By Caroline Fuller
House to Consider Minimum Wage Amendments
The U.S. House of Representatives is scheduled to address legislation that will raise the minimum wage rate $2.10 per hour over the next two years, bringing the hourly rate to $7.25. Democrats have established certain rules for floor debate that will prevent House Republicans from amending the legislation (H.R. 2).
Republicans are concerned that small businesses will be affected by this legislation, as there are no tax breaks in the legislation that could help offset the costs of a wage increase. Their wage increase will remain the same but two pro-business provisions will likely be included in the Republican package. The first provision will make it easier for businesses to group together in association with health plans by exempting such plans from certain state coverage mandates. The second will shorten restaurant depreciation schedules, allowing investments to be written off more quickly.
The U.S. Senate is likely to address minimum wage legislation in the coming weeks.
The federal minimum wage has been $5.15 per hour since 1996, though more than half of states have a higher minimum.
Agriculture Committee Debates Biofuels
U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Ia.; Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill.; and Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind.; have introduced legislation to increase the production of renewable fuels and make that expanded volume of fuel more widely available to motorists nationwide. Harkin is the incoming chairman of the Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee.
Coinciding with the introduction of this legislation is Harkin's hearing to discuss agricultural and rural energy options. Harkin is a strong advocate of the renewable fuels standard (RFS). The RFS would require 5 billion gallons of biofuels be added to the nation's gasoline supply by 2012.
Witnesses testifying at the Senate hearing included Keith Collins, chief economist for the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture; Philip Sharp, president of Resources for the Future; J. Read Smith, former president of the National Association of Conservation Districts; Michael Pacheco, director of the National Bio-Energy Center at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, Colo.; John Sellers, director of the American Forage and Grassland Council; Gene Courley of the Iowa Pork Producers Association; Loni Kemp, senior analyst at the Minnesota Project; and Roger Webb, director of the Strategic Energy Institute at Georgia Tech.
Legislation Could Raise CAFE Standards by 2017
Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, vice chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, introduced legislation to require the establishment of a Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standard for passenger automobiles of 40 miles per gallon by 2017.
Stevens' S. 183 would allow the secretary of transportation to raise and restructure current CAFE standards for passenger vehicles. It would also require that the secretary issue CAFE standards for any model year vehicle 18 months prior to the beginning of the model year. Among existing criteria that S. 183 would amend are motor vehicle safety, emission standards, and U.S. dependency on foreign oil.
"We must increase our domestic production, and Alaska stands ready to fill that role," said Stevens. "But increased production and improved fuel economy must go hand in hand. The savings achieved by increasing fuel economy standards for the entire U.S. passenger vehicle fleet is essential if we are to become independent of foreign oil."
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