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WASHINGTON – America‘s lowest-paid workers won a $2.10 raise Thursday, with Congress approving the first increase in the federal minimum wage in almost a decade. President Bush was expected to sign the bill quickly, and workers who now make $5.15 an hour will see their paychecks go up by 70 cents per hour before the end of the summer. Another 70 cents will be added next year, and by summer 2009, all minimum-wage jobs will pay no less than $7.25 an hour.

That almost became the fate of this year‘s proposal. Democratic leaders attached the provision to the $120 billion Iraq war spending bill, which was vetoed by the GOP-controlled White House on May 1 because Democrats insisted on a pullout date for American troops. Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., called the increase one of “the proudest achievements of this new Congress.” Bush announced earlier this year that he supported an increase in the minimum wage.

This would be the first change since the minimum wage went from $4.75 to $5.15 on Sept. 1, 1997, under former President Clinton and a Republican-controlled Congress. “This is a gre, , ), D-Calif., chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee. “America‘s workers have been waiting for a raise for a long time.”

The full increase, according to Miller, is enough to pay for 15 months of groceries for a family of three.

Raising the minimum wage was a key part of Democrats‘ midterm election platform. To help make it palatable for Republicans, they added $4.84 billion in tax relief for small businesses to help them hire new workers and offset any cost associated with an increase in the minimum wage. “From a small-business standpoint, the House bill w, , ), R-Iowa.

According to the National Restaurant Association, the last minimum wage increase cost the restaurant industry more than 146,000 jobs and restaurant owners put off plans to hire an additional 106,000 employees. “A minimum-wage increase will cost our industry jobs, and the vital discussion of how to minimize this job loss is getting lost in the debate,” said Peter Kilgore, the group‘s acting interim president and chief executive officer.

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