Just asking

When three Presidential candidates (McCain, Brownback, and Hagel) vote to eliminate the Federal minimum wage, why isn’t that news?

When 28 Republican Senators, including the minority leader and three possible Presidential candidates, including the Republican front-runner (McCain, Brownback, and Hagel) vote to eliminate the Federal minimum wage (by allowing a business to pay a wage below the Federal minimum as long as it’s above the state minimum), why isn’t that news?

Apparently it isn’t. At least no relevant news story (as opposed to blog entries) comes up in a search for “Allard minimum wage.” Or “Senate repeal minimum wage.”

This isn’t (just) snark. I’m genuinely puzzled. On what theory of “news value” isn’t this worth a headline?

Footnote Yep. For real. I checked. This wasn’t about increasing the minimum; this was about letting a lower state minimum pre-empt the Federal minimum altogether. Full text of the amendment and Wayne Allard’s explanation at the jump.

Voting “aye” on the rollcall:

Alexander (R-TN)

Allard (R-CO)

Bennett (R-UT)

Bond (R-MO)

Brownback (R-KS)

Bunning (R-KY)

Burr (R-NC)

Chambliss (R-GA)

Coburn (R-OK)

Cochran (R-MS)

Cornyn (R-TX)

Craig (R-ID)

Crapo (R-ID)

DeMint (R-SC)

Ensign (R-NV)

Enzi (R-WY)

Graham (R-SC)

Gregg (R-NH)

Hagel (R-NE)

Hatch (R-UT)

Inhofe (R-OK)

Isakson (R-GA)

Kyl (R-AZ)

Lott (R-MS)

McCain (R-AZ)

McConnell (R-KY)

Sununu (R-NH)

Thomas (R-WY)


(Purpose: To afford States the rights and flexibility to determine minimum wage)

At the end of section 2, add the following:

(c) State Flexibility.–Section 6 of the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 (29 U.S.C. 206) is amended by adding at the end the following:

“(h) State Flexibility.–Notwithstanding any other provision of this section, an employer shall not be required to pay an employee a wage that is greater than the minimum wage provided for by the law of the State in which the employee is employed and not less than the minimum wage in effect in that State on January 1, 2007.”.

Mr. ALLARD. Madam President, I rise today to ask my colleagues to support amendment No. 116, which I will discuss.

This amendment allows States the rights and flexibility to determine a minimum wage that works for them. Every State has its own microeconomy, and the voters and legislatures in those areas have decided what works best.

This is reflected in a map I have for demonstration purposes, reflecting the number of States in green that have higher wage rates than the minimum Federal rate. It reflects in blue the States with wage rates the same as the Federal rate. We have American Samoa, which has a special minimum wage rate, and States with no minimum wage rate, which are very few, by the way. They rely on the Federal, in that case, where they do not have one. And States with a minimum wage rate lower than the Federal, again, the State is preempted.

I rise to point out that the merits of increasing the Federal minimum wage, for better or for worse, for days on end–there is no debate on the cost of living, and wages greatly differ from State to state.

In its current form, the bill attempts to blindly blanket the Nation with a new Federal minimum wage without regard to unique economic conditions of each individual State. Effective on January 1 of this year, my own home State of Colorado increased its wage from $5.15 an hour to $6.85 an hour. But they went further than that. This new wage will adjust annually with inflation as measured by the Consumer Price Index in my own State–in this case, the State of Colorado.

During the course of the 109th Congress, the Senate considered a range of different minimum wage proposes. I evaluated each on a case-by-case basis. As a former small business owner, I recognize the financial challenges many families face, both those who are employed by the small business, as well as those struggling to keep their small business working. I also recognize the importance of small business to our Nation’s economy and the chilling effect that increasing operating costs can have on the growth and ability to create jobs.

In my small business, for example, I hired a large percentage of employees whose first job was working for me. I was able to incorporate them into my business because, in some cases, because of their lack of job experience, I was willing to bring them in at a relatively low wage, give them an opportunity to improve themselves, which usually didn’t take long–a month, 2 or maybe 3 months–and then begin to increase their wages as they increased their performance. This helped for morale in the business, and they felt like they were treated fairly. And it worked out very well.

We ran into problems when I was forced to raise the minimum wage, and I had to look at those employees in my small business who were full-time employees and expand the responsibilities of what my expectations were during their time of employment, at the expense of part-timers, and I laid off a few part-timers in the process, until I was able to grow the business a little more and I was able to begin to bring on some of the part-time employees again.

That is my personal experience and that reflects my view on increasing the minimum wage and why I think it has an adverse effect, particularly on those trying to move into the workforce. I have long been a supporter of legislation to help small businesses, and I do not wish to overburden our small businesses. Last year, I supported Senator Enzi’s small business health plan legislation to give small business and their employees relief from health care costs. I supported this bill as a way to help small business and will continue to support such good ideas in the future.

In my view, in order to stimulate economic growth and create better paying jobs, Congress should implement programs aimed at reducing taxes and Government regulations on small business. Less Government intervention, at all levels, enables the private sector to attract, recruit, and retain the best possible employees and reward increased productivity and responsibility with higher compensation.

Although I believe the market is capable of setting wages, States are better equipped than the Federal Government to determine what is a fair and equitable standard wage for their workforce because of their own economy within that State.

As my chart shows, letting States take the lead on this issue is working. According to the Department of Labor, as of January 1, 2007, the majority of States have opted to increase the minimum wage over the federally mandated $5.15 an hour.

According to the Economic Policy Institute, 28 States plus the District of Columbia have minimum wages above the Federal level in 2007. Washington State has the highest minimum wage at $7.93 an hour. Several States, including Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Oregon, have raised their minimum wage beyond $7.50 an hour.

If we are going to do this and do this right, we should be cautious in Federally mandating a one-size-fits-all minimum wage. We should allow States to take into consideration the needs of their economy. We should give States the rights and flexibility to set their own minimum wage. Costs of living and wages vary dramatically State to State. What is right for Wyoming is not necessarily what is right for Massachusetts. Imposing dramatic increases to the minimum wage on States poses a threat to local economies. States are better positioned than the Federal Government to set a wage that works best for their workforce. Whether the need is above or below the proposed $2.10 increase, State officials should have the right to decide. Local legislators are in touch with the business community and I think better represent the needs of the local labor markets. Allowing the minimum wage to be set by State legislatures is a better alternative to a Federal mandate. My amendment simply affirms the traditional definition of States rights and allows respective State legislatures the flexibility to determine employee pay benefits.

Let’s allow the States to have a say and decide what is right for them. They are the closest to the people. Let’s give States the right and flexibility to regulate minimum wage. A one-size-fits-all unfunded Federal mandate is not the answer to protecting America’s economic security. I urge my colleagues to join me in supporting this amendment which gives States the flexibility to determine what is best for their citizens.

Thank you, Madam President.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com