A measure that would have propelled the federal minimum wage up to $7.25 an hour failed in the Senate on Thursday, Aug. 3, with New Mexico's senators split strangely on the issue. Democratic Sen. Jeff Bingaman voted against it, while Republican Sen. Pete Domenici voted in favor of it.
Why would a Democrat give it the thumbs-down and a Republican, the thumbs-up? Let's start with the letter.
"Dear Mr. Leader,
We are writing today to reiterate our request that you bring legislation increasing the federal minimum wage to the floor this week."
That's the opening of a letter signed by 48 Republicans in the House of Representatives and sent to Majority Leader John Boehner on Monday, July 24. It's been too long, they wrote, nearly 10 years since the federal minimum wage of $5.15 an hour has been raised.
Some say it was a genuine effort to get an extra $2.10 an hour over the course of three years. Others posit it was an election-year ploy designed to put Democrats in an awkward position.
"It was a hoax and a political trick," says Rep. Tom Udall, a New Mexico Democrat who did not vote in favor of the measure, which he says cradled a "poison pill,"—a cut in taxes on multimillion-dollar estates. "This is the Paris Hilton Protection Act," Udall added.
Rep. Heather Wilson, a New Mexico Republican, supported the bill. "I voted for an increase in the federal minimum wage," she said in a news release. "The economy's strong, and the timing is right. This bill also includes some provisions to help small business that I support."
About 50 protesters outside Wilson's Albuquerque office Downtown on Wednesday, July 26, agreed that 10 years was too long and $5.15 an hour is not enough. They held signs asking for $7.25. Christine Trujillo, president of the New Mexico chapter of the AFL-CIO, called Wilson's pro-wage hike sentiments a "deathbed conversion." "Congresswoman Heather Wilson hasn't seen fit to initiate anything about raising the minimum wage until this morning, when she wrote a very vacuous, very empty letter," Trujillo said in her address to the protesters.
Wilson's office says the congresswoman voted in favor of a hike on March 9, 2000, in "the only up-or-down vote on a minimum wage increase during her eight years in Congress," according to a news release. That bill would have seen the wage to $5.65 an hour, then to $6.15 a year later.
Udall says he has no doubt that a "clean" minimum-wage bill, without the addition of an estate tax cut, would pass overwhelmingly on the House and Senate floors. "What they were trying to do was let moderate Republicans come home in August and tell their constituents they voted for the minimum wage."
Either way, by 2009, the $7.25 an hour the AFL-CIO was calling for might have looked like peanuts in Albuquerque. A measure passed in the City Council has the Duke City's minimum at $6.75 in January of 2007 and $7.50 in 2009. The minimum wage in Santa Fe is $9.50.