Mitt Romney may be seared in the collective memory as the epitome of a callous plutocrat -- a man who proclaimed that corporations are people, admitted that he was "not concerned about the very poor," and derided the "47 percent" of Americans "who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it." But when it comes to the federal minimum wage, the 2012 GOP presidential nominee looks like a downright bleeding heart compared with Jeb Bush, one of the party's top presidential prospects for 2016.
Speaking before an audience in South Carolina on Monday, Bush stated that he opposes a federal minimum wage, arguing that the issue is best left to the states or the whims of the private sector and suggesting that calls for a federal increase amount to nothing more than "a great soundbite."
“We need to leave it to the private sector. I think state minimum wages are fine. The federal government shouldn’t be doing this," Bush said. “This is one of those poll-driven deals. It polls well, I’m sure – I haven’t looked at the polling, but I’m sure on the surface without any conversation, without any digging into it people say, ‘Yeah, everybody’s wages should be up.'"
That stance aligns Bush -- the putative moderate in the GOP field -- with some of the Republican Party's most conservative elements. Romney, by contrast, articulated a sharply different view.
During the GOP presidential primaries in 2012, Romney parted ways with many of his intra-party rivals by affirming his support not only for the principle of a federal minimum wage, but for an increase in it. Romney argued that the minimum should increase and be indexed to inflation, so it would keep pace with rising living costs.
“My view has been to allow the minimum wage to rise with the CPI [Consumer Price Index] or with another index so that it adjusts automatically over time," Romney explained.
Then, as now, the federal minimum stood at $7.25 an hour, where it has been since 2009.
Last year, as he privately weighed a third bid for president, Romney challenged those in his party who opposed a wage increase, calling on fellow Republicans to abandon their intransigence on the issue.
“I part company with many of the conservatives in my party on the issue of the minimum wage. I think we ought to raise it,” Romney said on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” amid continued Republican resistance to President Obama's proposal to raise the minimum to $10.10 an hour. “Because frankly, our party is all about more jobs and better pay. And I think communicating that is important to us.”
You can count Jeb Bush out of that.