Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Emanuel: It's Time to Make Work Pay

Rahm Emanuel (IL-5) and Democratic Leadership Council president Bruce Reed make a strong case for the Democrats proposed minimum wage increase in your Chicago Tribune:
The case for raising the minimum wage for the first time in a decade is simple and straightforward. The current minimum wage has lost 20 percent of its purchasing power since the last increase in 1997 -- and in real terms, is at its lowest point in more than half a century. Meanwhile, the number of Americans living in poverty -- which declined by 7 million under the Clinton administration -- has risen by more than 5 million under Bush. ***

Now, in their desire to duck the minimum wage, many conservatives have found a new excuse that is even more galling than the last. Conservative theorists like economist Gary Becker and Judge Richard Posner are urging Congress not to raise the minimum wage but to increase the Earned Income Tax Credit instead. ***

Over the last six years, the Bush administration and Congress had ample opportunity to increase the Earned Income Tax Credit. Even as they were handing out $3 trillion in tax cuts, Republicans couldn't find any money to expand the tax credit and reward millions who actually needed help. Instead, they cut every possible tax on wealth and shifted the burden to those who work for a living.

The Republican war on work didn't end there. According to IRS Taxpayer Advocate Nina Olson, at least 75 percent of the 1.6 million requests for tax refunds that were tagged as fraudulent and frozen over the last five years were from tax credit applicants, the vast majority of whom had done nothing wrong.

Now, the same Republicans who have attacked the tax credit all these years are using it to attack the minimum wage. Apparently, Republican theorists only find the tax credit valuable when it offers them a convenient way to oppose raising the minimum wage. ***

Raising the minimum wage and expanding the tax credit should not be an either/or policy. History has shown that adopting both is a proven way to support working families. During the Clinton administration, an increase in the minimum wage coupled with the expanded Earned Income Tax Credit led to improved wages for moderate-income workers.

If conservatives want to prove they have the working poor's best interests at heart, they should vote to raise the minimum wage now -- and then join us in supporting tax reform that rewards work as well. We have proposed a Simplified Family Credit that would combine the Earned Income Tax Credit, the Child Credit, and the Dependent Credit into one credit for working families with children, while providing more benefits to more families than all of them combined. This plan would eliminate 200 pages of the tax code -- and instead of a 54-page booklet, applicants would get a one-page form.

Americans working their hearts out to join the middle class don't deserve a lecture on how to raise wages and protect jobs from the same crowd that has brought the country lower wages and fewer jobs. It is time for Republicans to join our efforts to pass the minimum wage and reward work -- and stop looking for hypocritical excuses not to get the job done.
Although I have had my differences with Rep. Emanuel, I'm pleased to see that he has found a constructive way to distract himself from the
Obama/Clinton tug-of-war.

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