House Democrats have been fighting for a vote on increasing the minimum wage all summer. But, each time they got close, their efforts were derailed by political maneuvering by the Republican majority party. Today, Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) and George Miller (D-Ca.) held a press conference to announce that recent efforts for a straight up-or-down vote on the issue is again being stalled by Republicans. Time is running out for a vote as the Congressional summer recess is scheduled to begin on August 1 and continue through September 3. Hoyer represents the fifth Congressional district in Maryland which encompasses all of southern Maryland.
The federal minimum wage is currently set at $5.15 per hour. Congress has not raised the minimum wage since 1997 and
it is currently at its lowest level in 50 years (after being adjusted for inflation). A minimum wage earner working full-time all year will earn just $10,700.
This is well below the federal poverty level. Interestingly, Congress has voted for pay increases
for themselves eight times since they last increased the minimum wage.
Hoyer and Miller argued that the Republicans are at the moment trying to prepare a bill that will allow a vote on the minimum wage, but will contain a poison pill. A poison pill is an issue that is put into a bill, along with the main issue, that is sure to
cause the bill to fail in either the House or subsequently in the Senate. This allows Congressmen to claim that they voted in favor of certain controversial issues, knowing full well that the overall bill stood no chance of passing. Hoyer noted that this fake vote is designed to provide political cover to some Republican members of Congress who are facing re-election problems. In this instance, Congressmen will be able to report to the voters that they did vote in favor of the minimum wage increase. Voters who are not fully informed of the facts, or who are served by dishonest or lazy journalists, will never realize that the vote was bogus.
Hoyer and Miller noted that they have not yet seen the bill that the Republicans are working on and therefore could not comment on the
specific details of the Republican strategy.
Some critics of a minimum wage increase argue that it would cause more
unemployment, cause prices to rise, or damage small businesses. Critics on the
other side point to studies that indicate the opposite is true. They say that in
states which have a minimum wage higher than the federal mandate, small business
growth exceeds that of those in other states. They also point out that 100% of
the earnings of minimum wage employees go right back into the economy to pay for the necessities of life. On the other hand, most of the tax cuts that are given to the wealthy are not circulated into the economy. The point is also made that the price of items is rarely a direct function of the cost of labor. Most products are priced based on the maximum price that the market will bear. For example, a name brand pair of sports shoes might only cost a few dollars to manufacture, yet they sell for more than $100 in retail stores.
As the party that critics argue is becoming known as they who represent the rich and the corporations continues to block efforts to increase the minimum wage, some states are taking matters into their own hands. Currently, eighteen states have implemented laws that provide a state-level minimum
wage that exceeds the federal mandate.
Maryland is one of those states. The basic minimum rate here is $6.15 per hour.
Cities are even getting involved. The Chicago City Council just this week voted to require stores that occupy more than 90,000 square feet and are part of companies that gross more than $1 billion annually to pay a minimum wage of
$10/hour by 2010. The law also requires the companies to pay the equivalent of $3/hour in benefits.
Raising the Minimum Wage Just the Facts
Economic Policy Institute: General Information on the Minimum Wage