The Inane Asylum™:  A Trip Through Congress


By Bernard Levy



Webster’s New World Dictionary, Third College Edition, definitions:



And the beat goes on.  It’s evident this is an election year.  In the words of Will Rogers, “A man’s thoughts are naturally on his next term more than his country.”  This goes for women Congresspersons, too.


Congress has had so much opportunity to legislate beneficial law for our citizens and failed miserably to do anything of value.


Last week’s column touched upon the strong possibility for Congress to pass a new federal minimum wage law (the last time was in 1997) even though, during the last ten years, the annual salary for members of Congress has risen $31,600. 


Let’s put this in perspective.  Not only do Congresspersons get tremendous benefits including paid healthcare and the probability of a lifetime pension, they also take trips and play God to their constituents.  However, the $5.15 per hour current federal minimum wage rate for a person working 52 weeks a year (2,080 hours) provides that person with a total annual compensation of $10,712.  Many of these wage earners have to earn a living for themselves and their families.  Hence, many must work second and third jobs, setting a domino effect in motion:  little or no time for family activities; children without parental guidance; and the ever-present possibility that these children will require tax dollars for remedial programs.


The minimum wage increase fight has pitted the Democrats against the Republicans.  That, in itself, is a travesty.  The G.O.P. is viewed as the party of the rich and big business, and it is a common belief among many Republican legislators that raising the federal minimum wage would be bad for business.  However economist after economist after economist continue to testify that raising the minimum wage amount hasn’t and won’t affect business.  However, the G.O.P., which continues to be out of touch with reality, said they would vote for the $2.15 per hour raise if the bill was combined with a cut in inheritance taxes on multimillion dollar estates.  The bill failed to pass, falling short by only four votes.  Fifty-six out of 100 senators voted for the bill, which needed 60 votes to advance.      Of course, the bill would not affect Oregon’s higher hourly minimum wage of $7.50 or Washington’s $7.63 an hour, but the bill did contain language that would have negated provisions in Oregon and Washington law against counting tips as wages for tipped employees.


Let’s work through the mathematics.  $7.25 an hour for a 2,080 hour work year gives a wage earner $15,080 a year; still not enough to raise a family, especially with the increases in gasoline and other necessities.  Who pays for the additional costs necessary to help minimum wage earners meet obligations?  We do, the American taxpayers. 


Yes, the Democrats were blamed for killing the bill, but it was the Republicans who added the inheritance tax provision to pursue their own selfish agenda. This is the way Congress works.  You scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours.  Say, if I were a Washington businessman, maybe there’s a market in manufacturing and selling “Congressional backscratchers.”  Now, there’s an idea!


Let’s go on to another Congressional dropped “hot political potato,” namely the immigration bill which never got off the ground.  Congressional committees and individual Congresspersons have held meetings all over the country to understand the feelings of American on the subject of illegal immigration and gage the pulse of its citizens.  What in tarnation do we do if the Bush Administration and Congress cannot agree on legislation to stem the tide of illegal immigration and reasonably incorporate in our society those who are already on our shores?  Most are gainfully employed, particularly in the service-area industries, including agriculture.  I guess the answer is round up and expel 10-12 million people.


What is wrong with this picture?  Cannot Congress understand the realities of the situation and deal with it in a rational manner?  Yes, again, the G.O.P. is the constraint in the system, many arguing that you should not give these illegal immigrants the opportunity to gain citizenship.  As the argument goes, and you know it as well as I do,  you don’t reward someone for violating the law.  But, again, Congress is out of touch with reality; the overwhelming majority of these people are working, paying taxes and responsible “citizens.”


Finally, the clandestine eavesdropping, spying program of President Bush.  As you’ll recall, Senator Arlen Specter, R-Pa., became unglued when he first learned of the secret spying practices used by the Bush Administration.  He made a lot of headlines, vowing that he was going to get to the bottom of it and see that Congress and the American people were fully informed about the eavesdropping on Americans without getting court warrants.  However, the proposed new Senate bill, known as the Cheney -Specter Bill, is being promoted by the White House and Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Specter as a “compromise” on the Administration’s warrantless surveillance program.


Many media columnists, Constitutional gurus and other opiners have characterized this compromise as the Specter “flip-flop.”  As some of you may recall, Specter stated that President Bush, by bypassing Congress and the court system, was flagrantly flaunting the law. 


I believe that Senator Specter’s primary concern was that his importance and ego were being challenged; he hadn’t known about it.  Poor devil.  This supposed “compromise” bill basically repeats our current law, namely requiring the National Security Agency wiretapping program be reviewed by the FISA court established by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act 28 years ago, but it also includes some onerous provisions that continue to allow the president to operate outside the law.


If this passes, the warnings by many great Americans, including Dwight D. Eisenhower, that harm to America will come from Americans is beginning to become true.


Will Rogers was a very intelligent and rational critic of government and Congress.  He used humor and made friends with everyone, although he poked fun at the entire political scene.  I believe in humor and his method, but I also believe that the time has come to illuminate the misfeasance, malfeasance and nonfeasance of Congress more than ever before.  I am almost prone to say, “Throw all the bums out, and let’s elect a totally new Congress.”  I know, that’s pretty drastic, but then, the Inane Asylum requires some pretty drastic measures.