Federal Minimum Wage Bill Faces More Trouble (UPDATE 2)

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(APN) ATLANTA — The bill to increase the federal minimum wage today faces a colliding of obstacles as the US Senate appears poised to pass a version with one or even two amendments undesired by the Democratic leadership in the US House. The Senate began taking up the bill today.

A clean version of HR 2, passed a week ago in the US House and now up in the Senate, will likely be voted on Wednesday, but aides to senior Democratic Senators, speaking on condition of anonymity, do not expect it to garner the 60 votes necessary to end debate and commence a vote.

“I urge my Republican colleagues in the Senate to do the same [as the House]. Put partisan politics aside. Don’t load up this minimum wage bill with poison pills. Don’t use procedural tactics to delay it. Listen to the voice of the American people,” US Sen. Edwards Kennedy (D-MA) said in prepared floor remarks today, obtained by Atlanta Progressive News.

US Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and US Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT) have proposed an amendment to HR 2 which would add small business tax breaks to the wage bill itself, a combination to be subsequently considered.

This amendment is technically called an “amendment in nature of a substitute, which would strike House language and put in Senate language,” Carol Guthrie, spokesperson for US Sen. Baucus, said. However, a clean bill “is Sen. Baucus’s preference as well,” Guthrie said.

On top of this, Reid has also arranged a compromise with US Sen. Judd Gregg (R-NH) to have an unrelated line item veto bill also be debated as an amendment to the minimum wage increase bill. The final vote is not expected until late this week or next week.

“Last week Republicans tried to kill ethics reform. They filibustered it because of a line item veto. Senator Reid said we’ll give you time to debate this but that time is not now. Senator Reid said, we’ll let you do this on the minimum wage bill. He pushed it forward to allow more time,” one aide to a Senior Senator said on condition of anonymity.

US Sen. Gregg had been insisting in the line-item veto provision as an amendment to S. 1, but US Sen. Robert Byrd (D-WV) said absolutely not, according to Betsy Holohan, Communications Director for the US Senate Budget Committee, minority side. This led to Reid’s proposal to try to amend it to the minimum wage bill.

None of these amendments are consistent with the federal minimum wage increase approved by the US House last week. If the Senate passes either of them, the bill will have to go to Conference Committee and be re-voted on both in the House and Senate.

“Of course our preference is for a clean bill. There have been a number of tax changes over the last ten years, but working Americans have not gotten a raise. So we think it should be passed as a stand alone,” Drew Hammill, Deputy Press Secretary for US House Speaker Pelosi, told Atlanta Progressive News.

“I think the AFL-CIO both nationally and I certainly locally would like to see a clean bill,” Charlie Flemming, President of the Atlanta/North Georgia Labor Council, said.

“You know, the reality is the American workers haven’t had a raise in 10 years and it’s time. I expected them to try to attach some tax breaks but what you just said about Senator Reid would be very disappointing,” Flemming said.

“I think they should vote for it on its merits, up or down, and let the political fallout fall where it’s going to be,” Flemming said.

US Sen. Reid wants to pass a bill to increase the federal minimum wage and believes it’s more likely to happen with small business tax benefits attached, Will Edgar, a spokesperson for US Sen. Reid, said.

Reid’s office deferred questions to Pelosi’s Office regarding what the US House is going to do if presented with a different version of the bill. Reid’s office also deferred questions on cosponsorship and outreach on Sen. Reid’s bill to US Sen. Edward Kennedy’s (D-MA) Office.

Kennedy’s office was not able to respond to our questions in time for this article to go to press, but we will post any updates to the article online.

HR 2 came through Kennedy’s Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP), Edgar said.

Kennedy has been leading the fight for a federal minimum wage increase for several years, including last year sponsoring an amendment to a separate bill which resulted in the Republican-majority Senate of last session approving a federal minimum wage increase 52-46. That vote included eight Republicans, six of whom are still in the Senate: US Sens. Coleman (R-MN), Collins (R-ME), Lugar (R-IN), Snowe (R-ME), Specter (R-PA), and Warner (R-VA). Yet, it never came up in the US House.

This year the threshold to make in the Senate is 60 [to end debate] and not 51 [majority] since the minimum wage bill is being considered as the main issue to be voted on, and not as an amendment to a bill already up for a vote.

If all Democrats, the two Independents, and the six Republicans who voted yea last time, vote yea on ending debate to consider HR 2, then that would be 57, only 56 with Sen. Johnson (D-SD) in the hospital.

However, not even all Democrats have made their positions known. Only 42 total cosponsors officially are listed on S 2, including one Republican, US Sen. Specter. US Sen. Sanders (I-VT) is also a cosponsor but is not officially listed yet, spokesperson Erin Campbell said. Thus, 43 total cosponsors.

UPDATE: Since the original publication of this article, US Sens. Cardin, Casey, Inouye, Klobuchar, and Whitehouse have been officially listed as cosponsors.

In an article last week, APN contacted a total of then-17 US Senate offices of Democrats who had not cosponsored S 2. Several went on record as supporting at least the substance of S 2.

Troublingly, US Sens. Carper, Tester, and Conrad did not return calls from APN requesting their position on the federal minimum wage and have not cosponsored S 2..

Of these, US Sens. Carper and Conrad voted yea on Kennedy’s amendment last year.

However, Democratic US Sen. Tester does not have either a voting records, cosponsorship, or a confirmed position on the matter.

Sen. Baucus introduced several small business tax breaks through the Senate Finance Committee, of which he is Chair, late last week. The breaks originated as a Chairman’s mark, were packaged as the Small Business and Work Opportunity Act, and approved by the Committee.

Meanwhile, the line item veto is something that has been important to Sen. Gregg for some time.

“We’re optimistic it will pass,” Holohan said, adding US Sen. Gregg does not expect his amendment will compromise passage of minimum wage by the House.

There’s a lot of optimism for a variety of potential outcomes, so it seems, but the facts do not point to an easy road for the passage of the increase in the federal minimum wage needed by working families in the US.

Still, even the US House Majority leader is convinced working families will get their raise, “one way or another.”

“We’re completely different bodies and operate in a total different way,” Hammill said for Pelosi’s Office, reflecting on the apparent lack of coordination here.

“Yes, of course we’re working together in a bicameral basis. This is a priority for her, it’s a commitment she made and we’ll get it done one way or another. We may have to attach it to something else later. There’s a number of things you could do in terms of legislative vehicles,” Hammill said.

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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