THE REPUBLICAN effort to block a rise in the minimum wage may or may not be smart economics, but it is dumb politics. Despite the GOP's control of both the House and the Senate, President Clinton is going to prevail on this issue and thus solidify his image as a Democrat who has regained the legislative initiative in Washington.
Even Sen. Bob Dole, as he awaits the Republican presidential nomination, has said of his party's position on the minimum wage: "You can't explain it." He, as much as anyone, knows the conservative litany: that a higher wage kills jobs at the lower end of the wage scale, that it raises costs beyond what market forces dictate and that it undercuts U.S. productivity and competitiveness. But tell that to a worker trying to support a family on $4.25 an hour.
"Even welfare pays much more," says Rep. Jack Quinn of Buffalo, one of 20 House Republicans who defied their own leadership this week to offer a $1 increase in the minimum wage that is 10 cents higher than even the Democrats propose. Vice President Al Gore flatly predicts Mr. Dole will give in to the 84 percent popular support for a higher minimum. In real terms, he said, the wage floor is at a 40-year low.