ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Trying to put Obamacare’s problems behind him, President Obama renewed his election-year push for an increase in the minimum wage Wednesday and the White House urged fellow Democrats to latch on to the issue for their own political gain.
Speaking at the University of Michigan, the president again fiercely advocated for a rise in the nation’s minimum wage, trying to keep the issue front and center as the November midterm elections creep closer.
“In America, we don’t believe in opportunity for a few — we believe that everybody should have a chance at success,” Mr. Obama told a crowd of cheering college students. “Nobody who works full time should be raising their family in poverty.”
But many Republican lawmakers — and powerful allies in the business and retail sectors — oppose the move. Republicans specifically point to a nonpartisan study that found the wage increase would eliminate about 500,000 jobs nationwide.
While Mr. Obama was trying to turn his attention to jobs, Republicans responded with another coordinated attack on Obamacare, offering a preview of the political strategies each side will employ heading into the midterm elections.
An aide to Speaker John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican, said the nation can’t afford to lose jobs by raising the minimum wage.
“The president’s plan would increase costs for consumers and eliminate jobs for those who need them the most,” spokesman Brendan Buck said. “The House is going to continue focusing on our plan to protect’ workers hours and create jobs, not the president’s plan to destroy them.”
The House is considering a bill this week to strike the 30-hour work week rule in the Affordable Care Act, which the GOP said is cutting many workers’ hours by 25 percent. The Save American Workers Act passed a key vote Wednesday and is likely to be approved on Thursday.
The president’s visit to Michigan came a day after he hailed a reported 7.1 million enrollments in Obamacare, a program that was riddled with errors when it was rolled out and has worried many Democrats running for re-election. Inside a gymnasium at the university, the president said the number of people who have signed up for Obamacare is “enough to fill up the Big House [football stadium] 65 times.”
While Obamacare still may be a political liability for some Democrats this fall, the administration clearly believes pushing an increase in the minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10 will not only benefit poor Americans but also will pay dividends at the ballot box.
“There certainly is a good opportunity for Democratic candidates to talk about this on the stump because the value of raising the minimum wage aligns very cleanly with the vision that the president has articulated and that many Democrats agree with,” White House principal deputy press secretary Josh Earnest said.
The president said it was in Michigan that automotive pioneer Henry Ford announced he was doubling his workers’ wages, knowing it was good for business. He criticized congressional Republicans for opposing a wage increase, and when the crowd booed, the president replied, “Don’t boo — organize!”
“If we’re going to do right by our fellow Americans, we need Congress to get on board,” Mr. Obama said. “You would think this would be a no-brainer.”
Before speaking on the Michigan campus, Mr. Obama stopped at Zingerman’s deli in Ann Arbor, where he ordered lunch and spoke to employees who are earning more than the minimum wage. The president praised the owner of Zingerman’s, Paul Saginaw, who is a proponent of a higher minimum wage and has personally lobbied Congress on the issue.
Later on Wednesday, the president attended two Democratic party fundraisers in Chicago.