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White House noncommittal on Ellison call for minimum wage executive order

WASHINGTON — Ellison wants President Obama to issue an executive order raising the wage for workers on government contracts.

WASHINGTON — A White House spokesman wouldn’t say Friday if President Obama backs using executive action to raise the minimum wage for a group of workers, as some congressional Democrats, including Rep. Keith Ellison, have suggested.

In a Tuesday letter, Ellison and Rep. Raul Grijalva, the co-chairs of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, repeated their request that Obama use an executive order to raise the minimum wage for private-sector workers in jobs funded by federal dollars (through government contracts, for example). There are more than 2 million of those workers in the U.S. making $12 or less an hour, according to a study from the group Demos.

“We hope to start a conversation about executive action that can improve the wages of federally contracted workers,” Ellison and Grijalva wrote. “We share our constituents’ disappointment that this conversation has yet to take place.”

Raising the minimum wage, currently set at $7.25 an hour, has long been a priority for Democrats, and especially so recently, but passing a bill through Congress is considered unlikely given Republican control of the U.S. House.

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When asked Obama’s opinion on the matter of an executive action fix, White House spokesman Jay Carney was noncommittal on Friday.

From The Hill:

Pressed on whether Obama would act if Congress failed to strike an agreement, Carney said that “broadly speaking” Obama was “always looking for ways to move the ball forward where Congress won’t work with him.”

Still, Carney insisted he wouldn’t “speculate about a hypothetical” executive action, worried that it would distract focus from legislation that would raise minimum wage across the board.

“He thinks there is the opportunity, given the history here, given, you know, the interest that has been expressed by some Republicans in getting this done, to do it and to demonstrate to the American people that we here in Washington can take action,” Carney said.

Ellison and the CPC have long called for a minimum wage increase, and Senate Democrats have put forth a plan to bump up the rate to more than $10 an hour. Obama backs that plan, according to the White House, and he raised the issue again in a Wednesday speech, though Ellison said he and other liberals haven’t so much as gotten a meeting to make their pitch for an executive order. 

“It’s frustrating,” Ellison told National Journal on Wednesday. “We know his heart is in the right place and he wants to do something, and this is something he can do.”

Devin Henry can be reached at