Democrats Bypass Committee on Minimum-Wage Bill to Limit ‘Embarrassing’ GOP Amendments

Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee Chairman Tom Harkin, D-IA, speaks during a briefing on a bipartisan proposal to expand early childhood education from birth to age 5 at the senate visitors center of the US Capitol on November 13, 2013 in Washington, DC.
National Journal
Fawn Johnson
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Fawn Johnson
Jan. 7, 2014, 7:35 a.m.

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.

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