Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Meyerson op-ed nails GOP hypocrisy

I've written a fair amount about the Republican party's Congressional leadership and its utter disregard for the welfare of lower and middle-class Americans this week--as evidenced by their shameless hypocrisy in tying the need to increase the federal minimum wage (unchanged in nine years) with eliminating the estate tax which brings in hundreds of billions of dollars in federal revenue and falls only on multimillionaire estates.

But after reading Harold Meyerson's latest op-ed in the Washington Post, I've gotten angry about the outrageous decision all over again. He describes the political reality with such clarity that I think it's worth quoting from his article at length:

Every time congressional Republicans are compelled by public pressure to address a serious issue, they retreat to their laboratory and emerge with Frankenstein-monster legislation designed primarily to reward their campaign donors and stick it to the Democrats, and only secondarily to fix the problem. The Medicare drug program they crafted with the Bush White House enabled seniors to obtain some medications at a lower price, but it codified the continued upward spiral of drug prices by forbidding the government from negotiating with pharmaceutical companies -- a linchpin of Republican campaign finance -- to bring prices down.

Now they're at it again. Facing pressure from Northeastern and Midwestern House Republicans fearful of losing their seats this November, the House leadership has at long last relented and crafted a bill, which passed the House at around 1:30 Saturday morning, to raise the hourly minimum wage from its current abysmal $5.15 to $7.25 in three separate stages over the next three years. A decade has passed since Congress last hiked the minimum wage, during which time it has managed in a series of votes to raise its own members' salaries by a cool $31,000. Democrats and labor were hammering the Republicans over this most double of standards; minimum-wage workers were showing up at the Republicans' district offices and on local TV newscasts to dramatize the disparity.

So Republicans had to respond, and they did so in their inimitable cynical fashion. Appended to the minimum wage hike that the vast majority of them opposed was a provision genuinely dear to their hearts: a cut in the estate tax that chiefly benefits the super-rich and that will reduce government revenue over the next decade, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, by $753 billion. The shortfall could well lead to offsetting cuts in programs that benefit the same working poor that the minimum-wage increase would help. But who cares about the poor? The whole point of the exercise was to come up with a bill that might force some Democrats to vote for an estate tax cut they would otherwise oppose, and enable Republicans to claim they weren't really the Dickensian grotesques that many of them in fact are.

That's what the politicians in control of our federal legislature see governing as being all about: Holding the political process and American people hostage so as to enact their regressive, fiscally and morally irresponsible economic policies. Some on the left argue that it doesn't matter whether the Democrats regain control of the House or Senate or not, particularly because their foreign policies have been so depressingly similiar in the past. I would argue that on economic issues such as this, there are significant differences in the agendas of the two parties and it is thus essential for anyone frustrated with the direction this country is heading in to throw their full support to the Democrats.

Meyerson explains the real-world impact the GOP Congress' pathetic lack of legislative leadership has on Americans:

So the solutions for national problems get kicked downstairs. To date 23 states have passed minimum-wage standards higher than the feds' -- and none of them in statutes designed to subvert themselves or play gotcha with the opposition party. States have begun to enact universal health insurance plans, while cities are passing living-wage ordinances.

For Americans who are tired of getting screwed over by the GOP's outlandish economic policies--something I would go so far as to describe their war on the middle class--it's time to realize that cultural issues like gay marriage, abortion, gun rights and separation of church and state are not the most important issues facing them. The biggest challenges to ordinary Americans' future economic security are the policies the GOP are hoping to push forward, such as privatizing social security, lowering the real value of the minimum wage and draining the federal budget of hundreds of billions of dollars in future revenue by eliminating the estate tax. It's time to realize the game the GOP is playing (read What's The Matter With Kansas by Thomas Frank for starters).

For more commentary, check out this blog post from Katrina Vanden Heuval, editor of The Nation appropriately titled "Political Blackmail". Also, via Think Progress, we learn that the proposed bill would actually cause a decrease in wage for an estimated 1.1 million workers because state minimum wage laws that don't allow tips to be counted toward the minimum would effectively be repealed.

Update: The Senate has rejected the estate tax/minimum wage bill by a 56-42 margin, although it may be voted on again in the fall.

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