WASHINGTON -- Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), the ranking Republican on the Senate's labor committee, said in a hearing Tuesday that he would prefer to see the minimum wage abolished.
Alexander's declaration came amid a back-and-forth between a witness from the conservative Heritage Foundation and Sens. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.). The trio had been debating what kind of impact a higher minimum wage would have on a theoretical worker, and it seemed Sanders wanted to know whether the witness opposed raising the minimum wage or having a minimum wage at all. (The discussion can be seen here, starting at 2:14.)
"There are some conservatives who do not believe in the concept of the minimum wage," Sanders said to the witness, James Sherk, a labor policy analyst at the think tank.
"Let me jump in," Alexander then said. "I do not believe in it."
The policy debate had been lively, with interruptions all around, and Sanders grew excited at Alexander's interjection.
"So we have a ranking member," Sanders responded. "Alright! There we go!"
Sanders turned to Alexander.
"So you do not believe in the concept of the minimum wage?"
"That's correct," Alexander responded.
"You would abolish the minimum wage?"
"And if someone had to work for two bucks an hour," Sanders continued, "they would work for two bucks an hour?"
Alexander went on to compare a higher minimum wage to a form of welfare. Instead of boosting it, as Congress is now considering, he suggested a common conservative alternative to a federal wage floor -- a higher earned-income tax credit.
"No, I would go for a much more targeted approach," Alexander said. "The question I want to ask, if we are interested in social justice, and we want to honor work instead of getting a welfare check, then wouldn't a more efficient way to help people in poverty be to increase the earned-income tax credit rather than do what we always do here, which is come up with a big idea and send the bill to somebody else? What we're doing is coming up with the big idea and sending the bill to the employer.
"Why don't we just pay for the big ideas we come up with," he continued. "And if we want to create a standard of living for people that's much higher than what they have today, then let's attach the dollars to the job and everybody pay for it. I don't want to do that. But if we were going to do it, then I think that's the way we should do it."
"That's a very interesting discussion for another time," Sanders said with a slight laugh.
Sanders then turned back to Sherk and asked him if he'd support a bill sponsored by Alexander abolishing the minimum wage.
"I believe the minimum wage hurts its intended beneficiaries," Sherk responded. "I do not support the concept of the minimum wage."
"I appreciate your honesty," Sanders replied.