In their Overland Park debate Oct. 8, Senate candidates Greg Orman and Pat Roberts were asked their views on “mandates,” including an increase in the federal minimum wage.
Neither candidate answered. In fact, neither even used the words “minimum wage.”
That may be because their views on the subject are pretty tangled.
In an Ottawa Herald story posted on his website, Orman said the minimum wage shouldn’t be set by Washington.
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“That ends up being an issue better addressed at the local level,” he said. “Places like Seattle, Washington, San Francisco, New York City, I can understand why that debate is a real debate because the cost of living there is so much higher.”
Orman may misunderstand current wage law. States already set their own minimum wages, which can be higher than the federal wage of $7.25 an hour. In California, for example, the minimum wage is now $9 an hour. It’s $8 an hour in New York. Seattle just raised its minimum wage to $15 an hour.
But the federal wage rate is an important wage floor for workers in some states. If the state-set rate is lower than the federal level — or non-existent — the federal minimum generally applies.
As recently as 2009, the Kansas minimum wage was just $2.65 an hour. If the wage were left completely to the states, some workers would earn drastically less than they do now.
Late Sunday, the Orman campaign said his statement to the Ottawa Herald was incomplete. Orman supports a federal minimum wage but does not think it should be raised to $10.10 in Kansas.
Roberts’ position on a federal minimum wage boost to $10.10 an hour seems more clear. Almost.
“This increase would cost jobs,” Roberts angrily said in a Senate hearing last March before opposing the hike on the Senate floor.
Funny. Roberts apparently didn’t think a minimum wage increase would cost jobs back in 2007 — when he voted to raise the wage from $6.25 to $7.25 an hour.
The difference? Maybe this: The 2007 increase was tacitly supported by President George W. Bush, a Republican. The 2014 increase was proposed by President Barack Obama, a Democrat.
The votes reveal an important fact: Roberts has long been a reliably partisan vote in the Senate. Over the past two years, Roberts has voted with his party on 143 of 160 votes, a rate of 89.4 percent according to Open Congress, a vote-monitoring website.
Roberts has voted along party lines more often than GOP Sens. Ted Cruz, Roy Blunt, Rand Paul and John McCain, the group says.
There is no reason to believe Roberts’ party line pattern will change dramatically if he is re-elected.