Tom Cotton, Mitch McConnell Soften On Minimum Wage Hike Opposition

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.

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