ANN ARBOR (WWJ/AP) – President Barack Obama campaigned at the University of Michigan for raising the federal minimum wage, calling the proposal a “no-brainer.”
Flanked on every side by an adoring crowd of mostly students, the president struck a distinctly partisan tone on Wednesday as he made his case for gradually raising the national minimum wage from $7.25 an hour to $10.10 by 2016.
Addressing a crowd of about 1,400 in a stadium that included many students, Obama cracked jokes about his GOP foes as he touted his plan to raise federal wages to $10.10 per hour. Senate Democrats are planning votes on a bill, but Republicans are working to block it.
“You’ve got a choice. You can give America the shaft, or you can give it a raise,” Obama said.
The President said it’s time for history to repeat itself.
“It was here in Michigan a hundred years ago that Henry Ford announced that he was doubling his worker’s wages,” Obama said. “And, at the time, some of his fellow business leaders thought he had lost his mind — but Henry Ford understood it was gonna be good for business.”
“Not only did it boost productivity, not only did it reduce turnover, not only did it make employees more loyal to the company — but it meant that the workers could afford to buy the cars that they were building,” he said. “So, by paying the workers more, you were building your own market for your products.”
At Obama’s side for his three-hour visit to this Midwest battleground state was Rep. Gary Peters, the first Senate candidate to embrace the chance to appear with the president before voters this year. Some other Democrats have shied away from Obama amid controversy over his health care plan, but Peters opted to appear with Obama as the president echoed his State of the Union affirmation that no American working full-time should live in poverty.
“…There are always gonna be folks who do critical work, who bust their tails every day, who deserve an honest day’s pay for an honest day’s work,” Obama said. “Passing this bill would not just raise wages for minimum wage workers, it would help lift wages for nearly 28 million Americans, including nearly a million right here in Michigan.”
“It would lift millions of people out of poverty right away,” the president said. “It would help millions more work their way out of poverty right away.”
Michigan also has an effort to put a measure on the November ballot to increase the state minimum wage $7.40 to $10.10 an hour, an initiative that polling shows is popular among voters who have been hit hard by the economic downturn in recent years.
Nationally, Obama wants to increase the hourly minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10 as part of an election-year economic agenda focused on working families. The White House says that would benefit more than 970,000 workers in Michigan.
The Senate could vote on a bill to raise the minimum wage to $10.10 as early as next week. The Senate’s second-ranking Democrat, Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin, said Wednesday that if Republicans block Democrats’ efforts he would be open to negotiating a compromise.
On their way to the campus, Obama and Peters stopped at Zingerman’s Deli, an Ann Arbor landmark, where they ordered Reuben sandwiches and were served by a Michigan graduate who makes $9 an hour – a rate above the current federal minimum wage. “That’s worth celebrating,” Obama said.
Air Force One left the state at about 4 p.m.
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