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National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2007 - Part 1

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Date:
Location: Washington, DC


National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2007

BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT

Mr. KENNEDY. Mr. President, in a short while, we will have an opportunity in the Senate to vote on whether we are going to provide an increase in the minimum wage that will affect approximately 15 million Americans. We have not, as has been pointed out in our discussions yesterday and the day before, increased the minimum wage in the last 9 years. Even the $5.15 an hour, the current minimum wage, has lost, since 9 years ago, about 20 percent of its purchasing power.

The men and women who earn the minimum wage are men and women of dignity. They take pride in doing the jobs they do, although they do very menial work at the bottom rung of the economic ladder. They work as teachers assistants in our schools. They work in the nursing homes looking after the men and women who have made this country the great country it is. They provide the essential services in many of the buildings of our Nation, where American commerce is taking place. They work and they play by the rules and still they fall further and further behind.

I think there is a broad agreement in this body--there should be--that if you are going to work in the United States and you are going to work 40 hours a week, 52 weeks a year, you should not have to live in poverty. But these individuals do. We have seen what has happened to the minimum wage over recent years. The minimum wage jobs are not jobs that get you out of poverty. Minimum wage jobs are jobs that keep you in poverty. That is a rather dramatic difference from what we have had historically when we had Democratic and Republican administrations all voting for an increase in the minimum wage and an expansion of minimum wage coverage.

So that is the issue that is going to be before us, whether we are going to go over a 2-year period and raise the minimum wage to $7.25 an hour. There are those who are strongly opposed to it. We heard some of those voices yesterday. They say let's let the market decide on these issues. Let's let the market make the judgment and decide whether $5.15 is fair or whether we should see even a reduction. We have a number of States that have no minimum wage whatsoever, none. It is amazing. Six States have no minimum wage. One State has minimum wage of $2.65 an hour.

I think Americans have made the judgment that a minimum wage ought to be a minimum wage and people who work ought to be able to at least get the essentials in life. Of course, that is impossible today with the explosion in costs. We have seen the explosion of costs taking place, whether it is gasoline, education funds, health care or whether it is food, but we have not seen an increase in the minimum wage. We have seen an increase in salaries of the Members of the Senate. That has gone through. We have seen that over the last 9 years.

We have increased our salaries with the cost of living by some $30,000, but we refuse to provide an increase in the minimum wage for primarily women because 59 percent of these individuals who would benefit are women. They work hard. Many of those women have children. So it is a women's issue and a children's issue. It is also a family issue. We hear a great deal in the public discourse about family values, about our value system in the United States. Is X, Y, and Z public policy issue consistent with our values? Certainly, if you are talking about having someone who is going to work 40 hours a week, a women who works hard and is trying to raise a child, whether they are going to be able to have any family time together effectively or whether that woman is going to have to work two or three jobs and have little or no time with that child is a family issue and is a values issue.

Americans understand that. So this is a values issue. The leaders of our great religions understand it.

That is why the members of the churches in our country have been in strong support--and I will come back to that in a minute--of an increase in the minimum wage. It is also a civil rights issue because so many of those men and women entering the job market at this level are men and women of color. It is a children's issue, a women's issue and, mostly I as I have said many times and continue to say, it is a fairness issue. Americans understand fairness. Work hard and play by the rules in the richest country in the world and you should not have to live in poverty. Yet we find that at the end of the year, these families are $6,000 below the poverty line and they are falling further behind.

This is it. We'are not going to get another chance. Arguments will be made that, well, you should not offer it on this particular legislation. This is the Defense authorization bill. We say: Look, Mr. Republican leader, give us a chance to have a direct up-or-down vote on the increase in the minimum wage. You have your alternative on it. Give us a freestanding bill and I have indicated that we would withdraw this amendment, but we have been unable to get that.

All of us understand legislatively that we are moving more and more rapidly into the appropriations, and there is going to be a point of order made against legislating on appropriations. This legislation is appropriate for a very basic and fundamental reason. That is why our men and women who wear the American uniform are fighting in Iraq and fighting in Afghanistan--to defend American values and ideals. One of the American values is fairness here at home. It is treating people fairly for a day's work. That is an American value. That is one of the values these Americans are fighting for. That is why it is appropriate here. I don't know offhand, though, if we had more time--and I will find out next time we debate this issue because even if we get $7.25 an hour, we are still failing to meet the needs of working poor. I don't know how many servicemen are in the military serving overseas whose parents are earning the minimum wage, but there are scores of them.

So this is about the values we hold in this country and the values worth protecting by the military of this country. That is

what it is talking about. We understand there are important debates going on through noontime, and as far as I am concerned, they can go on through the evening. The idea that we are taking a few moments this morning to talk about an issue that affects some 15 million of our fellow citizens--this Senate could find plenty of time to debate the estate taxes, plenty
of time to debate flag burning. I don't know when the last flag was burned in my State of Massachusetts, but we have plenty of time to deal with that. We have had plenty of time on the Federal marriage amendment. But we don't want to deal with an increase in the minimum wage that affects 15 million people.

There you are. There are the priorities. It could not be clearer. So we know where we stand. We are always asked how we stand on different issues: What do you believe in?

We will have a very good opportunity this morning to indicate what we believe in. That is basically the framework of this issue.

Mr. President, how much time have I used?

The PRESIDING OFFICER (Mr. ISAKSON). Thirty-four minutes.

Mr. KENNEDY. I yield myself 4 more minutes.

Mr. President, this letter is from the heads of 33 major religious groups calling on Congress to do its moral duty to raise the minimum wage. This is the Let Justice Roll, which is an organization of faith and community leaders:

As leaders of our respective faith communities, we call on Congress to raise the Federal minimum wage in the 109th session. For too long, the ranks of the working poor have grown in this country. For too long, low-wage workers have been unable to support themselves and their families, even though they work several jobs, trying to make ends meet. Poverty has become a disease, striking at the very heart of the United States, attacking the most vulnerable, even as the wealthy few continue to accumulate far more than their reasonable share. It is unacceptable that such a state of affairs be allowed to continue, as year after year, Congress fails to pass an increase in the Federal minimum wage.

Prophetic voices through the ages have called upon their nations to show justice to the poorest and most vulnerable in society. The Prophet Amos exhorts the people of Israel, ``Hate evil and love good, and establish justice. Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.'' Then, and now, the assembled people of God are called upon to establish justice for low-wage workers, whose cries are so often heard across our land.

Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent that the letter and the signers be printed in the RECORD.

There being no objection, the material was ordered to be printed in the RECORD, as follows:

LIVING WAGE CAMPAIGN,

November 7, 2005.

DEAR MEMBERS OF CONGRESS: As leaders of our respective faith communities, we call on Congress to raise the Federal minimum wage in the 109th session. For too long, the ranks of the working poor have grown in this country. For too long, low-wage workers have been unable to support themselves and their families, even though they work several jobs, trying to make ends meet. Poverty has become a disease, striking at the very heart of the United States, attacking the most vulnerable, even as the wealthy few continue to accumulate far more than their reasonable share. It is unacceptable that such a state of affairs be allowed to continue, as year after year, Congress fails to pass an increase in the Federal minimum wage.

Prophetic voices throughout the ages have called upon their nations to show justice to the poorest and most vulnerable in society. The Prophet Amos exhorts the people of Israel, ``Hate evil and love good, and establish justice. Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.'' Then, and now, the assembled people of God are called upon to establish justice for low-wage workers, whose cries are so often heard across our land.

The situation among America's minimum wage workers is particularly dire. A minimum wage employee--making $5.15 an hour, working 40 hours a week, 52 weeks a year, earns $10,700 a year--$5,000 below the Federal poverty line for a family of three. The real value of the minimum wage today is nearly $4.00 less than it was in 1968. Indeed, in order for the minimum wage to have the same purchasing power as it did in 1968, the Federal minimum would have to be raised to more than $9.00. This situation is unconscionable, as the wealth of our Nation continues to be built on the backs of the working poor.

In his Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community?, our modern-day prophet, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., says, ``There is nothing new about poverty. What is new, however, is that we now have the resources to get rid of it.'' It is time to heed the call of the prophets, both ancient and modern. It is time to recognize that a minimum wage should be a fair, just, and living wage.

Signed,
Kim Bobo, Executive Director of Interfaith Worker Justice; The Reverend Dr. Robert W. Edgar, General Secretary of the National Council of Churches of Christ; The Reverend C. Welton Gaddy, President of The Interfaith Alliance and the Interfaith Alliance Foundation; The Most Reverend Frank T. Griswold, Presiding Bishop and Primate of the Episcopal Church; The Reverend Dr. Stan Hastey, Executive Director of the Alliance of Baptists; James E. Hug, S.J., President of Center of Concern; The Reverend Dr. Clifton Kirkpatrick, Stated Clerk of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.); The Reverend Timothy McDonald III and the Reverend Dr. Robert P. Shine, Sr., Chair and Vice-Chair of African American Ministers in Action.
Mary Ellen McNish, General Secretary of the American Friends Service Committee; Bishop William B. Oden, Head of Communion and Ecumenical Officer of the United Methodist Church; Bishop Roy Riley, Chair of the Evangelical Lutheran Church Conference of Bishops; Rabbi David Saperstein, Director and Counsel of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism; Alexander Sharp, Executive Director of Protestants for the Common Good; The Reverend William G. Sinkford, President of the Unitarian Universalist Association; The Reverend John H. Thomas, General Minister and President of the United Church of Christ; The Reverend Romal J. Tune, CEO of Clergy Strategic Alliances, LLC.
The Reverend Dr. Sharon Watkins, General Minister and President of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ); Rabbi Eric Yoffie, President of the Union for Reform Judaism; Scott D. Anderson, Executive Director of the Wisconsin Council of Churches; The Reverend John Boonstra, Executive Minister of the Washington State Association of Churches; The Reverend Albert G. Cohen, Executive Director of the Southern California Ecumenical Council; The Reverend Stephen Copley, President of the Arkansas Interfaith Conference; The Reverend Dr. Barbara Dua, Executive Director of the New Mexico Conference of Churches' The Reverend Nancy Jo Kemper, Executive Director of the Kentucky Council of Churches.
David Lamarre-Vincent, Executive Director of the New Hampshire Council of Churches; David A. Leslie, Executive Director of Ecumenical Ministries of Oregon; Marilyn P. Mecham, Exeutive of Interchurch Ministries of Nebraska; The Reverend J. George Reed, Executive Director of the North Carolina Council of Churches; The Reverend Dr. Stephen J. Sidorak, Jr., Executive Director of the Christian Conference of Connecticut; The Reverend C. Douglas Smith, Executive Director of the Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy; The Reverend Dennis Sparks, Executive Director of the West Virginia Council of Churches; The Reverend Sandra L. Strauss Director of Public Advocacy of the Pennsylvania Council of Churches; The Reverend Rebecca Tollefson, Executive Director of the Ohio Council of Churches.

Mr. KENNEDY. Mr. President, when we asked people to sign on as citizen cosponsors of the Fair Minimum Wage Act, 1,000 religious leaders answered the call. They took a stand to say that minimum wage is a moral issue that must be addressed. They have come together from all denominations, all walks of life to send this important message.

I will take a couple more moments.

First, I remind my colleagues in the Senate that support for an increase in the minimum wage is going like a wildfire across the country. This chart indicates in red those States which have increased the minimum wage above the Federal Government minimum wage. Look at this: Arkansas and Illinois.

The States in yellow are those States where the minimum wage will likely be on the ballot this fall.

Illinois, Florida, North Carolina--red States--passed an increase in the minimum wage in both houses, but they have not been reconciled. North Carolina, Arkansas, the home of Wal-Mart, increased the minimum wage.

This is happening in the countryside. I remind the Senate again, with the failure to increase the minimum wage, what the impact has been on families and on the poor.

From 2000 to 2004, we failed to increase the minimum wage and 1.4 million more children have fallen into poverty. If we look at what has been happening to families, 5.4 million more Americans are in poverty over the last 4 years. This does not bring it up to 2006. This would continue to grow. It is 5.4 million now. The best estimate is we have 1.4 million more children who are now in poverty.

In terms of the industrialized nations of the world, this is what has happened: We have the highest child poverty rate in the industrialized world, and we haven't increased our minimum wage.

I remind my colleagues what has been happening in other countries.

Tony Blair said 7 years ago that he was going to end poverty in Britain by 2020. There were 4 million children living in poverty, and he said, as a matter of national direction and vision, that he was going to eliminate poverty for children by 2020. This is what they have done. They will have a minimum wage of $9.80--$9.80--an hour this October. They have moved 1.8 million children out of poverty over the last 4 years. The United States has refused to increase the minimum wage, and we have put 1.4 million children into poverty. That is completely unacceptable.

This is the time.

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Mr. KENNEDY. Mr. President, I will take 2 minutes to respond to my friend from Alabama, and then I see the Senator from Connecticut on the floor.

The Senator from Alabama has made the best case for comprehensive immigration reform because if you are not going to have the comprehensive reform, you are going to have the continuation of the pressure of driving wages down, as we find our employers hiring the undocumented workers. It has been his administration--according to the General Accounting Office, the Republican administration--that has refused to enforce employer sanctions against the employers who are currently doing it. There have been three cases in the last 4 years, $220,000 in fines. If he is so worried about this, I would say, Why aren't we after the Labor Department to try to do something about it?

Second point: For those who are going to come into the United States--and they ought to be able to come into the United States as workers, if there is a job an American does not take--there is going to be the labor protections, which do not exist today. There is going to be prevailing wage protections, there are Davis-Bacon protections, if they work in contract, if they work in construction, and service contract employees. None of that has been mentioned by the Senator from Alabama. That is an entirely different current situation. And we are going to have 7,000 inspectors to make sure that it is enforced, which does not exist now and is a principal reason why we have the kinds of results the Senator from Alabama refers to.

Mr. President, he has made the best case possible for passing a comprehensive program so that those conditions would not exist.

How much time remains?

The PRESIDING OFFICER. The Senator from Massachusetts has 26 minutes 45 seconds.

Mr. DODD. If I could have 10 or 12 minutes, if that is appropriate.

Mr. KENNEDY. Why don't we start with 10.

The PRESIDING OFFICER. The Senator from Connecticut is recognized for 10 minutes.

Mr. KENNEDY. Mr. President, does the Senator from Alabama want 30 seconds? I will be glad to take this at another time when we have the time. I yield 30 seconds to the Senator from Alabama.

Mr. SESSIONS. Mr. President, I thank the Senator. I would note we wrestled before Y2K as to how many high-skilled foreign workers the U.S. needed to let in for that period--you and I both discussed that in the Judiciary Committee and whether it would adversely impact the wages of high-skilled American workers. I would say that the current rate of immigration, legal and illegal--and I believe there is a growing consensus that supports this view--has depressed the wages of low-skilled American workers. I would ask the Senator if he would dispute the fact that the immigration bill he introduced would have greatly increased the number of immigrants into the country and wouldn't that have further adversely impacted the wages of low-skilled American workers?

Mr. KENNEDY. Mr. President, 15 seconds in response. The legislation we have introduced would require that there be a job that an American worker has not been interested in and refused to accept. Those are the jobs individuals would be eligible for under the guest worker program. I look forward to continuing this debate with my friend from Alabama.

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Mr. KENNEDY. I yield myself 4 minutes.

I listened very carefully to the Senator from New Hampshire talk about flextime. Flextime is something that those of us on this side of the aisle support. But that is not what is in the bill. That is not what is in the bill. The Federal Government has what they call core time--core agency hours. That means that they have to work from 11 to 2 or 11 to 3, and then the other hours they can make the judgment whether they want to use that, in terms of flextime. That is the kind of proposal that makes some sense. That is what we would support. But that is not in this legislation.

The person who decides whether Mrs. Smith is going to get the time off to go to see her child's play or to see the ballgame is going to be the employer--period. Make no mistake about it. That is the way it is written here on page 4 of their legislation. If we are talking about providing a degree of flextime--we have been through this; we understand what it is--flextime is not the time that is allocated just by the employer when the employer makes the sole judgment and decision, as they do under the Enzi proposal--No. 1.

No. 2, the Senator from New Hampshire says, let's let that person work 50 hours a week this week and maybe 30 hours a week the next week. Here it is on page 4, which says:

in which more than 40 hours of the work requirement may occur in a week of the period, except that no more than 10 hours may be shifted between the 2 weeks involved.

That means you can work 50 hours 1 week and 30 hours at the present time. What is the current law? The current law is, if you work 50 hours 1 week and then 30 hours the second week, you get the overtime for the 10 hours here. Do you think that is in the Enzi proposal? No. It is not there. They have eliminated it. You work the extra hours and you don't get the extra pay. Some deal--some deal for someone. That is called flextime. If you can sell that, you can sell the Brooklyn Bridge.

This is what you are doing. Instead of giving the person the overtime, as has gone on under the Federal Labor Standards Act, that has been eliminated.

There is something else that the women of the country who are concerned about equal pay for equal work ought to understand. In the legislation under the Enzi amendment, because of the fact that you raise the exemption for companies that will be covered from $500,000 to $1 million, and because you eliminate the Federal Labor Standards Act protection for those who are involved in interstate commerce--that is all spelled out on page 13--that means 10 million workers will not have the protections of the minimum wage or the Federal Labor Standards Act, which means that the equal pay for equal work protections that are there for 4 to 5 million women will not be there.

Does America understand the difficulty we have had in this Chamber trying to get equal pay for equal work, let alone equal pay for comparable work? We have been able to get it under the Fair Labor Standards Act, and that is being eliminated for 4 to 5 million women.

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Mr. DODD. The Senator has spent a lot of time on this issue over the years. We have modified the Fair Labor Standards Act several times over the last 40 years. In each of those cases, as I recall, we modified the law to expand the number of people who would be covered by the minimum wage and the overtime pay and equal pay for equal work. This would be the first time, as I understand it, that we would be taking the opposite direction; the very first time that we are going to shrink the number of people who would have the right to overtime pay, thus, excluding some 10 million people who would otherwise be covered by the minimum wage.

Am I correct?

Mr. KENNEDY. The Senator is absolutely correct.

For those who are even thinking about voting for the Enzi proposal, you are eliminating the protections, and you are getting the serious cutbacks. That is why the $1.10 increase would impact 1.8 million. Ours would be 6.6 million directly and 8 million on top of that.

The Senator makes a very good point.

This is not a base increase for the minimum wage.

This would be gutting the minimum wage protections for millions of Americans.

That is a fine ``how do you do.''

Mr. DODD. Every time we have modified the Fair Labor Standards Act, we were expanding the opportunity for workers. I believe this would be the first time in the history of our country that we actually go in the opposite direction. Those in poverty would be excluded from getting the overtime pay and protections for equal pay for equal work.

Mr. KENNEDY. The Senator stated it correctly. We are having a discussion and debate about the fact that we haven't increased the minimum wage in 9 years.

As the Senator pointed out and as I have pointed out, we have had this explosion of poverty with children, an explosion of poverty with minimum wage workers, and an explosion of hunger. What we do have as an alternative is an increase in reduction of protection, unlike the historical debate for an increase in the minimum wage.

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Mr. KENNEDY. Mr. President, in just about 5 minutes from now the Senate will have an opportunity to make a judgment as to whether we are going to offer a helping hand to some 15 million Americans who are at the lower end of the economic ladder who are earning the minimum wage and just above.

These workers are men and women of dignity. They take pride in their work. They are overwhelmingly women. If you care, this is a women's issue, having an increase in the minimum wage. It is a children's issue because a great majority of the women have children.

So many of these mothers look in the eyes of their child, and they wonder if they are going to be able to feed that child. They are worried whether that child is $80 sick, when they hear that child cry in the night because they know they have to pay $80 to go to an emergency room.

They know they cannot afford a birthday present for their child, to be able to go to a neighbor's house, to be able to enjoy the things every child who is a son or a daughter of a Member of Congress can enjoy.

That is what is happening out across America. It is a women's issue, a children's issue; it is a civil rights issue because so many of those workers are men and women of color. It is a family issue. It is a values issue. Don't talk to us on the other side of the aisle about family values. This is it.

This is an issue of decency and fairness. Americans understand decency. Americans understand fairness. Americans understand that if you work hard, 40 hours a week, 52 weeks of the year, you should not live in poverty. And that is what is happening. Nine years they have waited. Nine years they have waited--but not the Members of the U.S. Senate.

Mr. President, $30,000 we have increased our salary, and in 9 years we have refused to provide an increase for the men and women who are working on the lowest rung of the economic ladder. That is obscene.

We have a right to alter that and change that now when the roll is called. Let's say that we stand for those workers who are working hard, trying to make a difference for their families, playing by the rules. I hear from my friend from Wyoming they should not be on the Defense authorization bill. How many soldiers who are over there fighting in Iraq, mothers or fathers, might have been earning the minimum wage? What are they fighting for? They are fighting for American values.

American values are to treat people fairly and with respect. Increase the minimum wage, and we will have taken a very important step down that road.

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