Minimum Wage: Small-biz breaks added in Senate

87-10 vote attaches tax breaks, regulation relief and revenue raisers to minimum wage bill.

By Christian Zappone, staff writer

NEW YORK ( -- The Senate voted Tuesday to attach the $8 billion package of tax breaks and regulatory concessions for small business to the minimum wage bill, taking the measure a step closer to becoming law.

With the 87-10 vote - called "extraordinarily strong" by Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) - the Senate is poised to produce a final bill as early as the end of this week.

The vote limits further debate on the small business tax breaks and regulatory relief bill to 30 hours, with the possibility of another 30 hours on the original wage bill itself if Republicans desire it.

"I don't really think it's necessary to spend 60 more hours on the minimum wage," said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) after the vote, adding that Republicans would draw out the minimum wage debate to delay the pending debate on an Iraq resolution.

"The debate isn't whether to raise [the minimum wage] but how to alleviate the impact," said Sen. Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.), ranking member on the Committee of Health, Education, Labor and Pensions.

After the Senate's final vote, the Senate bill must be reconciled with the House, where the bill passed on Jan. 10 without amendments. The House could "blueslip" it, setting it aside indefinitely or it could agree to go into conference on the bill.

Both the House and the Senate bills would raise the minimum wage from $5.15 to $7.25 in three steps over two years.

Before the vote, Sen. Kennedy, chairman of the Committee of Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, said "It's a defining issue of fairness and decency," calling the vote "an indication of what we as Americans feel about our fellow citizens."

Senate Republicans had earlier pledged that only a minimum wage bill offering concessions for small business would pass the Senate.

Some of those regulatory changes are aimed at how small businesses account for investments, increasing deductibility and write-offs. The Work Opportunity Tax Credit would expand tax credits extended to small businesses for hiring disadvantaged workers, including veterans disabled in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Those breaks come with offsets, however, under the pay-as-you-go principle.

The two major offsets to pay for those tax breaks involve the taxing of companies' leasing arrangements with foreign entities and the taxing of revenue of companies that have relocated offshore. There also is a provision to cap the amount of tax-deferred compensation for executives.

"We're not surprised by the way Senate Democrats went after executive compensation," said Brigen Winters of Groom Law Group, which follows executive-compensation issues closely. Democrats are "going after a group not seen by the general public in the best light," Winters said.

In the week of debate before Tuesday's cloture vote, Senate Republicans had proposed more than a hundred amendments to the wage bill in what Sen. Kennedy described as "filibuster by amendment."

Rep. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.), chairman of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee, has resisted a minimum wage bill coming from the Senate to the House.

By law, tax and budget bills originate in the House.

The ability for the House and Senate to work together on the bill will be closely watched. A minimum wage hike, which hasn't occurred since 1997, has been a key piece of the first 100 hours of legislation promised and passed by the newly elected Democratic majority in the House.

A minimum wage hike would directly affect 6.6 million workers currently earning the $5.15 wage, according to the labor-backed Economic Policy Institute.

The hike could also increase the wages of another 8.3 million who earn just above the minimum. Workers in 28 states already have a higher minimum wage. A number of those states have automatic increases for inflation.


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