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Governors clash over Obama's quest to raise minimum wage

Governor Bobby Jindal (R-LA) attends the 2013 Republican Governors Association conference in Scottsdale, Arizona, November 20, 2013 file pho
Governor Bobby Jindal (R-LA) attends the 2013 Republican Governors Association conference in Scottsdale, Arizona, November 20, 2013 file pho

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Democratic and Republican state governors emerged from talks with President Barack Obama on Monday in a civil mood - until the topic moved to raising the minimum wage.

Two governors traded sharp partisan blows on the subject, with Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, a Republican, accusing Obama of focusing on raising the minimum wage at the expense of creating new jobs.

"What I worry about is that this president, the White House, seems to be waving the white flag of surrender," said Jindal, a potential 2016 Republican presidential candidate, who was at an annual conference of governors in Washington.

"The Obama economy is now the minimum wage economy. I think we can do better than that," Jindal told reporters outside the White House meeting, arguing Obama should build the Keystone XL crude oil pipeline and do more to spur oil and gas jobs.

Obama wants to raise the minimum wage to $10.10 per hour from the current $7.25. Polls show three quarters of Americans favor the plan, and Obama has said Republicans are out of touch on the issue.

Republicans argue the measure would hurt the economy, citing a Congressional Budget Office study that showed it would lead to the loss of about half a million jobs by late 2016, even as it lifts almost a million people out of poverty.

Jindal's jab drew a counterattack from Connecticut Governor Dan Malloy, a Democrat.

"Just one second. Until a few moments ago, we were going down a pretty cooperative road," Malloy said, noting his state is working on legislation that would raise its minimum wage to $10.10 from the current level of $8.70.

"I don't know what the heck was a reference to white flag when it comes to people making $404 a week. That's the most insane statement I've ever heard," he told reporters, drawing a rebuke of "Now, now," from Republican Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin, the chair of the National Governors Association.

Malloy added: "You just heard what I think ended up being probably the most partisan statement that we've had all weekend."

White House spokesman Jay Carney, speaking to reporters after the exchange, defended Obama's initiative.

"The president's trying to create a national economy where the minimum wage is $10.10 an hour. Perhaps Governor Jindal prefers a Governor Jindal economy of $7.25 an hour, but the president certainly doesn't," Carney said.

(Reporting by Roberta Rampton; Editing by Mohammad Zargham)