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Washington - President Barack Obama will try to jump-start his domestic agenda today by appearing in Connecticut with four governors who support his push to raise the minimum wage.
But in a sign that the White House recognizes there are other priorities in an election year, the president will stop in Boston on the way home to raise money for the Democratic Party.
Obama's whirlwind travel schedule illustrates his dual-pronged strategy ahead of fall midterm elections, when administration officials acknowledge it will be as crucial to defend control of the Senate as it is to push liberal policy prescriptions in the face of GOP opposition.
Congressional Democrats fear that Obama's sluggish approval ratings could be a drag on candidates in both chambers, while the president has vowed to focus on raising money in hopes of maintaining a majority in the Senate.
Obama, who unveiled a $3.9 trillion budget proposal Tuesday full of liberal policy prescriptions, spoke at a fundraiser for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee on Tuesday night in McLean, Va.. He will travel to Miami on Friday to speak about his efforts to boost the economy.
White House officials and Democrats said they recognize the difficulty of advancing major legislation through a divided Congress in an election year, and they intend to exploit the minimum-wage issue politically if Republicans refuse to support it.
The president has called on Congress to raise wages for the lowest-paid federal workers from $7.25 an hour to $10.10, but GOP lawmakers say the proposal could reduce overall employment. Aides said Obama, in an appearance at Central Connecticut State University near Hartford, will highlight efforts that Govs. Dan Malloy, D-Conn., Deval Patrick, D-Mass., Peter Shumlin, D-Vt., and Lincoln Chafee, I-R.I., have made to push wage hikes in their states.
Chafee, who has proposed raising the minimum wage to $10.10 over three years, said during a conference call organized by the White House that "it will be a political issue because people in Rhode Island want to see a growing middle class, and this is one way of addressing that."
The minimum wage has been a flash point since Obama announced his plan to push the issue during his State of the Union address. After the president met with members of the National Governors Association at the White House two weeks ago, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, a Republican, accused Obama of "waving the white flag of surrender" on boosting economic growth and jobs by focusing on the minimum wage.
Malloy responded by calling Jindal's comments "the most insane statement I've ever heard."
During the conference call this past weekend, Malloy said the earlier dust-up served a purpose by exposing the fault lines of the political debate. Jindal was trying to "score some cheap shots, and I was more than happy to call him on it," he said. "If it furthered the debate nationally, and apparently it has, that's a good thing."
White House spokesman Josh Earnest said Republicans have little reason to accuse Democrats of trying to create a wedge issue ahead of the midterms, noting that the last time the federal minimum wage was increased was in 2007 under President George W. Bush.
Earnest also pointed to an announcement by Gap that it would raise hourly wages to $10 by next year as evidence that businesses supported Obama's push. "There was clearly a history of bipartisan support for raising the minimum wage in the past," Earnest said.
Still, the White House is intent on capitalizing on the politics of the issue and is confident that the wage issue is popular with the Democratic base. Obama will appear at a pair of fundraisers Wednesday night in Boston for the Democratic National Committee, including a dinner for about 70 supporters at the Artists for Humanity EpiCenter.
"Republicans have been against this from the very get-go. . . . Let's be very clear - it's not Democrats making this a partisan issue," Malloy said of the wage push. "A whole bunch of Republicans wrongly painted themselves into a corner. Some of the folks voted for the last increase in 2007, but now because a Democratic president is talking about it they're automatically against this."