Joe Biden Mocks Minimum-Wage Doomsday Talk

SOUTH BOSTON, MA - JUNE 22: Vice President Joe Biden talks with members of the public outside Sullivan's Castle Island while
SOUTH BOSTON, MA - JUNE 22: Vice President Joe Biden talks with members of the public outside Sullivan's Castle Island while campaigning with Rep. Ed Markey in South Boston on Saturday, June 22, 2013. Both Democratic candidate Ed Markey and Republican candidate Gabriel Gomez are keeping busy schedules in the final weekend before the special election for the U.S. Senate, with both campaigns trying to rally supporters and mobilize for a get-out-the-vote effort. (Photo by Colm O'Molloy for The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

WASHINGTON -- In a speech Tuesday commemorating the 75th anniversary of the Fair Labor Standards Act, Vice President Joe Biden mocked conservatives who've warned of dire economic consequences if Democrats manage to pass an increase to the minimum wage.

Flanked by a group of minimum-wage earners, Biden told a crowd at the White House that such doomsday talk is as old as the FLSA statute itself, which was enacted during the Great Depression in 1938 to establish minimum wage and overtime protections.

"Now, at the time, many said this would lead to job losses and it was downright un-American," Biden said of the initial minimum wage of 25 cents an hour. "Seriously. Listen to the rhetoric and see if it sounds familiar to you."

Biden then rattled off several instances of minimum-wage criticism spanning the decades, starting with Sen. Arthur Vandenberg, who in 1937 deemed such mandates the sign of a "centralized, authoritarian State with its tyranny of oppressive, government-blessed monopolies."

"Seven decades later, we're still hearing the same kind of arguments," Biden scoffed.

Biden went on to cite numerous doomsday predictions over the minimum wage, including ones from Sen. Barry Goldwater (R), who opposed the extension of it to certain workers in 1955 ("It means economic chaos for the very people they are trying to help"); soon-to-be-President Ronald Reagan (R), who knocked it on the campaign trail in 1980 ("the minimum wage has caused more misery and unemployment than anything since the Great Depression"); and Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas), who criticized the concept of a wage floor in 2007 ("We can have maximum opportunity or minimum wages").

"Every time we update the law, particularly the minimum wage, we're told it will be the death of the American economy," Biden said.

Pivoting off the Goldwater line, Biden then turned to the minimum-wage workers behind him.

"You all are going to be hurt by what we do," he said to laughter. "That's always the great argument."

The federal minimum wage is $7.25 per hour and hasn't been raised since 2009, after the last of a series of increases signed into law by President George W. Bush went into effect.

During his State of the Union speech earlier this year, President Barack Obama proposed raising the minimum wage to $9 per hour and pegging it to inflation. The proposal to boost the wage has wide backing from Democrats, including Sen. Tom Harkin (Iowa) and Rep. George Miller (Calif.), who've proposed legislation in Congress that would raise it even higher, to $10.10 per hour, while indexing it for inflation.

The minimum-wage increase faces long odds in the GOP-controlled House of Representatives, however. The very morning after the president's proposal, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) echoed the same kind of concerns that Biden took aim at Tuesday.

"When you raise the price of employment, guess what happens? You get less of it," Boehner told reporters in February. "At a time when Americans are still asking the question, ‘where are the jobs?’ why would we want to make it harder for small employers to hire people?"

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