The Republican Approach to the Minimum Wage

President Obama wants a $10.10 minimum wage, but three Republicans who might run for president have other numbers in mind.
Screenshot: Freedom Partners

Senators Rand Paul, Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio oppose the president's plan to raise the minimum wage to $10.10 from the $7.25 it's at now. But should the federal government set a minimum wage at all?

The three—all possible Republican presidential candidates—were asked that question Sunday night at a private donor event for the Koch political network. The panel moderator, ABC's Jonathan Karl, framed it as needing a "simple yes or no answer." But as Rubio later joked, brevity is impossible with three senators on the stage.

Their answers—Rubio was the most direct, Cruz referenced his famous charts, and Paul got philosophical—serve as a preview of debating styles that will be on display if any or all of them seek the Republican nomination. All three had already blasted President Barack Obama and Democrats for fostering income inequality.

Here's what they said when it comes to government-set wages:

"I'm not for repealing the minimum wage," Rubio began. He said he'd rather people be making $30 an hour, wages he said could be achieved not through a law but through a growing economy that creates such jobs.

"My problem with raising the minimum wage is not that I want to deny someone $10.10," he said. "I'm worried about the people whose wages are going to go down to zero because you've made them more expensive than a machine."

Cruz picked up that theme. "I think it's important to look at who loses out," he said, mentioning charts (he loves charts) on this topic that he'd printed up for his Senate colleagues. One chart said $0.00 was the "real Obama minimum wage" because so many people would lose jobs under his plan. Another chart had the number $46.98, he said, which is the average hourly wage of an oil and gas worker in North Dakota.

Karl pressed Cruz on whether to have any minimum wage at all. He answered, "I think the minimum wage consistently hurts the most vulnerable."

Paul took the question even deeper into the philosophical realm. "What is our attitude towards work?" he asked. He said he has the opposite view of Michelle Obama, who he said recently stated that she wants her daughters to get minimum-wage jobs so that they can see how terrible it is.

One of his own sons works at a call center and the other delivers pizza, Paul said. Both make minimum wage. "I'm proud of them. I'm proud of them when they go, 'Dad, I've got money and I want to pay for it.'"

The line drew big applause but didn't answer the question—which Karl tried to call him on. So should there be any minimum wage? Paul said, "Minimum wage is only harmful when it's above the market wage."

As if to underline the fact that he was the only one answering Karl's question, Rubio piped back up. "As a practical matter, I'm not calling to repeal the minimum wage," he said. "It is what it is and that's a disruption we don't need."

Rubio closed out the topic with a money quote: "All this focus that the president has on the minimum wage as a cure-all for the problems being faced by working Americans is not only a waste of time, I think it shows how unserious he really is about dealing with the challenges of our time."

The donors—who spent some $400 million in 2012 trying to oust Obama—applauded.

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.