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GOP Senators Kill Minimum Wage Hike, Despite Majority Support

According to a January report by the Pew Research Center, 82 percent of Americans supported an increase in the federal minimum wage as an important priority, with only 6 percent opposed. Yet, the U.S. Senate voted 49-46 to defeat a bill that would have provided three increases of 70 cents in the federal minimum wage, from $5.15 to $7.25 over the next 26 months. All 49 of the Senators voting against the bill were Republicans. Earlier polls have shown strong support for even higher increases.

The Republicans did offer a substitute bill providing a $1.15 increase in the minimum wage, but it was tied to provisions that would have eliminated long-standing wage and overtime protection for millions of workers. Of course the GOP knew their bill was doomed and it would kill any chance of a minimum wage increase. The GOP point man for the 'alternative' bill, Sen. Rick Santorum, has voted against minimum wage increases 17 times in 10 years, according to Sen. Edward Kennedy, despite the fact that the inflation-adjusted value of the federal minimum wage has decreased alarmingly in recent decades. The 1968 minimum wage, for example, would be worth $8.88 in today's dollars.

The GOP opposition may have handed Democrats a potent weapon for mobilizing low-wage workers in the upcomming elections, and the campaign against Sen. Santorum will likely be the marquee contest of 2006.