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Obama to campaign for minimum wage hike despite opposition

U.S. President Barack Obama addresses the winter meeting of the Democratic National Committee in Washington February 28, 2014. REUTERS/Jonat
U.S. President Barack Obama addresses the winter meeting of the Democratic National Committee in Washington February 28, 2014. REUTERS/Jonat

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama will take his campaign to increase the minimum wage on the road in the coming week in an effort to build pressure on Republicans who oppose the raise.

Obama will appear on Wednesday in New Bristol, Connecticut alongside four New England governors to make the case, the White House said. The president wants to increase the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour from $7.25, where it has been since 2009.

The president will make the pitch a day after presenting his federal government budget proposal for fiscal year 2015. His budget is expected to emphasize programs aimed at speeding economic growth and creating jobs, but is not likely to be enacted in a divided Congress.

Congress must act to raise the wage floor, but House Republicans have been reluctant to do so, saying it would hurt employers and lead to job cutbacks. Even so, Obama and Democrats see the issue as a way to draw a contrast between their party and Republicans in an election year.

Partisan divisions were on display at the White House last week, when Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, a Republican, said after a meeting with Obama that raising the minimum was "waving the white flag of surrender" in the face of a persistently high unemployment rate.

Governor Dannel Malloy of Connecticut shot back, calling Jindal's remark "insane."

Malloy on Sunday called Jindal's remark a "cheap shot" and said it illustrated how Republicans want to score points with their followers simply by opposing the president.

"In the past we've seen wage increases under Republican administrations," he said on a conference call with reporters. "Now, because a Democratic president is talking about it, they're automatically against it."

The president's efforts to win support in Congress for the increase were set back earlier this month when the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office said that increasing the pay floor could lead to the loss of 500,000 jobs as employers raise prices for goods and services and cut back staff.

But Malloy said Congress should feel pressure to keep low-wage workers from living in poverty. A wage raise would be a shot in the arm for the sluggish economy because it would give people more money to spend.

"What we are talking about is bringing a level of relief to millions upon millions of people in the country," he said.

Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin, a Democrat, said regional solidarity behind raising the minimum was important.

"So often we hear states fearful of raising the minimum wage because other states around them might not," he said.

Both Connecticut and Vermont have higher minimum wages than the federal minimum. Connecticut's floor is $8.25 an hour and Vermont's is $8.60.

(Reporting By Mark Felsenthal; Editing by Meredith Mazzilli)

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