Lawmakers Speak Out In Defense Of The Minimum Wage

Rep. George Miller (D-Cali.), who led the effort in Congress to raise the minimum wage in 2007, is taking issue with Republican candidates' recent statements that the federal policy should be rolled back and hasn't helped improve the economic position of the country.

"Well, it [their statements] sort of shows two things," Miller told The Huffington Post on Tuesday. "One, how clearly they're captive of the billionaire boys club, and two, how disconnected they are from working people in this country, who are trying to get [ahead for] for their families."

Alaska Senate candidate Joe Miller attracted national attention on Monday for saying that the federal minimum wage should be abolished. "That is not within the scope of the powers that are given to the federal government," he told ABC News. Late last week, Connecticut Senate candidate Linda McMahon was quoted as saying, in vague terms, that she'd be open to the idea of adjusting the federal minimum wage laws. West Virginia Senate candidate John Raese, who has long advocated that it be abolished, also said the federal law "hasn't worked".

Miller sponsored the Fair Minimum Wage Act of 2007, which raised the minimum wage from $5.15 an hour to $7.25 over a period of two years. It passed with strong bipartisan support in both the House and the Senate. In the latter chamber, just three senators voted against the legislation: Republicans Tom Coburn (Texas), Jon Kyl (Ariz.) and Jim DeMint (S.C.).

Miller criticized current House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) for refusing to take up the wage increase while he was chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee -- which Miller now heads -- saying people who aren't protected by higher state wage laws are working for far too little. He added that it should be raised again, because "people are still working at a federal minimum wage that's lower than it was in 1968."

"When a national debate is over giving tax cuts to millionaires and billionaires, and these people think that it's people working at the minimum wage that's holding people back, it's an outrage," he said.

According to the National Employment Law Project, the minimum wage, first instituted in the 1930s, would be above $10 today already if it had kept pace with inflation. A new Public Religion Research Institute poll found that 67 percent of respondents support raising the minimum wage to that level, including 51 percent of Republicans.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Cali.) also told The Huffington Post on Tuesday that the minimum wage needs to be raised. "When you talk about taking a run at the minimum wage, it seriously undermines any efforts that we want to have to address or redress our disparities," said Pelosi. "And it's a challenge to our sense of community that people could think it would be okay to start going backward. These were fights of 100 years ago."

Other Republicans don't seem to be willing to go as far as their fellow candidates. In a statement to HuffPost, Sen. Charles Grassley's (R-Iowa) spokesperson Jill Kozeny said that the senator "has supported increases to the federal minimum wage when those increases were coupled with regulatory and tax relief for small businesses in order to encourage employers not to cut jobs, reduce hours or scale back benefits as a result of the increased cost of operating a business."

As HuffPost's Sam Stein recently reported, Democratic strategists are "urging members to press both [Republican] incumbents and their general election challengers to formally state where they stand in the debate... In addition, there has been some talk about finding a legislative vehicle that would symbolically reaffirm the party's commitment to not letting the minimum wage dip below its current level of $7.25."