WASHINGTON -- In a spirited exchange with some unemployed constituents and activists last week, GOP Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) defended the concept of a rock-bottom minimum wage, arguing that "when you're a good worker, you don't stay at minimum wage for long."
He added, "You can trust me on that."
Many of the constituents scoffed audibly at the remark, according to a video uploaded by The Uptake. (The exchange occurs at the 7:30 mark in the video above.) The citizen-journalism site says the meeting took place on Dec. 7 at Johnson's Washington office.
Johnson shared his own low-wage story, saying that his first job paid $1.45 an hour and that he once worked 96 hours in a single week while in college. Johnson eventually went on to have great financial success at the Wisconsin plastics company PACUR. He contributed a whopping $8 million of his own money to his successful 2010 effort to unseat Democratic Sen. Russ Feingold.
Despite the senator's own personal story of financial growth, many American workers do remain stuck at the minimum wage, sometimes for years on end, regardless of their job performance. The current federal minimum wage is set at $7.25, well below the living wage for many regions, and advocates of a higher minimum wage say it hasn't kept pace with inflation in recent decades.
In an email, Johnson spokesman Brian Faughnan wrote, "This is an edited presentation of one of the Senator's meetings, with commentary and spin from one of the participants. If Huffington Post regards that as 'news,' we won’t comment on it."
In the meeting, Johnson calmly explained his economic beliefs under some occasionally heated questioning. Many of the constituents were apparently there to pressure Johnson on the extension of federal unemployment insurance, which is set to expire at the end of the year if Congress doesn't take action. Even though many economists have warned of the dangers of not extending the support, Johnson has argued in the past that such benefits encourage workers to remain unemployed.
When discussing with constituents what ails our economy, Johnson partly blamed a high corporate tax rate and unnecessary regulations that are burdening businesses.
This story has been updated with comment from Johnson's office.