The latest House Republican game was nakedly plain for all to see by mid-afternoon Friday, and yet House GOP leaders played along as if they honestly believed people would not see through it.
The game, of course, is to convince the public that Republicans want to increase the minimum wage, now $5.15 an hour. The reality, of course, is that they do not. The only reason House Majority Leader John A. Boehner even entertained a vote is because frightened Republican moderates, as veteran reporter Andrew Taylor of the Associated Press reported, demanded that the issue be brought to the floor.
But, in the Republicans’ inexorable quest to match every half-hearted good deed for ordinary Americans with a generous gift to the wealthy, House Republicans decided in a mid-afternoon caucus to try coupling a minimum wage increase to a bundle of tax cuts, including a reduction in the estate tax for multimillionaires. (The final bill, in typical Republican fashion, was passed literally in the dead of night—actually 1:41 a.m. Saturday morning—by a vote of 230-180.)
They think that the public won’t ask this basic question: Why can’t Congress raise the wage of a service worker making $5.15 an hour without simultaneously granting a big tax break to the wealthiest Americans, people for whom $5.15 is the price of a venti coffee drink at Starbucks.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, in a Friday conference call with progressive bloggers, said she thinks the public will see the scam for what it is. “This is designed to be dead on arrival going into the U.S. Senate,” she said, because efforts to increase the estate tax have already repeatedly failed there. She noted that some House Republicans have openly bragged about their ability to keep ordinary Americans from getting an increase in the federal minimum wage, even as they have pocketed—shamelessly—$35,000 in raises in that time. A worker making $5.15 an hour and working a 40-hour work week would have to be on the job almost 170 weeks just to earn what an average member of Congress received in raises over a nine-year period.
Business lobbyists have gone into overdrive to block a minimum wage increase. Both the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Federation of Independent Business have put big bucks and lobbying muscle into blocking the increase and, failing that, extracting big tax breaks as a concession.
As of Monday, the Senate has tentative plans to bring up the House bill before its summer recess, but Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said over the weekend that he will fight the estate tax provisions. Effective opposition by Senate Democrats on the estate tax will delay meaningful action on the minimum wage issue at least until Congress resumes business after Labor Day.
Ironically, on Friday Oprah Winfrey aired on her syndicated talk show tales of what it is like to live on the minimum wage. Material from the show is featured on her Web site. Many of Oprah’s fans are people the Republican Party hopes to fool with their faux advocacy for working people. But no amount of fancy political footwork will cover the nakedness of this political game with people’s lives.
--Isaiah J. Poole
| Monday, July 31, 2006 1:05 PM