Congress Approves Minimum-Wage Increase

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By JESSE J. HOLLAND
The Associated Press
Thursday, May 24, 2007; 10:17 PM

WASHINGTON -- America's lowest-paid workers won a $2.10 raise Thursday, with Congress approving the first increase in the federal minimum wage in almost a decade.

President Bush was expected to sign the bill quickly, and workers who now make $5.15 an hour will see their paychecks go up by 70 cents per hour before the end of the summer. Another 70 cents will be added next year, and by summer 2009, all minimum-wage jobs will pay no less than $7.25 an hour.

For years, the idea of increasing the minimum wage has been stalled by partisan bickering between Republicans and Democrats.

That almost became the fate of this year's proposal. Democratic leaders attached the provision to the $120 billion Iraq war spending bill, which was vetoed by the GOP-controlled White House on May 1 because Democrats insisted on a pullout date for American troops.

But with the House passing a rewritten bill 280-142 and the Senate 80-14, the end is likely near for the longest stretch without the federal pay floor rising since the minimum wage was established in 1938.

Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., called the increase one of "the proudest achievements of this new Congress."

"We've overcome many obstacles _ and faced every procedural trick in the book _ to get this minimum-wage increase across the finish line," Kennedy said. "Democrats stood together, and stood firm, to say that no one who works hard for a living should have to live in poverty."

Bush announced earlier this year that he supported an increase in the minimum wage.

"We pushed for and very much prefer that it be paired with appropriate offsets for small businesses who would be disproportionately impacted by the minimum-wage increase," White House spokesman Tony Fratto said. "Unfortunately, the offsets in this bill don't accomplish that."

This would be the first change since the minimum wage went from $4.75 to $5.15 on Sept. 1, 1997, under former President Clinton and a Republican-controlled Congress.

The liberal-leaning Economic Policy Institute, a research group in Washington, estimates that 5.6 million workers _ or 4 percent of the work force _ earn less than $7.25.

"This is a great day for America's middle class," said Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee. "America's workers have been waiting for a raise for a long time."


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© 2007 The Associated Press

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