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Top Stories This Week in the Chronicle.
February 2, 2007

Partner benefit deduction kept out of minimum wage bill


Washington, D.C.--A bill to raise the national minimum wage will pass the U.S. Senate without an amendment allowing the self-employed to deduct domestic partner insurance premiums from their taxes. A broader partner measure, however, is likely to be considered later.

The proposed amendment was filed in mid-January by Oregon Republican Gordon Smith, and cosponsored by New York Democrat Charles Schumer.

Smith and Schumer are members of the Senate Finance Committee chaired by Montana Democrat Max Baucus.

Baucus blocked the amendment from consideration, according to his spokesperson Carol Guthrie, because of a deal made with committee members, including Smith, that no health care amendments would be allowed on the Fair Minimum Wage Act of 2007. The amendment was dismissed as non-germane.

�All health amendments are delayed now,� Guthrie said. �They will be discussed later.�

Guthrie added that Baucus put in the record that Smith�s amendment �has merit and would be considered.�

�[Baucus] has supported it in the past,� Guthrie added.

Guthrie said the deal has to do with the need to get 60 senators to vote for cloture, to end debate so they can vote on the bill.

Baucus, according to Guthrie, was concerned that any amendment outside the package negotiated by the committee would get delayed, or not get enough votes for cloture.

Senators voted 87-10 on January 30 to end debate.

In the House, Republicans tried to poison the measure by lining up 90 amendments to create tax cuts. Democrats rejected all of them.

Guthrie said that in the Senate, Democrats knew that they would need to negotiate some tax cuts into the bill in order to get the votes needed for cloture, so the Finance Committee was very careful with what it allowed out. The vote to send the negotiated bill to the floor was unanimous.

�Any health provisions would slow the debate and endanger progress on the minimum wage,� Guthrie said.

In the end, an amendment by Republican Jeff Sessions of Alabama dealing with illegal immigrants was also allowed.

Smith cried foul at the maneuver, however.

Smith�s spokesperson, R.C. Hammond countered that the only way to make the provision law is to attach it to something that the president will sign.

�The minimum wage will become law,� said Hammond. �It�s about getting this across the finish line.�

Hammond further suggested that any other bill it may be attached to later may not become law.

�That�s the problem,� Hammond said.

Hammond added that Smith intends to re-introduce a bill similar to one he and Schumer introduced in 2005.

That measure was called the Domestic Partner Health Benefits Equity Act. It allowed all employers to deduct domestic partner premiums, not just the self-employed, as they do for other health care related costs.

Smith and Baucus have similar records on LGBT issues. Over the past six years, Baucus� Human Rights Campaign rating on LGBT issue votes has ranged between 50-71 percent. Smith ranged 33-86 percent. Their votes on individual issues are similar.

The 2005 Domestic Partner Health Benefits Equity Act was noted by HRC but votes on it were not scored when it rated the last Congress.

Whether or not tax equity for domestic partners is ever seriously considered by the Senate depends on whether or not these two senators make good on their statements as the year progresses.

Schumer, as a Democrat co-sponsoring a Republican bill and involved in all the committee maneuvers, is arguably the best judge of each senator�s intentions.

But he is not talking.

Schumer�s office handled multiple requests for comment by the Chronicle the same way it handled all other reporters� requests--by totally ignoring them.




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