Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Republican Assaults On Working Families Turned Back In The House & Senate


Before we get to yesterday's final passage of the Lilly Ledbetter Equal Pay Act-- something the Republicans in the House, Senate and White House have been able to bottle up for years-- I want to recommend a not unrelated OpEd in Monday's L.A. Times by former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich. In answering the question about why the current recession is smelling more and more like a depression, he points to a time before many of us were born when "good pay meant more purchases, and more purchases meant more jobs... a virtuous circle," at the center of which was the American labor movement: unions.
In 1955, more than a third of working Americans belonged to one. Unions gave them the bargaining leverage they needed to get the paychecks that kept the economy going. So many Americans were unionized that wage agreements spilled over to nonunionized workplaces as well. Employers knew they had to match union wages to compete for workers and to recruit the best ones.

Fast forward to a new century. Now, fewer than 8% of private-sector workers are unionized. Corporate opponents argue that Americans no longer want unions. But public opinion surveys, such as a comprehensive poll that Peter D. Hart Research Associates conducted in 2006, suggest that a majority of workers would like to have a union to bargain for better wages, benefits and working conditions. So there must be some other reason for this dramatic decline.

But put that question aside for a moment. One point is clear: Smaller numbers of unionized workers mean less bargaining power, and less bargaining power results in lower wages.

It's no wonder middle-class incomes were dropping even before the recession. As our economy grew between 2001 and the start of 2007, most Americans didn't share in the prosperity. By the time the recession began last year, according to an Economic Policy Institute study, the median income of households headed by those under age 65 was below what it was in 2000.

Typical families kept buying only by going into debt. This was possible as long as the housing bubble expanded. Home-equity loans and refinancing made up for declining paychecks. But that's over. American families no longer have the purchasing power to keep the economy going. Lower paychecks, or no paychecks at all, mean fewer purchases, and fewer purchases mean fewer jobs.

The way to get the economy back on track is to boost the purchasing power of the middle class. One major way to do this is to expand the percentage of working Americans in unions.

Reich goes on to extol the virtues of the Employee Free Choice Act, apparently a line in the sand Big Business has demanded from their kept legislators. As Thomas Frank puts it so eloquently in his superb new book, The Wrecking Crew-- How Conservatives Rule, in Republicanville the interests of the ownership class "are central and defining, while every other aspect or strategy of the movement is mutable and disposable. Indeed, even the cult of the free market, which appears to be such a solid, fixed element of the business mind, is malleable as well, with conservatism whining for bailouts and high tariff walls when those seem like the way to maximize profits." They will do anything to sabotage unions and right now that means preventing the Free Choice Act from passing. As Sam Stein pointed out at Huffington Post yesterday, "Three days after receiving $25 billion in federal bailout funds, Bank of America Corp. hosted a conference call with conservative activists and business officials to organize opposition to the U.S. labor community's top legislative priority. Participants on the October 17 call-- including at least one representative from another bailout recipient, AIG-- were urged to persuade their clients to send 'large contributions' to groups working against the Employee Free Choice Act, as well as to vulnerable Senate Republicans, who could help block passage of the bill."

Currently the same class of people, and the shameless propaganda whores they rent, who were at one time also hiring armed criminals to shoot down union organizers, are now whining, quite falsely, of course (but with a huge, loud bankroll behind them) how unions are trying to steal the "secret ballot" from our beloved working men and women (the ones they used to have shot for demanding safe working conditions and a minimum wage).

One of their tools in the war against working Americans is the old imperal theory of divide and conquer. And I'm sure there are still some males-- apparently predominantly in the old slave-holding states-- who feel better about themselves if they make more money than women doing the same work they do. But most Americans-- by far-- have long since moved beyond this Bronze Age social more. Most Americans feel people who do the same work should get the same pay regardless of extraneous factors like race, religion or plumbing. Today the House reconciled their own version of the bill with the one passed last week by the Senate so that President Obama can sign it. It will be, fittingly, the first piece of legislation he does sign.

In the fruitless effort to derail the legislation today, 174 Republicans (i.e., every single one of them except freshman Bill Cassidy of Baton Rouge, the man who replaced reactionary Democrat Don Cazayoux), plus two so-called Democrats, rightist loons Parker Griffith of Alabama and Travis Childers of Mississippi, voted in support of a parliamentary tactic to kill the bill. Ten minutes after that failed, the bill passed by a landslide, 250-177. Cassidy had scurried back across the aisle to loony-land and was voting with the Republicans by then, only 3 Republicans voting for equality for working women: Chris Smith and Leonard Lance of New Jersey plus Ed Whitfield of Kentucky (who wants to run for the U.S. Senate if Bunning dies, is committed to an asylum or voluntarily decides against seeking re-election). And the Democrats who crossed the aisle in the other direction to register their votes against equality?
Dan Boren (Blue Dog-OK)
Allen Boyd (Blue Dog-FL)
Bobby Bright (AL)
Travis Childers (MS)
Parker Griffith (AL)

I wonder how Kirsten Gillibrand, Melissa Bean, Loretta Sanchez, Jane Harman, Gabby Giffords, and Stephanie Herseth Sandlin, the female Blue Dogs, feel about their colleagues' contempt for working women.
The Bush White House and Senate Republicans blocked the legislation in the last session of Congress, but Obama strongly supports it and the Democratic-controlled Congress moved it to the top of the agenda for the new session that opened this month.

..."What a difference a new Congress and a president make," said  Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., sponsor of the bill and chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee.

Obama invited Ledbetter, for whom the bill is named, to accompany him on his train trip to the inauguration ceremony in Washington. After the Senate vote last week, the 70-year-old retiree said Obama "has assured me that he would see me in the White House when they sign the bill."...[T]he measure, which amends the Civil Rights Act of 1964, also applies to discrimination based on factors such as race, religion, national origin, disability or age.

Meanwhile, the Senate came one step closer to finally passing another bill that the enemies of working families have been bottling up for years-- S-CHIP, basically health insurance for needy children. And if there's any time that is desperately needed it's when unemployment is soaring and the economy is reeling. Reactionary Republicans were out in full force to block the bill, of course. Arch-obstructionist Jim DeMint (R-SC) proposed a harebrained amendment to force states to impose cost-sharing for some individuals enrolled in the program. Even Republicans Kit Bond, Susan Collins, Arlen Specter and Kay Bailey Hutchison joined all the Democrats (except Claire McCaskill, who had apparently lost her mind) in voting that down 60-37. When it comes to the final bill, conservative Republicans Chuck Grassley (IA) and Orrin Hatch (UT) switched their former support of the bill to declaring themselves opposed to it, bitching about a provision lifting the five-year waiting period for SCHIP coverage for legal immigrant children and pregnant women as well as a provision easing paperwork requirements they claim could make Lou Dobbs have a heart attack by possibly making it easier for illegal immigrants to obtain coverage. The real problem, though, is that one of the consequences of the war against working families-- which Warren Buffet reports, quite sadly, is being won by those who are waging it, the rich-- is that millions of needy American children have no health care and no insurance. The Republicans have an answer to this pressing social need: "Tough luck; bite me. Next time around try getting born into a rich family."

Their Senate Leader, Mitch McConnell-- who has never been cooperative when it comes to lending a helping hand to working families-- claims he's not being cooperative now because the SCHIP bill sets "a troubling precedent for future discussions on health care reform." This comes in the midst of the GOP adopting the Limbaugh Approach to governing America. Like their drug-addled hero, the Senate Republican leadership seems to have decided they too want President Obama to fail. Right now all they care about is coddling the hate-obsessed Republican base, not about America's problems.
Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, the new chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, is staking out a sharply partisan approach to the task of rescuing his party from the steep losses it suffered in the last two election cycles.

Cornyn, who once shared former President George W. Bush ’s hard-edged political consultant Karl Rove, has already gone after some of President Obama’s Cabinet nominees. Now he intends to target Democratic senators who vote for the economic stimulus package (S 1) that Senate appropriators and tax writers are slated to mark up Tuesday, a version of which (HR 1) will be on the House floor Wednesday.

“If you talked to any pollster after the election, they would say this was an election based on personalities. This is still a center-right country ideologically,” Cornyn said.

Ahhhh... so that's why Ted Stevens R-AK), Gordon Smith (R-OR), John Sununu (R-NH), Elizabeth Dole (R-NC), Jim Gilmore (R-VA), Steve Pearce (R-NM), and Bob Schaffer (R-CO) all lost their Senate races a couple months ago? They have lousy personalities? And Susan Collins (R-ME), Miss McConnell (R-KY), Lindsay Graham (R-SC), James Inhofe (R-OK) and Cornyn himself (R-TX) all won because... they're the life of the party? Don't think so. How about this: all the losers were consistent voters against working families and all the winners campaigned as champions of working families? And, by the way, not all Republicans-- especially not the ones who are up for re-election in 2010-- feel comfortable about the Cornyn-Limbaugh approach.
“A lot of people want some time out from the rhetoric,” said Tom Rath, a longtime GOP activist from New Hampshire, where Republicans have lost both House seats and one Senate seat in the past two cycles. Rath noted that Sen. Judd Gregg , R-N.H., who is up for re-election in 2010, has emphasized his willingness to work with Obama.

But Rath also said there is a place for Cornyn’s strategy of drawing lines in the sand. “There is a role for someone who calls us to our principles and says you don’t abandon them because you lost an election,” he said.

One Republican who disapproved of holding up Clinton’s confirmation [one of the tactics advocated by the Cornyn-Limbaugh school] was Sen. John McCain of Arizona, the party’s unsuccessful 2008 presidential nominee. McCain issued a stinging rebuff to Cornyn when, in supporting Clinton’s nomination, he told colleagues, “We had an election. I think the message the American people are sending us now is they want us to work together and get to work.”

...Terry Madonna, a pollster at Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster, Pa., said Cornyn could be detrimental to candidates in a swing state such as Pennsylvania, where Obama won by a large margin and GOP Sen. Arlen Specter is up for re-election.

“The Republicans have to be careful about the face of their party, because that hard-edged face has not done well in ’08 and ’06,” Madonna said. On the other hand, he said, if Cornyn placates the base with red-meat rhetoric, it takes some of the pressure off Specter to be a loyal partisan.

The Senate Republican's most vicious and determined Limbaughist, South Carolina's cartoonish Jm DeMint, on the other hand, is cheering Cornyn on, applauding his gun-slinging approach. “We call him ‘Big John’ for a reason,” sneered DeMint.


Retiring Florida wingnut Mel Martinez introduced a killer amendment to SCHIP today that would restore the prohibition on funding of NGOs that offer counselling about abortion (the "Mexico City Policy" which was thrown in the rubbish by Obama, where it belongs). Joining Martinez were 36 other reactionariy Republicans plus one reactionary Democrat, Nebraska loon Ben Nelson. Of the Republican women in the Senate only Kay Bailey Hutchison voted with the anti-choice fanatics.

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At 8:55 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

obama sucks he's the fascist and you know it

At 10:40 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

...more scintillating discourse from "Anonymous".

You are so blinded by your fear, it's pitifully sad to watch.

At 11:25 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

to Anonymous:

you should understand the meaning of Fascism first. Fascism is an extreme right-wing platform; if anything, the Republicans are the most right-wing of this country, thus the most "fascist" people here.

Although Obama doesn't like to be categorized at a partisan level (he, like the overwhelming majority of Americans, is post-partisan), he comes off right now as center-left and fights for workers and families and for small businesses, and against big Republican businesses filled with greed and scams.

Put away the partisanship and fight for common goals and values.

"Only by returning to the principles that gave birth to our Constitution, can Americans repair a political process that is broken, and restore to working order a government that has fallen dangerously out of touch with millions of ordinary Americans. Those Americans are out there, waiting for Republicans and Democrats to catch up with them.” - The Audacity of Hope, by Barack Obama.


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