August 02, 2006
In the early hours of Saturday, the House voted 230-180 to raise the minimum wage, which ordinarily would be a cause to cheer. The minimum wage, which stands at $5.15 an hour, hasn't been raised since 1997. Under this plan, it would rise modestly to $7.25, which would put it closer to what a poor worker needs to survive.
As Democrats have pointed out, members of Congress have had nice raises - thank you very much - while the minimum wage has remained frozen. But raising the minimum wage is a point of blind dogma for most Republicans, who insist that it is a job killer regardless of the economy's capacity to adjust.
Among poor voters struggling to get by, this argument doesn't sell well, which is why moderate Republicans have urged an increase in the minimum wage to protect their flanks.
But how do House Republicans rise above their ideological objection to vote for a wage increase? By packaging it with another piece of ideological candy very much to their dogmatic tastes - tax cuts, in particular giving the very richest Americans another break with the estate tax.
This is the special if warped genius of the Republican leadership: If the estate tax measure were to succeed, it would add hugely to the already huge federal deficit, which in turn would lead to pressure to cut the social programs that people on minimum wage need more than most.
GOP leaders also know that by including the minimum wage in a bill slashing the estate tax permanently, they present a poison pill to Democrats in the Senate. Either way they win - either way, it's poor Americans who lose.
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by Scripps Howard News Service, www.scrippsnews.com