Rich Galen

The new Democratic majority in the House is pretending to accomplish a bunch of things during the first 100 hours of the 100th Congress.

As the Congress opened at noon on January 4th, you might think the first 100 hours would have come to an end at 4 PM on January 8th - 100 hours later.

Silly child. The first 100 hours is actually the first 100 LEGISLATIVE hours which, at the current rate, will end some time around July 11th.

Nevertheless the Dems are punching bills through at a high rate of speed. One of them was an increase in the minimum wage rate which, over the next couple of years will rise from the current $5.15 per hour to $7.25 per hour by mid-2009.

Ok, you can argue whether that is a good or a bad idea based upon whatever high-level-macro-micro-economic-counter-inflationary theories you learned in Econ 315 in college.

But, it turns out that in the rush to get the minimum wage boost to the floor, the Democrats exempted workers on American Samoa where the minimum wage starts at $2.63 per hour.

American Samoa is, according to the historyofnations.net website: "An unincorporated and unorganized territory of the US; administered by the Office of Insular Affairs, US Department of the Interior."

American Samoa has a representative to the US Congress (Eni Faleomavaega) who has no vote. From that standpoint, American Samoa has exactly the same status in the US House as the District of Columbia.

It's principal administrative area is Pago Pago which is pronounced "Pango-pango."

According to the Department of Labor:

Canned tuna processing is by far the largest private-sector employer in American Samoa. Many of the other private-sector jobs provide goods or services to the tuna processors. Moreover, the economic growth of many other private-sector employers in the consumer retail and service sectors is tied to tuna industry expenditures.

The two biggest tuna processing companies in American Samoa are StarKist and Chicken of the Sea. StarKist is owned by Del Monte foods. Del Monte foods is located in San Francisco, California the home district of Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

Although tuna packers make $3.26 per hour, that is still - according to my calculator - $1.89 below what a tuna packer actually working in San Francisco for Del Monte would have to be paid under US law.

The American Samoan government is protesting that the lower minimum wage has to be preserved otherwise the jobs will move somewhere else.

Oh, really? And this is different from what employers in Mississippi, or southern Ohio, or West Virginia are facing  how?

Exempting Del Monte from the minimum wage is just as much an earmark as anything pushed through by Randy "Duke" Cunningham (R-Cellblock E).

Pelosi's office immediately claimed she had not known about the American Samoan exemption and was opposed to it.

That leads us to two points:

1. This is what happens when you shove major legislation through the House without proper committee hearings and minority party participation. How do we know this? Because the DEMOCRATS COMPLAINED ABOUT IT FOR 12 YEARS!

2. Unless Nancy Pelosi has hired the Oompa Loompas from Willy Wonka's chocolate factory to write legislation, it strains credulity that the bill drafters were unaware of the effect this was going to have on a major corporation headquartered in the Speakers' district.

Tuna packers on American Samoa are, on their own, not crucial to the health of the US economy. However, this episode shows that the Democrats are a long way from cleaning up abuses of privilege in the House.

The very issue on which they ran and won.


Rich Galen

Rich Galen has been a press secretary to Dan Quayle and Newt Gingrich. Rich Galen currently works as a journalist and writes at Mullings.com.