if people are working hard they shouldn’t be in poverty and that we should be able to do everything we can to make sure that happens,” said Obama, who was served a Korean spicy beef barbecue sandwich.
Obama ignored shouted questions from reporters about the situation in Ukraine and news reports about the CIA. spying on the Senate.
At the university, Obama struck a tone similar to his reelection campaign in 2012, saying his agenda was to ensure that as many Americans as possible “can make it if they try.” He touted efforts his administration has made to cap fees on student loans and urged the students to help enroll the uninsured in the administration’s health care plan, whose deadline is at the end of the month.
The event took on a campaign-style feel at times, with Obama, who was headed to two Democratic Party fundraisers in Boston after his speech, clearly feeling buoyed in a gym full of young people.
At one point, as Obama laid out the reasons why raising wages would be good for businesses, a woman shouted: “It’s common sense!”
The crowd roared in approval, and Obama echoed her: “It’s common sense. That’s what I’m talking about. It’s just common sense.”