CHN: Action On Minimum Wage In The Senate And The House

In the Senate.  More than 80 percent of Americans favor increasing the minimum wage to $7.15 an hour, and a majority live in the 20 states that have raised the minimum wage above the federal $5.15.  Despite this overwhelming support, two separate amendments to raise the minimum wage in the Senate were defeated on June 21. Both amendments were offered during consideration of the Defense Authorization bill.  According to pre-determined procedures, both would have required 60 votes for passage.  The first, proposed by Senator Kennedy (D-MA), was voted down 52-46.  The second amendment, proposed by Senator Enzi (R-WY), failed 45-53.
The amendment proposed by Senator Kennedy would have raised the minimum wage to $7.25 over the next two years, an increase of $2.10 above the current federal minimum wage of $5.15.  Kennedy’s amendment would also have extended the minimum wage requirement to the US territory of the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, which is currently exempt from the requirement and has a minimum wage of $3.15.  Eight Republicans joined all of the Democrats in supporting the amendment.

Senator Enzi’s amendment would have increased the minimum wage only to $6.25, and also included “poison pills” that would undermine worker rights and reduce incomes.  The Enzi amendment eroded the Fair Labor Standards Act by ending protections for the 40-hour work week.  Employers would be allowed to avoid paying overtime if two weeks of work did not exceed 80 hours, even though employees worked more than 40 hours in one of the weeks.  In addition, Enzi’s amendment undermined the minimum wage tip credit.

According to Senate reports, Senator Kennedy will try to add his amendment to other legislation moving through the Senate sometime this year.

In the House.  An amendment to raise the minimum wage to $7.25 over the next two years was added to the House Labor-HHS-Education appropriations bill in the full committee on June 13.  Rep. Hoyer (D-MD) proposed the amendment, which passed by a vote of 32-27 with the support of 7 Republicans.  The addition of the minimum wage provision and disputes over funding levels has stalled the bill.

On June 22, in an effort to get a minimum wage vote on the House floor, Democrats attempted to add the amendment to another appropriations bill: for Science/State/Justice/Commerce.  This time the Republicans who’d supported the amendment on the earlier bill withdrew their support. The amendment failed, and the bill went to the floor without the minimum wage provision.  However, on June 28 when the bill came to the floor, Rep. Obey (D-WI) offered an amendment to raise the minimum wage to $7.25 by January 2009.  Obey withdrew the amendment under objections that it violated the House rules for legislating changes on an unrelated spending bill.  The strategy of the House Democratic leadership is to continue using appropriations bills and votes on the rules setting the parameters for their consideration as mechanisms for bringing up the minimum wage.

In other action related to the minimum wage, during House consideration of the estate tax bill on June 22, House Minority Leader Pelosi (D-CA) raised a procedural issue saying, “It is inappropriate to consider this bill until the Republican leadership schedules a vote on an increase in the minimum wage, which they are now blocking.”  A vote was then taken to block proceeding with the estate tax vote.  It failed 182-236.  All but ten of the Democrats present voted for the Pelosi motion.  No Republicans voted with her.

House Majority Leader Boehner (R-OH), in reversing an earlier statement, said that the minimum wage would come up for a vote in the House this year.  The Democratic leaders believe that if a Republican bill does come up it will be similar to the Enzi bill offered in the Senate.

For more information, see “Most Americans Now Live in States That Have Raised the Wage Floor” by Michael Dimock, Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, April 19, 2006

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