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Democrats in Congress seem to be running for cover in the face of a GOP rebound on the war, but a recent minimum-wage amendment introduced by Ted Kennedy could be the wedge issue they need for the upcoming election. The amendment, introduced June 19, would raise the minimum wage for the first time since 1997, from $5.15 to $7.25 an hour. “A minimum wage worker who works 40 hours a week, 52 weeks a year, earns just $10,700 a year,” Kennedy said in a floor statement. “That’s $6,000 below the poverty line for a family of three.”

A recent Labor Department report shows that inflation is erasing wage increases. Weekly wages dropped 0.7 percent in real terms in May. In 50 percent of the 65 months since Bush took office, workers’ pay either has remained unchanged or declined, Bloomberg reports. “People at the high end of the income scale are doing a lot better than people in the middle or low end, but there are a lot more people in the middle and low end,” Douglas Lee, president of Economics From Washington, a Potomac, Maryland, consulting firm, told Bloomberg. “For those people, inflation is eating into their income gains.” An AP poll of 1000 or so people in early June found 60 percent disapproved of Bush’s handling of the economy, while 38 percent approved.

It’s possible that Democrats could, as they did during the 2002 midterms, try to focus on the economy and refuse to make Iraq an election issue. Even though the civil war in Iraq is intensifying, Bush’s PR performance after the killing of Zarqawi has brought the president a rebound of sorts—at least with the media. Meanwhile, Dems may rant and rave about Iraq, but they can’t agree on what to do about it. Four Democratic senators—Jack Reed, Carl Levin, Dianne Feinstein and Ken Salazar, with support from Hillary Clinton, Pat Leahy, and Minority Leader Harry Reid—have introduced a non-binding “sense of the Senate” resolution asking Bush to begin a phased redeployment out of Iraq by the end of this year. But the measure doesn’t say how fast the drawdown should go.

An alternative measure, sponsored by Russ Feingold, Barbara Boxer and John Kerry would order the President to withdraw troops by July 1, 2007. But a similar withdrawal measure flopped last week on a 93-6 vote in the Senate—and the House has passed a nonbinding resolution rejecting a date for withdrawing the troops on a 256-153 vote, with large numbers of Democrats joining the GOP votes in favor of indeterminate commitment to the war.

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