The first two months of the 107th Congress have been spent mostly on internal organization. Since the Senate is split 50-50, both parties have equal membership on committees, but Republicans still chair them. Phil Gramm (R-TX) remains chair of the Senate Banking Committee, the committee that has jurisdiction over housing issues. Wayne Allard (R-CO) continues as chair of the Subcommittee on Housing and Transportation. While Paul Sarbanes (D-MD) is still ranking member, there have been a number of changes on the Democratic side. Jack Reed (RI) is ranking member on the housing subcommittee, taking the reigns from John Kerry (MA). Jon Corzine (NJ), Tom Carper (DE), Debbie Stabenow (MI), and Zell Miller (GA) are Democratic additions. On the Republican side, the only new face is John Ensign (NV).
In the House, the Banking Committee has been renamed the Financial Services Committee, and Michael Oxley (R-OH) has been appointed chair. Taking over as chair of the Subcommittee on Housing and Community Opportunity is Marge Roukema (R-NJ), who fills the spot vacated by Rick Lazio when he lost his bid for re-election. Barney Frank continues as ranking member of the housing subcommittee, and John LaFalce (D-NY) is still the ranking member of the full Committee.
-National Low Income Housing Coalition,
Preservation Matching Grants
Representative Jerold Nadler (D-NY) and 41 co-sponsors have introduced HR 425 to establish a preservation matching grant program. Under this program, states that devote funds to preserve federally assisted affordable housing would receive matching federal funds, though a specific dollar amount was not included. A similar preservation-matching grant program was passed in the House in the 106th Congress as part of HR 202, but did not pass in the Senate.
– National Low Income Housing Coalition
As Congress gears up for its first major legislative fights this session, increasing the minimum wage once again tops many agendas. With the increased pressure of time limits forcing many into low-wage jobs, increasing the federal minimum wage is one potential policy option for reducing poverty among former welfare recipients and low-wage workers.
Currently $5.15 per hour, the minimum wage covers the vast majority of the low-wage workforce. Analysis suggests that the inflation-adjusted value of the minimum wage is 21 percent lower today than it was in 1979. (CHN, Human Needs Report, 2/16/2001) While increasing the minimum wage was a key priority for the Clinton Administration in the last Congress, the minimum wage bill was ultimately derailed due to Republican insistence on coupling the increase with $78 billion in tax breaks for small businesses. Opponents of the minimum wage often argue that it increases unemployment for entry-level workers and small businesses. Numerous reports, including a recent EPI study, failed to find any systematic, significant job loss associated with the 1996-1997 minimum wage increase (The Economic Policy Institute: www.epinet.org).
There are currently four major pieces of legislation in the House and Senate. The first bill (HR 222), was introduced on January 3 by Representative James Traficant (D-OH). The “Minimum Wage Act of 2001” proposes amending the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 to increase the minimum wage by $1 over two years, phased in through 50-cent increments on July 1, 2001 and July 1, 2002.
A second, more ambitious, minimum-wage bill has been introduced as part of a larger package outlining the Senate Democrats’ priorities for this year. The “Fair Minimum Wage Act of 2001” (S 8), introduced by Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-SD) on January 22, 2001, proposes increasing the minimum wage by $1.50 over two years. The three-part phase-in would raise it to $5.75 30 days after the bill became law, followed by 50-cent increases on January 1, 2002, and January 1, 2003 – to a final wage of $6.65 per hour. Co-sponsors agree this is still well below the minimum wage high-water mark in real dollars.
This bill appears unlikely to move forward in a Republican-controlled Congress, due to provisions guaranteeing equal pay, expanding Medicaid coverage to parents, increasing the earned income tax credit and restoring food-stamp benefits to legal immigrants. To improve their chances, Democrats have turned Daschle’s minimum-wage piece into separate bills in the House and Senate, introduced by Senator Edward Kennedy (D-MA) on February 7 (S 277) and Representative David Bonior (D-MI) on February 14 (HR 665).
Democrats have expressed optimism on passing an increase this session, despite a Republican White House and Congress, because of the 50-50 split in the Senate. They are hoping to get a vote on the bill before any votes on the President’s proposed tax-cut plan. It is unclear whether Democrats will push the Kennedy/Bonior bill alone or combine it with another, more palatable, provision to gain Republican support.
– Center for Community Change,