Working Families Now Guaranteed a Raise From Democrats
Kennedy, who will undoubtedly chair the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee when the new Congress convenes in January, got bills to raise the federal minimum wage to the Senate floor three times in the last two years, only to see all of those killed by Republicans on almost straight party-line votes.
"I believe that anyone who works 40 hours a week, 52 weeks a year should not live in poverty in the richest country in the world," Kennedy said, in arguing for one of his defeated bills in 2005.
And Kennedy, who has long been the Senate's champion of worker rights, made a vow when the minimum wage increase was shot down in the current Congress for a third time in June of 2006, that voters could expect a different result if they retuned the Senate to Democratic control in November.
"When the Democrats control the Senate, one of the first pieces of legislation we'll see is an increase in the minimum wage," said Kennedy.
And that's about to come true in January.
With Democrats entering the 110th Congress with a 51-49 majority in the Senate, many issues will compete for a priority place on the agenda, including investigating the conduct of the Iraq war and implementing the 9/11 Commission recommendations.
But when you listen to every Democrat from Kennedy, to presumptive Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) to Senator-elect Sherrod Brown (D-OH), there's no doubt that the Democrats' longstanding desire to raise the minimum wage from $5.15 an hour to $7.25 will be front and center.
“Today is the first day of a new direction for America," said Kennedy last week, when the election results became clear. "It’s also the first day in many years that we can start putting the interests of working men and women ahead of special interests."
Kennedy also referred to the fact that six states enacted minimum wage increases in last week's elections, saying "Washington wouldn’t act on raising the minimum wage, so America did — and now the new Congress will."
“Millions of Americans spoke out loud and clear that no one who works for a living should have to live in poverty," said Kennedy of the new state laws. "They stood up for fairness, and renewed the America’s commitment to the common good that fell victim too often over the last several years to the politics of fear and division."
Democratic leaders in the House and Senate have already expressed strong support for Kennedy's plan -- which will raise the wage over a two-year period -- and have committed to an immediate vote in the new Congress.
Among full-time, year-round workers, poverty has increased by 50 percent since the late 1970s. The minimum wage, which Republicans have fought to keep at $5.15 per hour, has remained the same for almost a decade, while the number of Americans in poverty has increased by 5.4 million since George W. Bush took office.
According to Kennedy, increasing the minimum wage will help more than 7.3 million children whose parents would receive a raise.
And the Senate's "Liberal Lion" will finally get to push through a victory for low-income Americans knowing that, as of the new Congress, the Republican party simply does not have the votes to continue working against them.
Said Kennedy last week: "When Congress reconvenes under the new Democratic Leadership, working men and women will get a raise, and America will finally move forward again."