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Economy: Raising America

The Progress Report

After 10 years stuck making $5.15 an hour, millions of Americans are ready for a raise. But some senators are not quite ready to give it to them.

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GOOD NEWS

“A bipartisan group of senators” — including Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Bernard Sanders (I-VT), and Byron Dorgan (D-ND) — ” introduced legislation Tuesday aimed at preventing American companies from profiting from the use of foreign sweatshops and other unfair labor practices abroad.”


STATE WATCH

IOWA: State House approves bill to raise the minimum wage to $7.25 an hour.

UTAH: Bill intends to “block gay-straight alliances from forming” in high schools.

WASHINGTON: Teachers are forced to offer “alternative views” to Al Gore’s Oscar-nominated global warming documentary “An Inconvenient Truth.”


BLOG WATCH

THINK PROGRESS: Video: Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-NE) chides colleagues on Iraq: “If you wanted a safe job, go sell shoes.”

THINK PROGRESS: Audio: Fox News’ Gibson says CNN reporter who debunked Obama smear probably attended the same madrassa.

TREE HUGGER
: Inspired by “An Inconvenient Truth,” Steven Spielberg may produce film on visionary green architect.

POLITICAL TICKER: Sen. Robert Byrd (D-WV) introduces resolution demanding congressional approval for war in Iran.


DAILY GRILL

“Wolf, Wolf, I simply don’t accept the premise of your question. I just think it’s hogwash.”
— Vice President Dick Cheney, after Wolf Blitzer asked if mistakes in Iraq had hurt the adminitration’s credibility, 1/24/07

VERSUS

“The level of activity that we see today from a military standpoint, I think, will clearly decline. I think they’re in the last throes, if you will, of the insurgency.”
— Cheney, 6/20/05


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  January 25, 2007
Raising America
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Raising America

After 10 years stuck making $5.15 an hour, millions of Americans are ready for a raise. But some senators are not quite ready to give it to them. Yesterday, 47 Democrats, five Republicans, and two independents joined together as a bipartisan majority to push for a vote on a raising the minimum wage to $7.25 an hour. Eighty-three percent of the American public supports this increase. But unfortunately, the Senate fell six short of the votes needed to end debate and move on. It will now take up a bill pairing a minimum wage increase with tax breaks for small businesses, at the insistence of a small group of conservative senators. In the past 10 years, Congress has given small businesses $36 billion in tax breaks. It has given itself $31,600 in cost-of-living raises. Working Americans deserve their long overdue raise. Send a message to your senator voicing your support for a clean bill to increase the minimum wage.

BLOCKING PROGRESS IN THE SENATE: In the first hours of the 110th Congress, the House approved a clean $2.10 raise in the minimum wage, in a 315-116 vote. The Senate, yesterday, was not as successful. It needed 60 votes to cut off debate and move to a vote on the clean minimum wage increase. But a minority of conservative senators refused to support cloture, killing the popular measure. These lawmakers refuse to give 13 million working Americans a raise, unless it is paired with tax breaks for small businesses. The Senate has scheduled a vote on the new bill — a raise in the minimum wage in addition to business tax cuts — for early next week. “Why can’t we do just one thing for minimum wage workers, no strings attached, no giveaways for the powerful?” asked Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-MA), a leading sponsor of the clean bill. The federal minimum wage is currently at its lowest level in 51 years. Since President Bush has taken office, the number of Americans living in poverty has increased by 5.4 million.

MYTH — RAISING THE MINIMUM WAGE WILL HURT BUSINESS: Bush refuses to support a clean minimum wage increase. “I believe we should do it in a way that does not punish the millions of small businesses that are creating most of the new jobs in our country,” Bush said in December. “So I support pairing it with targeted tax and regulatory relief to help these small businesses stay competitive and to help keep our economy growing.” Sen. Mike Enzi (R-WY) justified his opposition to cloture by stating, “We’re trying to make sure we don’t put mom-and-pop businesses and their employees out of work.” But as AFL-CIO president John Sweeney notes, the argument that raising the minimum wage will kill small businesses is a myth. A study by the Center for American Progress found that employment in small businesses, the number of small businesses, and inflation-adjusted small business payroll growth grew more in states with higher minimum wages than federal minimum wage states. Almost 300 large and small business owners across the country have signed on to Business for a Fair Minimum Wage, which is pushing Congress to raise the federal minimum wage. A recent Gallup poll found that “three out of four small businesses said that an increase in the minimum wage would have no effect on their company.”

MYTH — BUSINESSES CAN’T AFFORD TO GIVE WORKERS A WAGE INCREASE: “There seems to be agreement to raise the minimum wage,” said Enzi. “The difficulty has been how do we take care of some of the impact to small businesses that will result from this.” In recent years, Congress has consistently looked out for businesses. It’s now time for it to help working Americans. In the past 10 years, Congress has “showered corporations with $276 billion in tax breaks, plus another $36 billion aimed exclusively at small businesses.” Jared Bernstein of the Economic Policy Institute notes, “There is little rationale for adding any tax cuts to this bill. Businesses both large and small have enjoyed hundreds of billions of dollars of such cuts over the past decade, as the value of the federal minimum wage has evaporated. The wage increase under consideration is a small one in historical terms and it is very likely that any tax cuts intended to offset its costs to businesses will swamp in magnitude.” Steven Pearlstein of the Washington Post adds that even though the Bush administration has gifted declining tax rates to small businesses over the past several years, “according to the Internal Revenue Service, small-business owners, sole proprietors and the self-employed are, as a group, the biggest tax cheats in America, responsible for $153 billion of the estimated $345 billion tax gap in 2001.”

STATE OF THE MINIMUM WAGE: Raising the federal minimum wage “will increase annual earnings to $15,000 from $10,700. Without this increase, a family of three supported by one minimum wage earner will live roughly $5,400 below the federal poverty line.” (The Center for American Progress has put out a new report showing the economic costs of children in poverty.) Under the Bush administration, the lower- and middle-classes have seen the American dream slip further out of reach, whereas the rich have seen lavish tax breaks. Since 2000, “the fraction of American households with incomes between $25,000 and $100,000 a year has declined by 1.3 percentage points, whereas the number of households earning more than $100,000 a year has held steady.” Approximately “7.7 million women (59 percent of minimum wage earners) and 5.2 million people of color (40 percent of minimum wage earners) will directly benefit” from a minimum wage increase. While the Bush administration and conservative senators continue to block progress, bipartisan groups of governors, lawmakers, and activists in the states have mobilized. In November, “voters in six states said minimum wage increases wouldn’t hurt businesses and approved minimum wage hikes without extra corporate giveaways, as have 11 state legislatures.” Twenty-nine states and the District of Columbia have a minimum wage surpassing the federal government’s level. ACORN has a breakdown of the cities and counties that have enacted living wage laws.

Under the Radar

ADMINISTRATION — RUMSFELD REMAINS DEFENSE DEPARTMENT ‘CONSULTANT,’ OPENS ‘TRANSITION OFFICE’ NEAR PENTAGON: Former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld “has left the Pentagon, but not the Defense Department.” The Washington Times reports that on Jan. 4, Rumsfeld “opened a government-provided transition office in Arlington and has seven Pentagon-paid staffers working for him.” Rumsfeld is listed as a “nonpaid consultant,” a status he needs “in order to review secret and top-secret documents, the official said.” The Times reports that Rumsfeld has brought with him close adviser Stephen Cambone, a fierce advocate of the Iraq war and the chief planner of questionable interrogation tactics at military and CIA detention sites around the world. Though former secretaries “are entitled to a transition office to sort papers,” Rumsfeld’s transition office has raised eyebrows inside the Pentagon. “Some question the size of the staff, which includes two military officers and two enlisted men. They also ask why the sorting could not have been done from the time Mr. Rumsfeld resigned Nov. 8 to when he left the building Dec. 18.” Rumsfeld’s predecessors, William Cohen and William Perry, both returned to private life immediately after leaving the Defense Department. Cohen had “two military personnel…sort through his papers for about six weeks,” while Perry had his papers mailed via compact disk to Stanford University.

IRAN — HAGEL REVEALS WHITE HOUSE ORIGINALLY WANTED 2002 IRAQ WAR RESOLUTION TO COVER ENTIRE MIDDLE EAST: The Bush administration has taken a series of steps in recent weeks that appear to be setting the stage for a military confrontation with Iran. Congressional leaders have been raising red flags. “I’d like to be clear,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) said last week. “The president does not have the authority to launch military action in Iran without first seeking congressional authorization.” Recent comments made by Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-NE) explain why Congress’ resistance is so vital. In an interview in GQ Magazine, Hagel revealed that the Bush administration tried to get Congress to approve military action anywhere in the Middle East — not just in Iraq — in the fall of 2002. At the time, Hagel says, the Bush administration presented Congress with a resolution that would have authorized the use of force anywhere in the region. “They expected Congress to let them start a war anywhere in the Middle East?” the interviewer asked. Hagel responded, “Yes. Yes. Wide open.”

VALUES — SCHUMER LAYS OUT HIS IDEAS FOR A MIDDLE-CLASS AGENDA: Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) recently released his first book, Positively American: Winning Back The Middle-Class Majority One Family At A Time. He argues that conservatives have spoken successfully in recent years to the middle class with eight words — war in Iraq, cut taxes, no gay marriage. Schumer, a member of the Senate Finance Committee, says now that the State of the Union is over, it’s time to develop an alternative agenda. As part of this effort, his new book lays out “The 50% Solution,” which presents eleven concrete goals, to be achieved within ten years, that are a promise to the middle class. Schumer tells The Progress Report, “While the eleven goals are by no means a complete platform, I hope they serve as the beginning of a new discussion. Ambitious but practical ideas like these, designed to help regular people, have the power to push the conservative agenda — which wants to take us back to the 1930’s or even the 1880’s — away from the center of discourse. They can replace it with progressive ideals, built around the knowledge that in a world unsettlingly changed by technology, people are more and more looking to the government for security, stability and support.”


Think Fast

Senate conservatives yesterday blocked legislation to raise the federal minimum wage from $5.15 to $7.25, insisting it include new tax breaks for restaurants and other businesses.”

The Congressional Budget Office reported yesterday that President Bush “can balance the budget within five years, or he can get Congress to extend his tax cuts beyond their scheduled expiration — but he can’t do both.”

In the Scooter Libby trial yesterday, former Associate CIA Deputy Director Robert Grenier testified that — pursuant to a request — he told Libby that Valerie Plame worked at the CIA in June 2003, a month before Libby claimed to have learned that information from NBC’s Tim Russert. Another CIA employee said he delivered a stark warning that the Bush administration’s leak “could lead to the deaths of people who aided American intelligence gathering abroad.”

“It’s water over the deck — get over it,” Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia said yesterday about the 2000 Bush v. Gore ruling, “drawing laughs from his audience” at Iona College in New York.

Christine Todd Whitman, the former head of the Environmental Protection Agency under George W. Bush, said the president “missed the ‘perfect opening’ to call for a cap on greenhouse gas emissions in his State of the Union address Tuesday night.” 

“After the bloodiest year in Afghanistan since the U.S. invasion,” the Bush administration “will ask Congress for $7 billion to $8 billion in new funds for security, reconstruction and other projects in Afghanistan as part of the upcoming budget package.”

“Authorities at Tarleton State University said they plan to investigate a Martin Luther King Jr. Day party that mocked black stereotypes by featuring fried chicken, malt liquor and faux gang apparel.”

And finally: Senator, Dr. Frist will see you now. “The average age of members of the U.S. Senate is older than it has ever been,” and for “many senators, advanced age is starting to show.” Before his retirement from the Senate, former Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-TN), “a noted heart surgeon, was being consulted for informal medical advice by two dozen of his colleagues — more than 20 percent of the Senate.” “They went to Frist complaining about a host of illnesses and chronic maladies, most related to aging.”