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Politics & Policy

Rubio and the Minimum Wage

Michael Tomasky says it would be easy for Hillary Clinton to beat Marco Rubio. I didn’t find Tomasky’s article persuasive. (“Rand Paul could have beaten Clinton in Colorado and Nevada, maybe even Ohio. Not Rubio.” Okay, but could we have something more than your word on this?) But I’ll leave for some other day the general subject of Rubio’s electability. In passing, Tomasky says that Rubio “opposes the existence of a federal minimum wage law, which would us all the way back to 1937, the last time this country had no federal minimum wage.” If true, that would be a knock on Rubio’s electability. But I don’t think it is true.

Tomasky’s link takes you to a 2013 post from the blog for Rachel Maddow’s MSNBC show. That link does indeed claim that Rubio opposes the existence of a minimum wage. It in turn links to a Huffington Post article by Dave Jamieson. Here’s the relevant portion.

After President Barack Obama suggested raising the minimum wage to $9 per hour in his State of the Union speech, rising Republican star Sen. Marco Rubio (Fla.) quickly joined other prominent GOP lawmakers in denouncing the proposal as bad policy.

“I want people to make a lot more than $9,” Rubio said Wednesday. “Nine dollars is not enough. The problem is that you can’t do that by mandating it in the minimum wage laws. Minimum wage laws have never worked in terms of helping the middle class attain more prosperity.”

“I don’t think a minimum wage law works,” he said flatly.

Rubio’s criticism went a good deal further than that of many other skeptics. He didn’t say it was merely a bad time to raise the minimum wage, given the sluggish economy — he suggested minimum wage laws themselves are inherently foolish.

Rubio spokesman Alex Conant clarified that the senator believes in the minimum wage as a baseline protection, but not as a means to upward mobility.

“Minimum wages are designed to protect workers, and he supports having them to do that,” Conant said. “But minimum wage laws have never been the reason we have a middle class in America.”

Rubio’s comment that minimum-wage laws “have never worked in terms of helping the middle class attain more prosperity” seems clear enough: The minimum wage might be good for putting a floor under workers, but doesn’t make the middle class prosperous. That doesn’t seem like an especially controversial statement. Why shouldn’t we take Rubio’s next sentence–”I don’t think a minimum wage law works”–to just be his putting more emphasis on that point? Because Jamieson says he said it “flatly”?

For the view that Rubio believes there should be a minimum wage, then, we have a reasonable reading of his own words–the most natural reading, even–and his spokesman’s say-so. For the view that he opposes the minimum wage, we have the Huffington Post’s characterization and its repetition by other liberal sources. My conclusion: You can agree with Rubio’s position or disagree with it, but his position appears to be that we should have a minimum wage but not increase it to $9 an hour and not look to increases in it as a route to a flourishing middle class.


Ramesh Ponnuru is a senior editor for National Review, a columnist for Bloomberg Opinion, a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, and a senior fellow at the National Review Institute.


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