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On the Wire
Minimum Wage Policy of the Republican Party
By Steve Hoenisch
Last updated on July 29, 2004
Copyright 1996-2008 www.Criticism.Com
This essay appears in The Encyclopedia of the American Democratic and Republican Parties, published by the International Encyclopedia Society. The encyclopedia won the Choice Outstanding Academic Book Award in 1997.
1 Conservative-Moderate Fracture
2 Alternative Methods of Helping
4.1 Republican Party
4.2 Democratic Party
5 Bestselling Books on Republican Party
In 1968, the official platform of the Republican Party said it planned to take a "flexible approach to minimum wage laws." That statement has characterized much of the party's position since Congress passed the Fair Labor Standards Act in 1938, establishing a minimum wage. Since then, Congress has significantly revised and broadened its terms.
But even though minimum wage proposals have often drawn bipartisan support, members of the Republican Party have at times found themselves at odds on the issue. The most common fracture has been along conservative-moderate lines. Many conservatives favor a policy of letting the free market establish wages, and some maintain there should be no minimum wage at all. Senator Orrin Hatch, a conservative Republican from Utah and the senior Republican on the Committee on Labor and Human Resources, and Representative Steve Bartlett, a Texas Republican on the House Committee on Education and Labor, have fought against recent attempts to raise the minimum wage, arguing that a higher wage will increase unemployment and inflate prices, actually hurting the people that proponents say would be helped.
House Majority Leader Richard Armey, Republican of Texas, vowed to fight Democratic President Bill Clinton's proposed increase in the minimum wage with "every fiber" of his body. Moderate Republicans, on the other hand, have not been so adamant. Although some of them reject an increase in the minimum wage as unnecessary, others have tended to argue that workers in entry-level positions deserve pay adequate enough to live on and that raising the minimum wage does not necessarily increase unemployment or inflation. Additional debate among party members has focused not on so much on whether there should be a minimum wage, but what it should be.
Throughout his eight years in the White House, Conservative Republican President Ronald Reagan was content to keep the minimum wage the same, but that did not stop Republican George Bush, Reagan's vice president, from pledging to raise the wage during his 1988 campaign for president. The most controversial part of Bush's plan turned out to be the so-called training wage, a condition of his campaign pledge. The proposal drew opposition from Democrats.
Other Republicans have sought to address the minimum issue by proposing alternative methods of helping the working poor. For example, Representative Thomas Petri, a Republican from Wisconsin, has introduced legislation to expand the earned-income tax credit, the subsidy paid to low-income working parents. However, Petri's proposal, which pegs the tax credit to the number of children in a family, also drove a wedge into party unity. Ultra-conservative Republicans condemn it as social engineering.
Before becoming Bush's Republican vice president, Dan Quayle of Indiana, at the time senior Republican on the Senate's subcommittee on labor, supported an increase in the earned-income tax credit along with a gradual increase in the minimum wage.
"An honest day's pay?" The Economist, September 3, 1988.
Du Pont, Pete. "Pay hazard." National Review, May 1, 1995.
McClenahen, John S. "Take a hike; a rise in the minimum wage is unlikely in 1995." Industry Week, March 6, 1995.
Mencimer, Stephanie. "Take a hike: the minimum wage and welfare reform." The New Republic, May 23, 1994.
"Wages of politics." The Economist, March 18, 1989.
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