By Jeremy Wallace

Both Massachusetts Senators joined with 72 others on Tuesday in voting to raise the national minimum wage from $4.25 to $5.15 an hour.

Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., led the charge in the Senate to defeat several "poison pills" that would have caused President Clinton to veto the legislation that includes the wage hike.

"Today's vote is a resounding victory for the minimum wage and a convincing repudiation of a cynical attempt to kill it," Kennedy said shortly after the bill passed 74-24.

The minimum wage would rise to $4.75 later this year, and then be bumped the following year to $5.15, under terms of the legislation passed on Tuesday.

Minor differences between the Senate and House versions must still be worked out before the legislation is sent to President Clinton, who said he will in fact sign the bill. Those differences are expected to be easily resolved.

Kennedy's main foe on Tuesday, U.S. Sen. Christopher "Kit" Bond, R-Missouri, said the wage increase without better protections for small businesses is going to hurt more than it will help. Bond said many business may have to lay off workers to make up for the added payroll costs.

An amendment offered by Bond that would have exempted business grossing under $500,000 annually, was narrowly defeated when five Senate Republicans jumped party lines.

"Make no mistake about it, a vote against my amendment is a vote to kill jobs," said Bond, chairman of the Senate Committee on Small Business. "This was a common sense amendment that would have protected jobs in the smallest of small businesses across America."

Bond's proposal would have also allowed for the minimum wage to remain at $4.25 for six months after a new employee is hired. Students working summer jobs would still earn $4.25 an hour.

Also, under Bond's amendment, the minimum wage would not rise to $5.15 an hour until Jan. 1, 1998.

Kennedy, D-Mass., said those provisions were all unacceptable and had to be defeated to make sure as many Americans benefited from the wage increase as possible. More than half of those who should have received a minimum wage increase would not have seen one under the Bond package, Kennedy said.

The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities estimated the Bond proposal would deny the minimum wage raise to 5 million workers.

Kennedy later saw his own amendment fail 52-46. That proposal would have simply raised the minimum wage without any additional provisions to protect small businesses or offer tax credits, as the House version of the legislation does.

The Republican defectors were Sens. Ben Nighthorse Campbell of Colorado, James Jeffords of Vermont, Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, Alfonse D'Amato of New York and Mark Hatfield of Oregon. Sens. Thad Cochran, R-Miss., and William Cohen, R-Maine, did not vote.

"Their heads were messed up," Bond said of the defectors following the vote.

Sen. John F. Kerry, D-Mass., voted with Kennedy in opposing the Bond amendment and supporting overall passage of the legislation.

"This is a tremendous victory for working families," Kerry declared after the Senate vote.

Kerry and Kennedy have hounded Senate leaders over the last several months to force a vote on the minimum wage. Republicans have attempted to hold out, partly because President Clinton has been so adamant in supporting the increase.

Gov. William F. Weld, a Republican running against Kerry for his Senate seat, is opposed to the increased wage because of the potential for job loss, Weld spokesman Rob Gray said. The National Federation of Independent Business estimates between 680,000 to 1.4 million jobs would be cut if the wage increased by 90 cents.

Massachusetts raised the minimum wage last year over Weld's veto.

The U.S. House passed a similar increase to the minimum wage in May. That bill includes tax credits for businesses that hire welfare recipients, at risk youths or veterans. The bill also includes an increase in business deductions for equipment costs.

All 10 Massachusetts Congressmen voted for that increase. U.S. Reps. Peter I. Blute, R-Shrewsbury, and Peter G. Torkildsen, R-Danvers, were two of 20 Republicans that bucked party leaders to force the vote on the House floor back in May.

Blute said he expects no major hassles in working out the differences between the House and Senate versions although party leaders have been so adamant in opposing the legislation.