With Difficulty, Senate Passes Minimum Wage Raise

The Senate passed a bill Thursday that raises the federal minimum wage by more than $2 an hour. The bill was supposed to be an easy victory for the new Democratic majority. But passing the bill got complicated when it reached the Senate.

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RENÉE MONTAGNE, host:

Fridays we focus on your money. Today, salaries at the top and the bottom.

And we begin with the lowest possible salaries. Last night, the Senate voted to boost the minimum wage from $5.15 an hour to $7.25. The vote had been held up for weeks, but once it made it to the floor, approval was an overwhelming 94 to 3.

NPR's Andrea Seabrook has the story.

ANDREA SEABROOK: This was supposed to be an easy homerun for the new Democratic majority in Congress. The federal minimum wage hasn't been raised in a decade. Polls show Americans want it, lawmakers want it, even many businesses want it. So the bill flew through the House in an afternoon. And then it hit the Senate.

Democrats try to pass it and couldn't. Republicans proposed literally dozens of amendments, from healthcare to welfare. They finally did attach a package of tax incentives for small businesses and had he final debate yesterday afternoon.

Massachusetts Senator Ted Kennedy pointed to a poster-sized bar graph showing family income going down. Meanwhile...

Senator TED KENNEDY (Democrat, Massachusetts): Corporate profits have grown by 80 percent; 80 percent they've gone up. Eighty percent. Real income for the family has gone down over the last five years and corporate profits have gone up 80 percent. No wonder the president was cheered in Wall Street.

SEABROOK: So after weeks of struggle, the minimum wage bill passed the Senate. Now, believe it or not, the real work begins, finding common ground between the House and Senate versions of the bill. Knowing how stubborn both sides can be, it may yet be some time before the minimum wage goes up.

Andrea Seabrook, NPR News, the Capitol.

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