- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 28, 2006

While House Republicans trumpeted elements of their suburban agenda, Democrats yesterday said Congress will have failed the American people if it adjourns without increasing the minimum wage.

“The battleground is in the suburbs, and it is wise policy and wise politics to directly meet the needs of families in those areas,” said Rep. Mark Steven Kirk, Illinois Republican, chairman of the party’s Suburban Agenda Caucus.

Mr. Kirk said both parties for too long have focused on rural or urban voters. The country now is 54 percent suburbanites who face similar challenges, he said.

“In the middle is where the majority is,” he said.

Republicans outlined seven “suburban agenda” measures for 2007 aimed at improving education and health care. They also are pushing the Alternative Energy Act of 2006, which funds research for plug-in electric hybrid car technology and studies solar and wind power.

Democrats, meanwhile, tried to force a vote on increasing the minimum wage, a move many centrist Republicans support.

“The Democrats want to take the nation in a new direction, one where the needs of all Americans are addressed,” said Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson, Texas Democrat.

They threatened to resist the adjournment scheduled for the end of the week until Republican leaders allow a clean “up or down” vote on the minimum wage. Most Democrats opposed an August bill that the House passed, which raised the wage but also offered numerous tax cuts. That bill was stalled in the Senate.

“We should not leave town when there is serious business the Republican leadership has failed to complete,” said Rep. Jim McGovern, Massachusetts Democrat.

But Rep. Pete Sessions, Texas Republican, said his party is targeting “people in America who get up every day [and] go to work.”

“We intend to make sure that voters in November see the suburban caucus and the agenda that we have that’s good for their families and good for our Republican Party,” he said.

“Suburban agenda” items that overwhelmingly passed the House this year include a measure to block sites like MySpace.com from schools and libraries and a bill allowing schools to do FBI background checks before hiring employees.

A new poll of 1,000 suburban voters released by Republicans yesterday shows 50 percent think the economy is on the right track, up from 38 percent in July. It also shows Republican popularity ratings have increased — from 40 percent in July to 43 percent this month. Negative ratings decreased from 53 percent in July to 49 percent this month. The poll was conducted by the Winston Group, a firm used by Republicans.

“While Democrats talk the talk, these numbers show that suburban folks increasingly like Republicans because they walk the walk with our plan to fight terrorism and grow jobs,” said Ron Bonjean, a spokesman for House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert.

But the Democrats, who need just 15 seats to wrest control of the House from Republicans, say the majority party did nothing for the American people this year.

“The ‘Do-Nothing Congress’ did more substantive work than we have done,” said Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland. He said Republicans and President Bush “demand that it is either done their way or not done at all.”

President Truman dubbed lawmakers in 1948 the “Do-Nothing Congress” because they met less than 110 days. When this Congress adjourns it will have met for less than 95 voting days.

Several Democrats during floor speeches yesterday attempted to get unanimous consent to consider the minimum-wage bill immediately. Republicans controlling the proceedings denied them.

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