GOP Supporters of Higher Wage Pull Switch: Lawmakers Fought Fundless Mandates
Blomquist, Brian, The Washington Times (Washington, DC)
The 23 House Republicans endorsing a $1 increase in the minimum wage - and the estimated $1 billion in higher costs to state and local governments that come with it - voted last year to curtail unfunded federal mandates.
And when they had the chance, those same 23 House Republicans last year voted against an amendment that would have exempted minimum wage increases from the unfunded mandates legislation.
Unfunded mandates force state and local governments to absorb the cost of new federal laws. The new Republican Congress made reduction of unfunded mandates a high priority, and legislation to curb them was the first plank of the Contract With America that President Clinton signed into law.
Several Republicans questioned about the apparent inconsistency of their position were surprised to learn of the costs a higher federal minimum wage would impose on state and local governments.
"Frankly, I haven't thought of it that way," said Rep. Jack Metcalf, Washington Republican, one of the 23 Republicans who has endorsed raising the minimum wage. "I didn't think state and local governments paid the minimum wage, but I guess some in the South still do."
The Congressional Budget Office [CBO] estimates a 90-cent increase would cost state and local governments more than $200 million a year in higher payroll costs and contract expenses over the next five years. The CBO said state and local governments employ about 10 percent of the 9.3 million workers who earn between $4.25 and $5.14 an hour.
The National Governors' Association says a $1 increase in the minimum wage would amount to the largest unfunded mandate imposed by the Republican-led Congress.
"I don't think 90 cents or one buck is going to break anyone," said Rep. Benjamin A. Gilman, New York Republican.
The minimum wage is $4.25 per hour and was last increased in 1991. President Clinton supports an increase of 90 cents phased in over two years.
During debate on the unfunded mandates last year, the House rejected an amendment by Rep. Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, to exempt minimum wage increases from the unfunded mandate legislation. All 23 Republicans who favor a higher minimum wage voted against the Pelosi amendment.
The unfunded mandates law requires the CBO to estimate the costs imposed on state and local governments to carry out new federal laws. It also requires Congress to provide the funds required to comply with the new laws.
The law allows Congress to waive these funding requirements if a majority in both chambers agree to do so.
Some Republicans who endorse a higher minimum wage say the benefits override their aversion to unfunded mandates. …