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Pioneer Editorial: House wage hike election year stunt?

With Congress poised to take a month off to begin the fall campaign, it's no wonder that the time is nigh to pass legislation sure to be hailed out on the stump.

That includes an appeal to working-class families through an increase in the minimum wage, which the U.S. House approved early Saturday morning.

Not that we don't need one -- the federal minimum wage has been held frozen since 1996 at $5.15 an hour, giving a full-time worker $10,700 a year which is way below the $16,600 poverty-level threshold for a family of three. In fact, the current minimum wage adjusted for inflation is at its lowest level in 50 years. The bill approved in a 230-180 vote would raise the minimum wage to $7.25 an hour over two years.

Yet the Republican-controlled House has failed to approve a minimum wage increase for nine years, including even in a vote barely a week ago.

The measure approved early Saturday morning, however, contained a poison pill that allows GOP House members to claim they voted for a minimum wage hike, knowing the U.S. Senate will sink the bill. While the House boosted wages for the working poor, it also padded the pockets of the nation's most wealthy by also approving permanent tax cuts in inheritance taxes for multimillion-dollar estates.

The Senate has already dealt with estate tax cuts, and turned them down. The measure will cost the U.S. Treasury $268 billion over 10 years while affecting at most the 7,500 wealthiest families in America. Parts of the bill make sense -- exempting from estate tax $5 million of an individual's estate and $10 million of a couple's estate by 2015 -- which should ensure that 99 percent of the nation's family farms and family-owned small businesses can be handed down to their children. But the bill also makes permanent tax cuts for the super wealthy, including a 25 percent tax cut to estates worth more than $25 million. Such a tax giveaway to the wealthiest is a provision that won't pass and hasn't passed in the Senate.

The House bill drew all of Minnesota's GOP congressmen, who have opposed minimum wage hikes previously. It even drew U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson, DFL-7th District, who joined 33 Democrats to support the measure which saw 158 Democrats, including 8th District Rep. Jim Oberstar, vote against. Peterson, however, has supported previous measures to hike the minimum wage.

A worthy question to ask members of Congress who voted for this bill, as they ask for our votes in the coming weeks, why they may have not supported providing a living wage to the working poor before. Could it be because it looks good on campaign literature?