- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 30, 2006

Before leaving town for a month, the House yesterday morning approved the first minimum-wage increase in nearly a decade, as well as provisions that ease the estate tax and extend popular tax cuts.

House Republican leaders crafted a bill that combined the contentious minimum-wage increase, demanded by many liberal Republicans, with tax breaks and estate-tax relief prized by more conservative members. The measure was approved on a vote of 230-180.

The bill’s chances in the Senate are not clear because senators rejected a full repeal of the estate tax last month. House leaders hoped that combining the provisions into one bill would give them a better chance of approval.

“What we have tried to do is package this to succeed,” said House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Bill Thomas, California Republican.

The House also approved a pensions-overhaul bill. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, Tennessee Republican, said he will bring both bills to the floor this week and urged support, especially for estate-tax relief.

Democrats condemned the tax break as a giveaway to the rich and said it is unfair to tie the provision to the minimum-wage increase.

Rep. Earl Pomeroy, North Dakota Democrat, called the combination “legislative extortion.”

Democrats saw the move as a cheap political ploy by Republicans, who know the bill won’t pass the Senate. “It’s an election-year trick,” said Rep. Sander M. Levin, Michigan Democrat.

Mr. Thomas said Democrats are angry that Republicans took away one of their pet issues and are forcing them to make a difficult choice.

The bill was designed to protect vulnerable Republicans from being attacked on the minimum-wage issue this year.

“This is a political piece of legislation to help our members,” said Rep. Ray LaHood, Illinois Republican and a supporter of the wage increase.

The bill would increase the minimum wage from $5.15 to $7.25 per hour, over three years. It would ease, but not fully repeal, what many call the “death tax” levied on estates.

The bill also extends popular tax cuts worth $38 billion. These include a research and development tax break for businesses and a break for teachers who buy class supplies.

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Charles E. Grassley, Iowa Republican, fought to keep the tax-cut extensions in the larger pensions-overhaul package, which was being negotiated by the House and Senate. The House refused, and talks collapsed. House leaders then included the provisions in their estate-tax bill and advanced a separate pensions bill.

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