US Sen. Johnson Co-Sponsors Minimum Wage Increase from Hospital (UPDATE 1)

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(APN) ATLANTA — US Sen. Tim Johnson (D-SD) has just become the 44th total cosponsor of S. 2, the bill to raise the federal minimum wage for the first time in 10 years. Johnson, who is still recovering from a December 2006 brain hemorrhage at a private rehabilitation facility, co-sponsored the bill and five others affecting South Dakota families, in recent days, Atlanta Progressive News has learned. The other bills he co-sponsored include support for stem cell research and importing prescription drugs from other countries.

“He has been a long time supporter and it was one of those things, even though he wasn’t there for consideration [of the bill in the US Senate], he wanted to make sure his voice was noted. Even though he isn’t there, his support remains steadfast,” Communications Director for US Sen. Johnson, Julianne Fisher, told Atlanta Progressive News in an interview.

“He has been talking since back in January. He passed a reading test in February. The hospital wanted to make sure he is reading and comprehending. He’s been talking in full sentences with his wife and Chief of Staff,” Fisher said.

“He’s still in intensive speech and physical therapy. He’s getting official work memos the way he was before. We started with official co-sponsorships [so not to get into] heavy details. These are important issues to him and we wanted to make sure he had his voice heard on them,” Fisher said.

S. 2 faced a procedural obstacle in the US Senate, after several Republicans blocked the bill from coming up for a vote. 60 votes would have been needed to end debate, and the cloture motion failed with a 54-43 vote on January 24, 2007.

Sen. Johnson “is aware of what’s going on in the Senate,” Fisher said regarding the progress of S. 2.

47 of 49 Democrats, both Independents, and 5 Republicans voted yea, on cloture, totaling 54. The two Democrats who did not vote yea, did not vote at all; US Sen. Johnson has been in the hospital and US Sen. Carper (D-DE) had an unexplained absence. The five moderate Republicans who voted yea are US Sens. Coleman (R-MN), Collins (R-ME), Snowe (R-ME), Specter (R-PA), and Warner (R-VA).

Thus, even if US Sen. Johnson had not been in the hospital at the time, Republicans would still have been able to block the federal minimum wage increase from getting a floor vote.

At this time, the US House and Senate are negotiating on a compromise bill. The US House passed HR 2, a clean bill, with a strong majority including several Republicans. The US Senate later passed, almost unanimously, a version of HR 2 with an amended package of $8 billion in small business tax credits. The US House then passed a separate package of small business tax credits amounting to about $2 billion.

It remains to be seen whether the US House and Senate will come to an agreement on all details, despite Democratic control of both houses, although spokespersons for US Senate Majority Leader Reid and US House Speaker Pelosi have told APN they’re confident one will eventually pass.

Atlanta Progressive News reported a couple months ago that several Democratic US Senators had inexplicably not signed on as co-sponsors to S.2. Several Democrats did eventually sign on, and most importantly, none voted against the cloture motion which would have allowed a Senate floor vote on the issue.

The Senate Democrats who did not sign on as cosponsors of S. 2 to this day are US Sens. Baucus (D-MT), Byrd (D-WV), Carper (D-DE), Conrad (D-ND), McCaskill (D-MO), Nelson (D-FL), Nelson (D-NE), and Tester (D-MT). The 44 total cosponsors included 41 Democrats, both Independents, and Republican Arlen Specter (R-PA).

US Sen. Carper stands out as the only Democrat who neither cosponsored S. 2, nor voted yea on the cloture motion [didn’t vote at all on the motion].

In the 109th Congress, during the last Congressional Session, US Sen. Kennedy proposed a minimum wage increase as an amendment to an unrelated bill that was already being considered. That amendment did pass, at a vote of 52-46, but was never considered in the US House. Only 50 votes, instead of 60, was needed in that instance because the wage amendment was attached to a bill already being considered.

Kennedy’s amendment last year garnered all Democrats’ support [Rockefeller did not vote; he was having back problems]; the one Independent at the time; plus eight Republicans.

Of the 8 Republicans who supported Kennedy’s amendment, 6 are still in Congress [Chafee and DeWine were replaced by Democrats]. Five out of those 6, voted yea on the cloture motion.

US Sen. Lugar (R-IN) was the one Repubican to vote yea on Kennedy’s amendment in the 109th Session, but nay on cloture of essentially the same bill in the 110th Session. The reason for this apparent inconsistency remains unclear.

US Sen. Johnson’s recovery, meanwhile, is going to take some more time, and he is sorely missed by Democrats in terms of advancing their agenda in the US Senate.

“People were not expecting him to be doing some of the things as early as he was doing them. He’s actually doing quite well and making great strides. He went from an Intensive Care unit at GW [Hospital] in mid-January to a rehabilitative unit within the hospital. About 2 weeks ago today he went to private rehab facililty,” Fisher said.

CORRECTION: The original version of this story cited a 2005 brain hemorrhage; the correct year is 2006.

About the author:

Matthew Cardinale is the News Editor of 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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