August 4, 2006
When confronted with unpleasant choices and a tight deadline, most politicians do what average human beings do: punt, that is, let someone else worry about it. Most Republicans in the House detest the minimum wage, believing that in a market economy such as ours, any such attempt to manipulate the price of a good or service is liable to backfire and make most people worse off. But it's an election year, and the minimum wage is one of those "feel good" issues in which the effort to explain why it's bad policy just isn't worth it. To them, the minimum wage is a classic "politically compelling policy." (R. Douglas Arnold) Fear of losing the next election overcomes their doubts that the proposed measure will help the intended beneficiaries the way it's supposed to.
That's why the Republicans resorted to procedural hijinks, following Arnold's precepts, putting the Democrats in a position where they would be pressured into voting against the minimum wage hike: They tied that provision (increasing from $5.15 to $7.25 per hour over three years) to a cut in the estate tax, and to a variety of special tax breaks for favored corporations. That way, the Republicans win a partial victory in either case while being shielded from class-baiting criticism. Then they left town for summer recess. If the Senate goes along with the bill, Republicans get their death tax cut, and if not, at least they stopped the minimum wage from going up. (Washington Post) Ugh. In the Chicago Sun-Times, Robert Novak blamed outgoing House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Bill Thomas (CA) for pushing through a measure he didn't really believe in, just to avoid the heat. (But if Thomas isn't running again, what is his motivation?)
There are probably a dozen or more hidden agendas in the bill Thomas put together, and I wouldn't pretend to care very much about who gets what. I would agree with Novak that the GOP moderates' desire to escape criticism from Democrats over the minimum wage issue is a waste of time. Doing so only makes people think you really don't believe in the principles of market economics. If not, what's the point of being a Republican?
In fact, the Senate voted down the measure on Thursday, which is just as well, given the insincerity of it all. See CNN.com.