Monday, July 31, 2006

House GOP's Minimum Wage Charade Will Die in Senate

When any member of Congress is even tangentially instrumental in passing a bill that makes them proud and for which they want credit, their office will have a press release on the wires touting the accomplishment before the boss's wingtips leave the House or Senate floor.

So it was a telling thing over the weekend after the GOP-controlled House of Representatives passed a bill that would increase the minimum wage, as a last-minute rider to lowering estate taxes -- the
real reason for the legislation -- that House Majority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) said almost nothing about the wage hike in his public statements.

But I guess helping working families wasn't really the point, was it?

The minimum wage increase was slapped onto Paris Hilton's latest tax cut at the last minute so that Republicans running for reelection could claim they actually -- finally! -- voted to raise the wage rate. Under this legislation, the minimum wage would rise to $7.25 an hour over the next three years.

Amazingly, for a GOP honcho who will undoubtedly claim until election day that this shows his party's love for the working class, Boehner only mentions it in his Saturday press release grudgingly and as a hard-to-swallow pill that was necessary to get more tax cuts passed for the super rich.

Boehner's press release lauded the passage of,
H.R. 5970, the Estate Tax and Extension of Tax Relief Act, which was thrown together quite literally in one day and passed 230-180 in the dead of the night early Saturday.

“Working families and family businesses deserve tax relief, not Democrat tax increases," said Boehner of the estate tax bill, which will cut inheritance taxes on multimillion dollar estates, eliminating the tax entirely on estates up to $5 million and dramatically cutting taxes on inheritances of even greater value.

I guess these qualify as "working families" in Mr. Boehner's neighborhood.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) called the bill a "political stunt" that insulted all Americans, while Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) said it is "the kind of cynical ploy that makes Americans lose faith in their government."

"This is beyond cynical. This is disgraceful," said Rep. Jim McGovern (D-MA), of the sleazy irony of Republicans attaching a wage increase for low-income Americans to a bill really designed to give yet more tax cuts to the wealthiest.

McGovern hit the nail right on the head, saying that Republican leaders knew damn well that the whole thing will likely be killed in the Senate so they went for a real GOP two-fer: The ability to tell rich folks they attempted to help them (yet again) while lying to the poor by claiming they truly
tried to boost their salaries.

And make no mistake about it, this legislation will indeed die in the Senate and probably by a filibuster that will not even allow it a full roll-call vote.

On June 8, the Senate killed the same kind of estate-tax gift to the country's richest families with such prejudice that it didn’t even make it to the floor for a vote. The bill failed to achieve cloture -- an end to debate -- by a vote of
57-41, shy of the three-fifths majority required and dooming the measure.

Republicans George Voinovich of Ohio and Rhode Island's Lincoln Chafee, voted with Senate Democrats to not even allow the estate tax up for a vote last time, so it is highly unlikely they will vote in favor of the same bill this time when it comes over from the House.

And Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) has made it very clear that, even with tying a minimum wage increase to a tax cut that will cost the federal treasury over $300 billion in the next 10 years, it's not getting through on his watch

"Republicans have made perfectly clear who they stand with and who they are willing to fight for: the privileged few," said Reid. "It is outrageous that Washington Republicans would make budget-busting tax breaks for a wealthy few the price Americans must pay to receive tax relief and a pay raise."

One of the "privileged few," Warren Buffet, the second-richest man in the world, gave Republicans ulcers last month when he said that Congress should retain the estate tax that Republicans seem so eager to get rid of to benefit people like, well, Buffet himself.

"I would hate to see the estate tax gutted," Buffett said at a news conference in which he announced he was transferring a large part of his $44 billion fortune to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. "It's a very equitable tax. It's in keeping with the idea of equality of opportunity in this country, not giving incredible head starts to certain people who were very selective about the womb from which they emerged."

But Boehner seemed to realize he had no choice but to throw a minimum-wage bone into the mix, when almost 50 of his Republican colleagues stormed his doors last week demanding that they be allowed to at least give the
impression of caring by being able to vote on a wage hike. They even threatened to vote against adjourning for their August vacation -- the "Summer District Work Period," as they call it -- until Boehner agreed to give them a chance to vote, no matter how meaningless the gesture, on a minimum-wage increase.

So now the ball is in Harry Reid's court and, in the event this makes it onto the calendar before the Senate adjourns for a month-long break starting on Friday, the minority leader has already made it clear that Democrats will block the bill through a filibuster if necessary.

Which will, as the Republicans planned, leave Democrats in both houses of Congress with the chore of explaining why they voted against a minimum wage increase -- a truly disgusting prospect given that Democrats have been trying for years to get a legitimate increase passed and have been blocked by the GOP every time.

“Republicans are playing politics with the lives of hardworking people who struggle each day to provide for their families," said Senator Ted Kennedy (D-MA), who has been trying for two years to get a wage increase through the GOP-dominated Senate. "It may be a political game for Republicans, but it’s a hard reality for low wage workers who worry every day if they can pay the bills. Members of Congress raised their own pay – no strings attached. Surely, common decency suggests that minimum wage workers deserve the same respect.”

But that's not how the game is played when the Republicans are in charge of the legislative branch of government.

"I know why you're mad," crowed Rep. Zach Wamp (R-TN), to Democrats angry at the pairing of an estate tax cut and the minimum wage issue. "You've seen us really outfox you."

Pelosi called Wamp and his colleagues on their cynical maneuvering.

"Republicans boast that they have held out for nine years, keeping the minimum wage at $5.15 an hour. That's their proud boast," said Pelosi. "So for them to come to the floor tonight to try to give the illusion that they are sincerely trying to raise the minimum wage when they know that it is dead on arrival at the United States Senate is an insult to the intelligence and hard work of the American people."

"It's a political ploy, it's a joke, it's a hoax, it's a sham -- it doesn't even rise to the level of
that, so low is its intention."

Perhaps it was an optimistic Harry Reid who said it best in hoping Americans will see through this sleazy trick and realize which party has really been on their side on this issue.

"If the Republicans were serious about raising the minimum wage for the first time in nearly 10 years and extending tax relief for working Americans, they would not hold them hostage in their effort to give the wealthiest Americans hundreds of billions more in additional tax giveaways," said Reid. "It is time for a change from a Republican Congress that puts the wealthiest Americans first. We need a new direction, with leaders who work for all Americans."

You can reach Bob Geiger at


Blogger Tracy Russo at the Democratic National Committee must have a very strong stomach because she was actually able to view the craven Republican actions described above live and in person from the House floor.

In a piece called
Political Cover for Cowards, Tracy writes:

"On Friday night, I witnessed the best and the worst our Congress has to offer. I saw House Democrats being boxed into a corner by their GOP counterparts but standing firm and fighting back, fighting for the hard-working Americans who deserve a real raise, not a political ploy. In contrast, the GOP stood up for the most obscenely rich families in the country and pulled a political stunt disguised as legislation that has no hope of actually helping working families."

You can read the rest of her
excellent post here. Please do.