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Clinton, Demo leaders call for $1 increase in minimum wage

President Clinton and Democratic congressional leaders called Thursday for increasing the minimum wage by $1 an hour as part of an election-year agenda that includes hiring teachers, expanding Medicare coverage and protecting patient rights.

In a splashy show of unity, Clinton joined House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt, D-Mo., and Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., on Capitol Hill to lay out a 1998 legislative game plan."We've got to stay the path of fiscal discipline," Clinton told the Democrats. "We dare not abandon it."

He cited the booming economy - low unemployment and low inflation - and gave credit to the Democratic leadership for helping enact initiatives he has supported.

Clinton said the programs are not a political agenda. But it was clear that the issues were chosen to draw contrasts with Republicans this November when the entire House and one-third of the Senate face re-election.

It was Clinton's first public appearance with Democratic leaders since he was hit with allegations that he had an affair with a former White House intern and tried to cover it up. He has denied it. Democrats have backed him so far, and when he appeared Tuesday at a private meeting with House Democrats in Wintergreen, Va., they gave him a raucous welcome, lawmakers said.

Final details of the minimum wage proposal were still being worked out, said House and Senate aides. But they said Democratic leaders and Clinton were talking about raising the current $5.15 hourly minimum wage in two 50-cent increments, probably over the next two or three years.

Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., and other liberals last month proposed raising the minimum wage by $1.50 to $6.65 an hour by September 2000 and indexing it to inflation thereafter. Clinton endorsed raising the minimum wage in his State of the Union message last month, but did not specify by how much.

Clinton's endorsement would keep the White House behind an issue that Democrats believe has helped them politically in the past.

Republicans oppose any minimum-wage increase, arguing it would raise business costs and cause unemployment. But they also opposed the last one for much of 1996 before succumbing to a Democratic drive in six years.