So Congress Wants to Raise the Minimum Wage. Who Cares?

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In a week rife with political sturm and drang, the ongoing clash between the Republican Congress and President Clinton over a minimum wage increase ranks pretty low on the drama scale, particularly considering the current economic boom. From its velvet-and-marble perch on Capitol Hill, the Republican-controlled House of Representatives has approved a $1 increase in the $5.15 minimum wage, to be phased in over two years. Of course, gifts like this don't come without a price tag, and the House has decided to throw in some healthy tax cuts for businesses — a way, they say, to ease the pain of the wage increase. President Clinton, predictably, is incensed, and vows to veto the plan, calling instead for "a clean, straightforward bill," unencumbered by tax relief.

Ironically, the outcome of this debate has never mattered less. In a less robust economy, the battle over a $1 increase in the minimum wage might have more teeth. But as jobless rates fall to 30-year lows, employers are offering record salaries, and the boundaries of a minimum wage become purely theoretical. It's hard, in light of today's economic reality, to see this battle as much more than political posturing. "This is a nice psychological move for the politicians," says TIME financial writer Daniel Kadlec. "It shows the public that Washington is doing what it can for everybody. The thing is that almost no one is working for minimum wage these days." That's not to say that an increase won't be useful in the future, he adds. It's just hard to get excited about a dollar when McDonald's across the country are offering signing bonuses to new employees.