TOPICS > Politics

Senate Democrats Block Vote on Minimum Wage, Estate Tax Bill

August 4, 2006 at 6:20 PM EDT

KWAME HOLMAN: With an eye on the midterm elections,
Republican leaders in Congress this week pushed a legislative package they
argued had a little something for everyone. For starters, an increase in the
minimum wage — the first in nine years — championed primarily by Democrats.

The minimum wage now is a poverty wage. You can work for the minimum wage, but
you’re still in poverty.

KWAME HOLMAN: For Republicans, a substantial reduction in
the estate tax, which has come close to passing several times.

SEN. TRENT LOTT (R), Mississippi:
I’ve never talked to men or women, young or old, all kinds of different races,
that will say, “Oh, yes, the death tax is a good idea.” That’s a bad

KWAME HOLMAN: And for members of both parties, a range of
popular tax breaks, which according to Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist…

SEN. BILL FRIST (R-TN), Senate Majority Leader: … speak
very directly to the individual across this country, whether it is the person
paying college tuition, the person paying the sales tax every day, or the
R&D tax credit, which we know affects the creation of jobs in this country
in the future.

KWAME HOLMAN: But Republicans’ decision to bundle all three
elements into one bill drew the ire of Democrats, who stubbornly resisted
taking the good with the bad, referring specifically to the effort to reduce
the estate tax, which they called a gift to the rich.

SEN. EDWARD KENNEDY (D), Massachusetts: The Republicans are holding
minimum wage workers hostage. They’re holding them hostage to the most
excessive tax breaks for the wealthiest individuals in America.

KWAME HOLMAN: But the Senate’s number-two Republican, Mitch
McConnell, argued the bill had strong support across the country.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R), Kentucky: Why in the world, with
bipartisan support for all of these three measures that the leader has put on
the agenda for the last week before the August break, why in the world
shouldn’t we come together on a bipartisan basis and do something together that
would be overwhelmingly popular with the American people?

KWAME HOLMAN: But by midweek, Democrats declared their
intention to block the bill. They complained the minimum wage provision would
conflict with laws in seven states, actually reducing wages for some. New York’s Chuck Schumer
said voters would understand.

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D), New York: The public can smell these kinds
of schemes in a minute. They know who’s on their side, and they know who’s
against them. So I have word to my Republican colleagues: It just isn’t going
to work.

Republican Kay Bailey Hutchison charged the real aim of the Democrats was not
to hand Republicans a victory.

SEN. KAY BAILEY HUTCHISON (R), Texas: I think this is an excuse to make
this a do-nothing Congress, and we are turning our backs on the middle class
and the poor people of this country who depend on minimum wage and death tax

KWAME HOLMAN: Leader Frist hoped a few timber state
Democrats, such as Washington’s
Patty Murray, would be enticed by a tax break in the bill that would provide
extra write-offs for timber extraction. But the bill’s impact on Washington State’s
minimum wage workers kept Murray
on the Democrats’ side.

SEN. PATTY MURRAY (D), Washington: It appears, indeed, that
the provision in this bill will dramatically reduce the income of thousands of
workers in my state and other states, and I again reiterate that is why we are
opposed to this bill.

KWAME HOLMAN: Needing 60 votes to advance the bill, leader
Frist and the Republicans fell four short.

But they didn’t leave for the August recess empty-handed. Late
last night, the Senate overwhelmingly approved and sent to the president a bill
to bolster the pension system by requiring companies to fund fully their
retirement plans.