Voters in November had a simple request: They wanted an increase in the federal minimum wage. They voted for Democrats who promised to make an increase in the federal minimum wage a top priority. And what does the U.S. Senate do? They not only turn a simple bill into a gaudy mess, but some Republicans—including at least three likely presidential candidates—voted against a federal minimum wage, period.
This week conservatives have tried to either get some goodies for their base through the minimum wage bill, H.R. 2, or to topple the idea of a minimum wage increase – actually, the idea of a minimum wage altogether.
Sen. Wayne Allard, R-Colo., offered an amendment that said “an employer shall not be required to pay an employee a wage that is greater than the minimum wage provided for by the law of the State in which the employee is employed and not less than the minimum wage in effect in that State on January 1, 2007.”
An irate Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., said that the Allard amendment, which would leave worker wages to the mercies of individual state legislatures, "would effectively eliminate the minimum wage as we know it." Yet, when the amendment came up for a vote, 28 senators voted in favor of it , including Republican Sens. John McCain, Sam Brownback and Chuck Hagel. McCain and Brownback are 2008 presidential contenders, and Hagel is believed to be weighing a bid.
When the Republicans weren't busy trying to kill the minimum wage, they were busy weighing the increase down with a torrent of amendments. As of early Friday, 107 amendments by Republicans were waiting for consideration, Kennedy said on the floor. The process is often referred to as turning a bill into a “Christmas tree,” by loading it with ornaments that more often than not cause the whole thing to topple. "We know what's going on here. This is a whole process of delay, and hopefully to defeat" the minimum wage amendment, Kennedy said on Friday. "It's filibuster by amendment."
Fortunately—in spite of the lack of mainstream media attention to what is going on—bloggers and activists are loudly expressing their outrage. Bill Scher published a cross-section of the negative reactions on The Huffington Post, along with a plea for minimum-wage supporters to continue bombarding senators with calls to do what voters intended: Pass a wage increase bill without amendments.
Kennedy earns kudos for a particularly stirring speech on the Senate floor earlier in the week. As quoted by Bob Geiger:
We have now had amendments that have been worth over $200 billion … Amendments that have been offered. 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 and we're looking at the Kyl amendment at $3 billion. But we still cannot get $2.15—over two years. Over two years! 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 billion dollars more, are you asking, are you requiring? When does the greed stop, we ask the other side? That's the question and that's the issue.
The long list of irrelevant amendments by Republicans are being debated today and Monday, with votes expected on Tuesday.
--Isaiah J. Poole
| Friday, January 26, 2007 11:39 AM