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Minimum wage, maximum shame

Senators show their shortcomings, and it's clearly time for a change

The Daily Astorian

Fifty-seven senators shamefully tried last week to tie an $800 billion tax break for America's 8,100 wealthiest families to a meager increase in the minimum wage for the nation's workers.

The national minimum wage, stuck at a ridiculous $5.15 per hour since 1997, results in a full-time weekly wage of $206. A lobbyist can spend that on dinner.

The Washington Post's E.J. Dionne Jr. gave this succinct summary of last week's sorry spectacle:

"Rarely has our system produced a more naked exercise in opportunism than this measure. Most conservatives oppose the minimum wage on principle as a form of government meddling in the marketplace. But moderate Republicans in jeopardy this fall desperately wanted an increase in the minimum wage. So the seemingly ingenious Republican leadership, which dearly wants deep cuts in the estate tax, proposed offering nickels and dimes to the working class to secure billions for the rich."

Dionne considered it unsurprising that this effort failed. But he is overly cheerful. In fact, it came within four votes of succeeding. A majority of the Senate wished to join the U.S. House in safeguarding the interests of the wealthiest of the wealthy, while throwing a stick to the working poor.

American politics have a kind of geology. Examined afterward, it's possible to see the layers, separated by abrupt transitions. Often, but not always, the dividing lines between distinct periods in our democracy coincide with election days. Sometimes, as with the start of Sen. Joseph McCarthy's fall from power, more subtle events signal the beginning of a tectonic shift from one dominant political theme to another.

Whether it turns out to be the catastrophic war in Iraq that Congress rubber-stamped or something less obvious &

8212; like its craven effort to trade a minimum wage hike for another boondoggle tax break for the ultra-wealthy &

8212; we hope we have arrived at one of history's tipping points when it comes to control of Congress.

The clock is ticking down to the November election. A big change is overdue.