Candidates join Leahy in call for minimum wage increase

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(Host) The Democratic and Independent candidates for the U.S. House and Senate have joined Senator Patrick Leahy in a call for an increase in the federal minimum wage.

But the candidates’ position on the wage issue was already well-known. Today’s news conference was a chance for Leahy to campaign for Peter Welch and Bernie Sanders.

VPR’s John Dillon reports:

(Dillon) Senator Leahy’s joint appearance with Sanders and Welch highlights a key strategy for Democrats in this campaign.

Leahy, who was first elected to the Senate in 1974, is the most popular politician in Vermont. A recent Survey USA poll puts his favorability ratings at almost 70%.

Vermont’s senior senator is clearly trying to use his popularity and influence with voters to boost the chances of Sanders and Welch.

(Leahy) “I have no greater priority than seeing both of these men get elected to Congress. We have a rubber-stamp Congress that will not ask questions, does not serve as check as balances, something that the Congress historically and constitutionally is supposed to do.”

(Dillon) Leahy joked with photographers at the news conference that they were taking the first pictures of the state’s next congressional delegation. He says he’s campaigned all over the state for Welch and Sanders, and that people from his organization are assisting as well. He says the political balance in the House and Senate could hinge on the outcome of the Vermont elections.

(Leahy) “It could very well come down – this is not hyperbole — to one seat in the House, one seat in the House and Senate. Besides which, I’d like Vermont to send a very strong message that we want this administration to move in a new direction. I’d like to send a very strong message that it’s not working – rubber stamp government is not working.”

(Dillon) Welch, a Windsor County senator, said the first bill he will introduce if elected would be to raise the minimum wage.

(Welch) “It’s a disgrace that people would work 40 hours a week and not beat the poverty line. The minimum wage, as Congressman Sanders has said, has not been raised in nine years, and in that time Congress has had nine pay increases totaling $31,000 approved by the Republican leadership. This is wrong.”

(Dillon) Sanders described the issue in moral terms.

(Sanders) “We need a government that is going to stand up and represent ordinary people. It is not acceptable in America that there are people today working for $5.15 an hour and trying to support a family. That is not what this country is supposed to be about.”

(Dillon) The federal minimum wage is now $5.15 an hour. Legislation that Sanders and Welch support would raise it to $7.25 an hour. Vermont’s minimum wage is already at that level.

Richard Tarrant, Sanders main Republican opponent, said Sanders voted against boosting the federal minimum wage as part of a bill to raise the exemption to the federal estate tax. A Sanders spokesman said the congressman voted against the measure because it amounted to a giveaway to the wealthy, and would have raised the federal deficit.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m John Dillon in Burlington.

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