The first thing the Senate did after the House overwhelmingly passed a minimum wage increase was to load up the bill with tax breaks for business. Then they began a seemingly endless debate on amendment after amendment, many of them irrelevant to any wage boost, that has stretched into the better part of two weeks.

No wonder Jon Stewart called the Senate “the place where smart people go to die.” After considering 107 different Republican amendments, supporters of raising the minimum wage will push for a cloture vote today. If they get the sixty votes needed to end debate, a final vote will likely occur on Thursday. Once that’s done, they can move on to debating what to do about Iraq. [UPDATE: The Senate voted 87-10 today to invoke cloture and head to a vote later in the week.]

Republicans view the debate on the minimum wage as a two-fer: they can both prevent (or at least dilute) an increase in the minimum wage through legislative minutiae and also forestall what will be an unpleasant conversation for the party over Iraq.

Once Senators tackle Iraq, however, it’s uncertain how they’ll proceed. The nonbinding resolution opposing the President’s escalation, introduced by Senators Biden, Hagel and Levin, may not have enough votes to pass. A competing measure introduced by Senator John Warner, viewed as insufficiently tough on Bush, may siphon off votes and muddy the debate.

It’s unclear why the House didn’t take the lead on Iraq, just like they did on the 100 hour plan, and quickly pass a resolution denouncing Bush’s policy right after the State of the Union address, as a prelude to more meaningful action. To many progressives, the House may be imperfect, but the Senate is certainly worse.