Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Dems Block Minimum Wage; AP Blames GOP

What else is new?

The AP's David Espo covers the debate over a proposed mimimum wage increase. The thrust of the entire article is clear: Republicans oppose an increase in the minimum wage.

GOP-run Senate kills minimum wage increase
By DAVID ESPO, AP Special Correspondent
Wed Jun 21, 6:19 PM ET

The Republican-controlled Senate smothered a proposed election-year increase in the minimum wage Wednesday, rejecting Democratic claims that it was past time to boost the $5.15 hourly pay floor that has been in effect for nearly a decade.

The 52-46 vote was eight short of the 60 needed for approval under budget rules and came one day after House Republican leaders made clear they do not intend to allow a vote on the issue, fearing it might pass.

The Senate vote marked the ninth time since 1997 that Democrats there have proposed — and Republicans have blocked — a stand-alone increase in the minimum wage. The debate fell along predictable lines.

"Americans believe that no one who works hard for a living should have to live in poverty. A job should lift you out of poverty, not keep you in it," said Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (news, bio, voting record), D-Mass. He said a worker paid $5.15 an hour would earn $10,700 a year, "almost $6,000 below the poverty line for a family of three."

Kennedy also said lawmakers' annual pay has risen by roughly $30,000 since the last increase in the minimum wage.

Gee... Democrats keep proposing a stand-alone increase in the mimimum wage, and Republicans keep opposing it. But why does Espo think it's important that we talk exclusively about 'stand-alone' increases in the minimum wage? What if there was an acceptable minimum wage increase that was not a 'stand-alone?' Wouldn't you think there might be some way to you know... compromise - in a bipartisan way? Mightn't there be some things you could combine with the minimum wage increase that would satisfy both sides.

...The measure drew the support of 43 Democrats, eight Republicans and one independent. Four of those eight Republicans are seeking re-election in the fall.

Democrats had conceded in advance that this attempt to raise the minimum wage would fare no better than their previous attempts. At the same time, they have made clear in recent days they hope to gain support in the coming midterm elections by stressing the issue. Organized labor supports the legislation, and Sen. Chris Dodd, D-Conn., said that contrary to some impressions, most minimum wage workers are adults, not teenagers, and many of them are women.

"When the Democrats control the Senate, one of the first pieces of legislation we'll see is an increase in the minimum wage," said Kennedy.

His proposal would have increased the minimum wage to $5.85 beginning 60 days after the legislation was enacted; to $6.55 one year later; and to $7.25 a year after that. He said inflation has eroded the value of the current $5.15 minimum wage by 20 percent.

Well this just sounds terrible of the Republicans! They seem to be so obstructionist on this that the Democrats have to make it the top priority when they take over the Senate. The poor Democrats are tilting at windmills! Doing everything they can, even knowing they're headed for defeat! Well, I guess that must be what it takes to increase the minimum wage then: a Democratic Senate.

Well, you might think so, until you get to paragraph 18 of Espo's story:

...Sen. Mike Enzi, R-Wyo., chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, offered an alternative that proposed a minimum wage increase of $1.10 over 18 months, in two steps.

The increase was coupled with a variety of provisions offering regulatory or tax relief to small businesses, including one to exempt enterprises with less than $1 million in annual receipts from the federal wage and hour law entirely. The current exemption level is $500,000, and a Republican document noted the amount had "lagged behind inflation."

Additionally, Republicans proposed a system of optional "flextime" for workers, a step that Enzi said would allow employees, at their discretion, to work more than 40 hours one week in exchange for more time off the next. Unions generally oppose such initiatives, and the Republican plan drew 45 votes, with 53 in opposition.

Well, wait a minute David. Are you telling us that these passionate, committed Democrats want to do everything they can for the struggling minimum-wage worker... unless it means tax and regulatory relief for businesses? Surely not! The Democrats are heroes! Do you mean to tell me that the alternate headline for this story might have been "Democrats Block Minimum Wage Increase; Oppose Tax Relief for Small Business." Are the Democrats really REJECTING minimum wage increases, themselves?

Oh, say it isn't so!

But it is so! If you do a little reading, you can see that the Senate had this same debate just about a year ago. Good old Ted Kennedy blocked Rick Santorum's package - which would have raised the minimum wage by $1.10 per hour, and provided 'modest tax breaks for small businesses and opportunities for workers to opt for more flexible schedules that opponents say allows employers to avoid overtime.' If Kennedy had gone for that deal, the minimum wage would be $6.25 per hour in a few months - but that wasn't good enough for old Teddy.

So if you actually pay attention to what's happening, you see that while Senate Republicans have stubbornly refused to go along with a stand-alone minimum wage increase, Democrats have refused to settle for less. In fact, the deal is on the table. They continue to reject it because... well, because a minimum wage increase really isn't as important as politics and political issues for the election.

Only the Associated Press won't tell you that.

Update: The Washington Post coverage of this story is no better than Espo's, although they don't use quite the level of rhetoric that Espo does to criticize the GOP.

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