By MARGARET TALEV
August 04, 2006
Republican leaders tried to bring the combination wage and tax bill to a final vote hours before the Senate's scheduled adjournment for a month-long recess but fell short of a 60-vote supermajority needed to end debate.
The 56 to 42 vote reflected the opposition of all but four Democrats. Two Republicans crossed party lines to oppose the legislation. The House of Representatives passed the combination bill last week.
"What's going on is block and blame," said Majority Whip Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., of the Democrats. "They want to say this is a do-nothing Congress."
Democrats accused Republican leaders, who traditionally have opposed minimum wage increases, of trying to confuse voters in a crucial election year.
"It didn't take them long to come around to this position," Senate Democratic Whip Richard Durbin of Illinois railed, speaking of the minimum wage provision. "Only nine years, where they have resisted us every single attempt we've made. And what led to this deathbed conversion? Could it be the looming election?"
Democrats' move Thursday may limit the legislative accomplishments that Republicans can tout as they face voters dissatisfied with the war in Iraq and high gas prices. It also preserves a potentially important turnout tool for Democrats as they try to retake control of Congress in November: the opportunity to argue that the minimum wage, which was last raised in 1996, won't increase as long as Republicans are in charge.
Polls show about 8 in 10 Americans support a minimum wage increase. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., said earlier this week that this would be the only consideration of a minimum wage increase this year.
The blocked vote means there will be no immediate relief for an estimated 6 million Americans who, if working 40-hour weeks, would earn less than $11,000 a year.
Democrats argued that the estate tax reduction that the Republicans tied to the wage increase would probably be offset by social services cuts, hurting low-wage workers. The provision was estimated to yield $1.4 million in savings to about 8,000 Americans a year who now pay what Republicans call a "death tax" when they inherit family farms or businesses or other generational wealth.
Democrats also charged the legislation could reduce wage protections in several states for workers who earn tips, despite assurances from some Republicans that they wouldn't let that happen.
Republicans said that the Democrats' actions Thursday could jeopardize some of their own incumbents in contested elections if voters aren't moved by the subtleties of why they voted the way they did.
Scripps Howard News Service, http://www.shns.com
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