The McWage Grows Up

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WASHINGTON, D.C.: Who said nothing ever gets done in Washington during an election year? Tuesday afternoon, a healthy contingent of Republican senators joined Democrats in passing a 90-cent minimum wage hike that should give President Clinton, a longtime backer, a populist halo come November. The increase to $5.15 an hour, which the House has already approved, would increase the pay of 10 million Americans by 21 percent. Senators voted 74-24 to raise the wage in two increments: to $4.75 once Clinton signs the bill into law later this summer, then to $5.15 one year later. "This is a huge win for the Democrats," says TIME's James Carney. "The minimum wage debate has been a losing and politically-damaging issue for the Republicans. Many of them opposed the bill philosophically because they believe government intervention in the private sector stumps economic growth. The handful of Republicans who did back the measure were probably swayed by the fact that 70 to 80 percent of Americans support the higher wages." The bill almost hit a wall Tuesday morning, when Senate Republicans inserted an amendment that would have exempted businesses earning under $500,000 a year. They also would have allowed lower "training wages" for workers during their first six months on the job, a loophole that Democrats pointed out would encourage speedy turnover. President Clinton promptly threatened a veto, and the measure fizzled as a handful of GOP senators jumped ship. -- Anita Hamilton