Bush says backs minimum wage raise with tax relief

Wednesday, December 20, 2006; 10:42 AM

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President George W. Bush said on Wednesday that he supports a Democratic proposal to increase the U.S. minimum wage but said it should be coupled with tax and regulatory relief for small businesses.

"I believe we should do it in a way that does not punish the millions of small businesses that are creating most of the new jobs in our country," Bush told a news conference. "So, I support pairing it with targeted tax and regulatory relief to help these small businesses stay competitive and to help keep our economy growing."

Democrats, who took control of Congress in November elections, have said one of their top priorities will be to raise the minimum wage to $7.25 per hour from $5.15 per hour over a two-year period.

The federal minimum wage has been stuck at $5.15 an hour since 1997, although many states have set their own higher wage floors. Republicans have long blocked an increase, arguing it would cost low-wage workers their jobs.

About 5.6 million U.S. workers, or 4 percent of the workforce, earn the federal minimum. An additional 8.3 million, or 6 percent of the workforce, earn slightly above the minimum wage and also stand to benefit from the proposed increase.

© 2006 Reuters