Democrats seize on Collins's mixed voting record on minimum wage

Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) last week voted in favor of a procedural motion to increase the nation’s minimum wage, but nearly two years ago, the centrist lawmaker voted against two measures that would have done just that.

Democrats are targeting Collins, who is up for reelection in 2008, and part of their strategy will be highlighting her mixed record on the minimum wage. Throughout the 2006 election cycle, Democrats scored political points by pointing out that the Republican-led Congress had not lifted the minimum wage since the Clinton administration.{mosimage}

On March 7, 2005, Collins was one of only 16 senators to vote no on competing wage amendments offered by Sens. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) and Rick Santorum (R-Pa.).

Kennedy’s measure would have raised the minimum wage $2.10, and enjoyed bipartisan support with Republican Sens. Pete Domenici (N.M.), Norm Coleman (Minn.), the recently defeated Lincoln Chafee (R.I.) and Mike DeWine (Ohio). The amendment was defeated 46-49, falling 14 votes short of the 60 needed.

The Santorum amendment was billed as more business-friendly, calling for a wage increase of $1.10 with tax breaks for small businesses. Some conservatives, such as Sens. Jim Bunning (R-Ky.) and then-Sen. George Allen (R-Va.), voted for the measure, but it also fell, 38-61.

Collins’s office declined to comment to The Hill on her votes at that time, but explained her stance when pressed on those votes this week, stating that the senator repeatedly has voted against minimum-wage bills that do not contain small-business exemptions and tax breaks.

Collins voted against the Santorum amendment because Kennedy warned her that it would have “wiped out equal pay for women provisions under current law,” according to Collins’s staff.

Last week’s procedural vote was an attempt by Democratic leaders to get a straight up-and-down vote on a “clean” wage bill that does not include tax breaks for businesses. Collins voted yes on that motion because the senator believes that after 10 years of a stagnant minimum wage, it’s time to increase it. That motion fell short of the 60-vote threshold.

“No amount of last-minute flip-flops will cover up Susan Collins’s legislative history of opposing minimum-wage increases,” said Deirdre Murphy, a spokeswoman for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC). “Mainers know the difference between political grandstanding and a real commitment to working families, and next election they’ll have a chance to let Susan Collins know they’re not as dumb as she thinks.”

The DSCC has made no secret of its plans to aggressively target Collins’s seat, and Rep. Tom Allen (D-Maine) is considered to be the top contender to challenge her.

Chellie Pingree, who is stepping down as president of Common Cause to look into a possible congressional run, was the AFL-CIO’s endorsed candidate against Collins in 2002. Pingree is expected to run for Allen’s House seat should the congressman challenge Collins.

Collins’s staff insists the senator is a longtime advocate of raising the minimum wage, pointing to other yes votes in the past and her unpopular support on the issue during a three-way Republican primary in 1996.

She voted against an effort to raise the minimum wage in 1998, a Collins staffer said, because it had just been raised the year before.

From that point forward, the aide said, Collins has voted in favor of raising wages as long as the measure under consideration was coupled with breaks for small businesses, a constituency the senator values considerably.

“As a strong supporter of small businesses, which make up the overwhelming majority of employers in Maine, she also supports providing small businesses with tax relief to help ease any economic hardship caused by a minimum-wage increase,” Collins spokeswoman Jen Burita said.

“Therefore, in every opportunity provided to her, she has voted in support of a minimum-wage increase that includes tax relief for small businesses.”

Burita added that Collins voted to increase the minimum wage last year.

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