The House passed legislation Thursday to raise the hourly minimum wage to $4.55 after rejecting President Bush's more modest offer of an increase to $4.25, sending the partisan battle to the Senate for another round next month.

The vote was 248-171."It isn't enough but it certainly is better than nothing," House Speaker Jim Wright said of the legislation during a floor speech in favor of the Democrats' bill.

Passage came after a 240-179 vote to amend the legislation to set the final level of the minimum wage at $4.55 an hour and add a provision allowing employers to pay new entrants in the job market a sub-minimum wage for two months.

Earlier, Bush's proposal, offered by Republicans as a substitute to the Democrats' bill, was defeated 218-198, with more than 40 Democrats joining the GOP effort.

"I see no defensible argument to say that is adequate," Rep. Augustus Hawkins, D-Calif., said of Bush's offer of a 1992 hourly minimum wage of $4.25.

Hawkins was the sponsor of the Democratic bill, which originally called for the minimum wage to rise to $4.65 an hour by 1992. But he supported the amendment rolling back the final target by a dime while at the same time moving the effective dates of the increases forward, each by three months.

Under the amendment, the first increase, from the current $3.35 an hour to $3.85, would take effect Oct. 1.

Hawkins and other Democratic sponsors of the measure are staunch opponents of the so-called training wage contained in the amendment that allows some new hires to be paid 85 percent of the minimum wage for 60 days.

However, they reluctantly agreed to add it to the bill to win the support of enough moderate-to-conservative Democrats, particularly from Southern states, to keep them from defecting to the Republican effort to substitute Bush's proposed Hawkins' bill.