The Senate blocked action Aug. 3 on the House-passed Family Prosperity Act, the so-called "trifecta" bill that bundled a minimum wage hike, estate tax relief and an extension of about 20 tax reform measures set to expire at the end of 2006. A few minutes later, the Senate overwhelmingly passed legislation that would overhaul the nation�s pension system.
Just days before beginning its August recess, the Senate voted 56 to 42 to end debate on the trifecta package, three votes short of the 60 needed for cloture. Although Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) supported the package, he switched his vote to leave open the possibility that the bill could come up for reconsideration at a later time. The vote was largely along party lines, with most Republicans voting for cloture and most Democrats voting against it.
Frist said he was disappointed that "issues vital to the economic security of everyday Americans" did not come up for a vote on the floor. "As I�ve said before, these issues must be addressed as a package�all or nothing."
Senate Democrats criticized the package as a cynical GOP ploy to sweeten what Democrats viewed as unpalatable legislation�estate tax relief�with a minimum wage increase. Labor groups strongly opposed to the trifecta package were among those who supported the Democrats' position. "Last night the Senate told the Republican leadership in no uncertain terms to stop playing games with the minimum wage," said AFL-CIO President John Sweeney. "The estate tax is a 'poison pill' that stands in the way of minimum wage workers getting a long overdue pay raise."
Frist has signaled that he does not want to revisit the trifecta bill for the remainder of the session, although he left the door open for a possible change of heart when he switched his vote Aug. 3. On the Senate floor Aug. 1, he said, "Let no one be mistaken: if the Senate kills the trifecta bill, we will not return to it this year."
Shortly after the cloture vote on the trifecta package, the Senate voted 95-3 to overhaul the nation�s pension system. Labor, along with other administrators of multi-employer pension plans, strongly supported the reforms, which would help strengthen and revitalize troubled plans. Edward Sullivan, president of the AFL-CIO's Building and Construction Trades Department, said, "This bipartisan bill includes desperately needed reforms for multi-employer groups�working under the auspices of the Multiemployer Pension Plan Coalition�this is a prime example of what can be achieved when labor and management work together."
Groups like the Associated General Contractors are pleased, too. "In the construction arena, workers follow the job, and these plans provide the proverbial third leg of the retirement stool for people who would otherwise be left with only Social Security for unionized labor in our industry," said AGC CEO Stephen Sandherr.