RAY SUAREZ: You called it turning it into a tough vote for Democrats. But wasn't the minimum wage bill also a tough vote for Republicans until it was married with the reduction in the estate tax?
ALAN OTA: Yes, that's where I would have to say the House leadership, led by Speaker Hastert, and the new majority leader, John Boehner, and Ways and Means Chairman Bill Thomas have come up with -- I would have to say it's sort of an ingenious combination.
Really, the minimum wage has been an unlucky charm, I must say, over the last 10 years, nine years since there was the last increase in the minimum wage. What we've seen is historically Republicans have married the minimum wage to a poison pill, and there've been very reluctant to push an increase in the minimum wage, which helps low-income families, but I guess the argument against it is that it hurts owners of small businesses and causes them to reduce minimum wage employees.
And so what we've seen, I think, is this year in the Republicans they have not been so sure that they want to have a minimum wage be tied to a poison pill. They may actually -- I'm talking about the House leaders -- want the minimum wage to happen.
You might say, "Why?" They are looking for a difference-maker in this election. They're very worried about what could happen to several dozen moderate Republicans in states like Connecticut, throughout the Northeast and the Midwest, states such as Ohio. And if they should lose these very tight races in swing districts, they could lose control of the House, and that's the stakes.
RAY SUAREZ: Now, many companies in the U.S. over the past several years have not sufficiently funded their company pension plans. And when the companies go belly up, the pension plans go belly up, too, and become a brick on the American balance sheet, and the federal government has to step in. What did pension reform, debated this last weekend, do to address that situation?
ALAN OTA: I think what we've seen is that the pension reform package, the overhaul itself, sort of the core provisions of it, that was basically locked up in conference negotiations between the House and Senate.
And there was pretty broad agreement, bipartisan agreement, I think, on the main provisions of that, which, as you said, it's mainly intended to keep afloat some of the pension funds for the Fortune 500 companies, the airlines in particular and other troubled industries, make sure that they don't fail, give them a little bit of flexibility in terms of whether they can, you know, stretch out some of the payments that they have to make when they're staring in the eye the possibility of bankruptcy.
And so they've basically massaged that. They basically had that pretty well ready to go, but what has happened is that issue during the conference negotiation just got tied up in this bitter fight with the other three elements that you mentioned.
There were attempts to attach some tax-cutting extenders, mainly to help business, research and development tax credit, something that the Senate Finance Committee chairman, Charles Grassley, wanted very badly and his counterpart, Ways and Means Chairman Bill Thomas, didn't want it in the pension overhaul bill. He wanted to marry that to a reduction in the estate tax, wanted to move that separately.
And that ultimately was also tied to the minimum wage. And so that's where you had a divergence of one piece of legislation with everything in it into two bills.
And so now we're going to see -- coming up in the Senate, we're going to see a filibuster, possibly, lead by the Democrats to this particular bill that ties together a reduction in the so-called death tax and an increase in the minimum wage. It will be a filibuster on that.
And then there will be a vote to end that filibuster. Probably I'm thinking it will be on Thursday. And then, after that, we'll have to deal with this pension overhaul measure that you mentioned, on which there seems to be agreement, but it's just, with all of the disputes going on, everything, both bills, are actually in doubt at this point.