Some 4.7 million Americans will have to wait at least another year for the first raise in the $3.35-an-hour minimum wage since 1981 as Senate Democrats concede a major election-year legislative defeat to a Republican filibuster.
Refusing to bow to GOP demands - led by Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah - for a broad-based subminimum floor under the 50-year-old minimum wage, Democratic leaders on Monday gave up all hope of raising the pay base by 40 cents to $3.75 an hour in January."There is no point in our continuing to pound on their door," Majority Leader Robert C. Byrd, D-W.Va., said on the Senate floor. "I'm now conceding that the Republican filibuster was successful."
The bill, sponsored by Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., would have raised the minimum wage in three annual 40-cents-an-hour increases to $4.55 by 1991, directly benefiting some 15 million workers now paid less than that, according to Kennedy.
Republicans blamed Kennedy's refusal to compromise on a lower figure, such as the $4.25 an hour suggested once by Dole or $4 an hour as urged by George Bush's running mate, Sen. Dan Quayle, R-Ind.
But they said Kennedy's refusal to compromise on the so-called training wage, or the "youth training wage" as Quayle called it, overshadowed everything else.
"The real reason this is being pulled down is that the senator from Massachusetts knows we were on the very edge of passing the training wage," said Hatch, the leader of the Republican opposition.
Hatch had introduced an amendment calling for the 80 percent subminimum for the first 90 days a new employee is on a company's payroll, saying it would "give a chance to those unskilled, undereducated youths who cannot get into the system any other way."
Hatch also proposed an earned income tax credit that he said "would have been a better solution to help the poor, rather than raising the minimum wage which would have only fueled inflation."
He added, "The fact is that the international trade union movement in this country will not accept a training wage. They consider the minimum wage as their single idea."
To prevent a vote on Hatch's amendment, Kennedy immediately introduced a substitute that would slightly expand a currently allowed but little-used $2.85 subminimum for full-time students working less than 20 hours a week.
"If his passes, mine would be gone," Hatch said early in the debate, complaining as did other Republicans that their subminimum proposal was being denied a fair hearing under Senate rules that favor whichever party holds a majority.
Kennedy called Hatch's subminimum amendment a "Bush hire 'em and fire 'em wage."
Without any requirements for training or age restrictions, employers would have an incentive to replace their workforces every 90 days with a new group of workers paid the subminimum rate, Kennedy said.