More Assaults on Working Americans
March 16, 2005
In a little less than a month (Feb. 18 - Mar. 15) our Republican-dominated
Congress dealt with three bills that will affect many Americans
in very deep ways. The three bills, in chronological order, dealt
with class-action lawsuits, the minimum wage, and the filing of
bankruptcy. In all three dealings the result was a congressional
assault on working Americans.
Assault #1: Consumers lose more of their ability to claim damages
The first bill - with the backing of such corporations as Ford
Motor Co., Intel Corp., Pfizer Inc. and insurers Allstate Corp.
and Hartford Financial Services Group Inc. - makes it more difficult
for consumers to unite and claim damages, by sending class-action
suits to federal court rather than a state court.
The sad thing is that approximately 1/3 of Democrats in Congress
voted along with them. Without their help it could not have been
passed. Nothing can be said to defend their betrayal, but to the
credit of Democrats more of them voted against it than for it.
It is hard to remember such widespread protection for corporations
since the Reagan years, but yet again it seems like history is repeating
itself. Americans seeking grievances for wrongdoings and frauds
from corporate America will now have another barrier in their way.
Assault #2: The working poor get no relief
Congress' contempt for the working poor was once again demonstrated
in their failure to pass either one of two proposed bills from both
parties that would have raised the minimum wage. Both parties cynically
put a requirement for a 60 vote super-majority to pass either of
Sen. Edward’s Kennedy's (D-MA) bill was the most promising in that
it raised the federal minimum wage from $5.15 to $7.25 over three
years, in comparison to that of Sen. Rick Santourom's (R-PA) bill
that would have raised it to $6.25 in two years - but was riddled
full of pro-business exemptions, such as doing away with the 40
hour work week in some cases.
One of the most poignant and admirable quips during debate on
the floor came from Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA), who brought up the fact
that "Since 1997 members of Congress have raised their own
pay seven times, but we can't vote to raise their minimum wage.
Shame on the Senate."
nd of course, he was correct. Since 1997, senators have given themselves
a total of $28,500 in raises. Meanwhile the minimum wage worker
earning $10,700 a year will continue to suffer, but with a further
loss of four seats in the last elections, Democrats are in no position
to apply any sort of leverage.
Assault #3: The social safety net gets another hole
The third blow was in the form of a clear victory for the credit
card and banking companies over the average American. The bankruptcy
bill may affect between 30,000 and 210,000 people - these people
would be forced to select Chapter 13 bankruptcy, where some repayment
is required, rather than Chapter 7, which erases debts altogether.
While Republicans tried to the frame the bill as preventing an
easy escape for compulsive gamblers and shoppers, deadbeat dads
trying to escape child support and stingy millionaires sheltering
assets, they failed to mention that nearly half of all bankruptcies
are from circumstances that can affect virtually any of us - caused
by medical expenses, job loss or divorce.
Republicans created a problem where there was none. What is nauseating
is that credit card companies' annual pretax profits have soared
2˝ times in the last decade, and last year was their most profitable
in more than 15 years.
In light of Congress' actions we have to ask ourselves, when do
the legislative and economic assaults on working Americans stop?
After World War II, the American middle class was the envy of the
rest world. Now too many families are one paycheck away from poverty
and debt. Part of this has been brought on by the chiseling away
of pro-consumer and pro-worker legislation by corporations and special
The three examples above are only a small fraction of the actions
that tilt the playing field against the average American, but are
nevertheless poignant in depicting just how far Congress will go.
At some point something has to give. This administration and Congress
cannot continue to repay its campaign donors and wealthy friends
at the cost of working Americans.