Will the Majority Rule?
Although Representative Al Green, Democrat of Texas, introduced the Living American Wage Law in the House last January, it is still stuck in committee. The federal minimum wage remains $7.25 an hour, just $15,000 a year for a full-time worker. The bill calls for a cost-of-living adjustment every four years to keep the minimum wage for two full-time workers at least 15 percent higher than the poverty level for a family of two adults and one child. “The best way out of poverty is to work at a living wage,” wrote Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, in a letter to the U.S. hierarchy. Catholic social teaching has supported a living wage for decades. President Obama also supports it; in fact, he campaigned on a promise to raise the minimum wage to $9.50 in 2011.
As the living-wage bill languishes, some states have set higher minimums and linked automatic increases to the inflation rate. In October, for example, eight states automatically raised their minimum wage. The public also supports an increase. Two-thirds of Americans favor increasing the minimum wage to $10 an hour, according to the Public Religion Research Institute.
Among religious groups, support for the wage increase is highest among black Protestants (87 percent), followed by Catholics (73 percent), the religiously unaffiliated (68 percent) and white mainline and evangelical Protestants (61 percent). Political supporters of the raise include Democrats (82 percent), independents (66 percent) and Republicans (52 percent). The two exceptions are those who identify with the Tea Party (56 percent oppose) and those whose most trusted television media source is Fox News (54 percent oppose). In light of overwhelming bipartisan support, the bill should be passed into law. But that is not likely in an election year, unless voters in favor contact their representatives without delay.
Casualties of War
Pfc. John Needham, son and grandson of military men, joined the U.S. Army in 2006 with “the whole goal of giving your life for somebody else”?his comrades?and in Iraq he was awarded the Purple Heart. But he suffered depression and excruciating back pain, crippling post-traumatic stress disorder and addiction to various drugs and vodka. Before enlisting, he had never touched a drink. In 2008 he considered suicide; and in a fight with his drug-addicted former girlfriend, he battered her with his fists. She died in the hospital. He remembered nothing.
Private Needham had fallen apart, he said, because he had witnessed “war crimes”; and when he reported them, his comrades mocked him. According to his letter in 2007 to Army officials, members of his company shot Iraqis without provocation. A sergeant killed one, removed the man’s brain, strapped the corpse to the humvee hood and paraded it through town blaring warnings in Arabic. An investigation found no crimes.
In February 2010, John Needham died of a drug overdose after three operations on his back. Salon.com and CBS’s “48 Hour Mystery” have told his story. His father, a Vietnam veteran, will tell it again this month when he reads the text of his son’s “war crimes” letter at a Human Rights Day observance in Los Angeles. The father says the Army failed his son. He is right. John and his girlfriend are both casualties of these wars. Hundreds of unknown John Needhams are coming home. This nation owes them a more supportive welcome.
Not So Super
It is perhaps no surprise that the Congressional “super committee” on deficit reduction turned out to be a super failure. The composition of the panel, stacked with Republican no-tax promise keepers, predetermined its ultimate fate. This latest demonstration of Congressional dysfunction went out not with a bang but a muttering of accusatory whimpers.
Blame for this foreseeable failure cannot be shared equally by the two parties. Democratic negotiators offered deep spending cuts in entitlement programs, while Republican counterparts remained smugly hamstrung by an apparently unbreakable pledge not to raise taxes, perpetuating Grover Norquist’s uncrowned reign of error.
But the end of this latest farce may be positive for two reasons. First, automatic triggers are set to kick in next year that will cut federal spending across the board. Second, they will also end the inequity of the Bush-era tax cuts. This failure of the committee may also set the stage for more serious negotiation over the coming year.
Perhaps then Congress will finally end the pretense that the nation’s fiscal imbalance can be resolved by deeper cuts in the nation’s barely adequate social safety net. Rational rethinking of entitlement programs is welcome, as are suggestions for squeezing greater efficiencies out of existing social programs; but restoring federal revenues through increased taxes and an end to the fiscal immunity granted the Pentagon budget must be part of any responsible fiscal package.