Tom Cotton, Mitch McConnell Soften On Minimum Wage Hike Opposition

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Two red-state Republicans in tight Senate races are softening their resistance to raising the minimum wage, expressing openness to the idea in a certain context.

Rep. Tom Cotton, the Republican nominee from Arkansas, said Friday he will vote for a state ballot initiative to gradually raise the wage to $8.50 per hour by Jan. 1, 2017.

“I’m going to vote for that initiated act as a citizen,” he said on Alice Stewart’s radio show.

But he signaled opposition to Senate legislation to raise the minimum wage to $10.10 per hour by 2017, saying it would cost jobs and harm “the very people we’re trying to help — people who need entry-level jobs.”

“But as Arkansas’s next United States senator I’m going to make sure that we have a healthy economy, not the kind of minimum wage economy that Barack Obama and Mark Pryor have created. The minimum wage should be a floor and a stepping stone to higher wage jobs, not a ceiling,” he said.

Sen. Mark Pryor (D-AR) was an early supporter of the ballot initiative, endorsing the idea in December, 2013.

Cotton isn’t alone among Republicans softening on the minimum wage.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), who in April led a successful Republican filibuster of Democrats’ minimum wage hike, suggested this week he might be open to raising the wage in a “better economy.”

“This is the exact wrong thing to do when you’re having such slow growth. There are circumstances under which, when you have a better economy, that raising the minimum wage might make sense,” he told the local ABC affiliate WHAS.

A McConnell spokesperson didn’t respond to a query about the what specific economic conditions would spur the Republican leader to support a wage hike.

The pivots come as the primaries fade into the rear-view mirror, with just two months to go before the general election. Cotton and McConnell are both running close races, and polls show strong support for a minimum wage increase in Arkansas and Kentucky. Democrats have sought to make it a big issue in the 2014 elections — one that highlights the contrast between the two parties. Pryor and Kentucky Democratic nominee Alison Lundergan Grimes support a minimum wage hike.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Sahil Kapur is TPM's senior congressional reporter and Supreme Court correspondent. His articles have been published in the Huffington Post, The Guardian and The New Republic. Email him at sahil@talkingpointsmemo.com and follow him on Twitter at @sahilkapur.
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