A minimum-wage increase won't have the vetting of a committee vote before it comes to the Senate floor, likely in February, a key lawmaker in the debate said Tuesday. The decision to keep a hot Democratic campaign issue out of committee is designed to limit the number of "embarrassing amendments" Republicans can offer.
"We decided not to do it in committee but to come directly to the floor," said Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee Chairman Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, who is sponsoring legislation to raise the minimum wage from $7.25 per hour to $10.10 per hour in three annual increments. "Then they get to offer all kinds of embarrassing amendments and stuff in committee, and why do it twice? Do it once."
The decision to bypass deliberation in committee will do nothing but inflame Republicans, who were smarting with anger at Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid on Tuesday after the Senate voted 60-37 to proceed to final passage on an unemployment insurance bill.
"It's totally dictatorial," said Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who decried Reid's tactics in ramming the bill to extend long-term jobless benefits down Republicans' throats without committee consideration or amendments. "He won't allow a single amendment. How can we negotiate?"
"It's all political," said Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., of the unemployment vote. "Unfortunately, the Senate is starting the new year they way the ended up last year"—with bills being placed on the floor without ever being considered in committee. "The Senate has become a one-man show, and that man is Senator Reid guided by the White House," he said.
Republicans are squirming under the tough tactics that Democrats are using to pressure them to vote for legislation that gives benefits to jobless or low-wage workers. Six Republicans joined with all Senate Democrats and independents on an unemployment extension to give the chamber the necessary 60 votes to complete the legislation, which would extend long-term benefits until March 31.
"I'm not comfortable at all. I'm tremendously uncomfortable," said McCain of his "no" vote on the unemployment bill. But, he added that he can't in good conscience vote for legislation that he has had no say on.
Cue up the same protests for the minimum-wage debate, which will again put moderate Republicans in a tough position. A recent ABC/Washington Post poll found that 60 percent of Americans favor a minimum-wage increase. Republican lawmakers generally oppose minimum-wage hikes, citing burdens on small businesses and a drag on employment. Politically, however, those arguments fall flat with the general public.
Republicans could try to minimize the damage of opposing a minimum-wage increase by proposing to winnow down the size of the increase to, say, $9 per hour instead of $10.10. But that would require an amendment process, and one of their chances at offering amendments—in committee—has disappeared.
This article appears in the January 8, 2014 edition of NJ Daily.