Thursday, May 15, 2003

Another Time, Another Republican Party:

One by one, President Eisenhower's top advisers paraded into the Cabinet Room of the White House and took their places around the big mahogany table. The discussion on this morning, Dec. 10, 1954, quickly turned to the workaday business of running the country: an initiative to add 70,000 units of public housing, the Buy American Act, the need for preventive medical care. Yet one subject, above all, seemed to stir the participants' passion: raising the minimum wage.

Mr. Eisenhower -- the first Republican to occupy the White House since the minimum wage was enacted -- had floated the idea of increasing it from 75 cents an hour early in the year. Now, with the economy humming along, it appeared the perfect time to put the plan in motion. Even the president's economic adviser, the cautious Arthur Burns, agreed that the only question left to decide was what "the optimum figure" for the new wage would be.

Handwritten notes from the cabinet meeting, stored at the Eisenhower Library, suggest that the president listened intently to the numbers being bandied about. George Humphrey, the treasury secretary, declared that going to $1 an hour "would be too much" and could undermine smooth relations with the business community. All eyes then fell on Labor Secretary Jim Mitchell, a plain-spoken man who had once been in charge of employee relations at Bloomingdale's. One dollar, he countered, "has great appeal." The vice president, Richard Nixon, added that it would be "unfortunate" if the administration recommended less than $1 because that would only enhance the odds that Democrats in Congress would "raise the ante."

Finally, Mr. Eisenhower spoke up. "We just have to seek that place where both sides will curse us," he said. "Then we'll be right."

from "How Minimum Wage Lost its Status As a Tool of Social Progress"
by Ric Wartzman, from the WSJ, July 19th, 2001.