The Democratic proposal—sponsored by that champion of the American worker, the Honorable Senator Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts—was to increase the minimum wage by 41 percent, to $7.25 and hour over the next two years. It was roundly defeated by Republicans in the Senate in what was largely seen as a known outcome. Before the 49 to 46 vote count an angry Senator Kennedy denounced the coming defeat saying,
"The height of hypocrisy will be this afternoon, when those individuals in this Senate say no to a minimum wage increase of $7.25 an hour when this institution voted themselves a $28,500 pay increase over the last five years…minimum wage has been flat all these years, but not for the members of this Congress."
And he is right, after four years without a salary increase, the members of Congress quietly voted themselves one in the fall of 1997. The 2.3 percent hike amounted to about a $3,000 a year increase, bringing the average Congressman’s salary to $136,673. Leaders of both parties got considerably more; e.g. the Speaker of the House, then one Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.), salary rose to $175,445.
And it didn’t stop there; Congress has voted itself a pay raise almost every year since 1996 seeing their income raise approximately $24,500 since January 1998 to some $158,100 by January 2004. Meanwhile, the federal minimum wage standard has not been adjusted since 1996. Anyone who runs a household will relate to you that $5.15 an hour is not enough to live on, not with the price of everything it takes to live a decent life continuing to increase on an almost monthly basis.
I am not saying the members of Congress do not deserve a raise(s), they do after all have to support two separate households, but the disparity between their salaries tan those of their constituents is grossly out of whack.
The Republicans of course denounced Senator Kennedy’s bid to raise the minimum wage saying that it would do more harm than good. Senator John E. Sununu, (R-NH) said that by
“raising minimum wage, you are pricing some workers out of the market…it is an economic fact. Proponents of the minimum-wage increase like to dismiss this."Someone please explain to me what this means! What market is he referring to; the market to flip burgers for a living? Or is he saying that paying unskilled workers $7.25 an hour will make them too expensive to hire? If so by whom? Even the unskilled deserve a decent wage, a place to live, and sleep, and eat and raise a family if they so choose.
Are we striving to become more like Third World nations where unskilled labor is an expendable resource we as a society can write off at will. That because they as unskilled, their worth as citizens is not work measuring. What about the children? How moral a choice is this?
I agree with Senator Kennedy on one other point: the hypocrisy of the Republicans is glaring…shame on them for once again showing the average American that their concerns matter not a wit…what a wasted vote. Is this the America we want to bequeath to our children?