Wednesday, June 21, 2006

GOP Again Defeats Minimum Wage Increase

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-TN) knew when he withdrew his "poison pill" anti-abortion amendment to Ted Kennedy's (D-MA) most recent attempt to raise the minimum wage, that his parliamentary maneuvering had succeeded and that low-income workers would once again be denied their first required pay hike in ten years.

For those of you keeping track for the Congressional elections in November, this makes nine times in the last decade that Republicans have blocked a minimum wage increase proposed by Democrats.

Actually, two minimum-wage bills were rejected in the Senate today -- Kennedy's real attempt at raising the federal rate to $7.25 per hour over two years and the fake bill, by Mike Enzi (R-WY), that gave the appearance of a wage hike, but was loaded with provisions hostile to workers.

What happened in the Senate follows a similar tactic in the House, where a minimum wage increase passed the Appropriations Committee but has been kept from a vote by the GOP majority.

Kennedy's S.Amdt. 4322 was shot down by a vote of 52-46. While a simple majority (50 votes) would normally have been enough for passage, 60 were required in this particular instance due to a procedural agreement worked out behind the scenes -- to get Frist to withdraw the nonsensical anti-abortion amendment he had attached to the Kennedy measure.

Every vote against raising the federal minimum wage was cast by a Republican, while eight GOP Senators -- four of whom are up for reelection this fall -- voted with the Democrats.

Enzi's mock minimum-wage amendment proposed a $1.10 increase over 18 months but loaded it up with lots of onerous additions including exempting businesses with less than $1 million in yearly revenue from paying the wage. This would be an increase from the current $500,000 exemption while, if it had passed, still allowing Republicans to tell voters they care about American workers.

"The Enzi amendment is loaded with anti-worker poison pills," said Kennedy in a statement. "It would increase the minimum wage with one hand, while taking away minimum wage, overtime, and equal pay rights from millions of workers with the other hand. It’s a wolf in sheep’s clothing, and it’s a threat to American workers."

That amendment failed 45-53, with nine Republicans joining all Democrats in refusing to go along with Enzi's charade.

These kinds of bills are routine with the Republicans, who pulled a similar stunt in 2005 when they offered the same $1.10 wage hike, but with provisions that cut overtime pay -- without which, many minimum-wage earners cannot come close to making ends meet -- and lowered salaries for millions of workers who work for tips.

Kennedy also blasted his Republican colleagues for continuing to focus on helping the wealthy or pursuing ridiculous wedge issues while ignoring the fact that the wage’s buying power has fallen to a 51-year low, saying that they take "plenty of time to debate flag burning and I don't know the last time a flag was burned in my state of Massachusetts."

While Kennedy, who has long been the Senate's champion of worker rights, will undoubtedly bring up the minimum wage again this year, he vowed that the increase will happen if voters pay attention when heading to the polls 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."