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Minimum Wage Front And Center In Senate

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Almost two weeks after a bill to raise the Federal Minimum Wage easily passed the House of Representatives, the legislation has arrived on the Senate floor, with debate started yesterday and a vote expected by the end of the week. The measure to raise the minimum wage for the first time in a decade has been a long slog for Senator Ted Kennedy (D-MA) who brought the legislation to help the working poor before the previous, Republican-controlled Congress three times, only to see it shot down by the GOP on each occasion. "After 10 long years without a raise, it's long past time to share the wealth with America's minimum wage workers," said Kennedy, in a speech last week. "I'm optimistic that my colleagues in the Senate will agree, and we can take prompt action next week to give working families the raise they deserve. No one who works for a living should have to live in poverty." The bill would raise the minimum wage to $7.25 per hour over two years, which is still less than the lowest allowable wage rate in states like California, Oregon, Washington, Rhode Island, Vermont and Massachusetts -- you know, the blue states. Senate Republicans facing reelection in 2008 realize they better have a damn good reason to vote against this increase and are trying to make a wage hike for workers more palatable for themselves by attaching add-on bills to give yet more tax breaks to business. And they were successful at getting Max Baucus (D-MT), the chair of the Senate Finance Committee to agree to add a bill providing more business tax breaks -- but they did that under the threat of a filibuster, which would then essentially require 60 votes to pass the minimum wage legislation, versus a simple 51-vote majority. AFL-CIO President John Sweeney comes down hard on that and urges the Senate to have the courage to pass a "clean" minimum wage bill. "The Senate should pass a fair and clear-cut minimum wage increase for our nation's working poor, with no special strings attached for business," said Sweeney in a statement yesterday. "We are urging Senators to vote 'yes' on a clean minimum wage bill in order to prevent even more business pay offs and anti-worker add-ons to what should be a straightforward piece of legislation." Sweeney points out that it's also just a silly way for Republicans to kiss up to business as they have already been remarkably generous to the business community in the decade that has seen no salary increase for minimum-wage workers. "There's no good reason to lard the Senate minimum wage bill with yet another round of unwarranted tax breaks for business," said Sweeney. "In the last 10 years, the Republican-led Congress provided corporations with $276 billion in tax cuts and provided small businesses with another $36 billion in dedicated tax breaks." The AFL-CIO president also said that Senate Democrats must "squash the business lobby's myth about how raising the minimum wage will hurt small business and cost our nation jobs," a call that Senator Kennedy has been heeding for years. Here's Kennedy:
"In the House debate last week, opponents again claimed that the small business community is vehemently opposed to an increase. They think small businesses will suffer or collapse even with our modest increase. "That's preposterous. A recent Gallup poll found that 86% of small business owners don't think that the minimum wage affects their business-at all. In fact, small businesses have historically prospered after past increases. More than half the states have already acted to increase minimum wages above the federal level today, and these states are generating more small businesses than states with a minimum wage of $5.15 an hour"
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) also compromised with Republicans in order to get the sweeping ethics legislation passed last week -- isn't it amazing how much you have to compromise with the GOP to get an ethics bill passed? -- and has promised to bring a measure by Judd Gregg (R-NH) to give a line-item veto to the president to the floor for a vote this week. The Senate's not about to give the line-item veto to the most incompetent president in U.S. history and it is my hope that Democrats will soundly reject the bill calling for more business tax cuts and pass a clean minimum wage bill to help the five million additional Americans who have slipped into poverty during the Bush years. With the minimum wage at its lowest buying power in 50 years and with a presidential election and more huge Congressional elections coming in 2008, I say let the schmucks on the other side of the aisle filibuster or vote against it. Then we simply hang that giant rock around their necks for the next election and, being the majority party and all, simply keep bringing economic justice to the floor of the Senate until it passes. Said Kennedy in the Senate yesterday: "Americans understand the issues of fairness. They understand the importance of work. Americans have believed, for a long period of time, if you work hard and play by the rules, you should not have to live in poverty in the United States of America." You can read more from Bob at BobGeiger.com.
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Bob Geiger is a writer, activist and Democratic operative in Westchester County, NY.
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