Steve Chapman

A closure would, however, be an effective means of complicating lives and choking off commerce, which is an especially bad idea during a recession. On an average day, some 700,000 people enter the United States legally from Mexico so they can work, shop and visit relatives. Blocking all crossings would be a disruption on the order of sealing off Washington, D.C., from Maryland and Virginia.

But the idea of closing the border is bound to have great appeal to those who thought that was a great idea before this flu made its appearance. If the virus had been traced to Canada, sealing ourselves off from a neighbor would somehow have far less emotional appeal.

The epidemic has been a boon to supporters of a bill called the Healthy Families Act, which would require companies with 15 or more employees to provide each of them with seven paid sick days a year. Public health authorities ask those who are sick to stay home, but "they don't give any thought to the half of workers who don't have paid sick days," laments Karen Minatelli of the National Partnership for Women and Families.

But she overstates the problem. Data from the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics indicate that 86 percent of full-time employees have paid time off that they can use when illness strikes them or their children.

Supporters of the measure forget that if companies are forced to provide paid leave, they will compensate, sooner or later, by reducing wages. Given the tradeoff, some workers (particularly those who rarely get sick) would rather have the cash. This legislation attempts to make them better off by depriving them of that option, all in the name of sparing their fellow citizens an attack of swine flu.

Most of us are likely to escape that virus. But no inoculation can rescue us from the fever gripping Washington.

Steve Chapman

Steve Chapman is a columnist and editorial writer for the Chicago Tribune.

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