HURON — An executive order boosting the minimum wage for federal workers to $10.10 an hour is a good first step and should now be expanded with legislation to benefit all low-income Americans, Sen. Tim Johnson, D-S.D., said Wednesday.
But Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., takes the opposite view, saying President Obama consistently detours around Congress to get his way and that raising the minimum wage hurts people on the lower end of the economic ladder because it’s a job-creation killer.
In separate conference calls with reporters, South Dakota’s senators weighed in on the president’s order.
“This is a president who has taken executive powers to a whole new level,” Thune said.
But Johnson said while he supports the increase for federal workers he thinks the federal minimum wage needs to be periodically adjusted for inflation for all workers.
He said he has heard from many families who are struggling to make ends meet. Thune said he hears from South Dakotans as well, oftentimes when they ask what can be done about reigning in Obama and his executive orders. Thune says it comes down to simple math. Right now, Republicans don’t have the votes.
“That’s what elections are all about,” he said.
Asked about the Republican argument that raising the minimum wage will stunt economic growth, Johnson said he has seen figures showing it will actually increase employment in South Dakota.
After a successful petition effort led by Democrats, South Dakota voters will decide in November whether to raise the state’s minimum wage to $8.50 an hour.
Thune thinks that’s the way it should be around the country rather than federal action.
“States ought to be able to discuss those matters in their individual states and come to their own conclusions about it,” he said.
A federal mandate is a one-size-fits-all approach that is not good, he said.
But he does expect a Senate vote at some point because Democrats view it as a political wedge issue going into an election cycle.
Thune said almost four million Americans have been unemployed for six months or more, and that making it more difficult and expensive to create jobs isn’t going to help those people.
On another fiscal issue – again sure to be a matter of political philosophical debate as Republicans and Democrats gear up their election year campaigns – the senators split on Wednesday’s floor vote to raise the debt ceiling so the government can borrow more money to pay bills through early 2015. The measure passed 55-43.
Johnson said he is happy with Senate and House passage of the bill.
“We have averted default and restored confidence to the markets and our nation’s economy,” he said. “I am relieved we will not see a repeat of past brinkmanship.”
Thune, on the other hand, voted against it, saying he would like to use the issue to address fixing the debt. But he doubts like-minded Republicans will get any cooperation from the president or Senate Democrats. The House action came Tuesday.
“I hate to see us raising the debt ceiling without doing anything to fix the debt,” Thune said.
Current debt translates to a $55,000 bill owed by every man, woman and child in the country. It is climbing half a trillion dollars annually.
“We’ve got to get our spending under control and we need to reform many of our spending programs to do that,” Thune said.
Johnson and Thune, meanwhile, have joined a couple dozen others in Congress in urging Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack to expedite implementation of programs now that the president has signed a reauthorized farm bill.
A top priority is livestock disaster assistance for West River ranchers who lost tens of thousands of animals in the October blizzard. Thune is hoping the process can be sped up so that indemnity payments can be in the mail by mid April.
Meanwhile, Thune said another delay in the employer mandate for the Affordable Care Act for certain businesses is an admission that the law is further hurting the economy.
So far, 3.3 million people have enrolled since the first of October, with 31 percent of them age 34 or younger, according to news reports on Wednesday.
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