A Minimum Wage Increase, The First of the Challenging 100 Hour Plan Bills, Passes the SenateFebruary 1, 2007 - by Donny Shaw
After nine days of heated debate, the Senate today approved an amended version of H.R.2, a bill to increase the minimum wage from $5.15 to $7.25 over two years. A minimum wage increase had across-the-board support from Senate Democrats and considerable support from Senate Republicans. The parties clashed to the point of filibuster (a parliamentary stall tactic) over a package of small businesses tax cuts that Republicans wanted to accompany the bill and Democrats did not. Democrats finally voted to include the tax cuts in the bill because they could not get enough votes to pass the clean version they wanted. The way this perennial split between Democrats and Republicans was handled draws attention to a less well-defined feud brewing in the Senate: how willing Senate Democrats are to compromise their individual ideals for the sake of enacting the essential policies of their party’s platform.
This situation is likely to come up again and again in the Senate, especially as they consider the remaining bills that the House of Representatives passed during their first 100 hours. Of the six bills the House passed in the 100 Hour Plan, the minimum wage bill ranked 2nd in bipartisan support. H.R.4, the Medicare Prescription Drug Price Negotiation Act was much less popular among Republican representatives, with only 24 voting with the Democrats. The general complaint among Republicans was that the bills included in the 100 Hours were passed without the possibility of their input. Normally, bills are assigned to committees where anyone can offer amendments or alternative measures. The bills included in the Democrats’ first 100 Hours, however, went straight from Democrats’ pens to a vote on the House floor. This January 2nd’s Washington Post article describes the dilemma that Democrats faced in deciding how to manage these bills:
The Democrats must demonstrate that they can break legislative gridlock and govern after 12 years in the minority, while also honoring their pledge to make the 110th Congress a civil era in which Democrats and Republicans work together to solve the nation’s problems. Yet, in attempting to pass laws key to their prospects for winning reelection and expanding their majority, the Democrats may have to resort to some of the same tough tactics Republicans used in the past several years.
But as this past week’s struggle in the Senate illustrates, the House may have simply delayed the “legislative gridlock” until the next step. President Bush has already stated his intention to veto two of the bills: H.R.3, a bill to expand funding for embryonic stem cell research, and H.R.4, a bill that requires the government to negotiate drug prices for Medicare. In an article from January 12th, Time Magazine predicted that of the Democrat’s 100 hour bills, the one “most likely to win approval from both the Senate and President Bush is the bill to raise the minimum wage.” If they are right, then after seeing what happened this week with the minimum wage bill, Senators from both sides of the aisle are going to have to remain ready to compromise if they want to get anything done. “Both bodies want to keep their eye on the ball” stated Max Baucus, a co-sponsor of the tax break amendment.