President Barack Obama is pitching his economic proposals as a boon to younger voters, who Democrats are counting on to help avert electoral losses in November.
Obama is fighting against a tide. Polls show that the minorities, young people and women who helped propel Obama to two terms as president have been losing enthusiasm as congressional campaigns get under way.
That voter dissatisfaction means lower turnout for Democrats, who are at risk of losing their majority in the U.S. Senate in November’s elections. That would saddle Obama with both chambers of Congress in Republican control for his last two years in office.
Speaking to a crowd of mostly students yesterday at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, Obama made his appeal on economic grounds.
“Raising the minimum wage is not going to solve all of our economic challenges,” Obama said. “But here’s one thing we do believe: Nobody who works full-time should be raising their family in poverty.”
Pressing Congress to raise the federal wage to $10.10 an hour from $7.25 has become a centerpiece of Obama’s attempt to help Democratic candidates before the midterm elections.
Obama touched on a list of issues that form the core of his second-term economic agenda, including improving his signature health-care law, making college more affordable and making sure women receive equal pay for equal work.
He also went on the offensive against congressional Republicans, calling their recently introduced budget plan a “stinkburger” and saying they are recycling economic policies that would benefit only the wealthy.
“The Republicans’ refusal so far to raise the minimum wage is pretty consistent with their general world view, which says, basically, ‘You’re on your own, government doesn’t have a role to play in making sure that the marketplace is working for everybody,’” he said.
Representative Gary Peters, a Michigan Democrat who is seeking the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by the retirement of Carl Levin, also a Democrat, accompanied Obama to the university rally yesterday.
“Certainly it’s important for college students to be engaged, and the momentum from 2012 we hope carries forward to 2014,” he said in an interview before Obama’s speech.
A spokesman for the House Speaker John Boehner, an Ohio Republican, said that Obama’s prescription would damage the people he’s trying to help.
“The president’s plan would increase costs for consumers and eliminate jobs for those who need them the most,” the spokesman, Brendan Buck, said.
He cited findings of the independent Congressional Budget Office, which concluded that raising the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour would result in the loss of about 500,000 jobs. The agency also said it would lift about 900,000 low-wage workers out of poverty and boost the economy by raising consumption.
While there’s little chance a minimum wage bill will pass this year over the solid opposition of Republicans, Democrats are trying to use the issue to whip up the party’s base for the coming campaign.
The need to energize the Democratic voters has been a frequent theme for Obama and his advisers.
“It’s hard during mid-terms because Democrats have a tendency to get really excited during presidential years and then during the midterms, we go into hibernation,” Obama told donors at a fundraiser last night in Chicago for the Democratic National Committee. “That’s why you being here tonight is so important.”
He made those remarks just three weeks after Democratic candidate Alex Sink lost to Republican David Jolly in a special election in Florida’s 13th Congressional District, 48.4 percent to 46.6 percent. Obama won the Tampa Bay-area district in 2012. Although it had been in Republican hands for four decades, an influx of young people, Hispanics and blacks had fueled Democratic hopes of winning the district.
David Plouffe, a onetime White House senior adviser and strategist for both of Obama’s presidential campaigns, called the result “a screaming siren” warning the party that it needs to do more to motivate supporters in November.
Obama also has been trying to keep Hispanic voters from defecting or not voting. Obama’s approval rating among Hispanics has dropped 22 points since last May to 51 percent, according to Gallup polling last month. He won 71 percent of the Hispanic vote in 2012.
The president last month ordered the Homeland Security department to find ways to be more humane when it enforces immigration laws, a key issue with Hispanics.
Republicans are counting on opposition to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, the law known as Obamacare, to turn out their voters in November.
While 64 percent of Americans support keeping the Affordable Care Act intact or with small changes, a Bloomberg poll last month also showed that the opponents were the most motivated bloc, with 73 percent of the people favoring repeal saying they’d go out and vote.
Following his speech in Ann Arbor, Obama flew to Chicago to help the Democratic National Committee raise money. One session at the Chicago Cut Steakhouse will be with about 25 supporters contributing up to $32,400 and another, at a private residence, will have about 55 guest who contributed up to $10,000 apiece, according to the DNC.