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Mitt Romney and Tom Cotton divide conservatives over their new minimum wage plan

Sens. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) and Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) on Tuesday unveiled a plan to gradually raise the minimum wage to $10, rather than the $15 their Democratic colleagues are targeting. The reaction among conservatives was mixed.

Brad Polumbo, writing in The Washington Examiner, called the plan an “abandonment” of fiscal conservatism, likening it to “something out of” Sen. Bernie Sanders’ (I-Vt.) office. The plan, Polumbo continues, “ignores everything conservatives are supposed to understand about economics and the perils of big government,” asserting that while both Romney and Cotton market themselves as “pro-family social conservatives,” their plan “would hurt working families if implemented.”

At The National Review, however, John McCormack writes that research has shown the plan wouldn’t cost any jobs at its median estimates, and high-end estimates point to around 100,000 losses. McCormack’s colleague Robert VerBruggen thinks it will “resonate with the public” as a middle ground policy that comes attached to an immigration enforcement measure — in addition to the gradual wage increase, the Romney-Cotton plan would require businesses to use the “E-verify system” to ensure their employees are in the country legally and eligible to work.

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At Bloomberg, Michael Strain, the director of of economic policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute, praised the Romney-Cotton plan for its patience, noting that it would delay the increase until after the coronavirus pandemic “is in the rear-view mirror,” whereas the Democratic proposal backed by President Biden would start churning in June. But he doesn’t believe it will prevent Democrats from continuing to lobby for further raises, and ultimately doesn’t solve the fact that “Republicans would still be on the losing side of a popular issue.” He is also skeptical of the immigration enforcement tradeoff. He described it as a “politically interesting pairing,” but explained he’d “rather see a modest minimum wage increase paired with policies that would improve employment and skills.”