- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 26, 2007

The new Democratic Congress has finally banked a legislative win, fulfilling a promise to pass a $2.10 increase in the federal minimum wage and marking the first of its “Six for ‘06” campaign pledges to become law since the party’s January takeover.

“We are making progress for the American people, governing effectively and getting results. Our work is not over, it has begun,” said Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland.

“I’ve been here 26 years; I think this first five months may be the most productive five months that I’ve spent as a member of … Congress,” he said.

Among the accomplishments Democrats are praising: Health care funding for children and veterans and money to help struggling farmers and victims of the 2005 hurricanes, all of which were expected to become law when President Bush signed a $120 billion emergency-spending measure after more than 100 days of political wrangling over Iraq policy.

But Republicans are leveling the same “do-nothing” accusation that helped topple their party last fall at Speaker Nancy Pelosi, charging her party has failed to keep its word.

“The first five months of the 110th Congress have been marked by broken promises, missed opportunities and gridlock caused by strife within the majority party’s ranks,” said Minority Leader John A. Boehner of Ohio.

“The only meaningful accomplishment occurred yesterday when Congress passed legislation to fully fund American troops fighting the war on terror — a bill that was carried on the strength of a unified Republican Party,” he said, referring to the emergency-spending bill, which 140 Democrats opposed because it had no troop withdrawal plan.

Republicans tallied the 26 bills with Mr. Bush’s signature, and noted that 13 named post offices or federal buildings and five extended laws already on the books, such as the Small Business Act. The other eight included bipartisan bills such as a breast and cervical cancer early detection program reauthorization and a revamping of the congressional page board in the wake of the congressman Mark Foley scandal.

Democrats defended their domestic record yesterday, outlining the several dozen bills that passed the House in their first 150 days in power. Those include ending big oil subsidies and implementing the remaining 9/11 commission’s recommendations.

“These reforms strengthen our country and the well-being of all Americans,” said Mrs. Pelosi, California Democrat. “They represent a new direction we promised in the election and the progress we have made for the American people.”

The problem is, few of those bills have been considered in the Senate, where Democrats have just a one-seat advantage.

Republicans are quick to note that fewer than 30 bills — few of them significant — have been signed into law. Democrats point out that they have approved the federal budget blueprint, something Republicans failed to do last year during a record short session.

“We have had an extraordinary five months, a five months which has taken our country in a new direction and has transformed the do-nothing, do-bad Congress into the do-something, do-good Congress,” Mr. Hoyer said.

He said poor families living on the minimum wage will see a $4,000 pay raise and “an estimated 13 million workers will see their pay go up directly or indirectly,” especially since the wage was stagnant under Republican rule for a decade.

The minimum wage is “important — [and] long overdue,” said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada in a floor speech yesterday before the chamber adjourned for a week.

He also lauded the budget.

“The Republicans had a 55-to-45 majority; they couldn’t pass a budget,” he said. “We have a majority, with Senator Tim Johnson being ill, of 50-49 — but we passed a balanced budget.”

The Democrats promised to keep pressure on Mr. Bush to end the war in Iraq, and assured voters they know they have more work to do on the domestic front.

“Although we are proud of these successes, our proudest moment will be when people receive an increase in the minimum wage, when people see the fiscal house of America’s budget in order, when they see the cargo ships inspected that are coming to America’s shores,” said Rep. Rahm Emanuel of Illinois, chairman of the Democratic Caucus.

“That will be where progress is measured,” he said. “Our progress, our determination to see reform and to see change does not rest until the American people see a new direction in their lives.”

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell praised the minimum-wage increase, pointing out that Republicans fought to attach small-business tax breaks to the measure.

“We consider this a bipartisan accomplishment,” the Kentucky Republican said yesterday, adding he did not appreciate that it was attached to the war funding bill.

Mr. McConnell said the majority must consider Republicans when legislating if Democrats want to do more than play “small ball.”

“If this Congress wants to avoid being a do-nothing Congress, it needs to operate on a more bipartisan basis,” he said.

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