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More Assaults on Working Americans

March 16, 2005
By Val

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 from corporations

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 their bills.

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 interests.

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.

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