Anyone who believed there was going to be a bipartisan effort in Congress to reflect the voters’ views got doused with a bucket of cold water last week when GOP senators tried to block a bill that would increase the federal minimum wage to $7.25 over two years.
The 43 GOP senators who were insisting that business get even more tax cuts did not turn in their loincloths. They had 70 more amendments having nothing to do with the minimum wage that they intended to introduce in an effort to prevent a straight-up vote on the minimum wage.
Their aim was to poison the minimum wage proposal with onerous and irrelevant measures that Democrats could not support. To stop them, 60 votes would be needed to cut off debate. As of last week, that number was not there.
One such GOP amendment would have raised the minimum wage by $2.10 an hour, even in those states with higher levels than the federal level. While some might cheer this raise, it would in effect be punishing states that raised the minimum wage on their own.
Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.), co-sponsor of the bill, made a passionate defense of working people.
Alluding to the phony GOP amendments, he said, “We have now had amendments that have been worth over $200 billion ... We’ve had amendments on education of $35 billion. We’ve had health-savings amendments that will benefit people with average incomes of $112,000 ... We’ve had those kinds of amendments … But we still cannot get two dollars and fifteen cents — over two years. Over two years!
“$240 billion in tax breaks for corporations. $36 billion in tax breaks for small businesses. Increase in productivity — 42 percent over the last 10 years,” yelled Kennedy emotionally. “But do you think there’s any increase in the minimum wage? No.”
“What is the price, we ask the other side? What is the price that you want from these working men and women? What cost? How much more do we have to give to the private sector and to business?
“How many more billions of dollars do we have to give you, Mr. Republican? How many more dollars do we have to give you to get an increase in the minimum wage?”
“When does the greed stop, we ask the other side? That’s the question and that’s the issue.”
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid indicated that he would support an $8.3 billion tax package amendment which supposedly would provide incentives for small business investments and extend tax credits for employers that hire low-income or disadvantaged workers. Some political observers said the minimum wage measure most likely would proceed in the Senate with the tax breaks included. Some others felt that working people and other progressives should bombard their senators, demanding that they vote for a straight-up minimum wage bill, or, if they were in support, to hold the line.
On Jan. 31, the Senate voted 87-10 to go forward on the minimum wage measure with the tax breaks included.
Once it passes the Senate, it will have to be reconciled with the House version, which passed easily with no strings attached.
As a result of the elections, the political axiom about “the art of the possible” has shifted to the left. But success will still require massive efforts.
To hear the Kennedy speech, go to: .