14 Senate Dems Not Cosponsors on Minimum Wage Increase (UPDATE 1)

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(APN) ATLANTA — While a bill to pass the federal minimum wage passed the US House just last week, an identical bill in the US Senate is uncertain to pass at this time, particularly when 13 Senate Democrats have not cosponsored the bill.

The bill, S. 2, was introduced by Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), and currently has 37 total co-sponsors as listed at thomas.loc.gov [including Reid], consisting of 33 Democrats, 1 Independent, and 1 Republican, US Sen. Arlen Specter (R-PA).

UPDATE: US Sens. Rockefeller (D-WV) and Salazar (D-CO) have both been added as cosponsors since our first story came out. We had expected Sen. Rockefeller to sign on, after being notified by his spokesperson, Wendy Morigi. Morigi said Sen. Reid’s office has an updated list but we have not been provided with it at this time.

US Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) has asked to be added as a cosponsor, but is not yet listed, spokesperson Erin Campbell tells Atlanta Progressive News.

This leaves 14 Senate Democrats who have not cosponsored the bill. They are Senators Carper (D-DE), Nelson (D-FL), Inouye (D-HI), Cardin (D-MD), Klobuchar (D-MN), McCaskill (D-MO), Baucus (D-MT), Tester (D-MT), Nelson (D-NE), Conrad (D-ND), Casey (D-PA), Whitehouse (D-RI), Johnson (D-SD), and Byrd (D-WV).

Atlanta Progressive News has contacted all 14 offices to find out why the Democratic Senators had not supported the bill and also to get their positions on record.

Sen. Kennedy had a comparable bill last year. Kennedy also introduced a June 2006 amendment which passed 52-46, but the same bill was never brought up in the House for a vote.

Sen. Nelson (D-FL) supports raising the federal minimum wage, spokesperson Dan McLaughlin wrote in an email to APN. “Senator Nelson strongly supports federal legislation to raise the minimum wage, though he’s not a cosponsor of the measure. The bill would have little impact in… Florida because there already is a state-enacted minimum wage. As the value of minimum wage continues to be eroded by inflation, Nelson is committed to increasing the federal standard,” McLaughlin wrote. Nelson voted yea on Kennedy’s amendment last year.

Sen. McCaskill is also in support of raising the minimum wage, spokesperson Adrienne Marsh told Atlanta Progressive News. “At this point it just isn’t something we’ve had the opportunity to discuss so far. She is an outspoken advocate of increasing the minimum wage. She is interested in looking at the specific provisions of the bill. It just hasn’t come up for conversation yet. As long as everything’s good, there’s no reason she wouldn’t support it,” Marsh said, adding, “You can count on her to support the federal minimum wage increase.” McCaskill was just elected to the Senate in 2006.

Sen. Baucus also supports raising the minimum wage, spokesperson Carol Guthrie told Atlanta Progressive News. “Senator Baucus is a strong supporter of an increase in the minimum wage. He has said the House has come through for American workers who deserve it, and he’s confident the Senate will do the same with his support. He’s working very hard to get the 60 votes,” required to end Senate debate, Guthrie said. Baucus did not cosponsor Kennedy’s bill last year but did vote yea on Kennedy’s amendment.

Senator Nelson (D-NE) is in support of raising the minimum wage, his spokesperson, Aaron Eske, told Atlanta Progressive News. “Sen. Nelson doesn’t cosponsor every bill that he votes for,” Eske said. Nelson did not cosponsor Kennedy’s bill last year but did vote for Kennedy’s amendment.

Senator Johnson, who has been hospitalized for weeks in serious condition, has not been able to co-sponsor the bill for that reason, but his spokesperson, Julianne Fisher, expressed Johnson’s support for a federal minimum wage increase. “We’re not at a point where he is cosponsoring any legislation. I can’t tell you anything on a specific piece of legislation from this Congress. Having said that, he has long been supportive of an increase in the federal minimum wage,” Fisher said. Johnson co-sponsored Kennedy’s bill and voted yea on his amendment last year. Johnson had also co-sponsored an even stronger bill by Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY), which would have indexed minimum wage increases to any increases in Congressional salaries.

While Sen. Byrd has not cosponsored S. 2, his office did provide his remarks on the issue.

“An increase in the minimum wage is long overdue. Too many hard-working West Virginians do not earn enough in a 40-hour work week to lift their families out of poverty,” Byrd stated. “Financial pressures are especially difficult for families struggling at minimum wage jobs. Right now, the federal minimum wage is at its lowest level in 50 years. That’s unacceptable. We need to create a cycle of opportunity to replace the cycle of poverty that has engulfed too many working families. The Senate should move forward on this proposal quickly and take a stand on behalf of working families everywhere. For eight years the wealthiest among us have been given multiple rounds of tax cuts, write-offs, and financial boosts. Low-income workers should have a fair share in the nation’s economic success too,” Byrd said.

The offices of Senators Carper, Inouye, Cardin, Klobuchar, Tester, Conrad, Casey, and Whitehouse did not return calls from APN requesting their position on the federal minimum wage.

Sen. Kennedy’s office did not return a call by press time regarding his plans for Senate Committee hearings on the substance of S. 2.

FLASHBACK: KENNEDY’S 2005 AMENDMENT

Last year, Sen. Kennedy introduced an amendment on raising the minimum wage to a separate bill. The bill passed 52-46, with eight Republicans and one Independent joining with all but one Democrat. The one Democrat, who did not vote, was Sen. Rockefeller. Rockefeller’s Office tells APN he missed the vote only because he was having back problems at the time.

The eight Republicans who supported the Kennedy amendment at the time were Sens. Chafee (R-RI), Coleman (R-MN), Collins (R-ME), DeWine (R-OH), Lugar (R-IN), Snowe (R-ME), Specter (R-PA), and Warner (R-VA). Sen. Chafee was replaced in the last election by Sen. Whitehouse (D-RI) who has neither co-sponsored S. 2 nor indicated a position on the issue. Sen. DeWine was replaced by Sen. Brown (D-OH), who has cosponsored S. 2.

The Republican majority in the last Congress did not allow the House version of the bill to come up for a vote at the time.

TODAY: A DEMOCRATIC PRIORITY, A SENATE HURTLE

“It’s a priority of ours and something Democrats feel very strongly about [but] we don’t want to get into the practice of speculating about the future,” Will Edgar, a spokesperson for Sen. Reid, told Atlanta Progressive News.

“The minimum wage is one of 10 leadership bills,” Edgar said.

It is likely the bill that comes out of the Senate will be different from that in the US House and it will then need to go to Conference Committee and be voted on again on both sides before being presented to President Bush, Edgar said.

Bush has said he does not support the House bill as currently written and the possibility of a veto has been raised.

Edgar said he did not know whether there was any outreach effort from Senator Reid’s Office to get more cosponsors on to S. 2, but his remarks suggest there has not been one.

“We’re not trying to get people to pass that legislation as it is written because what eventually will come to the floor will come through Sen. Kennedy’s Committee,” Edgar said.

When will minimum wage come up for a vote in the Senate?

“It’s getting compounded by what’s going on in Iraq in Congress. It will come to the floor next week. We will have a couple days of debate… I don’t know when the vote will be,” Edgar said.

Reid’s Office also stated Republican support will be necessary in the Senate to obtain a cloture motion on debate and thus enable a vote. Thus, 60 yea votes will be needed on this year’s bill [whether it is Reid’s current bill or a possible future bill introduced by Kennedy], even though only 50 votes were needed on Kennedy’s amendment last year. The reason is, Kennedy’s bill at that time was an amendment already up for a vote.

“One way or another, we’re gonna need to work in a bipartisan fashion in the Senate. That’s something Sen. Reid has made clear from the beginning. You can either have an issue, or you can have a bill,” Edgar said.

“The Senate has expressed a willingness to talk about tax breaks,” which might be part of the final bill, Edgar said.

POSSIBLE SMALL BUSINESS TAX BREAKS

Sen. Baucus, who chairs the Senate Finance Committee, will facilitate discussion on small business tax breaks beginning tomorrow.

The package of breaks is part of what is called a Chairman’s mark, Guthrie, Baucus’s spokesperson, said. The mark is “for consideration by the Finance Committee… a legislative package. The Committee sees if they want to add certain amendments.”

“It’s possible this may be attached to the minimum wage legislation,” Guthrie said, adding, “Right now, it’s discrete legislation coming through the Finance Committee.”

“Sen. Baucus has said whether it moves with minimum wage or not, he wants to help small businesses.”

Sen. Salazar, as noted earlier, has unveiled his ideas for small business relief, and is planning to discuss these in Committee tomorrow.

Last year the Republican Congressional leadership, particularly in the House, would not allow the minimum wage increase to be considered without being attached to tax breaks for the wealthy.

The Democrat’s current consideration of small business relief should not be confused with last year’s Republican poison pill, however.

“That was a very different bill with very different political aims that was put forth last year and Sen. Baucus didn’t support that,” Guthrie said.

WHY CO-SPONSORSHIP MATTERS

The reason co-sponsorship is important has to do with the citizenry and their ability to advocate effectively on important matters to them.

That is, if citizens had to wait until a Senator voted to learn what their position is, then it’s too late to decide whether to lobby them because the vote has already occurred. Co-sponsorship allows citizens to make more effective lobbying choices.

PROSPECTS OF PASSAGE

Working families shouldn’t make plans for their anticipated paycheck increases just yet. Here’s why:

60 votes will be needed to bring the matter to a vote.

Assuming [generously] that all Democrats, both Independents, and the six Republicans who supported the Kennedy amendment last year who are still around this year, support the bill, that brings us to 57. With Sen. Johnson likely to be in the hospital for some time, that leaves 56. Thus, four Republicans will need to join in the cloture vote, in addition to Collins, Coleman, Lugar, Snowe, Specter, and Warner.

In addition to wooing a total of ten Republicans [only one of whom, Specter, has co-sponsored S. 2], all Democrats [other than Johnson] and both Independents will need to also vote yea.

If last year’s votes on Kennedy’s amendment can tell us who will vote yea this year, then the newly elected Democrats of this Congress are of particular concern because we don’t have that reference point for them.

Of the new Democrats, only Webb (D-VA) and Brown (D-OH) have co-sponsored S. 2. McCaskill has indicated she is inclined to vote yea. However, Cardin, Klobuchar, Tester, Casey, and Whitehouse have not yet shared their intentions.

If APN receives word from any of these Senators, or from Sens. Carper, Inouye, or Conrad’s Offices, we will post an update to this story.

To be sure, the House version of the bill passed with overwhelming majority, including dozens of Republican Congresspersons. The bill passed 315-116, even though there was initially only 223 total cosponsors, including the sponsor, US Rep. Miller (D-CA).

However, on the House side, this is the first time there has been an opportunity to gauge Congressional support. On the Senate side, instead, we already know how the vast majority voted last year.

About the author:

Matthew Cardinale is the News Editor for Atlanta Progressive News. He may be reached at matthew@atlantaprogressivenews.com

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This article may be reprinted in full at no cost where Atlanta Progressive News is credited.

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