WASHINGTON, D.C.—As the administration heralds its victories in bringing democracy to the Middle East, President Bush at home is pushing more business incentives at the expense of regular working people. The vaunted economic recovery has turned out to be pretty lame, with the labor market continuing to be weak. Oil prices are off the charts and real incomes are headed down.
Set against this background, Congress this week ditched efforts to raise the minimum wage. Republicans in Congress successfully wrecked Senator Ted Kennedy’s bill to raise the minimum wage by $2 to $7.25 by a 49-46 vote.That is 14 short of the needed number to pass.
The minimum wage hasn’t been increased since 1996.
This week’s wrecking gang was led by Pennsylvania conservative senator Rick Santorum, who put in his own alternative legislation calling for raising the minimum wage to $6.25. Instead of paying workers overtime pay, Santorum wanted to give them time off.
“It’s an absolute travesty that a family of three earning the minimum wage works five days a week all year round yet still lives below the poverty line,” said Kennedy.
“I don’t support the Kennedy amendment because I don’t support raising the minimum wage,” said New Hampshire Republican John E. Sununu. “When you raise the minimum wage, you price workers out of the market. That’s the economic reality that seems to be missing—at least so far—from this discussion.”
Sununu, of course, echoed the conservative line on wages, namely that the government determining a minimum wage is tantamount to setting prices and wages. “That’s not the role of the federal government,” he said. “In fact, there are very few countries left on earth whose central government has the job and responsibility of rewarding work in and of itself.” He added, “And those are countries like Cuba and North Korea that decide only the federal government should be able to determine what you earn.”‘
Meanwhile, the Republicans overcame obstacles blocking the bankruptcy reform bill, and, with the votes in Congress and a Bush White House arguing bankruptcy changes are a must, it may well become law. This bill, strongly supported by banks and credit card companies makes, it more difficult for people to clear their debts by filing for bankruptcy. Opponents say it won’t protect thoser who have been brought down by huge medical bills and other unforeseen catastrophes. But the Republicans say it will force Americans to be more responsible.
Next on the GOP action list is placing a cap on medical malpractice suits.