President Obama told workers at a Maryland Costco on Wednesday that Congress needed "to catch up to the rest of the country" and raise the minimum wage, hitting the road the morning after his State of the Union address to rally support for its populist themes.
"What I talked about last night was a simple but profound idea, and it's an idea that's at the heart of who we are as Americans: opportunity for everybody," Obama said. "Giving everybody a fair chance. If they're willing to work hard, take responsibility, give them a shot."
"I firmly believe it is time to give America a raise," Obama said.
Obama said that "all our businesses work better when customers have more money to spend," and that better wages for low-income workers "increase productivity and reduce turnover."
“It will give businesses more customers with more money to spend,” Obama said. “I guarantee if workers have a little more money in their pocket, they’ll spend more money at Costco and if Costco sees more customers they’ll hire a few more folks.”
Although Obama joked he was at the warehouse chain to pick up a snow shovel and 50-pound bag of dog food, he also touted the store's $11.50 starting hourly wage.
He said the company's CEO "sees that if he's doing right by Costco workers, then they can buy that 80-inch TV too," earning loud applause from the assembled employees.
Whether Obama will be able to harness that support into political pressure remains an open question, with top Republicans signaling they oppose such legislation. On Tuesday, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnellMitch McConnellDem leaders defend overriding 9/11 bill veto GOP leaders express reservations a day after 9/11 veto override White House: Congress has 'buyer's remorse' on 9/11 bill MORE (R-Ky.) said that the "last thing" Congress should do is pass a bill that "destroys jobs."
The trip to Costco was the first in a series of events designed to build momentum for his agenda.
Later in the day, the president will travel to a U.S. Steel plant outside of Pittsburgh, where he plans to discuss a new federally backed retirement program. On Thursday, Obama is expected to tout manufacturing initiatives at a gas engine plant in Wisconsin and education programs at a high school in Tennessee.