Federal Minimum Wage Increase Tied to Iraq Funding


(APN) ATLANTA — US Congress passed a $120 billion emergency Iraq spending bill May 24, 2007, that included an increase in the minimum wage from $5.15 to $7.25. President Bush signed it into law May 25, 2007, ending a standoff over the wage issue.

The federal minimum wage increase, HR 2, passed the Democratic-majority US House earlier this year, but the Democratic-led US Senate passed a bill–proposed and advanced by Democrats–which essentially added billions in tax breaks to what had been a “clean bill.”

At the time, labor activists like the Atlanta/North Georgia AFL-CIO’s Charlie Flemming said the Senate Democrats should have insisted on a vote on a clean bill, instead of compromising before even giving the bill a chance. He said that would have put Republicans on record.

Instead, US Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT), Finance Committee Chair, passed an amendment in nature of a substitute, which replaced the text of HR 2 with a whole new bill including the billions in tax breaks sought by many Republicans.

Differences in the US House and Senate versions had stalled the legislation for months.

Now, as working families celebrate a significant victory in their being more able to afford the most basic living costs, critics are angry the wage increase was tied to funding for the Iraq occupation, with no withdrawal deadlines.

The bill was seen as a way to force Republicans in Congress and the President to support the wage increase, seeing as it would be difficult for them to oppose funding for the troops. However, in reality, many Republicans, especially Bush, did oppose such funding “for the troops” when it included a withdrawal timetable.

“While I know many Americans are deeply troubled about the bill the President has signed today, there is one thing in this legislation we can all celebrate — a long-overdue increase in the minimum wage,” US Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-MA), Chairman of the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, said in a May 25, 2007, press release obtained by APN.

“This tells American workers the only way they will get an increase in wages is to continue to support funding the war which is taking the lives of their sons and daughters. First blood for oil. Now a minimum wage for maximum blood. Aren’t the American people giving enough blood for this war without having to give more to have a wage increase?” US Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-OH), a 2008 Presidential Candidate, said in a press release.

“What’s happened to our country? We are losing our moral compass. We’re losing our sense of justice. We’re losing touch with the difference between right and wrong,” Kucinich said.

Senator Kennedy delivered a fiery speech in the Senate in January decrying Republican opposition at the time, asking, “Do you have such disdain for hardworking Americans…what is it about the minimum wage that drives you Republicans crazy…what is it about working men and women that you find so offensive?”

In order to finally get the raise, Democrats had to tie it to a bill that not only includes money for the Iraq occupation, but also money for drought relief, Gulf Coast recovery, and veterans’ healthcare.

“With this bill, we can express ourselves on the direction of this war, and at the same time, have the opportunity to meet the emergency needs of the people of America… We are raising the minimum wage for millions of our hardest working Americans,” Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) said May 24, 2007, in a separate press release obtained by APN.

The minimum wage will increase to $5.85 July 24, 2007, $6.55 one year later, and reach $7.25 in July 2009.

Workers will earn an extra $4,400 per year when the full increase takes effect in 2009, and 13 million people will benefit.

“It’s been long overdue,” Charlie Flemming told APN. “It’s going to make a big difference.”

“After years of delay by Congress, the people took this fight into their own hands,” Kennedy said. “They started a grassroots movement that spread across the nation. They pounded the pavements and prayed in their pews. We are here today because of their efforts, and they deserve our gratitude,” he added.

When combined with the food stamps program and the Earned Income Tax Credit, the minimum wage increase will bring a family of four above the poverty line. An estimated 6.4 million children of low-wage workers are set to benefit.

However, the purchasing power of the minimum wage will still be $2.25 below the high mark of 1968. Since the last raise in 1997, the real value has eroded by 22 percent and workers had lost all the gains of the 1996-1997 increase.

“We’ve got to find a better way,” Flemming said of the uneven economic playing field. “If people work for a living, 40 hours a week [then] they should be able to provide for their families.”

Flemming spoke not only of the need of Congress to continue pushing for another minimum wage increase, but also the need to enact living wages in what he called a “high road strategy” that would go a long way in making the economy work for the people and add dignity to the lives of hard working Americans.

“Certainly, the increase we’ve passed today is only the first of many steps we must take to address the problems of poverty and inequality,” Kennedy said in his May 24 statement. “There is no doubt that we need to do much more.”

Still, Kennedy called the minimum wage increase, “One of the proudest achievements of this new Congress.”

This article contains additional reporting by Matthew Cardinale, News Editor

About the author:

Jonathan Springston is a Senior Staff Writer for Atlanta Progressive News and may be reached at jonathan@atlantaprogressivenews.com

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