Monday, July 31, 2006
At about 1:30 on Saturday morning, the House of Representatives approved a minimum wage increase that has little chance of survival in the Senate because it is coupled with huge tax cuts for the wealthiest estates in the country (8,200 of them would get an average $1.4 million each). Since Republicans control the House, this isn't a surprise - they've vigorously opposed a minimum wage increase for nearly a decade, apparently believing that $5.15 per hour is an acceptable wage for millions of American adults working full time.
The only way they were going to allow a minimum wage vote is if they knew the legislation wasn't likely to go anywhere.
Saturday's vote enables vulnerable Republican incumbents to spend their August break telling their constituents that they voted for a minimum wage increase, while allowing the rest of the Republican caucus to reassure their special interest friends that the wage increase is not likely to become law. I've been in public life for over 30 years, and while this may not rank as the most craven and cynical act of political deception I've ever seen, it's certainly up there.
There's one aspect of this charade that hasn't been discussed in the news over the last couple days, so I want to discuss it here. Last year, I offered legislation that, in addition to increasing the national minimum wage from $5.15 to $7.25, would also extend it to the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands. The Marianas are a U.S. territory in the Pacific Ocean where our federal labor laws don't apply. The result is widespread abuse and exploitation of workers, mostly poor women. (This spring, I introduced a bill that would not only bring the territory's wage up to U.S. standards, but would close immigration loopholes there too. See my past post on the issue).
For years, I've been fighting for basic labor protections in the Marianas, which former Rep. Tom DeLay (R-TX) and disgraced Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff did everything they could to block. With DeLay gone, the House Republican leadership has simply picked up his mantle, keeping provisions that extend the minimum wage to the Marianas out of their own watered-down minimum wage legislation last week.
DeLay may be gone, but Republican leaders remain ready and eager to fight tooth and nail against basic human decency. Unfortunately, nothing is going to change that. But the voters can change Congress this November, and for sweatshop workers in the Marianas, they have got to.