WASHINGTON -- After President Barack Obama suggested raising the minimum wage to $9 per hour in his State of the Union speech, rising Republican star Sen. Marco Rubio (Fla.) quickly joined other prominent GOP lawmakers in denouncing the proposal as bad policy.
"I want people to make a lot more than $9," Rubio said Wednesday. "Nine dollars is not enough. The problem is that you can't do that by mandating it in the minimum wage laws. Minimum wage laws have never worked in terms of helping the middle class attain more prosperity."
"I don't think a minimum wage law works," he said flatly.
Rubio's criticism went a good deal further than that of many other skeptics. He didn't say it was merely a bad time to raise the minimum wage, given the sluggish economy -- he suggested minimum wage laws themselves are inherently foolish.
Rubio spokesman Alex Conant clarified that the senator believes in the minimum wage as a baseline protection, but not as a means to upward mobility.
"Minimum wages are designed to protect workers, and he supports having them to do that," Conant said. "But minimum wage laws have never been the reason we have a middle class in America."
Indeed, years ago, Rubio seems to have recognized the importance of such laws in protecting the working poor. According to Florida press reports from 2003, when Rubio was a state lawmaker, he supported a proposal that would ramp up penalties on agricultural growers whose laborers weren't paid the legal minimum wage.
As the Bradenton Herald reported in 2003, the "anti-slavery" bill would have declared that growers were responsible for the payment of migrant workers, even if the workers were technically employed by middlemen. The measure would have called for the payment of double the minimum wage in cases where farm workers hadn't been paid the legal minimum, according to the paper.
Florida records of the failed bill, HB 1327, list Rubio as a co-sponsor. While it was championed by advocates for low-wage workers, the measure was opposed by the Florida Farm Bureau and the Florida Association of Fruit and Vegetable Growers.
According to reports in the Palm Beach Post, Rubio was a "crucial ally" to Rep. Frank Peterman (D-St. Petersburg) in supporting the bill. "My heart goes out to the workers in this industry," Rubio said at the time. "Like a lot of my constituents, they come over to this country and work hard and try to get ahead and they should be treated fairly."
But, given the roadblocks the measure soon hit, the Post also reported that backers of the bill were "puzzled that [Rubio] can't exert more influence" among his Republican colleagues to move the bill forward.
Rubio explained to the paper that he couldn't persuade the then-chair of the agriculture committee, Republican Rep. Marty Bowen (Haines City), to get on board.
"It was obvious to me that she had problems with that bill," Rubio said.
The proposal ultimately died.
Of course, ramping up penalties on unscrupulous employers who don't pay the legal minimum is different from raising the minimum wage itself. But, unlike the Rubio criticizing Obama's proposal this week, the Rubio of 2003 seemed to believe that workers need some kind of protection from an unfettered free market, and that workers on the lowest rung of the economic ladder are the most likely to be swindled or otherwise abused.
This post has been updated with comments from Rubio's office.
Earlier on HuffPost:
Addressing The Republican National Convention
Florida Senator Marco Rubio addresses the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., on Thursday, Aug. 30, 2012. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
At The Republican National Convention
Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., is surrounded by reporters during a tour of the convention floor at the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., on Wednesday, Aug. 29, 2012. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
Playful On A Romney Bus Tour
IN FLIGHT, FL - AUGUST 13: U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) pretends to throw an orange as Republican presidential candidate and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney looks on aboard his campaign plane on August 13, 2012 en route to Miami, Florida. Mitt Romney continues his multi state bus tour after announcing Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) as his running mate. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
At The Elton John AIDS Foundation and UNAIDS Breakfast
WASHINGTON, DC - JULY 24: (L-R) U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL), UNAIDS Executive Director Michel Sidibe, and Sir Elton John meet after The Elton John AIDS Foundation and UNAIDS breakfast at the Russell Senate Office Building on July 24, 2012 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Michael Kovac/Getty Images for The Elton John AIDS Foundation)
Campaigning For Mitt Romney
Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., signs a Romney sign for a supporter at a rally for presidential candidate Mitt Romney at C.C. Ronnow Elementary School in Las Vegas Saturday, July 28, 2012. (AP Photo/Las Vegas Review-Journal, John Locher) LOCAL TV OUT; LOCAL INTERNET OUT; LAS VEGAS SUN OUT
With Mel Martinez At NALEO Conference
Former Sen. Mel Martinez, left, R-Fla., greets Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., after he introduced him at the NALEO (National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials) conference, Friday, June 22, 2012, in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. (AP Photo/John Raoux)
At The XIX International AIDS Conference
Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif., accompanied by Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., speaks during a session entitled: 'The U.S. Congress and the Global AIDS Epidemic" Wednesday, July 25, 2012, at the XIX International AIDS Conference in Washington. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
At the Council on Foreign Relations
US Senator Marco Rubio, R-FL, speaks at the Council on Foreign Relations May 31, 2012 in New York. AFP PHOTO/Stan HONDA (Photo credit should read STAN HONDA/AFP/GettyImages)
Addressing the Latino Coalition's Small Business Summit Luncheon
WASHINGTON, DC - MAY 23: Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) speaks to the Latino Coalition's annual economic summitt on May 23, 2012 in Washington, DC. Rubio spoke after Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney addressed the same group. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
Unveiling the bipartisan Startup Act 2.0
WASHINGTON, DC - MAY 22: Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) (C) speaks during news conference with America Online co-founder and member of the President's Council on Jobs & Competitiveness Steve Case (L) and Sen. Jerry Moran (R-KS) at the U.S. Capitol May 22, 2012 in Washington, DC. Cas and the senators held a press conference to unveil the bipartisan Startup Act 2.0. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
Questioned by Marvin Kalb
WASHINGTON - APRIL 25: Brookings guest scholar Marvin Kalb (L) questions Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) after an address on American foreign policy at the Brookings Institution on April 25, 2012 in Washington, DC. Rubio is widely considered to be a possible running mate for Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney. (Photo by Brendan Hoffman/Getty Images)
Campaigning with Mitt Romney
ASTON, PA - APRIL 23: Republican presidential candidate and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney (R) arrives before a town hall during a campaign stop with Florida Sen. Marco Rubio (L) at Mustang Expediting April 23, 2012 in Aston, Pennsylvania. Romney continues his campaign as the presumptive GOP candidate the day before the Pennsylvania primary. (Photo by Jessica Kourkounis/Getty Images)
Activists Protest Rubio's Support Of "Stand Your Ground" Law
MIAMI, FL - APRIL 09: Caterina De Quesada and other supporters of Trayvon Martin gather for a rally in front of Florida Senator Marco Rubio's (R-FL) office to ask him to retract his support for Florida's so called 'Stand Your Ground' gun law following the Trayvon Martin killing on April 9, 2012 in Miami, Florida. Martin was killed by George Michael Zimmerman on February 26th while Zimmerman was on neighborhood watch patrol in the gated community of The Retreat at Twin Lakes, Florida. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
Protesting Rubio's policies on immigration
Felipe Matos(C), a college student from Miami, Florida along with other protesters denounces Republican Senator Marco Rubio, a possible vice presidential candidate running with Mitt Romney, outside the US Capitol building in Washington, DC on March 1, 2012, for Rubio's policies that they say are too tough on immigrants. As Republican presidential frontrunner Mitt Romney secured his lead this week with primary wins in Michigan and Arizona, Rubio is emerging as his most likely vice presidential candidate. Rubio, (R-FL) supports laws that would crack down on illegal immigration. AFP PHOTO/TOM RAMSTACK (Photo credit should read Tom Ramstack/AFP/Getty Images)
Senate GOP And Democrats Discuss Supreme Court Oral Arguments On Affordable Care Act
WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 27: Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) (L) and Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi participate in a news conference about the Supreme Court's second day of hearings on the constitutionality of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act March 27, 2012 in Washington, DC. Bondi and 25 other attorneys general brought the case before the Supreme Court. Both Republicans and Democrats paid close attention to the questions and statements by Justice Anthony Kennedy during the court proceedings. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
On the Senate Foreign Relations Committee
WASHINGTON, DC - FEBRUARY 28: Senate Foreign Relations Committee members Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Sen. James Risch (R-ID) talk while U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton testifies before the committee about the department's FY2013 international affairs budget February 28, 2012 in Washington, DC. Clinton faced questions ranging from the cost of embassies in Iraq and the Middle East to the START Treaty with Russia. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
At CPAC 2012
WASHINGTON, DC - FEBRUARY 09: Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) delivers a speech titled, 'Is America Still an Exceptional Nation?' during the annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) February 9, 2012 in Washington, DC. Thousands of conservative activists are expected to attend the annual gathering in the nation's capital. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
Being greeted at the 2012 Latino Coalition annual economic summit
Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla. is greeted at the Latino Coalition annual economic summit, Wednesday, May 23, 2012, at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
With David Rivera, Republican candidate for Congress
FILE - In this Republican U.S. Senate candidate Marco Rubio, left, talks to reporters as David Rivera, Republican candidate for Congress, right, looks on in Miami. Rubio's relationship with fellow freshman lawmaker Rivera, now facing a federal probe into tax evasion, and a credit card controversy surfaced during his 2010 Senate campaign and didn't have much effect. But that doesn't mean the country as a whole would overlook such eyebrow-raising issues, if Rubio were to show interest in the No. 2 slot on the presidential ticket this year. (AP Photo/Alan Diaz, File)
Ceremonial Swearing-In Held For New Congress Members
WASHINGTON - JANUARY 5: Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) waits with his mother-in-law Maria Elena Fleites (L), son Anthony (2L), daughter Amanda (2R) and son Domonick (R) for the Senate Subway after a ceremonial swearing-in in the Old Senate Chamber of Capitol Hill January 5, 2011 in Washington, DC. Returning Senators and freshman were sworn in today as the 112th Congress began its session after the 2010 midterm elections. (Photo by Brendan Smialowski/Getty Images)
At news conference with Senators Lieberman and McCain on Syria
WASHINGTON - MAY 11: U.S. U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) (L) listens to Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) (R) speak during a news conference about the crisis in Syria May 11, 2011 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. Lieberman and Rubio will introduce a resolution to calling on the U.S. government to have a tougher stance in the crisis in Syria. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
Republican Senators Introduce FY2012 Budget Proposal
WASHINGTON, DC - MAY 10: Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) (2nd L) answers reporters' questions during a news conference to introduce a balanced budget proposal with (L-R) Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT), Sen. Jim DeMint (R_SC), Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI), and nd Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA) at the U.S. Capitol May 10, 2011 in Washington, DC. Toomey said the proposal will balance the federal budget by 2020. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)