Friday, August 04, 2006

Congress' message to workers making $5.15 an hour: rich people should keep more of their money

Well, the GOP's latest political brainstorm flopped on Capitol Hill yesterday. But maybe the Republicans can spin it successfully on the campaign trail anyway.

As I noted here the other day, congressional Republican leaders had a problem. They have never liked the idea of raising the $5.15 minimum wage; in fact, they hadn't raised it once during the past nine years. After all, raising the minimum wage has long been a Democratic issue. But some of their own Republican lawmakers -- moderates in the Northeast, for example, people with tough re-election races -- were clamoring for a wage hike, because they wanted to show working people in their districts that Congress is actually doing something to address their bread and butter concerns.

So GOP leaders came up with a clever strategy: they essentially told these moderates, as well as the Democratic lawmakers, that if they wanted the wage hike, they also had to accept (in the same legislative package) the conservative pet proposal that would hamper or bar Uncle Sam from taxing the billions of dollars that rich people intend to leave to their heirs. In other words, GOP leaders said in effect, "If you want to throw a few more dollars to average working stiffs, you've got to let the rich keep a lot more of their money." Or, as GOP congressman Zach Wamp of Tennessee told Democrats the other day, as he trumpeted the party's tactic, "You've seen us really outfox you."

Well, maybe not. It turns out that the Senate yesterday rejected the package yesterday; only a handful of Democrats went for the deal, and a couple of Republicans broke ranks and voted no. Somehow they didn't think that approving a wage hike should be tied to a cut in the estate tax, which, according to one study, would have slashed government revenue (for social programs and other needs) by $700 billion in the next 10 years.

So all that's left is the autumn spin war. Republicans will cite this incident as evidence that Democrats are obstructionists who don't want to help working people if it means handing the GOP a bipartisan victory. And the Democrats will cite the incident as evidence of a "do-nothing" Republican Congress that practices cynical politics at the expense of working people.

My prediction? A lot of folks will just tune it all out.

But in the meantime, you can test your political acumen this weekend with Paul Slansky's latest Bush trivia quiz. Fun for the whole family.