- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 21, 2006

The Senate yesterday rejected a bid by Democrats to increase the minimum wage, after Democrats forced senators to divert attention from the defense debate to consider the issue.

Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat, tried to attach a proposal to the defense authorization bill that would raise the minimum hourly wage from $5.15 to $7.25 over three years. The amendment required 60 votes but failed on a 52-46 vote, with eight Republicans supporting it.

Democrats used the issue to argue that the Republican Party is out of touch with mainstream America and family values.

“Don’t talk to us on the other side of the aisle about family values; this is it. This is an issue of decency and fairness,” Mr. Kennedy said. “[Republicans] understand Wall Street, but they don’t understand Main Street, and that’s going to be their undoing this election.”

Republicans said job training, not an increase in the minimum wage, will lift people out of poverty.

“Real job skills, not artificial wage levels, should be our focus,” said Sen. Michael B. Enzi of Wyoming, who sponsored the Republican version of the wage-increase proposal, which was defeated yesterday by a 45-53 vote.

Mr. Enzi’s proposal would have increased the minimum hourly wage to $6.25, but provisions also would have decreased taxes and regulations for small businesses and allowed flextime for low-wage workers.

The Republicans who voted for Mr. Kennedy’s bill were Sens. Mike DeWine of Ohio, Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island, Susan Collins and Olympia J. Snowe of Maine, Norm Coleman of Minnesota, Richard G. Lugar of Indiana, John W. Warner of Virginia and Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania.

In the House, Democrats have attached a proposal similar to Mr. Kennedy’s to one of the annual spending bills.

House Republican leaders now are considering how to handle the spending bill when it reaches the floor.

Some Republicans privately have urged their leaders to bring up the minimum-wage issue instead of blocking Democrats from bringing it to the floor. The proposal likely will pass if allowed to come to a vote, some Republicans say.

Rep. Ray LaHood, Illinois Republican, said that blocking the proposal would look “silly.” He said House Majority Leader John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican, assured him that the House will vote on some form of a minimum-wage increase. “Why not do our own bill? … This is a no-brainer,” Mr. LaHood said.

A spokesman for Mr. Boehner said the leader “believes the conference will deal with this issue in some sort of fashion this year, but no decisions have been made at this point.”

Congress has not enacted a minimum-wage increase since 1996 — “a dismal performance,” said Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes, Maryland Democrat.

Sen. Johnny Isakson, Georgia Republican, called the situation “a classic debate between two different philosophies. One philosophy believes in the marketplace, the competitive system … and entrepreneurship. And secondly is the argument that says that government knows better, and the top-down mandate works.”

Rep. Jack Kingston, Georgia Republican, said Democrats are using the issue because it makes “good politics.”

“This is an election year, and politics often trumps policy,” he said.

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