Time To Increase The Minimum Wage

Since its inception in 1938, the federal minimum wage has been increased over the years to adjust for inflation and enhance the purchasing power for modest-income Americans. At $5.15 an hour, the federal minimum wage today stands at an abysmal, even embarrassing level.

A full-time minimum wage worker - and there are 6.6 million of them in our country - will earn only $10,712 this year. That's less than $900 each month! How much do you pay every month just on your mortgage, for your rent or car payment?

Perhaps most disturbing is that the White House and the Republican controlled Congress have done nothing about this. My Republican colleagues have had ample opportunity to raise the minimum wage. In just one month (from June 22 to July 19), Democrats were able to call up seven votes on this issue. All the votes failed on strict party lines. And then on Friday evening, July 28, a "minimum wage" bill was brought up for a vote. But was it a clean bill that only dealt with the minimum wage? Absolutely not. It was a 183-page piece of legislation titled the "Estate Tax and Extension of Tax Relief Act of 2006" (H.R. 5970). The minimum wage increase was dealt with on page 181 of the legislation.

And to get an idea of where the priorities of this Congress lie: if H.R. 5970 is enacted into law, 6.6 million Americans will get an average annual raise of $1,200, while 8,200 Americans will get an average tax cut of $1.4 million.

Congress has not increased the federal minimum wage since 1997. The cost of living, however, has risen significantly. Consider that since 1997, the cost of a gallon of regular gas has increased 136 percent; a loaf of bread has increased 25 percent; a gallon of milk has increased 24 percent; a four-year public college education has increased 77 percent; and health insurance has increased 97 percent.

I believe that Congress has a moral obligation to ensure that any American who works hard full-time, all year, will escape the grasp of poverty. I believe the time for excuses has long expired ... it is time to increase the minimum wage for American workers.

It is time to take this country in a new direction where the common good of all Americans, rather than a select few, is this Congress' top priority. You deserve affordable healthcare, lower gas prices, and policies that put us on the path to energy independence. For a change, we deserve a government that is open and accountable. In short, you deserve a government that works and works for you regardless of your station in life.