By AFL-CIO President John Sweeney

Today marks the 10th anniversary of the last time the minimum wage was increased. Since President Clinton signed the last wage increase in 1996, the real value of minimum wage has dropped to its lowest level in 51 years – leaving working families struggling to keep pace with skyrocketing gas prices, rising health care costs and inflation. Meanwhile, the Republicans in Congress have given themselves a total of nine pay raises since 1997 totaling more than $30,000 while rewarding their wealthy corporate sponsors with tax break after tax break.

If ever an issue clearly showed the skewed priorities of this Congress’ leadership, it’s the minimum wage. Two weeks ago the Senate rightly rejected a cynical ploy by Republican leadership to poison the current minimum wage increase with yet more massive tax breaks for the wealthiest Americans. Millionaire Republican leaders like Bill Frist effectively killed the minimum wage increase before Congress by insisting that low-wage workers get in line behind Paris Hilton and the Wal-Mart heirs to receive a long-overdue wage increase.

While Republican leadership plays games with the minimum wage, real working families are struggling mightily to make ends meet. Ten years ago a gallon of gas cost working people $1.11. Today low-wage workers are faced with gas prices north of $3 per gallon. The majority of these workers are adults who significantly contribute to their family’s overall income. Every day that goes by that they must continue waiting for their hard-earned raise, their families suffer as a result.

The debate over the minimum wage increase is a debate about American values. Will the Republican leadership continue down a path that unfairly rewards the ultra-rich and leaves working people out in the cold? Or, at long last, will Congress give low-wage workers’ a fighting chance to survive in an economy that’s become increasingly harsh to them?

When Congress resumes next month, its first priority should be to give workers what they’ve waited 10 long years for – a minimum wage increase to $7.25 an hour without poison pills or political ploys. America is watching. I urge Congress to do the right thing and raise the minimum wage without delay.