Democratic leaders plan to push for an increase in the minimum wage, reform the Republican prescription drug law, shore up homeland security measures and reinstate lapsed budet deficit controls if they regain control of the House of Representatives this fall.
Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., told the Washington Post a Democratic House would launch investigations of the Bush administration, starting with its first-term energy task force that has been cloaked in secrecy. They would look into the use and abuse of intelligence in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq. Pelosi denied the House would move quickly to impeach Bush, but she said of the probes, "You never know where it leads to."
It's a good start, but if Democrats really want to get something moving, and show that the party is concerned about improving the lives of working people, they should promise a bill expanding Medicare to cover all Americans.
It's fine to arrange a quick vote to raise the minimum wage for the first time since 1997. It makes sense to roll back the provision in the Republicans' Medicare prescription drug benefit that prohibits the government from negotiating lower prices for drugs offered under the program.
It's about time that Congress votes to fully implement the recommendations of the bipartisan panel convened to bolster homeland security after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
And "conservative" voters should wonder why it takes the Democrats to reinstate lapsed rules that say any tax cuts or spending increases have to be offset by spending cuts or tax increases to prevent the federal deficit from growing.
After years of Republican congressional leaders looking the other way while the Bush administration trampled the Constitution, Democrats are itching to get subpoena power and investigate the extent of domestic wiretapping by the National Security Agency, and the billions of dollars wasted by contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The Post noted that campaign chiefs for Republican Senate and House candidates have already begun using the threat of such investigations to raise money and rile core GOP voters. A recent mailing by the National Republican Senatorial Committee, warned that Democrats "will call for endless congressional investigations and possibly call for the impeachment of President Bush!"
A promised increase in the minimum wage might draw some of the poorest Americans to the polls, but according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics only 520,000 workers were paid the minimum wage of $5.15 an hour in 2004. (Another 1.5 million workers earned less than the minimum -- many of them are service employees who work for tips.) So 2.7% of hourly-paid workers make the minimum wage or less.
What would help working-class and middle-class Americans as well as businesses would be to expand Medicare to create a single-payer health care program in the US. Almost 46 million Americans were uninsured in 2004. That's six million more uninsured since 2000. Millions more are just an economic downturn away from losing their insurance.
It is unconscionable that the US, alone among industrialized nations, leaves their citizens to rely on their employers to provide private health insurance for workers and their families. The uninsured are not only part-time workers, but also people who work for small businesses that cannot afford insurance premiums and large corporations who find that health costs interfere with their profits.
According to an April report by the Commonwealth Fund (cmwf.org), a health-care policy foundation, the percentage of working Americans with moderate to middle incomes who lacked health insurance for at least part of the year rose to 41% in 2005, up from 28% in 2001. More than half of uninsured adults reported problems paying their medical bills or incurred debt to cover their expenses. The study of 4,350 adults also found that people without insurance were more likely to forgo health screenings such as mammograms than those with coverage, and were much less likely to have a regular doctor. Some 59% of uninsured with chronic conditions such as asthma or diabetes either skipped a dose of medicine or went without it because it was too expensive.
Health care also is the top concern of small businesses, according to the National Federation of Independent Business. And industries, particularly automakers, are finding it increasingly difficult to provide health benefits, when insurance costs are climbing by more than 7% each year, plus 20% to cover corporate profits and bureaucracy. (Medicare operates with 2% administrative costs.)
Labor unions are increasingly forced to settle for smaller pay raises or pay a greater shae of health costs. And unionized companies that provide health insurance are finding it increasingly difficult to compete with non-union companies that don't provide health care.
Medicare already covers the clients with the biggest health problems -- seniors over 65. Medicaid already covers families below the poverty level as well as disabled people. It's time for Congress to close the gap and guarantee health care for the working poor and middle class. Put the interests of people ahead of the interests of insurance companies. It's an easy choice. Demand that your Congress member make it.
President Bush is getting entirely too much credit for his endorsement of a moderate immigration reform package that would put an estimated 12 million "illegal" immigrants on the road to legal status. The McCain-Kennedy bill is stalled in the Senate because Bush will not lift a finger to call off the xenophobes in his party who are blocking the bill because they would rather criminalize not only the immigrants, but also anybody who has anything to do with them.
Bush even cravenly joined the criticism of immigrants who sing the National Anthem in tongues other than English -- even though the federal government authorized those translations after World War I in an effort to assimilate immigrants. Bush himself sang the Spanish version as he courted Latino voters in his 2000 campaign.
The only thing Bush appears willing to fight for is tax breaks for his rich friends and economic opportunities for his corporate benefactors.
Reaction of the D.C. press to Steven Colbert's artful putdown of George W. Bush at the White House correspondent's dinner perfectly illustrates why no journalist should aspire to become a White House correspondent.
When Colbert, in character as a faux Fox News commentator, came to bury Bush with satiric praise and aimed some of his lampoons at the White House press, the courtiers first tried to ignore Colbert. Then, incredibly, as if to confirm their reputation as a glorified stenographers' pool, the press corps rose to Bush's defense. "No fair ... Colbert was a bully ... And he wasn't even funny."
Taking the pecksniffs' criticisms in order: 1) No fair? All's fair in roasts, bub; as Colbert's colleague Jon Stewart commented, "Apparently he was under the impression that they'd hired him to do what he does every night on television." 2) Colbert was a bully? For standing up to the second-most powerful man in the world? 3) Colbert wasn't funny? Ah, the "unfunny" dismissal is the hardest to refute, as humor is, by its nature, subjective. I found Colbert hilarious, but then I always have been an admirer of Swiftian satire. Max Sawicky nailed it when he asked, at MaxSpeaks.org, "How many belly laughs are in 'A Modest Proposal'?" -- JMC