- The Washington Times - Monday, March 7, 2005

Republicans turned back an effort yesterday by Senate Democrats to raise the federal minimum wage by more than $2 per hour.

An amendment by Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat, to raise the minimum wage to $7.25 per hour from $5.15 was defeated on a 49-46 vote, 14 votes short of the 60 needed to pass.

In a political turnabout, Democrats then defeated an alternative wage-increase measure from Sen. Rick Santorum, Pennsylvania Republican.

“It is an absolute travesty that a family of three earning the minimum wage works five days a week all year round yet still lives below the poverty line,” said Mr. Kennedy, who said his bill would benefit 7.3 million workers. “What does that say about us as a country?”

Mr. Kennedy blamed the loss on the alternative by Mr. Santorum, who faces a tough re-election battle in Pennsylvania, a Democrat-leaning state with a large working-class population.

The Santorum amendment would have raised the minimum wage to $6.25 per hour and included tax breaks and regulatory easements for small businesses. It also would have given employers and their workers more flexibility about exchanging overtime pay for time off.

It failed last night on a 61-38 vote, with all 43 Democrats who voted joining 17 Republicans and the chamber’s lone independent voting against the proposal.

In contrast, the Kennedy proposal was supported by all 41 Democrats who voted, four Republicans and the independent. All the votes in opposition came from Republicans.

“I don’t support the Kennedy amendment because I don’t support raising the minimum wage,” said Sen. John E. Sununu, New Hampshire Republican. “When you raise the minimum wage, you price workers out of the market. That’s the economic reality that seems to be missing — at least so far — from this discussion.”

The whole discussion about increasing the minimum wage disturbed Mr. Sununu because it suggests that the purpose of the federal government is to set prices and wages.

“That’s not the role of the federal government,” he said.

“In fact, there are very few countries left on Earth whose central government has the job and responsibility of rewarding work in and of itself,” Mr. Sununu continued. “And those are countries like Cuba and North Korea that decide only the federal government should be able to determine what you earn.”

The amendments were proposed for the major bankruptcy-reform bill currently being debated in the Senate.

Mr. Santorum defended his proposal, saying the larger increase sought by Democrats could “have a dramatic impact on the economy and potentially a very inflationary impact.”

But Mr. Kennedy called it an “anti-worker poison pill” designed to draw the support of Republicans away from his bill so that neither would pass. He also complained about the “hypocrisy” of members of Congress for taking $28,000 in pay raises since 1996 — the last time the federal minimum wage was raised.

Today, the Senate will take up a bankruptcy-bill amendment by Sen. Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat, that would specify that pro-life demonstrators convicted of violence outside abortion clinics cannot shelter their assets through bankruptcy.

If the Schumer amendment passes, it likely will kill the entire bill, as has happened several times before.

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