President Obama and fellow Democrats are trying to use the annual Washington meeting of governors to rally support for increasing the federal minimum wage, as their Republican counterparts argue the idea is a jobs killer.
"I'm not for increasing the minimum wage because I'm concerned it would destroy jobs, especially for small business owners," said Oklahoma GOP Gov. Mary Fallin, chairman of the National Governors Association. "The market will take care of itself."
The annual winter meeting officially began Saturday morning, but both sides were jockeying for position earlier, as the Democrat-controlled Senate prepares to debate the Obama-backed plan to incrementally increase the federal wage from to $7.25 to $10.10 an hour by 2016.
On Friday, Obama met with Democratic governors at the White House to build momentum for his effort.
"This is not just good policy. It also happens to be good politics," he said. "Because the truth of the matter is the overwhelming majority of Americans think that raising the minimum wage is a good idea."
However, he acknowledged that much of the effort to address income inequality through higher wages is happening in states including Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts and Washington.
Obama returned to the issue Saturday, saying in his weekly address that hardworking Americans deserve a vote in Congress on the issue. He also praised retailer The Gap for deciding to pay its employees higher wages.
GOP leaders seized upon a report Tuesday by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office that found such a wage increase could reduce jobs in 2016 by about 500,000. The report also concluded roughly 45 million Americans will live below the poverty line in 2016 if the wage is not increased.
Republican governors who gathered at a hotel near the White House also suggested that raising the minimum wage was an issue better left to the individual states and the free market.
Michigan GOP Gov. Rick Snyder wouldn't say whether he supported Obama's proposal when asked.
"My focus is on getting jobs that pay more than minimum wage," he said, citing a state program that helps create jobs that pay $11.50 an hour and new trade jobs that pay more than $50,000 a year. "I'm working on that."
Fallin said she wasn't worried about political fallout in the midterm elections from Republican opposition to a higher minimum wage, despite polls that show most Americans support the president's plan.
With Republicans opposing the wage increase in Congress, many states have tried to act on their own.
At least 14 states are pursuing efforts to raise the minimum wage this year, according to the Economic Policy Institute.
Last year, California, Connecticut, New Jersey, New York and Rhode Island passed legislation to increase their state minimum wage. And cities such as Chicago, New York, San Diego, Seattle and Oakland, Calif., are also exploring minimum wage increases, the group found.
Democrats said raising the minimum wage would boost consumer spending, which would help local economies.
Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, a Democrat, said he recently asked his state economist why the state had not experienced as much economic growth as desired despite the presence of major companies like Amazon and Boeing.
"Their answer was clear, it's because we have a drag in our economy because of low wage jobs that are not creating consumers who can go out and create the demand we need," Inslee said. He said raising the minimum wage would "remove that anchor" on the economy.
The annual National Governors Association meeting will include a White House dinner on Sunday night, a bipartisan meeting with Obama on Monday and discussions on energy, economic development, education and health care.
Saturday’s opening session will focus on Fallin's initiative, America Works: Education and Training for Tomorrow’s Jobs.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.