"The House bill ... includes no sweeteners for small businesses, which many Republicans back, and no amendments will be allowed on the floor.
"That strategy won’t work in the Senate, so Democratic leaders are working with key Republicans in efforts to get the necessary 60 votes to advance the legislation in that chamber.
"'It is a little different world,' said Majority Whip Richard J. Durbin, D-Ill., noting the 51-49 majority his party holds. 'We anticipate that some proposal to help business is likely to pass. We would rather put our imprint on it, try to put those tax advantages for small businesses in Democratic terms.' ... But Durbin would not say which proposed alternatives would be acceptable.
"Durbin and other key Democrats said they prefer provisions that would give relief to businesses that employ workers at the minimum wage.
USA Today reports that the First 100 Hours battle for affordable prescription drugs may come down a few votes in the Senate:
"While Democrats have the votes to pass the bill in the House, it faces a closer battle in the Senate. The Senate Finance Committee opens hearings on the issue Thursday. A weaker version that allowed but did not mandate government negotiations got 54 votes in the Senate last year, six short of the 60 required to overcome Republicans' objections. Sens. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, and Ron Wyden, D-Ore., its sponsors, count 58 or 59 votes this year — still short of what's needed.
"White House spokesman Tony Fratto said Tuesday that Bush's advisers would recommend he veto the House bill."
...both economic theory and history suggest that small business will, in time, pass on its increased costs to its consumers ... [It] will have a minimal impact on adult employment ... But largely offsetting those effects will be the increased demand for goods and services by tens of millions of Americans who will finally be getting a raise. A higher minimum wage doesn't lower economic activity so much as rearrange it slightly.
He also notes the "specious" arguments for more business tax breaks:
During the last decade, when inflation-adjusted pay of minimum-wage workers was declining, tax rates for small businesses were also declining, thanks largely to the Bush cuts. If it is now imperative to reduce business taxes when the pay of minimum-wage workers is rising, you have to wonder if there will ever be a time when the small-business lobby thinks it doesn't deserve a tax cut.
Tuesday afternoon, Speaker Nancy Pelosi held a conference call with bloggers about Iraq and the First 100 Hours Agenda. I asked her if the final minimum wage bill would be "clean" without any special interest provisions tacked on, or would it include tax giveaways for the CEO lobby.
As I blogged earlier, the House is expected to pass a clean bill on Wednesday, but what happens after that with the Senate and the eventual House-Senate conference is unclear.
Speaker Pelosi's comments were along the same lines:
"We will bring to the table our clean bill, and our view that in order to give a 10-year overdue increase in the minimum wage to America’s workers that we shouldn’t have to [also] give a tax cut.
"I can’t really tell you what will happen on the Senate side … This is a very important priority for us, and we don’t want to just pass anything. But I cannot predict to you what will come out of the Senate."
Though she ended on a hopeful note:
"But my meeting with Senator [Harry] Reid yesterday gave me confidence that I think we’ll be in pretty good shape."
Still, it looks like we're going to have to keep the pressure on to make sure the final bill is a good one.
In particular, they charge that the Democratic proposal for Medicare won't work like the VA system. The VA has a restrictive list of the drugs it covers, they say, and it can threaten companies with being taken off the list. And expected Dem legislation won't include making a similar restrictive list for Medicare.
This Wednesday, the House is expected pass a key piece of the First 100 Hours agenda -- a painfully overdue raise in the minimum hourly wage from $5.15 to $7.25.
President Bush and the CEO lobby realize its political suicide to oppose the hike -- it's backed by 80% of Americans. Instead, they're claiming to support it, while insisting that tax giveaways for business must be part of the deal.
Bush said last month that a pay raise should be paired with "targeted tax and regulatory relief to help these small businesses stay competitive and to help keep our economy growing," subtly making the usual disingenuous right-wing complaint that higher wages lead to fewer jobs.
The first order of business in the House last week was to pass new House ethics rules, including new reporting requirements for congressional trips and earmarks.
But these new reporting requirements will only be good tools to shine a spotlight on corruption if we know how to use them well. So what are they? Here's a few quick wonky details.
Regarding travel, when Members of Congress are about to take trips paid for by another party, they must get a certification from the sponsor that no lobbyist is involved. The Ethics Committee must review the certification and approve the trip in advance. Within 15 days after the trip, the certification and other materials related to the trip must be given to the Clerk, who then releases it to the public. (Exactly how the Clerk makes the materials available is not yet clear.)
Regarding earmarks, instead of special interest provisions being secretly slipped into bills, lists of projects in Members' districts (and tax breaks tailor-made for 10 people or less) will be clearly placed in the Congressional Record. Congresspeople must disclose their own earmark requests.
I come to celebrate the 100 hours agenda, not to scorn it. In the three fleet weeks before the president's State of the Union address, the new Congress will put down a clear marker that the times are changing. The conservative era is over. Common sense is no longer exiled from the nation's capital.