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Monday, June 26, 2006

Class Warfare: The Minimum Wage Goes Down

The GOP just shafted the working people of America. By rejecting an attempt to raise the minimum wage, the Republican-controlled Senate showed that it is far more interested in lining the pockets of its campaign contributors than – as Paul Krugman wrote in a New York Times op-ed on Monday – arriving at a "new New Deal" and working to "rebuild our middle class." The 52-46 vote was eight short of the 60 needed for approval. (The measure drew the support of eight Republicans --four of these are up for reelection in the fall.) Sen. Edward Kennedy's amendment would have raised the wage from the current $5.15 an hour to $7.25 – the first raise in a decade. "The minimum wage," as economist Gwendolyn Mink, makes clear, is supposed to guarantee an income floor to keep full-time wage-earners out of poverty. But today, the federal minimum wage guarantees abject poverty for workers... nearly $6,000 per year below the federal poverty line for a family of three."

But the vast majority of Republican Senators, several of them millionaires several times over, don't care about poverty or the well-being of their working class constituents, What they really care about is that they're sitting pretty, having voted themselves another raise --to $168,500 --on January 1.

Even the not-exactly-populist Wall Street Journal points out, "While the minimum wage has remained frozen, lawmakers' salaries have risen with annual cost-of-living increases keyed to what is given federal employees. And last week's vote in the House Appropriations Committee followed a floor vote days before in which the House cleared the way for members to get another increase valued at thousands of dollars annually." So, while Congress will soon make close to $170,000 a year, hardworking full-time minimum wage workers make just $10,700 annually.

One group that did important work to end this inequity is the Let Justice Roll coalition--a fast-growing program of more than 70 faith and community groups. The coalition labored mightily to target senators who were critical to passing this legislation and preventing it from being weakened by Republican's bogus charges of "class warfare." (For the true definition of class warfare, check out my Dictionary of Republicanisms. "Class warfare, n.: any attempt to raise the minimum wage").

For millions of families, this callous vote means another day of choosing between rent and health care, putting food in the refrigerator or gas in the car. Meanwhile, a Big Oil CEO makes $37,000 an hour. Want to talk about class warfare?

Katrina vanden Heuvel has been The Nation's editor since 1995 and publisher since 2005. She is the co-editor of "Taking Back America--And Taking Down The Radical Right" (NationBooks, 2004) and, most recently, editor of "The Dictionary of Republicanisms" (NationBooks, 2005).

© 2006 The Nation
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Class Warfare: The Minimum Wage Goes Down

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