By Darlene Superville
WASHINGTON -- Striving to show momentum on a top legislative priority, President Barack Obama is appearing this week with Northeastern governors who back his push to raise the federal minimum wage to $10.10 an hour and will pledge to lift the earnings of the lowest-paid workers in their states to at least the same level.
Obama planned an appearance Wednesday at Central Connecticut State University in New Britain with Democratic Govs. Dannel Malloy of Connecticut, Deval Patrick of Massachusetts and Peter Shumlin of Vermont, as well as Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee, an independent.
A higher minimum wage and an overhaul of immigration laws are Obama priorities, but it remains doubtful whether lawmakers will send him either piece of legislation this year, particularly when the entire House and one-third of the Senate are up for re-election.
A Senate-passed immigration bill is stalled in the House, while Republicans oppose raising the federal minimum wage from $7.25 an hour, arguing that jobs will be eliminated, unemployment will rise, and the economy will suffer if the government forces businesses to cut bigger paychecks for their workers.
The White House believes momentum for a higher minimum wage is building, however, and wants to keep the pressure on Congress, in part to help draw distinctions between the political parties for November's voters.
"It is time to give America a raise or elect more Democrats who will do it," Obama told Democrats at the party's winter meeting Friday in Washington.
Officials note that California, Connecticut, Delaware, New York, New Jersey and Rhode Island have raised the minimum wage since early 2013, when Obama first called on Congress to increase it. Obama recently used his executive power to enact a $10.10 minimum wage for the few hundred thousand people who work on federal contracts. The Gap, (GPS) the clothing chain, recently announced plans to raise voluntarily the minimum hourly wage for its U.S. employees to $10 next year, a move Obama applauded.