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Minimum wage resolution sparks heated House floor fight

DENVER — Democrats and Republicans battled for five hours on the House floor Thursday morning — and afternoon — over a non-binding resolution to support a federal minimum wage hike.

The war of words served as an opportunity for both parties to play to their respective bases: big labor and big business.

Republicans, powerless to prevent the resolution from passing, which it did on a 38-24 vote after the long debate, made a point of arguing that increasing the minimum wage will force employers to cut jobs.

“Higher costs lead to fewer jobs,” said Rep. Frank McNulty, R-Highlands Ranch, who appealed directly to some of his Democratic colleagues in the chamber.

“What will you tell your constituents who lose their jobs because of the minimum wage being raised?”

Democrats, meanwhile, argued that higher wages are good for both employees and employers — that if workers at the bottom of the economic food chain take home more money, they’ll be putting that money right back into the economy, spending more on goods and services.

“The Congressional Budget Office estimates that 900,000 people would be pulled out of poverty if we were able to raise the minimum wage,” said Rep. Crisanta Duran, D-Denver.

At one point, the resolution sponsor, Rep. Jovan Melton, D-Aurora, left the floor to speak at a press conference organized by labor unions in the west foyer.

“It doesn’t make sense that people who work 40 hours a week would still have to worry about falling below the poverty line,” Melton said to a crowd that included several low-wage workers.

“Every day, women across Colorado work hard to support their families and they still can’t get by,” said Barb Gertz, a Wal-Mart employee who took a minimum wage job a few years ago after her husband lost his job.

“My husband and I struggled to get by on my salary,” she said. “There were days I missed work simply because I could not afford the gas to get there.”

Republicans dragged out the debate by offering several amendments, most of which were defeated; and they blasted the Democratic House majority for pushing the resolution through.

“The majority party in the state of Colorado is once again telling Colorado citizens how to live your lives,” said Rep. Mark Waller, R-Colorado Springs. “Once again, you’re sitting on your high perch in Denver telling the small business owner in Durango, Colorado ‘we know how to run your business better than you do’.”