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Unemployment Extension Set to Pass, But GOP Digging in on Minimum Wage, Pay Equity

(Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
(Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Republicans say they might block consideration of minimum wage and pay equity bills after Senate Democrats moved to block GOP amendments to the unemployment extension bill expected to pass later this week .  

Republicans are upset at Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., for clamping down on amendments on the unemployment benefits extension. And they’re concerned Democrats are going to do the same on the minimum wage and pay equity bills to come.  

As a result, some GOP leaders said they could vote to block those bills from coming up for debate.  

“I think a lot of it is going to depend on whether or not they allow us to vote on things that we are for,” said Republican Conference Chairman John Thune, R-S.D. Asked if Republicans would vote to take up the two bills, Senate Republican Conference Vice Chairman Roy Blunt, R-Mo., said “I think the answer is no.”  

Moments earlier, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., complained Reid had shut out the GOP’s ideas for adding jobs proposals to the unemployment bill.  

“Once again it appears we are back to the old way of operating here,” said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. “We would like to obviously offer amendments that we think address the real problem, the joblessness rather than the symptoms,” he continued. “But as we speak right now it’s unclear whether we are going to get to offer amendments or not.”  

Republicans believe the minimum wage and pay equity bills are primarily Democratic campaign fodder for the November elections instead of serious attempts to legislate.  

“None of this is designed to make policy, none of it’s designed to offer solutions, it’s all part of the re-election campaign for people who are desperate to change the subject from this failed policy known as Obamacare,” said Senate Minority Whip John Cornyn, R-Texas.  

“The way Democrats are handling the unemployment insurance, minimum wage and pay equity bill shows that they are not interested in creating prosperity,” said McConnell spokesman Don Stewart. “Just holding show votes.”  

Shortening the debate by blocking consideration of the bills would shorten Democrats’ opportunity to grandstand on the floor.  

The last time the Senate voted on pay equity in 2012, Republicans united to filibuster the bill. And the last time the Senate voted to raise the minimum wage was in 2007.  

Democrats argue that Republicans are simply using process as a fig leaf to cover up their opposition to politically popular policies.  

“The fact is they oppose these policies,” said a senior Senate Democratic aide. “It also a fact that it’s unpopular to oppose these policies, so they are using process as an excuse.”  

“It’s silly to kill it at the outset because you can’t have everything you want,” the aide continued.  

Their comments come after Reid said he expects to take up a pay equity bill next week, which would require employers to provide pay information when requested and not retaliate against the worker seeking the pay data.  

Look for a possible vote on Tuesday, which is Equal Pay Day, designated in 1996 by the National Committee on Pay Equity, a coalition including women’s and civil rights organizations.  

Reid expects to follow pay equity with consideration of a bill to raise the minimum wage to $10.10 from $7.25 an hour.  

“Next week, unless something goes wrong, we are going to have a vote on paycheck fairness,” Reid said. “And it’s undetermined at this stage whether we can have a vote on minimum wage next week. [It depends] on how much the Republicans stall us.”  

The Senate Democratic aide argued that the unemployment bill is different from the pay equity and minimum wage measures because the unemployment bill is the product of months of negotiations between five Democrats and five Republicans. Opening it up to amendments could undo the compromise.  

The aide added no decision has been made on whether amendments would be allowed to the pay equity and minimum wage measures, but Democrats remain open to constructive amendments.  

“So far our policy [on amendments] is that they be relevant,” the aide said, adding that they haven’t received any GOP proposals on minimum wage or pay equity.  

On unemployment insurance Republicans want to offer several amendments, including a proposal to authorize construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, and an amendment to give employers a six-month payroll tax holiday and exempt them from the employer mandate under the Affordable Care Act.  

Outside groups are also expected to ramp up their lobbying efforts.  

A coalition of minimum wage hike supporters, including Smart Capitalists and Business For a Fair Minimum Wage, sent out a list of 13 senators to call to urge them to support the bill.  

But many on the list cited their preference that the issue be handled by their states.  

“I think the states ought to determine for themselves what their minimum wage ought to be,” said Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., the lead Republican on the unemployment insurance extension. “I just think it’s difficult to say that someone in rural Nevada should have the same minimum wage as someone in New York City, or something.”  

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Follow our coverage of the unemployment insurance extension proposals:

Unemployment Extension: How Did Your Senator Vote?

Unemployment Extension Vote Not Worrying House Republicans

Boehner Still Cool to Senate Unemployment Extension Bill

Unemployment Extension Fight Pits Portman Against Boehner

Doctors Win, Jobless Lose: The GOP Confronts New Perception Problem

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