The Rural Patriot

July 28, 2006

The Federal Minimum Wage Debate

Filed under: Congressional Votes,Eric Massa,Randy Kuhl,Wages — theruralpatriot @ 12:42 pm

The minimum wage rate hike issue has become a hot campaign topic not only across the nation, but also on our local level.

From  Randy Kuhl’s July 25 press release:

“Massa attacked Kuhl for what he claimed was Kuhl’s vote against an increase in the federal minimum wage. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee sent out similar news releases attacking other Republicans around the country, including Rep. James Walsh (R-Onondaga).  Both Kuhl and Walsh have long supported an increase in the minimum wage. Both, in fact, are co-sponsors of a bill to do exactly that. So, what’s going on here? Are Kuhl and Walsh talking one way and voting another? Nope. In fact, the vote that the Democrats are talking about actually had very little, if anything, to do with the minimum wage.”     (Canandaigua Messenger 7/21/06)

Eric Massa counters this argument:

Massa repeated his charge today that Kuhl plays politics with his vote on the minimum wage, and that while he appears to support the increase, he has also worked to block votes on the increase procedurally. “Randy Kuhl says, ‘I’m in favor of increasing the minimum wage – but let’s not vote on it.’ If that’s not playing politics, I don’t know what is.”

While in Albany, Kuhl voted against raising the minimum wage. He has continued this voting record in Washington. Kuhl claimed credit this month for co-sponsoring a House bill to raise the minimum hourly wage from $5.15 to $7.15. Massa pointed out that Kuhl made this proposal only after lawmakers in Albany this year made the issue irrelevant by raising the minimum wage in N.Y. to the same level.

On July 11, Massa had this to say about Mr. Kuhl and the minimum wage issue:

CORNING, NY – Today, less than a week after he told The Corning Leader in an interview that he is a co-sponsor of a bill to increase the minimum wage, New York Republican Congressman Randy Kuhl once again voted along party lines to block a House vote on the minimum wage issue.

Kuhl joined Reps. Tom Reynolds (R-Clarence) and Jim Walsh (R-Onondaga) in voting to block a move by Rep. George Miller (D-CA) to increase the minimum wage to $7.25 over two years. The vote came just days after Gov. Ed Rendell of Pennsylvania signed a boost in the minimum wage to $7.15 for workers in his state, and the media reported that CEO pay is approaching its record level of 300 times what a typical worker earns. House Republicans have blocked minimum wage legislation five times in two weeks, including a vote to reject an amendment to the estate tax bill to increase the minimum wage. Kuhl voted to defeat that amendment.

I frequently watch C-Span, and I saw a considerable amount of the House and Senate debates on this subject prior to the July 4th recess.  The Democrats were proposing amendments to raise the minimum wage rate and each were voted down mainly along party lines. 

Mr. Kuhl’s states above, “In fact, the vote that the Democrats are talking about actually had very little, if anything, to do with the minimum wage”.  It is important to remember here that the republicans control the House, Senate and the White House; they control the schedule, and they control what bills come to the floor for consideration.  Atttaching the hike by amendment was the only alternative the Democrats had for consideration of the hike.  And many times unrelated amendments are attached and passed to a bill.  This is definitely not an unusual procedure.

Today, I read this:  House Republicans plan minimum wage vote

Whether people like it or not, we need to go ahead with it,” said Rep. Mike Castle, R-Del., who supports the idea. “There’s a general agreement among Republicans (opposing the raise) that “maybe we don’t like it much, but we need to move forward with it just for political reasons.”
House Democrats cried foul on Thursday, saying Republicans planned to add “poison pills” for their business allies. Many Democrats oppose the small business health insurance legislation because it would overrule state laws requiring coverage for procedures such as diabetes care and cancer screenings.

House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi of California demanded a vote on a bill that would just increase the minimum wage. She spoke out against “the usual Republican poison pills of attaching tax cuts for the wealthy or other so-called sweeteners for the Republican special interests.”

As I was wrapping up this article for posting, Minority Leader of the House Nancy Pelosi  started a press conference regarding the possibility of the House holding the minimum wage vote soon.  Below are my rough notes of the conference:

It is a political stunt; republicans are making American workers pay for an increase by decreasing benefits; it carves out certain employees and it benefits the special interests. 

Minimum wage, with poison pills, is dead on arrival in the senate. (She then cites a report regarding carve-outs of eligible workers in certain industries where the minimum wage increase would not apply.)  We want the hike passed into law; not a political stunt that doesn’t give to American workers, but (something) that gives them coverage.  Associated health plans will not pass in the senate; if it is in there, they are covering their base, but they aren’t serious about passing it.

Our members will vote no if these poison pills are in there.  (For republicans), it’s political cover; it is a political stunt. The American people are sweating this summer in more ways than one.  The energy companies are making obscene, huge profits.   (Workers making $5.15 minimum wage are struggling.)

Question from reporter:  Can they (the republicans) get away with it in their races?  Pelosi:  We certainly are not going to let them.

85% of the American people support an increase; conservatives support it.  “You are giving to workers on one hand and taking away with the other” with associated health plans.They have control of Congress; the House, Senate and  White House; it’s obsence, immoral, and unfair with a $5.15 (minimum wage).  Read their own statements…they will pass a bill that they know is doomed (just) to get political cover.

We want a vote on the motion to recommit.  What we are looking for are results that purge from this bill any of the poison pills; that is the vote we are looking for today. We are here to change public policy – not to engage in these political stunts; we want public policy that raises the minimum wage.  The American people are looking for results, and so are we.

It’s about the republicans putting forward a bill that they know is doomed.  We won’t let them get away with that. We should be able to have an alternative on the floor that members support or reject regarding the minimum wage.  A Democratic bill on the floor will probably not happen.  Its a question on seeing where republicans are on the increase in the minimum wage. Everything else is a conversation.

They could shut us down on the motion to recommit.  This is an issue that is as fundamental to the debate as any you could name – to be able to participate in the prosperity of our country (workers making  $5.15 cannot). These stunts are not worthy of the American people. 

This, my friends, is why I feel that it is important to look at both sides of the story.  Know the facts of the issues; then you will be able to wade through the “rhetoric”.  



  1. The minimum wage rate has been stagnant for the past nine years. Its time for Congress to step up and do the right thing in raising the rate. This issue deserves a straight up or down vote with no additional issues attached to it. At this time, I doubt that this will happen. I’m curious to see how this situation will play out and how it will be used by republicans and democrats as a campaign issue.

    Tomorrow marks 100 days until the next election. Make sure your voice is heard.

    Comment by theruralpatriot — July 28, 2006 @ 1:05 pm | Reply

  2. I agree that the buying power of the minimum wage has declined. But that does not justify raising it to 7.25. Since 1996, the rise of inflation, which is what has bitten into the buying power, has not been great enough to justify an approximately forty percent increase in the minimum wage. If it is raised too high, it actually creates unemployment because of a rise in supply of the people willing to work coupled with a shrinking of demand for labour with employers not willing to take as many workers on. Congress has to be careful not to turn a necessary rise in the minimum wage into a vote ploy for this November. Unfortunately they are doing just that.
    The tax cut is an incredibly cynical ploy. I can’t think of a way to justify it economically. It rubbish to say that the cut will encourage investment and that that will create more jobs- not enough people are being given enough money for that. And the LAST thing a country with a budget deficit as large as the US needs is another unnecessary tax cut.

    Comment by Eric — July 28, 2006 @ 2:47 pm | Reply

  3. At this point, I really don’t know which bill they are going to consider regarding the rate hike. One would raise the rate by $2/hour immediately; the other would raise it by $2.10/hour in three separate $0.70/hour steps. One step would occur immediately; the other two would occur on the one and two year anniversaries of the signing of the bill.

    You are probably aware of this: The Economic Policy Institute, using Labor Department data, said the minimum wage’s purchasing power is at its lowest since 1955″. That’s 51 years.

    Do you have a supporting link regarding the possibility of a rise in unemployment if the rate is raised too high? I understand the theory behind this and I’d like to sort it out for myself. With this administration’s effect on the economy, though, who knows what the possible effect will be.

    When I watched the debates last month, a Gallup poll from this past May regarding states that had a higher minimum wage was cited. The majority of responses indicated that unemployment did not rise and that their economies had improved. I would hope that this effect would be represented across the country when the minimum wage increases for all.

    I agree with you about the tax cuts. While they are definitely increasing the bottom lines of some, they have not “trickled down” to the level that should be beneficial for more of us. And I don’t believe that budget cuts to crucial programs are worth this tax give-away.

    Comment by theruralpatriot — July 28, 2006 @ 4:22 pm | Reply

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