WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Senate defeated dueling proposals Monday to raise the $5.15-an-hour
minimum wage -- one backed by organized labor, the other salted with pro-business
provisions -- in a day of skirmishing that reflected Republican gains in last
Both plans fell well short of the 60 votes needed to advance, and signaled
that prospects for raising the federal wage floor, unchanged since 1996, are
remote during the current two-year Congress.
``I believe that anyone who works 40 hours a week, 52 weeks a year should not
live in poverty in the richest country in the world,'' said Sen. Edward M. Kennedy,
D-Mass., arguing for the Democratic proposal to increase the minimum wage by
$2.10 over the next 26 months.
Republicans countered with a smaller increase, $1.10 in two steps over 18 months,
they said would help workers without hampering the creation of jobs needed to
help those with low skills. ``Wages do not cause sales. Sales are needed to
provide wages. Wages do not cause revenue. Revenue drives wages,'' said Sen.
Mike Enzi, R-Wyo.
The Democratic amendment was defeated, with 46 votes for and 49 against. The
GOP alternative fell by a wider margin, 38 for and 61 against.
While the outcome was never in doubt, Democrats said in advance they hoped
to use the issue to increases chances for passage of state minimum wage initiatives
in 2006, as well as to highlight differences with Republicans who will be on
the ballot next year.
Kennedy accused Republicans of advancing a ``deeper poverty agenda'' for the
poor by including several provisions to cut long-standing wage and overtime
protections for millions of Americans. He took particular aim at Sen. Rick Santorum,
R-Pa., a conservative who is atop the Democratic target list for 2006 and the
lead supporter of the GOP minimum wage alternative.
``The senator from Pennsylvania has a record of opposing increases in the minimum
wage,'' Kennedy said. ``He has voted against it at least 17 times in the last
``I have not had any ideological problem with the minimum wage, `` Santorum
responded, adding he voted for the last increase to clear Congress, in 1996.
He said the other elements of the GOP plan were designed to help small businesses
and give workers more flexibility in their work schedule, and not, as Kennedy
said, weaken their rights.
Democrats sought minimum wage increases in three steps of 70 cents each, to
$7.25. Republicans countered with raises in two steps of 55 cents apiece, to
$6.25, as well as several pro-business provisions.
These include an option for employees to work up to 80 hours over two weeks
without qualifying for overtime pay; a provision restricting the ability of
states to raise the minimum wage for restaurant employees; and waiving wage
and overtime rules for workers in some small businesses now covered.
The clash unfolded as part of a debate over business-backed legislation to
overhaul the nation's bankruptcy laws.
The overall measure enjoys bipartisan support, although no vote on passage
will occur until the Senate settled the minimum wage dispute and resolved companion
controversy over allowing protesters at abortion clinics and other sites to
avoid paying court fines by entering bankruptcy.
Republican aides, speaking on condition of anonymity, said they had the votes
to prevail on that showdown, as well, and send the measure to the House later
in the week. ``It's an uphill fight but it's not over,'' said Sen. Chuck Schumer,
D-N.Y., author of the proposal.
Democrats conceded in advance they were certain to lose the minimum wage vote,
particularly given the Republicans' four-seat gain in last fall's elections.
At the same time, they said they hoped to raise the issue to increases chances
for passage of state minimum wage initiatives in 2006, as well as to highlight
differences with Republicans who will be on the ballot next year.
Santorum was chief among them, the third-ranking member of the GOP leadership
and an outspoken conservative. Democrats and Republicans alike said his decision
to be the public spokesman for the Republican alternative reflected the potential
significance of the issue.
At the same time, the Republicans' decision to allow a vote reflected their
confidence that they could prevail. The GOP majority maneuvered successfully
in the past two years to block votes on the issue, when Democrats might have
``When you raise the minimum wage you are pricing some workers out of the market,''
said Sen. John Sununu, R-N.H. ``It is an economic fact, and the proponents of
raising the minimum wage like to dismiss this by saying we have a hard time
measuring it and the economy is large.''
Countered Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa: ``This is a values issue. This is at the
heart of what kind of country we want.''
While Democrats sought only an increase in the minimum wage with their proposal,
Republicans expanded theirs to include business regulatory relief as well as
tax breaks totaling $4.2 billion, most of it directed toward the restaurant
Forty-one Democrats, four Republicans and one independent voted for the Democratic
proposal. All the votes in opposition were cast by Republicans.
All 38 votes in favor of the GOP proposal were cast by Republicans. Opposed
were 43 Democrats, one independent and 17 Republicans.