Obama urges Congress to increase minimum wage to $10.10 an hour

• Americans have suffered ‘stagnant wages for far too long’
• Republicans promote plan to get ‘government out of the way’

Barack Obama on Saturday used his weekly address to appeal for progress on raising the federal minimum wage. The president is seeking, against Congressional opposition, to raise the minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10 an hour.

Obama’s address came a day after new figures showed that the US added 175,000 jobs in February, a larger rise than had been expected, but also that the unemployment rate rose to 6.7%.

With the 2014 midterm elections in mind, Democrats and Republicans are targeting those who are not doing so well out of the general if slow national economic recovery.

Citing a number of large and small businesses he said had raised wage payments voluntarily and without “waiting for Congress to make up its mind” – including two giants, Gap and Costco – Obama said: “I agree with these business owners, which is why I issued an executive order requiring federal contractors to pay their employees a fair wage of at least $10.10 an hour.

“It’s good for our bottom line. And working Americans have struggled through stagnant wages for far too long.”

In the Republican response to Obama’s address, Senator Rob Portman of Ohio criticised the president’s proposed 2015 budget, saying it would tax and spend too much.

On Tuesday, a White House statement said the budget “invests in infrastructure, job training, and preschool; cuts taxes for working Americans while closing tax loopholes enjoyed by the wealthy and well-connected; and reduces the deficit”. Obama’s budget stands little chance of passing Congress.

Portman went on to promote the Republican seven-point Jobs for America plan, which he said “starts by getting government out of the way where we need to, whether it’s healthcare, regulations or taxation”. He also echoed recent Republican rhetoric when he emphasised his party’s concern for the less well-off.

“The wealthy are doing just fine in the Obama economy,” Portman said, adding that “fewer people working, smaller middle-class paychecks, bigger government, never-ending deficits and record debt piled on our kids and grandkids” had become the “new normal”.

Obama addressed the same theme, saying: “A clear majority of Americans support raising the minimum wage, because we believe that nobody who works full-time should have to live in poverty. About half of all Republicans support raising the minimum wage, too.

“ It’s just too bad they don’t serve in Congress. Because the Republicans who do serve in Congress don’t want to vote on the minimum wage at all. Some even want to get rid of it completely. Seriously.”

Obama recorded the address in Washington on Friday, before leaving for a weekend in Florida.


Martin Pengelly in New York

The GuardianTramp

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