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Public Statements

Fair Minimum Wage Act of 2007

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Date:
Location: Washington, DC


FAIR MINIMUM WAGE ACT OF 2007 -- (Senate - January 26, 2007)

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Mr. KENNEDY. Mr. President, as we have reached Friday in the consideration of the increase in the minimum wage, let me restate both by affection and respect for my friend and colleague from Wyoming. We have a strong personal relationship and a very good professional relationship. There are a few occasions when we differ, and this happens to be one of them, but it doesn't take away from the fact that I have enormous respect for his legislative abilities. We have worked in a number of areas, and we have every commitment to working together in so many of those areas of our HELP Committee. I know we don't have to repeat it, but it is true. Since we have a moment on a Friday, I wanted to express it because of my deep concerns about the direction of this underlying legislation.

Let me state, with regard to these family issues, our committee is enormously interested in these family issues. The fact is, we have not addressed them in these recent Congresses. That happens to be the fact. We have not marked up those measures when Republicans were in charge of our committee. We didn't get them out on the floor of the Senate, so we have not considered them. But we are strongly committed to them. We are strongly committed.

My friend and colleague from Connecticut, Senator Dodd--who is the author of the Family and Medical Leave Act--struggled 10 years before we ever could get that legislation passed because of the opposition within the Republican Party. He wants to extend that. It only applies to companies of 50 or more and leaves out half of all the workers. He wants to address that issue.

The Senator from Washington, Mrs. Murray, has had longstanding legislation providing up to 24 hours for individuals to go and work with teachers, engage in teacher conferences.

I have engaged in legislation for sick leave for workers, which is enormously important to people here.

Family-related issues are something in which we are enormously interested and concerned with. But I want to indicate we are also interested in flextime. But we also recognize that in this past Congress, this President eliminated overtime for 6 million Americans--overtime--this administration.

I am not going to take the time now, but I will certainly put the material in the RECORD about the proposal the Senator has just referenced--my friend, and he is my friend, the Senator from New Hampshire--talking about his flextime legislation. Here on page 2 in the legislation it says, ``notwithstanding section 7, an employer may establish biweekly work programs that--section (A) title I--that consist of a basic work requirement of not more than 80 hours over a 2-week period and in which more than 40 hours of the work period may occur in a week of that period.'

I believe this is the end of the 40-hour workweek, when your employer can make you work 50 hours in a week with no overtime. You say: No overtime? Where is that?

If we go to page 7 of the legislation, under the definition of ``overtime,' the term ``overtime': ``when used with respect to biweekly programs means all work worked in excess of the biweekly work schedule involved in excess of the allocated 50 hours a week.'

So here we are basically saying if the employer makes the judgment and decision that you are going to work 50 hours, you are going to work more than 40 hours. Under the existing law you get overtime pay for over 40 hours. Under this, you work 50 hours and you don't get the overtime. Here it is in the legislation.

Why do we have that on the minimum wage bill, I ask? It seems so accommodating. Can't we just accommodate family-related issues on it? Here we are trying to undermine it.

The issue, of course, that is key in all these matters--you say: What about public employees? Public employees do. They have unions to protect them, and they have longstanding agreements about how and who makes the judgment and decisions in working out those flextime issues. It is an entirely different situation. I am glad to try to work that out, as we have with Members on family-related issues. But why should we have to do it on a simple item like the terms of increasing the minimum wage? Why is it? As I said yesterday, we are considering zero amendments on our side. We are prepared to vote. I bet I could even get the leader to say--well, probably not--to say we would go with a voice vote and approve it today. But, no, at the current time we have, to my knowledge, 109 amendments. They increase every day from the other side--109 amendments. Zero over here, 109 amendments.

Another issue comes up, the issue of agencies violating different regulations, and if it is a first offense and exclusion of health and safety--look carefully how they define health and safety. This is an issue without a problem. Agencies have that flexibility today and use it today. What are we really trying to get at?

Under the original proposal that was offered with regard to first offenses, it would have exempted 97 percent of all mine safety companies. You say let's redraft that now in terms of health and safety and see if you won't take it. Why are we doing that out here on this question? We have just done mine safety.

If we want to deal with regulatory reform we are glad to do that. With regard to small business I thought that would be in the Small Business Committee's jurisdiction. Why should we be dealing with that when all we are trying to do is get an increase in the minimum wage?

Then I hear: What is going to happen in terms of employment when we pass this increase in the minimum wage? One chart I didn't use the other day but I remember from the past is this one. The last minimum wage increase did not increase unemployment. These are the figures, going from 1997, September, all the way through the year 2000. It shows the last time when we went to $5.15 the gradual decrease in unemployment.

If you look at it this way, we have the increase and the wage was $4.75 in the summer of 1996. Look at the increased job growth. Then we increased it in 1997 to $5.15, and it continued job growth.

There are 3.7 million Americans who work in these small mom-and-pop stores who will never be affected because of the small business exemptions. It is $500,000. They are excluded. It is only those. These are the figures on it.

We have gone through those in some measure. I still am distressed that we are spending this amount of time on this issue, and I wonder why it is the Republicans have all of these issues. If we had accepted all the amendments that have been offered by the Republicans, we would have added $241 billion in spending; $241 billion would have been added that would not have been offset.

We are on the fifth day today. We will be on the sixth day on Monday, the seventh on Tuesday. When we had the increase in 1977, we spent 2 days on it. When we had the increase in the minimum wage in 1989, we had 2 days. In 1996, we had 2 days--4 hours in the House of Representatives. Since we have been debating this issue, the good State of Iowa, Monday night, had a debate in the legislature for the increase in the minimum wage. They passed it. They considered it in the Senate, debated it, and passed it, and the new Governor of Iowa is signing the increase in the minimum wage today. This is what is happening out there.

This is part of what the American people are wondering about regarding this institution: Why in a State it takes 3 days to get it and other times it has taken a couple of days to consider this. It is a very simple matter: just raise the minimum wage to $7.25 from $5.15. We are in day 5, Monday it will be day 6, vote on cloture on day 7. With the 30 hours it will continue on into the better part of next week. Why does it take so long for this institution when all the amendments are over on this side, from the Republicans?

That happens to be the fact. We debated education. It is interesting. Our committee deals with education as the appropriations committee for education. Finance has some provisions in there with regard to the tax provisions. We have important education legislation coming up. We have worked out higher education legislation in our committee. There are still a few areas in terms of the loan programs we still have to work out. We are working with the administration on the K-12 program. But now we have dropped in here $35 billion in terms of education credits. There is nothing on the IDEA Program--nothing. No help and assistance on IDEA. No help and assistance in increasing Pell programs. They selected $35 billion for whatever they wanted on education to challenge us to vote against that particular proposal.

Is that it? The underlying bill is to try to get an increase in the minimum wage. I am glad to debate education. I was so interested in this because last year we increased the scholarship programs by $12 billion for students, and it went to conference and the Republican leadership took all $12 billion and put it for taxes. I can't scarcely remember any of those people who were arguing yesterday for increasing help and assistance for the students raising their voice let alone their vote in opposition. Or, when we added the funding, or tried to add the funding to the budget last year, I don't remember any of those speaking out. Twelve billion dollars it would have added. I don't remember any of those voices out there. But they suddenly want to have a long debate on that program.

Now we want to have a long debate on health savings accounts. The average user of health savings accounts earns $133,000 a year, and three-quarters of those who had the health savings accounts had insurance before they had them. I thought the question today was to get to the uninsured, not the wealthy who already had insurance. That is coming from the other side. Why on the minimum wage bill? I am glad to debate that issue, but why on the minimum wage? Why hold up another day for workers? That is what is happening.

Every day we are denying these workers, every single day, every hour we are denying these workers an increase in the minimum wage. Make no mistake who is doing that--109 amendments from that side and zero from this side. You can say: We want to just have a little fair opportunity to discuss these. Come on. We weren't born yesterday. We know what is happening. This is a whole process to delay, and I believe they hope to defeat us on this issue.

It has been 10 years since we have had the increase. We have had 15 votes. We had a couple of other amendments which were accepted. We are prepared. The issue, on these family-related issues--we are the committee, we will work closely with our brothers and sisters on other committees to get these jobs done. But don't, on Friday afternoon, say: Oh, we just need to have a few more amendments on this. Then what will happen?

We are basically holding the increase in the minimum wage hostage now for additional tax expenditures for businesses. No clean bill. The House of Representatives, with 80 Republicans, went ahead and passed a clean bill but not here in the Senate. No, roadblocks were put in our way by Republicans. Make no mistake about it. Let's just call it what it is. Roadblocks, parliamentary tactics are used to block a bare increase in the minimum wage, to basically prohibit that increase.

We have the additional billions of dollars in tax expenditures added to it and now we still have opposition by filibuster by amendment. All of us have been around here. It is filibuster by amendment. Thankfully, we have a leader who is going to file cloture so at least we will have the vote on Tuesday next. But there should be no doubt in the minds of people, as we come into this weekend, who bears the burden in terms of the basic reluctance and opposition to the increase in the minimum wage.

As I said yesterday--I won't repeat it--but it amazes me to try and understand why this blind opposition, and why the vehemence of this opposition of increasing the minimum wage to $7.25. What is it that bothers our Republican friends? What is it about it? It isn't the question about we want an opportunity to talk about education or health care or Social Security or immigration. No, no. There is opposition to going to $7.25 for those who are on the lowest part of the economic ladder. We have seen the most extraordinary explosion of wealth in this country in the history of this Nation, and we have held those workers for 10 years--they have lost 20 percent of their purchasing power. We are just restoring the purchasing power for those individuals. It has the strong continuing opposition of the Republicans.

It is difficult for me to understand the reasons for that. Certainly it can't be economic. We haven't had a debate--we have been ready to have that debate on what it does in terms of communities, what it does in terms of the economy. We have demonstrated that with figures, the best we have had. States that have increased the minimum wage do better economically. Countries that increase the minimum wage reduce poverty, have the strongest economies in Europe. We are glad to debate the various case studies that have been done with Krueger and Card over at Princeton analyzing different kinds of communities. We are glad to debate if you want to debate economics. No, no. It is all filibuster by amendment on these other topics.

So, Mr. President, I thank our leader, Senator Reid, for being willing to file the cloture petition. We will vote on it next week, and hopefully we will be able to get a positive vote on that and we will be able to move ahead.

We want to leave on this Friday and let those who are out there who have been working hard and who are appreciative of the Congress--4 hours the House took to debate an increase in the minimum wage, 80 Republicans who supported that, and here we are at the end of the week, looking forward to another week on this issue with over 109 different amendments waiting, waiting, waiting, all offered by Republicans, on the widest variety of different subject matters one can imagine. We all know what is going on, and so do those minimum wage workers, their families, workers across this country, middle-income people and others in the faith community, in the trade union movement, who believe in a fair America and believe that those on the lowest rung of the economic ladder are entitled to participate in the promise of America, like everyone else.

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