WASHINGTON -- Hell bent on driving its approval rating into single digits, Congress adjourned after passing an omnibus spending bill larded with at least 8,993 earmarks costing at least $7.4 billion -- the precise number and amount will be unclear until implications of some obscure provisions are deciphered. The gusher of earmarks was a triumph of bipartisanship, which often is a synonym for kleptocracy.
This was the first year since 1994 that Democrats controlled both houses. Consider Congress' agreeably meager record:
It raised the hourly minimum wage from $5.15 to $5.85 -- less than the $7 entry wage at McDonald's -- thereby increasing the wages of less than 0.5 percent of the work force. Rebuffing George W. Bush, who advocates halting farm subsidies to those with adjusted gross incomes of more than $200,000, the Senate also rejected -- more bipartisanship -- a cap at $750,000. This, in spite of the fact that farm income has soared to record levels, partly because Congress shares the president's loopy enthusiasm for ethanol and wants more corn and other agricultural matter turned into fuel.
Although Congress trembles for the future of the planet, it was unwilling to eliminate the 54-cent-a-gallon tariff on Brazilian ethanol. But our polymath Congress continued designing automobiles to make them less safe (smaller) and more expensive. It did this by mandating new fuel efficiency -- a 35 mpg fleet average by 2020 -- lest the automotive industry design cars people want. And Congress mandated a 12-year phaseout of incandescent light bulbs.
Bruce Raynor, president of the union Unite Here, expressed organized labor's compassionate liberalism when he urged sparing workers the burden of democracy: "There's no reason to subject workers to an election." The House agreed, voting for "card check" organizing that strips workers of their right to a secret ballot when deciding for or against unionization of their workplace. Unions, increasingly unable to argue that they add more value than they subtract from workers' lives, crave the "card check" system. Under it, once a majority of workers, pressured one at a time by labor organizers, sign a card, the union is automatically certified as the bargaining agent for all the workers. Senate Republicans blocked this, but the Senate Democrats voted to cripple the Department of Labor agency that requires union bosses to explain how they spend their members' money.
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