Under the Sun
Denizens of D.C. just don't get it
IN case you missed it, House members last week didn't vote to give themselves a raise. Yesterday, House Republicans again turned away raises, this time for minimum wage workers, even though a committee earlier had approved it.
But in the sleights of Washington, members will get their $3,300 in extra cash while people who make a mere $5.15 an hour will be denied a $2.10 bump that would have increased their hourly earnings to a whopping $2.54 over the federal poverty level.
The way it works is that the suits in the U.S. Capitol passed a law in 1989 that gives them automatic raises unless they pass another law that says otherwise, similar to what happens at our own Honolulu Hale.
The non-vote allows them political cover. They can truthfully say they didn't vote for the raise -- which will boost their pay to $168,500 a year, not counting benefits like a full-coverage medical plan for life and a healthy pension -- and leave propriety buried in the fine print.
In rejecting the federal minimum wage increase, House Republicans, led by Speaker Dennis Hastert -- who last year pocketed nearly $2 million in a land deal aided by an earmarked appropriation -- engineered another cloaking device to hide their stingy deed.
They voted down a proposal to attach an amendment to a spending bill with five Republicans who approved last week somehow changing their minds, while two other chicken-hearts literally fled the chambers when the do-over vote was taken.
In defending the non-vote raise, Texas Republican Mike Conaway whined that "Congressmen should make a living wage" So should workers at fast-food joints, cucumber farms and discount store chains, but Conaway apparently doesn't see the linkage.
That kind of blindness afflicts others. Take Antonin Scalia, for instance.
The Supreme Court judicial activist, in ruling with his newly minted conservative brethren, said evidence police officers obtained even when they illegally enter your home without warning is OK for admission in prosecution. One has nothing to do with the other, he said, and anyway, police forces nowadays do a much better job of refraining from violating citizens' constitutional rights.
Further, Scalia said, if a person objects, let him or her sue.
Setting aside the question of whether an ordinary citizen has the money to hire lawyers and the fortitude for long court battles, most such lawsuits are dismissed because of government immunity and result in token damages, if any.
Scalia is fortunate to be among the people whose positions in society inoculate them from violations regular citizens may be exposed to. No one in law enforcement would even think about kicking in his kitchen door, but that's not true for others. It's not as if police officials cannot make mistakes; there have been hundreds of instances of wrong addresses or misread warrants.
Moreover, police officials themselves say busting down a door without warning puts them at risk. If they yell out "Police, open the door," the crooks are more likely to run away. If officers storm in unannounced, crooks would probably shoot at them.
But Scalia no longer lives in the real world and no longer sees matters from points outside his realm.
It's often said that George W. Bush exists in a bubble, protected from those who would do him harm and those who would contradict and question. But that sphere seems to envelop many of our leaders and deciders. When the bubble has lost its transparency, it should be pierced.
One last thing. The raise Congress didn't give themselves? Scalia and Dick Cheney, whose adjusted gross income totaled more than $8.8 million in 2004, will get it, too.
has been on the staff of the Star-Bulletin since 1976. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org