Senate deal makes likely a rise in minimum wage Separate vote is set on labor law changes opposed by Clinton

June 26, 1996|By KNIGHT-RIDDER NEWS SERVICE

WASHINGTON -- After weeks of false starts and partisan bickering, Senate leaders of both parties sealed a deal yesterday to vote on a minimum wage increase and some new tax breaks for small businesses.

The agreement makes it likely that an increase in the minimum wage -- from $4.25 an hour to $5.15 an hour -- will become law.

The deal also calls for a separate vote to make several labor law changes that have been opposed by President Clnton and the AFL-CIO. This means that if it passes on a party-line vote, Clinton is likely to veto it.

The changes include a controversial Republican-backed measure giving employers the power to set up worker-management committees to decide terms and conditions of employment. Democrats argue those would amount to company unions.

Senate Majority Leader Trent of Mississippi said of the agreement: "I'm sure there are members on both sides of the aisle who are not very happy about it, but it will allow us to begin to move forward" on deadlocked bills.

In addition to action on those measures, the agreement could clear the way for a vote, sometime later in July, on a bill to repeal the 4.3-cents-a-gallon gasoline tax that was imposed in 1993 as part of Clinton's deficit-reduction package.

"This is a real breakthrough," said Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota, who had threatened to keep bringing up the minimum wage increase as an amendment to every piece of legislation on the Senate calendar until Republican opponents relented and permitted a clear vote.

As it stands now, the bill would raise the minimum wage by 90 cents an hour, to $5.15, in two steps. The wage would rise by 50 cents an hour this summer and by another 40 cents in mid-1997.

Because Lott knew the proposal probably would pass if it came up for a vote, he had been resorting to all kinds of parliamentary acrobatics to prevent that from happening. In the process, the legislative gears had practically ground to a halt in the Senate.

Although the wage increase passed the House by a comfortable margin in late May and enjoyed strong support in public opinion polls, most business groups remained opposed to it.

The Senate will vote on the bill the week of July 8, Lott said. The wage bill will be combined with a package of tax breaks for small businesses.

The package includes dozens of new deductions and other tax relief, including bigger write-offs for new equipment, a restoration of tax credits for hiring certain disadvantaged workers and new rules to promote tax-deferred employee retirement plans.

Pub Date: 6/26/96

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