Biden pushes minimum wage hike


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DES MOINES — Visiting just a few days after Hillary Rodham Clinton, Vice President Joe Biden sharpened his rhetoric in the State Capitol on Wednesday, calling on both the U.S. Congress and Gov. Terry Branstad to raise the minimum wage.

“There used to be a consensus in the Congress,” Biden told a small crowd gathered outside the Statehouse. “[Democrats and Republicans] constantly increased the minimum wage.”

Biden’s talks of minimum wage fit the discussion of the event he helped kick off, the Nuns on the Bus tour — a 36-city trip to promote voter registration and a raise in employee wages. Union members and small business owners shared stories about why they believe Iowa’s $7.25 minimum wage is insufficient, also calling on both state and federal governments to enact a higher starting point.

The vice president’s discussion of raising the wage comes at a time when many candidates for federal office use the issue as a campaign platform — a foreshadowing that it may be a priority in the next legislative session and the next session of Congress.

Gov. Terry Branstad hasn’t ruled out the idea.

“The governor has signed legislation increasing the minimum wage in the past, but the governor ultimately reserves judgment on all legislation until its final form,” said Tommy Schultz, an official with Branstad’s re-election campaign.

Branstad’s Democratic opponent, Sen. Jack Hatch, D-Des Moines, has been exceptionally vocal about his goal to raise the state minimum wage to $10.10 an hour if he were elected.

In his speech at the Harkin Steak Fry on Sunday in the Indianola, Hatch said raising the minimum wage would be one of his first priorities as governor.

Danny Homan, the president of the AFSCME Iowa Council 61, was at Wednesday’s event, and he implied on the steps of the Capitol that it is un-American for leaders to allow the gap between the wealthiest and poorest nations to grow.

“Nobody can live on $7.25 an hour,” he said. “Nobody.”

He, too, called on both the U.S. Congress and Gov. Terry Branstad to make a minimum-wage hike a priority.

The U.S. Senate earlier this year failed to push forward a bill that Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, proposed, which would have raised the minimum wage to $10.10 by 2016.  Iowa Democrats introduced similar legislation in the Legislature as well. Both the national and state-level bills failed to pass.

The last federal increase was in 2009, and the last state increase was in 2008.

Laura Comito, an Iowa business owner who also spoke at the event, told the story of her daughter — a college graduate — who now works two part-time jobs at a gas station and as art teacher and can barely get by.

“It’s not enough,” she told The Daily Iowan, referencing her daughter’s $7.25 an hour wage.

And Biden agreed in his speech, saying it is “long past time” the wage be raised.

Biden praised the nuns for the work they’ve done on a variety of issues but he focused primarily on economic themes and how important it is for lawmakers to protect the middle class.

“This is about how you build America and America does better — everyone does better — when everyone is in on the deal,” he said.

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