The House votes 315-116 to approve the first increase in the federal minimum wage in 10 years. The legislation was given a high priority by the new Democratic congressional leadership. The proposal, which is expected to pass late Wednesday, would raise the federal minimum wage from $5.15 to $7.25 an hour over two years.
There are some half a million hourly workers who now make the minimum wage, according to the Labor Department. Democrat Robert Andrews of New Jersey said that after years in which Congress approved tax cuts for the wealthy, and lawmakers gave themselves raises, their day had finally arrived:
"This is the day for the people who empty the bed pans change the bed linens sweep the floors," Andrews said, "and do the hardest work of America."
The House bill, HR-2, would raise the minimum wage to $5.85 an hour two months after President Bush signs it. It would go up to $6.55 an hour a year later, and reach $7.25 an hour a year after that.
Democratic leaders in the House, knowing they have the numbers, offerred what they called a "clean bill," and kept Republicans from attempting to amend the proposal.
But in the Senate, it's a different story. There, Republicans could block the bill if they don't get the tax breaks that small businesses want to offset the effects of higher payrolls. So Democrats say they'll be open to some benefits for small businesses.
The Senate could take up the minimum-wage hike as soon as next week; President Bush has indicated he would sign a measure that pairs a wage hike with tax breaks for business.