Senate Democrats must stay in Frist's face on minimum wage issue

Most people don’t know it but, for all practical purposes, the United States Senate is almost done with regular business for all of 2006. It's true. The Senate returns tomorrow and will have 32 calendar days until the scheduled October 6 end of the 109th Congress, which means, at most, there will be 24 business days with which to get anything done.

So the political question is, how will each side of the aisle conduct business in the short time left in this legislative session and what issues would each like voters to think about when they vote in the midterm elections? The Senate agenda is scheduled to focus immediately on H.R. 5631, the Department of Defense Fiscal Year 2007 Appropriations Bill and, depending on the number of amendments considered, that should take at least a week -- and maybe two -- of the remainder of the session.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-TN) made it clear before the August recess that he intends to also pursue confirmation for more of George W. Bush's judicial nominees and a full Senate vote on John Bolton as U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations. (Bolton was slipped in the back door by Bush via a recess appointment last year when it was clear to the White House that Bolton would not be confirmed by the Senate.) Frist has further declared his desire to work on small-business health plans and, if time remains, to go after what truly keeps most Americans awake at night -- the scourge of Internet gambling.

"As it is now, this industry threatens to undermine the quality of life of millions of Americans by bringing an addictive behavior right into our living rooms," said Frist in an August 3 statement. "It's got to stop."

Wow. I'm sure our troops stuck in a civil war in Iraq will be glad Frist and the Republicans are all over that one.

Democrats need to jump on this typically-goofy priority on the Republicans' part and immediately bring the issue of the minimum wage right back to the Senate floor and into Frist's face. If you remember, the GOP pulled one of the most cynical legislative stunts in recent memory before the August recess, when it attached a phony minimum wage hike to their attempt to repeal the Estate Tax -- also known as the "Paris Hilton tax" -- in the hope that Senate Democrats would be forced to give another tax cut to the rich or appear to vote against the first minimum wage increase in a decade. The bill had passed the House of Representatives a week earlier but died in the Senate on August 3 without even making it to a full vote.

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