What do GOP Senators Bill Frist (TN), John Sununu (NH), Orrin Hatch (UT), Tom Coburn (OK), Kay Bailey Hutchison (TX), Rick Santorum (PA), John Thune and many others have in common? They've all voted to keep the Unites States minimum wage at the shamefully oppressive $5.15 per hour, the level it's been since 1997. They are also part of the growing chorus of Republicans who are decrying the illegal/legal immigration issue on the grounds that it drives down wages for poor Americans. Here's a little suggestion, Republicans: if you care so much about how much the little guy takes home, how about voting to increase the minimum wage? How about you stop defeating the Democrats' proposals to raise them? The hypocrisy in your position is mind-numbing.
The minimum wage in this country, in real dollars, has declined every year since '97, when it was raised to $5.15 from $4.75. That year, $5.15 was worth $5.03. Take a look at the chart below to see the effect inflation has had on the minimum wage since then:
1997 5.15 5.03
1998 5.15 4.96
1999 5.15 4.85
2000 5.15 4.69
2001 5.15 4.56
2002 5.15 4.49
2003 5.15 4.39
2004 5.15 4.28
2005 5.15 4.15
Last year bills by Democrats were brought before the Senate, and in both cases the Republicans voted against raising the minimum. Yet these very same Senators, who earn $162,100 per year, have voted themselves eight pay raises totalling $31,600 since '97 while minimum wage workers still earn only $10,700 a year. They also get upwards of $2-million, depending on the population of their home state, to cover health and life insurance, pensions, office supplies and expenses, travel, telecommunications and mass mailings. But these elitist Republicans, many of whom were born on 3rd base and think they've hit a triple, repeatedly shoot down Democrats' proposals to put another buck or two per hour into the hands of Mr. & Mrs. Working Stiff. What balls.
Here's the real shame: at the current $5.15 level, a full-time, year-round worker with one-child earns about $5,400 less than the $16,000 needed to stay above the poverty level. Health care coverage alone exceeds this amount.
In defense of their stinginess, Republicans have created their own economic rationale.
"Wages do not cause sales. Sales are needed to provide wages. Wages do not cause revenue. Revenue drives wages," said Sen. Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.).
"When you raise the minimum wage you are pricing some workers out of the market," said Sen. John Sununu (R-N.H.).
On Santorum, Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-MA) said, "The senator from Pennsylvania has a record of opposing increases in the minimum wage. He has voted against it at least 17 times in the last 10 years."
If Republicans in the Senate truly care about the wages of the poor, then they should raise the minimum wage to a meaningful level and stop hiding behind the inane supposition that immigration keeps wages down. Senate Republicans are what's keeping wages down.