U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz is giving his support to a package of proposals that includes a significant raise to the minimum wage.
Part of the “Opportunity Plan” promoted by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-New York, the federal minimum wage bill would receive a boost to $10.10 an hour during three years. It is currently $7.25.
Schatz, D-Hawaii, recently co-authored an op-ed with Gillibrand in support of the plan, parts of which he also addressed in a recent interview with the Tribune-Herald.
Such significant increases to the minimum wage have traditionally been resisted by the business community.
But Schatz said he thinks the increase would help the economy by giving consumers more disposable income while reducing the need for welfare programs. He also considers it a matter of fairness.
“Nobody who is working full time ought to be in poverty and depend on food stamps and other types of public assistance,” he said.
“If you are working hard and playing by the rules, you ought to be able to support your family.”
Schatz is one of 29 co-sponsors of the minimum wage bill, introduced in November.
The Opportunity Plan also includes bills to create a program for universal preschool, create a family medical leave program, lower pay gaps between men and women and lessen the cost for early child care.
In their op-ed, Schatz and Gillibrand said they will introduce the Family and Medical Insurance Leave Act, which they say will create a “self-sustaining paid family medical leave program for up to 12 weeks of paid leave.”
Schatz has finished his first year in Congress. Gov. Neil Abercrombie appointed him in December 2012 to replace the late Sen. Daniel Inouye, and is facing a primary challenge from U.S. Rep. Colleen Hanabusa, Inouye’s preferred pick for the job.
Abercrombie cited Schatz’s age as one of the reasons for his decision, saying he will be able to build years of seniority.
Schatz is 41, and the second youngest U.S. senator. Hanabusa is 62.
Hanabusa and Schatz have dismissed age as playing a role in the election, preferring to cite their records instead.
“For me, it’s about who represents Hawaii’s values and how effective they are on the job,” Schatz said.
Those values, he thinks, are in line with a progressive agenda, with Social Security and climate change also becoming some of his priorities.
While the candidates might not differ significantly on most major issues, Hanabusa has put a focus on the military presence in the state, and emphasizing Hawaii’s role in the “Pivot to Asia-Pacific” re-balancing of military priorities.
Schatz also downplays divisions within the Democratic Party that the race produced.
“I think that tends to be a little overblown because we always have primaries,” he said.
Inouye’s family came out in support of Hanabusa, as have several current and former Hawaii lawmakers.
Schatz said he will be announcing endorsements from a “number of elected officials both locally and nationally.”
Among those already giving him support are former Vice President Al Gore and Sens. Harry Reid, Charles Schumer and Richard Durbin.
Former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg also recently headlined a fundraiser for him in Honolulu.
That fundraiser prompted criticism from Hanabusa’s campaign, which pointed out the two don’t exactly have the same views on economic issues.
“We met in New York, and he is a real passionate believer in taking action on climate change,” Schatz said.
“I think that part of the job of being a senator is building relationships with people across the country and with leaders with whom you may not always agree,” he added.
Still, he said, who gives their support to the candidates shouldn’t matter too much.
“What’s important to an individual voter is who represents them, who represents their values and priorities,” Schatz said.
“That’s going to be my focus, not anything else.”
Email Tom Callis at email@example.com.