Battle over raising minimum wage heats up

June 22, 2006|By CHICAGO TRIBUNE

WASHINGTON -- A battle over whether to raise the minimum wage is spilling into congressional races, with the Democratic Party promising to increase the wage as one of its first acts should it win control of Congress.

Democrats have crafted a campaign message attacking Republicans for accepting annual cost-of-living increases while denying a raise to 6.6 million low-income workers, who have not seen a minimum wage increase in nine years.

The fight heated up yesterday as the Senate rejected a proposal by Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, a Massachusetts Democrat, to boost the minimum wage from $5.15 to $7.25 an hour over the next two years. The vote was 52-46 in favor of the higher wage, with eight Republicans joining Democrats to back the change, but that left proponents eight votes short of the 60 necessary to prevail.

Democrats have tried several times to raise the minimum wage since the last increase in 1997, and are portraying themselves as allies of hard-working Americans. "This battle will continue all across America until at long last justice is done," Kennedy said. "It's time for the Republican leadership to stop its obstruction and get out of the way."

The GOP contends that raising the minimum wage would hurt workers. House Majority Leader John A. Boehner, an Ohio Republican, said he would "probably not" allow the issue to come up for a vote, adding that whenever the wage is raised, the poorest workers with the least skills wind up losing jobs.

Nevertheless, seven House Republicans broke with party leaders and voted for a wage increase last week when Rep. Steny H. Hoyer, a Maryland Democrat, offered an amendment to an annual spending bill.

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