President Bush and his point-man, Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, lost two skirmishes Tuesday over how high to raise the minimum wage as Senate Democrats continue to play chicken with what could turn out to be Bush's first veto.
The Senate voted 58-41 to reject Bush's proposal - as introduced by Hatch - to raise the minimum wage from $3.35 an hour to $4.25 and to allow a "training wage" of $3.35 for new hires during their first six months. Bush has promised to veto any hike above $4.25, and any without his training wage.The Senate offered what Democrats called a compromise and what Republicans called more veto fodder by amending 61-39 the original Democratic proposal - which called for $4.65 an hour with no training wage - so it now calls for $4.55 and a two-month training wage. That amendment closely matches minimum wage legislation recently adopted by the House.
Final Senate passage of the bill is not expected until late Wednesday or Thursday. However, Hatch told Democrats they missed their last chance Wednesday to have any increase in the minimum wage this year when they rejected Bush's proposal.
He warned that if Democrats persist with a hike beyond $4.25, "I believe President Bush will veto it . . . I believe that veto will be sustained. I believe the only way an increase in the minimum wage can be achieved this year is to approve this (Bush's) proposal."
Democrats and Republicans both claimed in debate Wednesday that they were the ones really seeking to help the working poor.
Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., said the higher Democratic increase would help those earning the minimum wage to make up some of the 40 percent in buying power they have lost to inflation since the last minimum wage hike in 1981.
But Hatch said the raise will destroy 600,000 jobs because employers will no longer be able to afford higher labor costs. "If you don't have a job, the minimum wage is $0 an hour," he said.