The House today approved raising the hourly minimum wage from $3.35 to $4.55 by 1991, bringing Congress just one step from its first domestic policy showdown with President Bush, who has promised to veto the measure.
The 247-172 vote followed brief debate. Democrats accused Bush of turning his back on the working poor while Republicans said Democrats were passing up an opportunity to raise the minimum wage by accepting Bush's offer of a more modest increase.
"What we consider today is a matter of elemental fairness," House Speaker Jim Wright (D-Tex.) said in a floor speech supporting the $4.55 target contained in the legislation drafted by a House-Senate conference committee. "It goes to the heart of what our country is all about."
But Rep. Fred Grandy (R-Iowa) said Democrats did not have the two-thirds majority vote to override Bush's expected veto and were surrendering their chance for some increase in the minimum wage to fight a political battle with the White House.
"The people who are hurt are the people who could be making $4.25 an hour," said Grandy, referring to the final minimum wage target in Bush's proposal.
A Senate vote could come as early as next week. Both sides in the debate, convinced that Bush will veto the legislation, already are hard at work drafting post-veto battle plans.
"If he vetoes it, then he has declared the end of the honeymoon," Rep. Austin J. Murphy (D-Pa.) said. "I regret to say that, but if that is the case, I think there will be no holding it back."
The it to which Murphy referred is a flood of Democratic-sponsored bills dealing with such issues as parental leave, child care, mandatory health insurance and others.
"A veto would tell other members there is no reason to say the President is trying to get along," Murphy said. "That would undoubtedly cause the sponsors of those bills to demand that they advance."
After Senate passage, the Democratic congressional leadership plans a mock signing session at which it will try to bring pressure on the President.
Nevertheless, Bush repeatedly has promised that the legislation awaits the first veto of his presidency.