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Set a federal pay standard Change in political power eases way for a minimum wage hike in near future

President Bush appears to be getting religion these days when it comes to finding ways to compromise and cooperate with Democrats. Recently, Bush endorsed one of the Democrats' top priorities for the new Congress, a $2.10-an-hour minimum wage increase. He even wants a faster timetable than the Democrats have proposed.

The president and Democrats have been at odds during his entire two-term presidency on a range of topics, from the Iraq war to this increase in the federal minimum wage. It took the Democrats sweeping the House and gaining marginal control over the Senate for Bush to realize that his "my way or the highway" approach no longer will work.

Bush spent most of his time in office catering to the far right, with the exception perhaps of his insistence on granting some sort of worker status for illegal aliens. Staunch conservatives are loathe to bend on this issue.

The new political landscape will force change. Voters swept out Republicans who supported the Iraq war, as well as some who did not. The result was a clear indicator that the mandate Bush felt comfortable he had won in his re-election has not held up under the pressure of war.

A compromise on the minimum wage may ease its way into law. The White House wants any increase paired with tax and regulatory relief for small businesses to offset any financial pain and perhaps forestall the job cuts many fear will follow a wage hike, and relief in that sector of the economy is far more supportable than tax cuts for the wealthy or large corporations. But the real win would be for states like New York that have pursued minimum wage hikes on their own. Setting a new federal standard would erase the competitive cost-of-business disadvantage such states incur, and set a level floor for society's lowest-paid positions.

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