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House, Defying Veto Threats, OKs Wage Bill

Times Staff Writer

The House, defying threats of a presidential veto, voted Thursday to raise the federal minimum wage from $3.35 an hour to $4.55 by late 1991, 30 cents higher than President Bush has said he would accept.

Congressional leaders said that the vote, 248 to 171, is likely to spur the Senate into approving an even higher minimum wage--possibly $4.65 an hour, as Senate Democrats have proposed.

Backs ‘Training’ Pay

Nevertheless, the vote is substantially short of the two-thirds’ majority that would be needed to override a veto. And the House bill would allow a subminimum “training” wage--85% of the prevailing minimum wage--only for a worker’s first two months on a job, less than the six months sought by Bush.

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“The President’s position is firm . . . " Press Secretary Marlin Fitzwater said Thursday. “We’re hanging tough.”

Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.), chairman of the Senate Labor and Human Resources Committee and the chief sponsor of the Senate bill, held out the possibility that the Democrats might be open to further bargaining.

He urged Bush to “refrain from further veto threats until he sees the shape of the bill that Congress finally sends him. This is an excellent opportunity for Congress and the Administration to demonstrate that they can work together.”

The $4.55-an-hour figure voted by the House was billed as a bipartisan compromise. The House Education and Labor Committee originally had sought $4.65 but agreed to a 10-cent reduction to halt defections by conservative Democrats.

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The House rejected, 218 to 198, the Administration’s $4.25-an-hour proposal. Before finally approving the bill, House members voted, 240 to 179, to approve the $4.55 figure.

On final passage, 226 Democrats and 22 Republicans voted for the measure, while 147 Republicans and 24 Democrats opposed it. The California delegation essentially split along party lines, with two exceptions: Rep. Charles Pashayan Jr. (R-Fresno) voted for the compromise bill, and Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Los Angeles) did not vote.

The dispute over how much to increase the federal minimum wage is mainly a political one. Economists say that the economic impact of a higher minimum wage is likely to be modest because labor is already in such short supply that few jobs are still paying the federal minimum.

And in some states--such as California, where the minimum is $4.25--state law already provides for a higher wage than federal law.

Nevertheless, the issue has become a major rallying point for Democrats and organized labor. The federal minimum wage has not been increased since 1981.

On Thursday, Speaker Jim Wright (D-Tex.), urging House approval of the compromise proposal, told lawmakers that “it isn’t enough, but it certainly is better than nothing. I’m asking you for this vote today . . . “

Bush has insisted on including a so-called “training” wage for new workers on grounds that employers might cut back on hiring if they are forced to pay a higher minimum wage to inexperienced workers. He wants the training wage to be today’s $3.35-an-hour minimum.

In addition to providing only a 60-day training period, the House-passed bill would apply the training minimum only to new workers with no experience.

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The full minimum wage would rise to $3.85 an hour on Oct. 1, $4.25 a year later and $4.55 in October of 1991--a year before Bush’s proposed $4.25 would go into effect.

The compromise measure would also increase the number of businesses that are exempt from having to pay the federal minimum wage. Currently, employers whose gross earnings are less than $362,000 a year are exempt. The bill would raise the figure to $500,000.


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