Minimum-Wage Battle Shifts Back to House

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The Senate has moved to end debate on a bill raising the minimum wage. But under Senate procedures, ending debate is little like stopping a mile-long freight train. It can take some time for it to actually stop. So it's unlikely there will be a final vote on the measure before the end of the week.

Three weeks ago, the House voted overwhelmingly to raise the minimum wage, taking about three hours of debate and offering no amendments. But the Senate likes amendments and moves at its own pace. In a word, slower.

This debate moved a bit too slowly for Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-MA).

"Every member of Congress has made $3,800 in the week since we began this debate," Kennedy thundered, noting that $3,000 equals "what a minimum-wage earner makes in four months."

The bill would raise the minimum wage from $5.15 an hour to $7.25 an hour in phases over two years. It would be the first increase in the minimum wage in almost 10 years.

Republicans have filed dozens of amendments to the bill, some related to the minimum wage, most of them not.

The biggest attaches $8.3 billion in business tax cuts, intended to offset the higher business payrolls the minimum wage hike would cause.

Sen. Jim DeMint of South Carolina, among 10 republicans who voted against ending debate Tuesday, said the minimum wage was unfair to states like his.

"Unfortunately, over the course of this discussion I've been forced to conclude that this whole debate is — let's just say — less than honest," DeMint said. "What we're talking about here in the Senate is not really about helping low-income workers. This is about mandating a starting wage — not a minimum wage — on a select group of states."

Still, Wednesday's 87-10 vote to end debate made it clear the hike has wide bipartisan support, at least as long as the tax cuts are attached. So the next test is likely to be House resistance to the tax cuts and the revenue loss that goes with them.

It's an issue Democratic leaders will have to resolve before they can keep their promise to low-wage workers.



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