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House Votes to Increase Minimum Wage

SCOTT SIMON, host:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.

Coming up, remembering one of Anais Nin's simultaneous husbands. But first, the Republican-controlled House of Representatives has voted to increase the minimum wage from $5.15 to $7.25 an hour over the next three years. This is part of a complicated package, including a big cut in the estate tax and pension law changes aimed at giving retirees peace of mind.

It was a combination that spurred acrimonious debate late last night in the House and may run into trouble in the Senate. NPR's Allison Keyes reports.

ALLISON KEYES reporting:

The starting point for the legislative blitz that ended in the wee hours of the morning was a pension bill that's 900 pages long. Among other things, it would force employers who fall behind in their pension payments to catch up within seven years. It also promotes pension alternatives and requires the IRS to establish procedures for depositing tax refunds directly into IRAs.

House Committee on Education and Workforce Chair Howard McKeon cheered party leaders' decision to bring the bill to the floor after months of negotiation.

Representative HOWARD MCKEON (Republican, California): I think that the workers in America are going to feel much better. The companies that are on the verge of bankruptcy will now not have to go to bankruptcy. They will not have to give up their plans.

KEYES: House/Senate talks over a larger pension bill that would've linked the overhaul with tax breaks fell apart earlier this week. But House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Bill Thomas downplayed that dispute, saying the bill his party's leadership brought to the floor is essentially the legislation negotiators were working on, and insists that it will pass both chambers and be signed by the president.

Representative BILL THOMAS (Republican, California): The process of what was going to happen was at dispute. The substance was not.

KEYES: But Democrats like Representative Lynn Woolsey complained that the pension bill still allowed executives what she called a golden parachute, despite all the recent corporate scandals. Outraged Democrats raised Cain on the House floor over the minimum wage package that also permanently limits taxes on the heirs of multimillionaires, accusing Republicans of rushing to pass the tax break late at night, right before their summer break.

New York Congressman Charles Rangel accused his Republican colleagues of supporting a minimum wage bill that, quoting here, stinks to high heaven. He said the GOP is once again holding millions of Americans hostage by tying their minimum wage hikes to perks for the rich.

The bill, including the estate tax measure and the minimum wage hike, also includes popular tax breaks, including deductions for college tuition and a research and development credit for business.

Democrats accuse Republicans of trying to offer a bone to moderate GOP members fearful of defeat in November. But Republicans insist their plan is necessary to offset the harm raising the minimum wage will do to the economy. House Majority Whip Roy Blunt...

Representative ROY BLUNT (Republican, Missouri): I don't know how you vote against this bill if you're a significant number of Democrats and want to advance the causes that you've said you're collectively for already.

KEYES: The fate of the two bills now rest with the Senate, which may vote on both next week.

Allison Keyes, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Allison Keyes is an award-winning journalist with almost 20 years of experience in print, radio, and television. She has been reporting for NPR's national desk since October 2005. Her reports can be heard on Morning Edition, All Things Considered, and Weekend Edition Sunday.