Columns » Bob McCord

Minimum wage ‘finagle’

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The U. S. Congress created the minimum wage in 1938, saying that anyone who got a job had to be paid at least 25 cents an hour. For years it was increased every three or four years, but the last raise was in 1997 when the Congress raised it 45 cents, making it $5.15 per hour. That happened when Bill Clinton was president.

The Democrats in Congress since then have tried to raise the amount, but the Republicans in the White House and most of the Republican members of Congress are not interested in raising the minimum wage.

Tired of waiting over the years for Congress, the state legislators in Arkansas and 20 other states have raised the minimum for workers in their states. In April, Sen. Jack Critcher, D-Batesville, and Rep. Benny Petrus, D-Stuttgart, proposed a bill to raise the minimum wage in Arkansas to $6.25 per hour. It passed 90 to 2 in the House and 28 to 1 in the Senate. Among those campaigning strongly for more pay for poor workers were organizations like the Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families and people like the Rev. Stephen Copley, pastor of the First United Methodist Church in North Little Rock. Also, Governor Huckabee, a Republican, supported the increase.

But the fact today is that the Republicans in the White House and most of the 231 Republicans in the House and 55 in the Senate have no taste for raising the minimum wage. So what is happening?

The Democrats this year worked hard to get a raise in the minimum wage, but the Republicans have consistently ignored it. Some of them have said that raising the minimum wage wasn’t necessary because the only people getting that kind of income are kids in high school or college or are workers who still lived with their parents. Obviously, people who believe that haven’t lived in poor states like Arkansas.

Finally in July, Republican leaders said that Democrats should put a minimum wage increase bill with two others the Republicans were interested in. The Democrats agreed, and the new bill was put together in more than 907 pages that would (1) increase the minimum wage to $7.25 an hour over three years, (2) reduce the taxes on estates built by rich people, and (3) allow the government to pay at least part of the promised pensions to 44 million workers if companies went bust or failed to set aside the right amount of money. The bill was called “the trifecta.”

It passed 230 to 180 in the House July 29 at 1:41 a.m. when the men and women were trying to get home on another long vacation. Rep. Vic Snyder voted no as did 33 other Democrats. The other three Arkansans in the House voted yes. Snyder wanted the increase in the minimum wage, but he didn’t think it was necessary to reduce the taxes on the millionaires’ estates, etc. Naturally, Arkansas’s only Republican congressman, John Boozman, voted yes, and so did the other two Democrats, Mike Ross and Marion Berry.

Then, on August 3, the bill was crushed in the Senate when it didn’t get the necessary 60 votes. The count was 56 yes, 42 no, but Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) switched his vote to no so that the bill could be debated again. Sen. Blanche Lincoln voted yes and Sen. Mark Pryor voted no. Only four Democrats voted yes while 39 voted no. For the Republicans, 52 voted yes and three voted no.

Even though we badly need a higher minimum wage, it’s difficult to criticize the voting of any of the Arkansans. The real problem is the Republicans pretending to improve the minimum wage increase in order to pass bills to help millionaires who don’t like paying taxes and businesses that offer pensions to employees but don’t have the money to give them. Rather than a “trifecta,” the bill should be called a “finagle.” A bill for the minimum wage must be voted alone.

The only way to get more money for poor workers all over the country is for people and organizations to talk to their senators and House members on their vacation like Arkansans did with their legislators. The minimum wage must be raised for workers all over the country.

After all, this year the members of Congress passed a law to give themselves a $3,300 raise to their $158,000 salaries.

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