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an excerpt from the nyTIMES this morning as follows:|
*that means the US' economy is not too sturdy...and what's your take on this issue?
May 24, 2007
Congress Passes 1st Minimum Wage Boost in a Decade
By STEPHEN LABATON
WASHINGTON, May 24 — Congress handed a major victory to low-income workers by voting tonight to raise the federal minimum wage for the first time in a decade.
By a vote of 348 to 73, the House approved the measure this evening as part of the Iraq spending bill. Less than two hours later, the wage increase was also approved in the Senate, where it was combined with a bill providing more money for the war in Iraq. That vote was 80 to 14.
The measure would raise the minimum wage to $7.25 an hour from $5.15 in three stages over two years. The bill also includes $4.84 billion in tax breaks for small businesses. Those businesses have made a case, supported by Republicans and the White House, that the wage increase would be a burden to them.
President Bush said he would sign the measure as part of the bigger spending package that had been negotiated in recent days between Democratic lawmakers and the administration.
The wage increase had been approved months ago in different legislative packages by the House and Senate, then stalled over disagreements about the related tax breaks. Republicans had sought larger tax breaks for businesses.
The minimum wage provision was an important sweetener for Democrats in dealing with the larger spending package, which included money for the military in Iraq and Afghanistan and had been held up by a partisan battle over imposing a timetable for the reducing American troop levels in Iraq.
While more than half the states have higher minimum wages than the existing federal rate, the Economic Policy Institute, a liberal research group, estimates that about 4 percent of the work force, or 5.6 million workers, earn less than $7.25 an hour. President Bill Clinton signed the last minimum wage increase in 1997. Seven states currently have minimum wages higher than $7.25 an hour.
Once the bill is signed by Mr. Bush, the wage increase will become the first part of the new Congressional Democratic leadership’s agenda to become law.
A number of business interests lobbied aggressively against the increase. One group, the National Restaurant Association, said the last increase led to a reduction of 146,000 jobs in the industry and prompted owners to postpone plans to hire another 106,000 workers.
The debate in the House over the wage provisions was limited, as most of the lawmakers spent their floor time arguing over the bill’s spending measures on Iraq.
Representative John A. Boehner, the House Republican minority leader from Ohio, criticized the minimum wage provision along with a set of domestic spending measures that were attached to what was viewed as “must-pass legislation.”
“We’ve got a host of issues that don’t deserve to be put on the backs of the military,” Mr. Boehner said. “It’s a sneaky way to do business.”
But Democrats asserted that Congress had waited too long to raise the minimum wage and that many workers had suffered because of the lower hourly rate.
“Wages have been unconscionably frozen for the last decade,” said Representative David R. Obey, the Wisconsin Democrat who leads the House Appropriations Committee.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Democrat of California, agreed.
“After 10 years of indifference, we are raising wages for the hardest-working Americans,” she said.
And Representative George Miller, the California Democrat who leads the House Education and Labor Committee, estimated that in the first year that the full increase takes effect, it would provide a family of three with money to buy an additional 15 months of groceries.
In addition to the tax breaks, the Iraq spending bill also included a number of benefits for American businesses. Major airline carriers successfully lobbied for a provision that would relieve them of some of their pension liability. And the National Association of Manufacturers succeeded in getting the lawmakers to strike a provision that would have prevented federal regulators from adopting rules that would pre-empt tougher chemical safety rules adopted by some states.
The bill also includes $6.3 billion in federal money for continued aid to areas damaged by Hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Wilma, $600 million for health insurance for children of low-income families, and $3 billion for farm disaster aid.
The White House had opposed many of the $22 billion in domestic spending provisions, and Republicans managed to remove a number of them shortly before the legislation reached the floor, including a $660 million plan to stockpile pandemic flu medicines and a $400 million energy-assistance plan for low-income families.