COLUMBIA, S.C. - Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush said Tuesday that minimum-wage increases should be left to businesses and state governments, opposing a hike in the federal pay floor as an impediment to individuals trying to escape from poverty.
"State minimum wages are fine," said Bush, making his first extended foray into the state that holds the initial Southern primary of the race for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination.
As governor, Bush opposed a 2004 ballot measure approved by voters in Florida that tied increases in the state minimum wage to inflation. Asked about the minimum wage at a pair of appearances on Tuesday, he said he doesn't want to abolish the existing federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour, but also opposes raising it.
Democrats mostly favor raising the minimum wage, while many Republicans oppose it.
"We're moving to a world where it's sticky in the ends, where it's harder for people in poverty to move up, and where the rich are doing really well, and the middle is getting squeezed," Bush said at his first stop of the day in Greenville.
"Any idea that perpetuates that is one that I would oppose, and I think this minimum-wage idea is exactly one of those things," he said.
Bush has yet to formally declare his intention to run for president in 2016, but winked at the idea during a Chamber of Commerce breakfast, saying "you'll be seeing a lot of me." He is spending two days this week in South Carolina, which hosts the South's first presidential primary in February, a few weeks after the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary.
The South Carolina primary could draw more than 600,000 voters, far exceeding turnout in Iowa and New Hampshire. Bush said South Carolina would play a huge role as "the first big primary state."
Bush's pitch Tuesday began with a biography, from his immediate family life to his experience in the private sector and public office. He credited his wife, Columba, with "bringing order to my life." Being "George's boy, Barbara's boy" means he "won the lottery."
His wide range of business ventures, he said, means, "I've signed the front-side of a paycheck. . . . Washington has lost its way in this regard. I'm proud that I've been in business and know how it works."