A boost in the minimum wage seems likely this election year, though not without a partisan battle.
The Senate kicked off the fight Wednesday, passing a $1-an-hour minimum wage increase that the White House said was too stingy to workers and also would give unwarranted tax cuts to some businesses.
The Republican-written bill would gradually raise the current $5.15 hourly minimum wage by $1 by March 2002. The increase was contained in legislation revamping bankruptcy laws that passed 83-14, although there was no separate vote on the minimum wage provision.
The House has yet to pass its own minimum wage legislation because Republican leaders there lack the votes for a similar proposal. And with President Clinton and Democrats complaining that the wage increase would take too long to phase in and opposing small business tax cuts that both GOP packages include, quick enactment seems unlikely.
''We don't think the actual rise in the minimum wage goes up quickly enough,'' said White House spokesman Joe Lockhart. ''The tax cuts that are put in there are not paid for and are skewed to those who don't necessarily need tax cuts at this time.''
But the fate of the House legislation is unclear. With defections likely by moderate Republicans from urban, Northeastern districts, GOP leaders are short of the votes needed to move the bill through the House.