- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Democrats have been hailing the passage of a federal minimum-wage increase for months but are still trying to get President Bush’s signature on the bill.

The issue has been a political football on Capitol Hill for years, as illustrated by the months of deliberation since Democrats took over Congress in January.

When the president vetoed the Democrats’ Iraq war supplemental spending bill, he also squashed a provision increasing the wage from $5.15 to $7.25 per hour. Democrats now are attaching the wage increase — which overwhelmingly passed both chambers — to their latest supplemental spending bill.

For years, a Republican-controlled Congress blocked proposed minimum-wage increases that didn’t include tax breaks for small businesses, saying such moves could cripple the economy.

Last summer, all but 34 Democrats voted against a minimum-wage increase pushed by Republicans because they said the increase was unfairly paired with tax breaks and estate-tax relief.

Democrats used the issue effectively on the campaign trail last year. Voters in districts across the country expressed support of the wage increase.

The minimum wage has held steady at $5.15 an hour for nearly a decade, although several states have enacted their own increases. President Clinton signed the most recent federal increase — from $4.25 to $5.15 — into law on Aug. 20, 1996.

“After a decade of struggle, fairness and decency finally are winning out for 13 million hardworking Americans who have been waiting too long for a raise,” Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat, said when congressional negotiators agreed to include the wage increase in the supplemental spending bill.

The final version included in the war-spending bill calls for a $4.8 billion tax cut, smaller than the $12 billion sought by Senate Republicans.

House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland yesterday lauded the wage increase as a major economic accomplishment for Democrats.

“The minimum wage, we think, is very important. The minimum wage will be, as I am sure all of you understand, in the supplemental that we send to the president this week,” he told reporters.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, said the measure does not belong in the supplemental spending bill.

“This needs to be the last time that these kinds of extraneous matters are parachuted into appropriation bills,” Mr. McConnell said, acknowledging that the bill probably will pass.

The proposal calls for the federal minimum wage to be increased in three phases over two years and two months, starting with a rise of 70 cents an hour within 60 days after the bill becomes law. The wage would increase by 70 cents one year later, and again one year after that.

“Workers deserve a fair day’s pay for an honest day’s work,” House Education and Labor Committee Chairman George Miller, California Democrat, has said.

Democrats lamented on Dec. 2 that the date marked the “longest time period” since the minimum wage was created that Congress had not raised the wage.

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