Saturday, January 27, 2007

Voices From Senate Floor On Minimum Wage

Here are some notes and quotes from Senators fighting Republicans last week to get an increase in the Federal Minimum Wage.

Ted Kennedy (D-MA): Wage hike not normally linked to tax cuts
"Only once in 1996 did we pair a minimum wage increase with tax cuts. Previous increases had strong bipartisan support, despite the lack of tax cuts. In 1989, the minimum wage was raised with no tax cuts and passed by a margin of 89 to 8. In 1977, with no giveaways, an increase passed 63 to 24. We have seen what has happened.

"Only one time -- it didn't happen in 1938, 1949, 1955, 1961, 1966, 1974, 1977, 1989 --only in 1996. And look in the last 10 years what has happened in terms of the reduction of taxes for corporations and for small businesses. In corporations, it is $276 billion in tax breaks; small businesses, $36 billion; and no raise for minimum wage workers.

"Now, all of a sudden, we are trying to get minimum wage workers a little boost, and everybody is running around to get an increase in tax provisions."
Bob Casey (D-PA): An issue of "economic justice"
"Since 1997, congressional pay has increased 24 percent, about $31,000. This has occurred while the value of the minimum wage has been eroded by 20 percent.

"Let me say that again: Congressional pay up 24 percent, the value of the minimum wage down 20 percent. We cannot say that enough. The cost of living is up 26 percent, the cost of food up 23 percent, the cost of housing up 29 percent, the cost of gasoline up over 130 percent, the cost of health care up 43 percent. Families who are listening to this today know this. The average premium for a family of four costs over $10,000, almost $11,000, which is more than a minimum wage worker earns in a year.

"What we are talking about here is an issue, indeed, of economic justice. Raising the Federal minimum wage will give our workers more than $4,000 per year. Let's consider what that could buy for a family in America. You can buy almost 2 years of childcare with over $4,000, full tuition at a community college, 2 years of health care, 1 year of groceries, 1 1/2 years of heat and electricity, and 8 months of rent. That is how we affect, in a positive way, people's lives, the lives of hard-working men and women in America today.

"Those who argue against an increase in the minimum wage will say that an increase will hurt small business and/or the economy. I do not agree with that because if you look at the data, when the minimum wage was increased in 1997, what happened in the aftermath? Millions and millions of jobs were created and raising the minimum wage did not slow that down one iota."
Daniel Akaka (D-HI): Invokes Constitution's general welfare clause
"We have listened this morning to those who believe that raw economic arguments ought to control the question of the minimum wage. We as a country have moved away from that. We have accepted the great traditions of Judeo-Christian teachings as well as the underlying teachings of all the religions that talk about responsibilities we all have for the least among us. In the Constitution of the United States, they have what is called the general welfare clause. The general welfare clause was written into the Constitution for those very purposes."
Bernie Sander (I-VT): Lack of increase "a moral disgrace"
"Let us make no mistake about it, this bill will benefit millions of workers and their families. It is very long overdue. Anyone who works 40 hours a week in the United States of America should not be living in abject poverty. It is a moral disgrace that Congress has not increased the minimum wage since 1997. Yes, Congress has provided hundreds of billions of dollars in tax breaks to people who don't need it, but somehow, over a 10-year period, Congress has not reached out to millions of workers making the minimum wage and raised that wage.

"Today's minimum wage workers have less buying power than minimum wage workers did back in 1955, when Dwight Eisenhower was President. Simply put, a job should keep you out of poverty, not keep you in poverty."
Jack Reed (D-RI): Minimum wage earners "not an afterthought"
"Five million more Americans have fallen into poverty since President Bush took office; 37 million Americans are now living in poverty, including 13 million children. And we know what the effects of poverty on children are. It impedes their ability to succeed in school. It deprives them of some of the experiences that we think are essential for their progress. Ultimately, it impairs their ability to contribute to this country as workers but, more importantly, as citizens, to fully participate, to bear the responsibilities of this great country. An unacceptably low minimum wage is a key factor in the problem of poverty in our country. This measure would go right to that problem in a very efficient way.

"Working families are struggling to meet their most basic needs, and a fair increase in the wage floor is the right direction to take for this Congress. I am disappointed that our most recent efforts to clearly and simply raise the minimum wage are being linked to other provisions. American families deserve the much needed boost that this raise will provide. They deserve to hear a clear signal from this Senate that we are on their side, they are not an afterthought to be added to other provisions."
Amy Klobuchar (D-MN): Lowest wage value since "Bill Haley and the Comets"
"This raise is years overdue. Right now, the purchasing power of the minimum wage is at its lowest level in more than half a century, since Dwight Eisenhower was President and Bill Haley and the Comets topped the charts. The value of the current wage is 30 percent lower than it was 25 years ago.

"Lifting the minimum wage is the fair thing to do. Working class families are getting left behind, even as corporations see record profits and corporate executives and the superwealthy see record salaries. If the minimum wage had increased at the same rate as the salary increases for CEOs, the rate would now be more than $23 an hour."
Barbara Mikulski (D-MD): "Where are our guts?"
"Now the national poverty line is $16,060 for a family of three. That means bare minimum necessities to live in the United States of America. It doesn't allow for school trips. It doesn't allow for vacations. It is certainly not a latte-drinking, Volvo-driving minimum wage.

"On top of asking the people who work at this, we are now saying: It is OK if a full-time job in the United States of America means full-time poverty. Where are our guts? Where is our grit? Where is our reward for saying that hard work is worth it? That is what we are saying now. Hard work should be worth it."
Dianne Feinstein (D-CA): Businesses not hurt by wage increase
"The consequences of nearly a decade of inaction are clear. Almost 40 million Americans live in poverty, 13 million of whom are children.

"The evidence shows that increasing the minimum wage does not adversely affect the economy. In fact, in Los Angeles and San Francisco, raising wages added stability to many businesses and the local economy.

"In San Francisco, turnover for home-care workers fell by 57 percent after the city implemented its living wage policies. The average job tenure of workers in fast food restaurants increased by 3.5 months. In Los Angeles, businesses affected by a living wage ordinance had one-third less turnover among low wage earners, and absenteeism declined. Higher wages improve worker loyalty and increase employee retention, while decreasing employee hiring and training costs.

"Ensuring that all American workers receive fair pay for a hard day's work should not be a partisan issue. The House overwhelmingly passed this legislation by a vote of 315 to 116, with more than 80 Republicans crossing party lines to support this cause."
The minimum-wage fight continues in the Senate next week.