The House bended a bit toward President Bush's will Thursday by voting to raise the minimum wage to $4.55 an hour by October 1991 instead of the proposed $4.65, and by finally agreeing to a lower "training wage."
But it did not bend far enough to meet conditions Bush said are needed to avoid a veto - especially because the 248-171 vote was not a "veto-proof" two-thirds majority, and because Bush has the votes needed to sustain a veto in the Senate.Bush has said he will veto any minimum wage higher than $4.25 an hour implemented over three years, and any new wage that does not include a "training wage" of $3.35 an hour that employers could pay new hires for their first six months. The training wage approved Thursday was for only 60 days.
Reps. Jim Hansen and Howard C. Nielson, both R-Utah, voted against the minimum wage bill. Rep. Wayne Owens, D-Utah, voted for it - but only after he had joined Republicans in trying to amend the proposal to match Bush's plan.
"The final compromise was rational and will not be unduly disruptive," Owens said. "I would have preferred the president's plan, but we needed to do something. I supported the Bush plan because I am very concerned that the minimum wage could hurt small businesses and destroy jobs."
Hansen and Nielson believe the $4.55 wage would still destroy jobs if it is passed by the Senate and becomes law despite veto threats. The Senate is scheduled to debate it next month.
"This is going to hurt the most those who it was supposed to help, those with minimal education and training," Hansen said. "Every raise in the minimum wage destroys jobs because businesses decide that it is too expensive to keep some jobs."
Nielson said he voted against the $4.55 wage because it is too high, and he feels a "training wage" is needed for at least four months to help offset some of the jobs lost by the higher minimum wage. "Businessmen I talked to say they normally give people on minimum wage a raise about then anyway."
He said he was glad Democrats came down from the $5.35 minimum wage they pushed last year. But he said the move to $4.55 from $4.65 was mainly cosmetic "and essentially the same proposal" because of changes in its timing
The compromise would raise the hourly rate from $3.35 to $3.85 on Oct. 1, to $4.25 the next Oct. 1 and to $4.55 a year later. The basic Democratic plan called for the increases to $3.85 on Jan. 1, to $4.25 on Jan. 1, 1990, and to $4.65 on Jan. 1, 1992.
The debate on the House floor before the vote Thursday was often emotional, including Speaker Jim Wright giving up the gavel to give an impassioned speech on the floor.
"Vote for this bill because it is right, and you know it is right," he said. Wright termed the increase "modest" because if the minimum wage had kept up with inflation since 1981, it would now be $4.68 an hour. The wage has not increased since 1981.
Wright said the wage would help "the working poor. . . . They are the decent American men and women who want to work . . . the people who clean your house, wash your dirty socks and underwear, take out your garbage."
Arguing for the compromise, Rep. Tommy Robinson, D-Ark., said he has a hard time feeding his family on his congressional salary of $89,500 a year and could not do it on $3.35 an hour.
He said raising the minimum wage would also help the economy in his poor state by increasing how much people spend and how much they pay in tax.
On the other side, Rep. Tom Campbell, R-Calif., said raising the minimum wage is essentially "putting a tax on precisely the person who offers the job."
Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., the main sponsor of the minimum wage bill in the Senate, praised the House's action Thursday and issued a statement encouraging Bush to hold off his threats of vetoes because more compromises will be made before final legislation is adopted.
"This is an excellent opportunity for Congress and the administration to demonstrate that they can work together and in doing so achieve a fair increase in the minimum wage and an honest training wage," Kennedy said.