WASHINGTON – Democrats gained some traction in their election-year campaign to raise the minimum wage Wednesday when 64 Republicans joined in a symbolic vote supporting more money for the nation's lowest-paid workers.
The House voted 260-159 to urge House-Senate negotiators to include a minimum wage boost, from the current $5.15 an hour to $7.25, in jobs covered by a job training bill under discussion. Sixty-four Republicans, many moderates from northern and northeastern states, joined Democrats in backing the non-binding resolution.
The author of the provision, Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., said that while the vote was symbolic, it "proves that if given the opportunity, a majority of House members would support increasing the minimum wage."
Democrats have made GOP resistance to raising the minimum wage a key issue as they try to define differences before the November elections.
The Republican leadership, and their allies in the business community, say raising the minimum wage, which has held at $5.15 since 1997, would discourage small businesses from hiring young and low-skilled people for entry-level jobs.
But Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., at a news conference Wednesday, said it was "appalling" that lawmakers were poised to give themselves a $3,300 raise this year "yet continue to ignore the most vulnerable workers in our society."
He said that since the last minimum wage increase congressional pay has gone up more than $31,000, to $165,200, and executive pay is up 73 percent.
Kennedy and other Democrats support legislation that would raise the minimum wage to $7.25 an hour in three steps over the next two years. He said it would directly benefit 6.6 million workers.
Wednesday's House vote followed a vote in the House Appropriations Committee last month where seven Republicans joined Democrats in backing the attachment of a minimum wage increase to a 2007 spending bill covering health, education and labor programs.
Of the 11 annual spending bills, the health and education bill is the only one the House has yet to complete this year, partly because of the question of how to handle to minimum wage issue.