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Obama Sparks Minimum Wage Debate In Congress

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Just weeks after President Obama used the State of the Union address to bring the issue of the minimum wage back to the forefront, Congressional leaders are sparring over both the scope and feasability of that proposal.

The president said that it's unacceptable to have working families living beneath the federal poverty level, so he wants the minimum wage raised from $7.25 to $9 an hour. Putting that kind of pressure on businesses is a good sign, according to D.C. Del Eleanor Holmes Norton.

"This is not a government expense," says Holmes Norton. "You'd expect that a progressive president to say to private business, perhaps not tomorrow, but if you are serious about your own business and about eliminating poverty, as the Congress must be, you've got to do your fair share, too."

Two senior Democrats don't think the president's proposal is enough though. Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin and California Rep. George Miller want the minimum wage raised to $10.10 an hour.

Rep. Scott Rigell (R-Va.), who is a business owner, says the numbers floating around are arbitrary.

"It's not as simple as the president made it out to be," says Rigell. " I mean, if $9, why not $12? Why not make it $15?"

Rigell says raising it could hinder economic growth in this lingering economic downturn. But Homes Norton says she's heard that line before.

"They make the same argument every time the minimum wage goes up," she says. "And if we listened to it, the wages would still be $3 an hour."

With deep budget cuts now hitting federal agencies, many advocates of the working poor worry the minimum wage fight will once again be left on the backburner.


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