One of the most controversial issues in West Virginia's tight U.S. Senate race has been disagreement over the minimum wage, an issue the candidates touched on in Monday night's debate.
The event featured Democratic Gov. Joe Manchin, Republican John Raese, Mountain Party candidate Jesse Johnson and Constitution Party candidate Jeff Becker. At one point, a questioner noted that Manchin has taken many positions that are out of step with the Democrats -- such as his opposition to climate change legislation -- and asked him where he agrees with the traditional party positions.
Manchin cited Social Security, saying he was against privatizing it. He also named the minimum wage. "I believe in the minimum wage," he said. "I fought for that, and I believe in it. It's basically helping people have a balance or have a basement or a floor, if you will, so that there is some dignity and some reward. If you put that out to the market, it's going to fluctuate to how low is low enough."
Manchin also said he agreed with Democrats on Medicare, adding, "I believe basically every time this country go into trouble, every time that we hit the bottom, it's the Democrats that stood up and helped people. The average person. People struggling to make it. People trying to take care of their families. I believe very strongly in that."
Raese has made headlines during the campaign for his belief that the minimum wage is unconstitutional and should be abolished. In tonight's debate, he gave a confusing answer justifying his position, claiming that Democrats "enjoy" having people make only $7.25 an hour and the minimum wage is somehow creating lower salaries all around:
RAESE: Well, my opposition to minimum wage is that I don't agree with minimum wage because I think minimum wage is something nobody can live on. I think it's too low. I don't like government setting price controls, I don't like government setting wage controls. I want a better wage for everybody.
And in order to get a better wage for everybody, we have, in this country, we have to start lifting jobs and manufacturing where they should be -- not like Manchin and Obama. They enjoy people working for $7.25. Quite frankly, I don't. And I think when you create the demand -- and that's a very important word here; it's called "demand." Demand in this country right now, certainly with the Obama policies, is running a large unemployment line right now, and as we know, minimum wage is one of the worst things possible for unemployment.
So I'd like to raise the playing field because we need to set, we need to set, an environment for jobs in this country by cutting taxes, cutting spending, and putting American manufacturing first again. And unless we do, that, we're always going to be mired in how low can we go. I'm exactly opposite that. I'm very positive on how high we can go, and I know a lot about creating jobs in my lifetime; I've created a lot of them.
Supporters of the minimum wage don't "enjoy" people working for only $7.25 an hour; the point is that they want to ensure that workers don't make even less. Is the minimum wage too low? According to the National Employment Law Project, the minimum wage, first instituted in the 1930s, would be above $10 today already if it had kept pace with inflation. Many lawmakers would like to see the minimum wage raised or a living wage established.
But that doesn't appear to be what Raese is advocating. He is proposing to eliminate this floor all together, meaning that people could be subjected to even lower wages than $7.25 an hour. Creating "demand" doesn't mean that employers couldn't pay workers a lower salary.
"You'd have even more people who were poor even though they were working than you already do," Elizabeth Lower-Basch, a policy analyst with the Center for Law and Social Policy, told The Huffington Post in an earlier interview about what the country would look like without a minimum wage. "In this economy, you'd have some people who were desperate enough to take the jobs -- at least in the short run. Others wouldn't be able to take them because they can't afford to -- after paying for child care and transportation, they'd be losing money. Overall, it probably wouldn't have much of an effect on the economy as a whole. The minimum wage in the US is still sufficiently low that it only affects a small portion of the labor market."