WASHINGTON, Aug. 20 -- Calling it a 'truly remarkable piece of legislation,' President Clinton Tuesday signed into law a minimum wage increase to $5.15 over two years and tax breaks for businesses, some pension funds and people who adopt children. At a festive ceremony on the South Lawn, Clinton said the new law is 'pro-work, pro-business and pro-family,' and will provide pay-raises for about 10 million Americans, who currently earn $4.25 an hour. After summoning several children to his side, many apparently who had been adopted, Clinton signed the bill at a table used by Frances Perkins, who served in the Roosevelt administration as the nation's first female labor secretary and Cabinet member. 'Let me just begin by saying this is a truly remarkable piece of legislation. It is pro-work, pro-business and pro-family; it raises the minimum wage; it helps small businesses in a number of ways...including retirement and incentive to invest; and it promotes adoption in two very sweeping ways that have long needed to be done in the United States,' Clinton said. 'This is a cause for celebration for all Americans,' Clinton added, while noting the bill affects 'people of all walks of life.' Clinton thanked members of Congress who supported the legislation, including Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., who attended the ceremony. He also expressed his appreciation to the labor unions, religious groups, economists and small businesses who supported the bill. Clinton said the new law will give families an additional $1,900 over two years, and breaks down bureaucratic barriers to adoption as well as ending 'bias against interracial adoption.'
The bill provides the first increase in the minimum wage in five years and would raise the federal wage floor from $4.25 per hour, an inflation-adjusted 40-year low, to $4.75, effective Oct. 1, and to $5.15 on Sept. 1, 1997. Passage of the legislation signaled a victory for Democrats and moderate Republicans in the GOP-controlled Congress. The issue had dominated both chambers for weeks, and was passed in a last-minute flourish before the Republican National Convention. The Dole-Kemp '96 campaign later issued a statement, which downplayed the minimum wage increase in favor election-year politics, instead calling the GOP candidate's proposed 15 percent tax cut a pay hike. 'The signing of today's minimum wage bill is a helpful, but small, step toward addressing the economic anxiety of American workers. Remember, a tax cut is a raise, and that is exactly what Bob Dole will give Americans,' Dole spokeswoman Christina Martin said. 'A 15 percent tax cut is a pay raise of more than $1,600 per year for the average American family.' Supporters of the legislation from both sides of the aisle and labor and business leaders were invited to the ceremony, which will kick off the signing of other major pieces of legislation, including the Kennedy- Kassebaum health care bill and the welfare reform measure later in the week. To win Republican support, the legislation includes $21.4 billion in tax breaks through 2006, mostly for businesses. In addition, homemakers saving for retirement, students receiving tuition reimbursement from their employer and couples adopting children also will benefit. The higher minimum wage would benefit more than 10 million workers, two-thirds of them adults. A lower 'training wage' would be set at $4. 25 an hour for workers younger than 20 during their first 90 days on the job. Workers who receive tips would be partly excluded. Their employers would have to pay a minimum of $2.13 an hour, the same as current law, and provide more only if the employees do not collect enough tips to earn the new minimum rate. The tax provisions include more generous equipment write-offs for small businesses and a new type of simplified pension plan for companies employing 100 or fewer workers. Immediate write-offs for small businesses would increase from $17,500 to $25,000 by 2003. The new pension accounts would permit workers to make tax-deferred contributions of up to $6,000 a year with a match by their employers of up to 3 percent of salary. The bill also would: --Provide a $5,000 credit for domestic adoptions through 2001 and a $6,000 credit permanently for hard-to-place children. --Permit homemakers to contribute $2,000 to Individual Retirement Accounts. Currently, one-earner couples can contribute up to $2,250 compared with $4,000 when both spouses work outside the home. --Retroactively reinstate the $5,250 exemption for employer-provided tuition from Dec. 31, 1994, and extend it through June 1996 for graduate-level tuition and May 1997 for undergraduate tuition. --Reinstate credits encouraging corporations to conduct research, pharmaceutical companies to develop drugs for rare diseases and businesses to provide jobs for welfare recipients and other hard-to-hire people. --The legislation pays for the new breaks by phasing out some existing breaks, including one benefiting manufacturers operating in Puerto Rico and other U.S. territories. It also reinstates, through the end of the year, the 10 percent excise tax on airline tickets and other aviation taxes. Democrats sought for months to attach the measure to any legislation brought to the floor. In the House, moderate Republicans threatened to join Democrats and take control of the floor and force a vote on the matter. Conservatives, who opposed the legislation, remained unapologetic, arguing that the increase would destroy low-wage jobs that give many their first work experience. 'We hope the bill will lead to at least 5,000 more U.S. children being adopted each year and another 1,000 or so from abroad,' said William Pierce, president of the National Council for Adoption, who took a leading role in pushing for the provisions. Labor Secretary Robert Reich, who pushed for an increase in the minimum wage from the administration's inception, noted that the pay hike was supported by more than 85 percent of the American public. 'Next month, on the first day of October -- when this legislation will go into effect -- 10 million hard-working Americans will get the raise they deserve. An additional 50 cents per hour will mean the difference between buying fresh milk and powdered milk. It will mean a warm winter coat, or books and transportation for school,' Reich said. Reich, the former Harvard University professor who has advised Clinton on economic issues since the 1992 campaign, originally had sought more than a $1 hike in the minimum wage.