- The Washington Times - Monday, May 6, 2002

Senate Democrats plan to call up a proposal soon to raise the federal minimum wage to $6.65 per hour, but they haven't agreed on the election-year timing of the move.
Democratic sources said Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle is resisting calls in his party to attach the proposed minimum-wage increase to trade legislation now under debate.
"There has been some discussion about the relationship of minimum wage to trade and whether or not this is an appropriate time," the South Dakota Democrat said last week. "I haven't come to any conclusions about when the debate should take place."
Democrats have already added provisions to the trade package that would help displaced workers and retired steelworkers with their health care benefits.
The Bush administration is eager for the trade package to be approved. The package includes a trade promotion authority that would enable President Bush to submit trade deals to Congress for approval without amendments.
The wage proposal promises to be one of the Democrats' defining issues this fall as the party seeks to increase its one-vote edge in the Senate and pick up the six House seats needed to take back control of that chamber.
The minimum-wage bill introduced by Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat, would raise the minimum hourly rate from $5.15 to $6.65 over two years. Congress last approved an increase in the federal minimum wage in August 1996, raising the rate from $4.25 to $5.15. The proposed new increase would directly affect about 11 million workers.
A companion bill has been introduced in the House by Rep. David E. Bonior, Michigan Democrat.
Congressional sources said on the condition of anonymity that Sen. Richard J. Durbin, Illinois Democrat, was urging Mr. Daschle to bring up the minimum-wage bill now but had met with a cool reception.
"Daschle made a very strong argument not to do that," added Amy Isaacs, national director of Americans for Democratic Action, which is promoting the wage increase.
Among the factors that could affect the timing of the move is a continued sluggish economy. And some Democrats favor a debate on the minimum wage closer to the November elections.
"I do think at some point this year we have to have a good minimum wage debate and hopefully pass something that the president will sign," Mr. Daschle said.
A spokesman for the United States Chamber of Commerce said Democrats probably will bring the bill to the Senate floor for debate in September, closer to the election.
"It's an election-year issue, typically," Chamber spokesman Randy Johnson said. "We will oppose the bill we don't think the government ought to be in the business of setting wages."
Senate Republicans are expected to offer an alternative that would raise the minimum wage by $1 or $1.10, Mr. Johnson said. And although advocates of the bill expect the Republican-led House to be a more difficult hurdle, lobbyists on both sides of the issue say there is a fair chance that the House could approve the measure in an election year.
With unemployment rising to its highest level in nearly eight years, business leaders are hoping to defeat the proposal on the grounds that it would hamper an economic recovery.
"The vast majority of economists, and [Federal Reserve Chairman] Alan Greenspan, are quite clear on the effects of the minimum wage," Mr. Johnson said. "It delays jobs for entry-level [positions] in the work force and is counterproductive to job growth."


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