Minimum Wage Debate in Congress

The war in Iraq isn't the only hot topic on Capitol Hill. The House has approved the first federal minimum wage increase in a decade.

The last increase raised the minimum wage to $5.15 an hour during the Clinton administration. With inflation that wage is now equivalent to $3.95.

A bill to increase the nation's minimum wage has come up in every session of Congress since 1997, the last year it was increased. Unlike previous years, when Republicans controlled the national legislature, experts expect the bill to pass in this new Congress.

The bill being considered would now increase the minimum wage from $5.15 an hour to $7.25, and the hike would be phased in over the next 26 months.

According to economists, the purchasing power of the federal wage is at its lowest point since 1949, but critics say an increase will hurt business - forcing restaurants, retailers and other companies that rely on hourly workers to close or curb their growth.

Supporters point to the fact that 28 states have already raised wages beyond the federal level, and business profits and growth are statistically the same as states with lower minimum wages. A liberal think tank said raising the minimum wage would mean higher pay for more than five percent of American workers.

The proposed wage increase now moves to the Senate for debate.