By Jeremy Wallace

Rep. Peter I. Blute, R-Shrewsbury, hopes Majority Leader Richard Armey was joking after threatening Blute for joining ranks with Democrats in passing a 90-cent increase in the minimum wage.

Following the 266-162 vote, in which Blute joined with every other Bay State Congressmen in voting for the first wage increase in over five years, Armey pulled Blute aside.

"He congratulated me and said he hoped I would enjoy working on the DC appropriations subcommittee," Blute said of the lowly post that most members of Congress try to avoid. "I think he was joking. I hope he was."

Blute was one of 20 Republicans who broke ranks six weeks ago in joining the Democrats in calling for an increase in the minimum wage. That group also voted against a series of amendments that would have exempted businesses with revenues under $500,000.

Joking aside, Blute said he's aware there may be fallout for he and the others who rebelled against GOP leaders. They feared the wage increase would bolster President Clinton in his re-election campaign against Senate Majority leader Robert Dole.

"They can tell me where I have to sit, but they can't tell me where to stand (on issues)," Blute said of the possibility of a bad committee assignment.

House Speaker Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., determines who sits on which committees in the House.

Moderate Republicans championed the bill because in included a series of amendments that help small businesses cope with the wage increase. The Small Business Protection Act includes tax credits for businesses that hire welfare recipients, at risk youths, or veterans. Also included in the bill is a increase in the amount of money that can be deducted by a business for equipment costs.

Democrats voted for the legislation, although Massachusetts Democrats said they would have preferred a clean vote on just the wage increase.

Rep. Martin T. Meehan, D-Lowell, voted for final passage of the bill, but was disappointed that Republicans added so many amendments to the bill -- weakening the impact of the wage increase. A spokesman for Meehan said voters would see through the Republican games and realize they didn't stand up for a minimum wage increase.

Reps John W. Olver, D-Amherst, and Richard E. Neal, D-Springfield, also voted for the wage increase, but have called for a clean vote without the tax-incentive package being attached to the bill.

Attention now shifts to the Senate, where Majority Leader Robert Dole has had to fend off repeated attempts by Democrats to force a debate on the wage increase. Both Sens. John Kerry and Edward M. Kennedy support raising the wage from its current $4.25 to $5.15 an hour.

Dole has argued that raising the minimum wage would have dire effects on small businesses who cannot afford the wage increase.

President Clinton immediately claimed a Democratic victory and publicly called on Dole to allow a debate in the Senate.