KWAME HOLMAN: On Capitol Hill few issues illustrate the ideological differences between the two political parties as clearly as the Minimum Wage. Democrats, more closely associated with the working class, yesterday pushed a plan in the House to increase the minimum wage by one dollar over two years to 6 dollars and fifteen cents an hour.
REP. DAVID BONIOR: Today more than 10 million hourly workers earn less than $6.15 an hour. Almost 70 percent of them are adults. Three out of every five are women. And a lot of them are single moms who have to work two, sometimes three jobs to make ends meet, and are never home to be with their kids or seldom home. They are struggling to give their kids, though, a better life. And today we say that it is high time we do our part to help them.
KWAME HOLMAN: Republicans, on the other hand, traditionally have stood to promote and protect those small businesses forced to pay the wage increase.
REP. THOMAS TRANCEDO: The idea that the government knows best how much money anybody should make for any particular job is idiotic. I will fully admit that I do not know what anyone should make in this economy. I do not know what the smallest minimum wage should be, or the highest. I admit that, because there is something that is in fact important and that does make that decision. It is called the marketplace. I will trust the marketplace.
KWAME HOLMAN: However, increasing the minimum wage historically becomes more attractive to members of Congress in an election year. House Republican leaders faced up to that reality yesterday.
REP. DAVID DREIER: I realize that a majority of this House supports an increase in the minimum wage. I'm in the minority here in believing that we should simply encourage economic growth through tax and other investment incentives. But I'm in the minority. I'm in the minority and so I feel the responsibility to do everything that we possibly that we can to allow a free flow of ideas.
KWAME HOLMAN: And so Republican leaders yesterday proposed increasing the minimum wage on "their" terms: a one dollar increase over three years -- and to ease the impact on small businesses tied the wage increase to122 billion dollars in tax cuts over ten years.
REP. MARK FOLEY: Yes I agree increasing the minimum wage will help. But I certainly don't find it a problem to at least assist the small businesses in making that increase in payroll costs softened at least by some important tax provisions.
KWAME HOLMAN: Some Democrats however found big problems with the tax cuts.
REP. CHARLES RANGEL: How dare you say the tax provisions in this bill is to protect small businesses. That's outrageous! It's an insult to the American people. It's clear that two-thirds of the tax benefits, they don't go to small businesses. They go to the richest Republicans that we have!
KWAME HOLMAN: Out from the center of the partisan debate stepped Jim Traficant...a colorful Democrat from Youngstown, Ohio...not known as a conciliator. But yesterday it was Traficant who convinced a stubborn group of Republican conservatives it would be political suicide for them to follow through on their threat to block a vote on the minimum wage increase. And later, it was Traficant who urged fellow Democrats to support the Republican proposal for small business tax cuts.
REP. JAMES TRAFICANT: How many times do we come to the floor we bash, pit old against the young; rich against the poor; black against the white; man against the woman; worker against the company? Ladies and gentlemen, without a company there is no worker. Without an entrepreneur there is no company. I think the Democrat Party has got to look at this issue.
KWAME HOLMAN: Democrats did look at the issue of providing tax cuts to small businesses, and when it came time to vote on that portion of the bill, 41 Democrats joined House Republicans in approving the ten-year, $122 billion package. A few hours later, 42 Republicans returned the favor as they joined with House Democrats who approve the $1 increase in the minimum wage over two years instead of three. The two votes provided a rare glimpse of bipartisanship.
REP. ROBERT ADERHOLT: I commend my colleagues on both sides of the aisle for working together to bring forth a compromise. Despite the harsh words about this issue from some and both parties, this legislation is a good example of Congress at its best -- Democrats and Republicans working together and working to do what is best for America's working families. This is what the American people expect and, quite frankly, it's what they deserve.
KWAME HOLMAN: However, the minimum wage bill still has a steep road to travel before it can become law -- over to the Senate to be reconciled with similar legislation approved by that body, and then down to the White House for the President's signature. But this morning the President repeated his resolve to reject the bill if it comes packaged with the large tax cuts attached by the House.
PRESIDENT CLINTON: Now, I think the American people questioned why Congress can't do something as simple as raising the minimum wage without loading it up with special favors. And I think it's a good question. The right answer is to send me a clean bill, a bill simple and clear that could fit on one side of one piece of paper. In fact, if you look at it, that's exactly what our minimum wage bill does - not very big, not very complicated, and I hope that we can pass it. I'm looking forward to working with the Congress. I have not given up on this, and I have been given some encouraging signals that we might yet be able to reach an agreement, so we'll keep working on it.
KWAME HOLMAN: And on Capitol Hill leaders from both parties agree some compromise is inevitable sometime before November 7th, election day.