Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Senate Republicans Block Minimum Wage Increase

Despite a united front from Senate Democrats for passing the same stand-alone minimum wage increase approved by the House of Representatives two weeks ago, the Republican minority voted against cloture on the bill today, throwing down a roadblock until Democrats agree to more business tax cuts.

Before that, the measure by Judd Gregg (R-NH) to give the line-item veto to George W. Bush was defeated by a vote of 49-48, well short of the 60 votes required to end debate and send the bill for a vote.

The clean minimum wage bill went to a floor vote after the line-item veto was killed and, despite the fact that the minimum wage has not been raised in 10 years and an increase is supported by the vast majority of Americans, almost all Republicans voted against the increase and it fell six votes short of the three-fifths required to reach cloture.

The vote was 54-43, with every Democrat voting to raise the minimum wage to $7.25 per hour and only five Republicans -- Coleman, Collins, Snowe, Specter and Warner -- crossing the aisle to vote with the Democrats.

"The first reason that this bill should remain clean is that adding a tax package to this bill creates procedural hurdles that will delay – perhaps significantly – the implementation of the increase," said Senator Ted Kennedy (D-MA), who has been trying for years to get the minimum wage raised. "Minimum wage workers could wait months for the raise they so clearly deserve."

"We’ve had bipartisan support for minimum wage increases in the past with no tax giveaways," Kennedy continued, pointing out that there has only been one other time since the Federal Minimum Wage was established that increasing the wage rate was predicated on business tax cuts.

While today's vote doesn’t mean a minimum wage increase is dead, it does mean that Republicans will continue to block it until Democrats agree to pass yet more tax breaks for restaurants and other businesses that employ workers making the lowest wages.

Democrats have reportedly agreed to a $8.3 billion tax package that, among other things, would extend for five years a tax credit for employers who hire low-income or disadvantaged workers. If Senate Democrats have indeed agreed to this, it is undoubtedly based on the fact that the cost of the proposal would be paid with revenue from a proposed cap of $1 million on executive compensation that can be tax deferred.

A vote on those business tax breaks is not expected until early next week and, if that measure is passed, a quick cloture vote and a final vote on the minimum wage would follow shortly thereafter.

However, a minimum wage bill passed with tax breaks tacked on would then have to go to conference with the House -- to reconcile the differences in bills passed -- and it may run afoul of the House leadership, which has maintained that raising the minimum wage should be a straightforward endeavor that even Republicans can agree to without more tax cuts for business.

But a list should certainly be kept of every Republican up for reelection in 2008 who today voted once again to screw working families and that vote needs to be hung heavily around their necks in the next campaign.

Kennedy asked the question of the day after the vote…

"Why can't we do just one thing for minimum wage workers, no strings attached, no giveaways for the powerful?"