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Senate Democrats Block Vote on Minimum Wage, Estate Tax Bill

In a 56-42 vote in the Senate, the GOP fell four votes shy of limiting debate on a bill containing a "trifecta" of parts, including a minimum wage increase and an estate tax cut, preventing a floor vote before the August recess.

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  • 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.

    SEN. TOM HARKIN (D), Iowa: 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 idea.

  • 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.

  • KWAME HOLMAN:

    Texas 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 relief.

  • 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.

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