WASHINGTON -- Nelson Litterst is collecting what he describes as
"horror stories" unleashed by the U.S. Congress' 1996 decision to
increase the minimum wage.
He says they are stories about snack shops, dry cleaners and
drugstores that laid off workers because they couldn't afford the 90-
cents-an-hour wage boost mandated by Washington.
Litterst, a lobbyist for 600,000 small businesses, says he will
use these stories as part of his arsenal of weapons against another
drive on Capitol Hill to again raise the minimum wage.
"We are going to have people on `Main Street' call their
congressmen and let them know what a minimum wage increase has done
and could do again," says Litterst, the National Federation of
Independent Business' point man on this issue in the House of
Representatives. "We are going to put a human face on it."
Litterst talks rapid fire in discussing his strategy on behalf of
clients, who, on average, have a half dozen employees and rake in
less than $350,000 in annual revenue.
Yet he slows down when he admits he may be unable to stop
President Bill Clinton's popular push to raise the minimum wage
another $1 to $6.15 an hour.
"I've learned never to be confident about anything in an election
year," says Litterst, whose boyish face makes him look younger than
his 31 years. "Anything can happen."
Congressional Democrats plan to host a forum on Capitol Hill today
to promote another increase in the minimum wage and formally
introduce legislation to do it.
Public opinion polls show a large majority of Americans back
another minimum-wage increase. And the jobless rate in the past
year, thanks to a strong economy, has fallen to its lowest level in
generation, 4.6 percent, mitigating any loss of entry level jobs due
to the minimum wage.
"We raised the minimum wage once in this Congress and we can do it
again, and the economy can support it," Clinton declared last month
in proposing to boost it another buck.
Litterst knows better than to be overconfident. In 1996, with
pro- business Republicans in control of Congress for the first time
in four decades, the business community figured there wouldn't be a
minimum wage increase.
Democrats, backed up by a multimillion dollar AFL-CIO radio-and-
television campaign, pressured Republicans up for re-election to
their backs on business.
"Members told me, `Sorry, I've got to do it,'" Litterst recalls.
"We got blind sided ... and didn't have time to mount an effective
grass-roots counter offensive."
Litterst vows to put up a better fight this time. He's again
joined forces with a coalition of business groups, which include the
National Restaurant Association, the National Association of
Convenience Stores, and the U. …