WASHINGTON — The House and Senate refusal to approve a small increase in the minimum wage proves that the Republican majority is “morally bankrupt” and should be removed from office next Nov. 7.

So said AFL-CIO President John Sweeney, commenting on Senate and House votes June 22 to reject an increase in the minimum wage from $5.15 an hour to $7.25. It would have been the first increase in nine years.

The same day, the House approved, 269-153, a bill to slash the estate tax. It ultimately would cost the U.S. Treasury $1 trillion and is seen as a flagrant giveaway to the wealthiest 1 percent of taxpayers, about 7,500 super-wealthy families. Only those with estates worth $1.5 million for an individual and $3 million for a couple are subject to the tax. Senate Majority Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) had hoped to ram a similar bill through the Senate before the July 4 congressional recess, but was unable to muster the 60 votes necessary to end a Democratic filibuster.

Economic Policy Institute analysts Jared Bernstein and Ross Eisenbrey expressed disbelief that the House would vote down a minimum wage increase and vote to lavish another tax break on the rich on the same day. “It’s hard to find words to express the outrage of these actions,” they declared. “Instead of a small overdue boost to low-wage workers … they want to shovel even more of the benefits of our prodigious productivity growth to the top of the wealth scale.”

Bernstein told the World, “I think they [the Republicans] are addicted to these regressive tax cuts with absolutely no reflection on the inequalities they are generating. This Congress has shown real disdain for core responsibilities the people expect the government to carry out.”

Citing the failure to help the victims of Katrina, the war in Iraq, and refusal to raise the minimum wage, he said, “They are betraying the people’s trust. The Democrats would be very wise to point out these skewed priorities. If they do so convincingly, if they offer alternative policies that help the people, they can win” in the November elections.

Anna Oman, media spokesperson for OMB Watch, a government watchdog group, told the World, “It is really shameful that these lawmakers obstructed a vote on the minimum wage.” But she called Frist’s failure to push the estate tax cut through the Senate a victory, spurred by OMB Watch and a coalition of other citizen advocacy groups who flooded the Senate with messages demanding that it block the giveaway.

Speaking on the House floor, Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) condemned a culture of runaway greed among the Republicans. “It is immoral. It is wrong,” he said, that 7 million minimum-wage earners “work hard every day to feed their families,” but “cannot afford health care [or] to fill their cars with gas, and they have not seen an increase in the minimum wage for nine years. This Congress should be ashamed. When will we stop helping the super-rich? When will we start to take care of the least among us?”

Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), ranking Democrat on the House Committee on Government Reform, released a report last year revealing that estate tax repeal would hand Bush’s cabinet members collectively “between $91 million and $344 million.” The report estimates Bush’s net worth as high as $6.2 million, Dick Cheney’s fortune at $111 million and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s at $101 million.

OMB Watch charges that 18 super-wealthy families have bankrolled the repeal drive. Among them are Amway founder Richard DeVos, a Republican candidate for governor of Michigan, and former Exxon Mobil CEO Lee Raymond, who would rake in $160 million if the tax is repealed.

“The current congressional leadership has disgraced itself,” Sweeney said. “It’s time for them to go.” He called on all trade unionists to volunteer in the Labor 2006 drive to “fill Congress with friends of working people” in the Nov. 7 elections. Democrats must pick up 15 House seats and six Senate seats to end Republican control of Congress.

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