Senate Eyes Votes on Iraq, Minimum Wage

Two immediate issues face the 110th Congress: raising the minimum wage and the Bush administration's policy in Iraq. The Senate votes Tuesday to end debate on both subjects.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

The Senate tackles two very different but equally high profile issues today. It votes on bringing to a close days of debate on raising the minimum wage, then a showdown is expected on the Senate floor over President Bush's plan to send additional troops to Iraq. Several non-binding resolutions, some supporting the president's plan and others opposing it, will also be considered.

Joining us now to talk about all of these is NPR congressional correspondent David Welna.

Good morning.

DAVID WELNA: Good morning, Renee.

MONTAGNE: First, let's turn to the minimum-wage hike debate.

WELNA: Well, Democrats are saying it's time to wrap up days of debate on the minimum-wage bill and vote so they can move onto the Iraq debate. You know, at last count, there were 107 Republican amendments to the minimum-wage bill, many of which make that bill unpalatable to the Democratic-run House, which passed its own minimum-wage bill without the billions of dollars in tax breaks for small businesses that Republicans have insisted on in the Senate.

That said, it looks like there will be enough votes today to limit the debate on that bill and get to a final vote. But that vote probably won't happen until late this week.

MONTAGNE: And then, completely different subject that the senators will take up - Iraq. The debate is expected to get started. What's in play?

WELNA: Well, it looks like that debate will get underway early next week now, and even as the Pentagon continues to move thousands of troops that are called for in the president's plan towards Iraq. What prompted this debate was the Senate Foreign Relations committee's passage last week of a non-binding resolution saying it's not in the national interest to send more troops to Iraq.

And a couple of leading Democrats sponsored that. But more significantly, Nebraska Republican Chuck Hagel did too.

And then there's another resolution essentially saying the same thing but more deferential toward President Bush, and its lead sponsor is Virginia Republican John Warner.

Now President Bush in his interview with NPR yesterday said that going ahead without more troops, as those resolutions urged, would ultimately embolden the enemy. And Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid had this to say yesterday about that.

Senator HARRY REID (Democrat, Nevada): To suggest that a former chairman of the Armed Services Committee, a former secretary of Navy, a former Marine, Senator John Warner; or highly decorated Vietnam veteran Chuck Hagel, who on the battlefields of Vietnam saved his own brother's life. Would these two men take any act to undermine our troops or embolden the enemy? Of course not.

WELNA: Now notice that Reid focused on Republicans who backed these resolutions to make his point. And it's likely a dozen or more Republicans may repudiate the troop buildup. But they're far more likely to do so voting for Warner's resolution. It's the one that's most likely to prevail.

MONTAGNE: And what are President Bush's allies in the Senate proposing at this point?

WELNA: Well, mainly they're trying to limit Republican defections from the Bush plan, and also offer alternatives that GOP senators who are worried about constituents who have turned against the war might vote for, especially those 21 Republicans whose seats are up for grabs in next year's elections.

One proposal being pushed by Republican John McCain and independent Joe Lieberman would set benchmarks for the Iraqis to meet without spelling out any consequences for non-compliance. And another would simply support the president's Iraq plan.

MONTAGNE: And is any of this likely to affect the president's actions?

WELNA: Well, I doubt it. These measures seem much more about Democrats and some Republicans showing they got the message from the November elections that people are fed up with the war. And this is also way to gauge how widespread opposition of the war has become in Congress. And there are much tougher measures like funding cutoffs that Congress could move toward down the line.

MONTAGNE: David, thanks very much.

WELNA: You're welcome, Renee.

MONTAGNE: NPR congressional correspondent David Welna.

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