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Friday, January 12, 2007

Three observations from the Hill

I'd like to hear Rep. Nancy Pelosi's explanation for this bit of pork barrel in the House's minimum-wage bill. I support this bill, but exempting favored businesses or areas is wrong. The Washington Post has reported on the emerging controversy:

One of the biggest opponents of the federal minimum wage in Samoa is StarKist Tuna, which owns one of the two packing plants that together employ more than 5,000 Samoans, or nearly 75 percent of the island's work force. StarKist's parent company, Del Monte Corp., has headquarters in San Francisco, which is represented by Mrs. Pelosi. The other plant belongs to California-based Chicken of the Sea.
2) Members of Congress should read bills, or make sure their staffs have, before they vote on them.
"I was troubled to learn of this exemption," said Rep. Mark Steven Kirk, Illinois Republican. "My intention was to raise the minimum wage for everyone. We shouldn't permit any special favors or exemptions that are not widely discussed in Congress. This is the problem with rushing legislation through without full debate.
3) Rep. Patrick McHenry has a pretty good sense of humor.
During the House debate yesterday on stem-cell research, Mr. McHenry raised a parliamentary inquiry as to whether an amendment could be offered that would exempt American Samoa from stem-cell research, "just as it was for the minimum-wage bill."

A clearly perturbed Rep. Barney Frank, the Massachusetts Democrat who was presiding, cut off Mr. McHenry and shouted, "No, it would not be."

"So, the chair is saying I may not offer an amendment exempting American Samoa?" Mr. McHenry pressed.

"The gentleman is making a speech and will sustain," Mr. Frank shouted as he slammed his large wooden gavel against the rostrum.
Our hopes for change and progress in Washington do not yet appear to have taken root. In fairness, both parties do this sort of thing on a regular basis. Why did Pelosi think this would go unnoticed, especially considering her prominence and her recent public words about honesty and positive change? I want those things, too, so I would really like to hear an explanation for this.


Sean Braisted said...


Samoa wasn't under the current Minimum Wage regulations. The Dept of Labor has a special committee which sets Minimum wages for the various industries in the protectorate.

Pelosi didn't specifically exempt the American Samoa Islands, she simply left the current system in place.

If Representatives want to change the system in place, than they should introduce a bill to scrap the current system in favor of imposing American standards on American Samoa, against the objections of the American Samoa Representative to the US House.

Rob Robinson said...

Thanks, Sean. This is very helpful to know, and I'm glad to hear that there is some explanation for what seems like a random exemption. Leave it to politicians (meaning the GOP in this case) to exploit a technicality like that to make a rival look bad.

I do still wonder why Pelosi exempted her own district, though. Do you know?

Sean Braisted said...

She didn't, StarKist is owned by Del Monte which is based in San Francisco. The Republicans used that line of reasoning to say that she exempted companies in her district from the minimum wage increase. In fact, San Franciscans have a much higher Minimum Wage (9.14 as of Jan 1) than the Federal One, so a Federal change doesn't even matter.

Rob Robinson said...

So it sounds like this is a case of 1) the Times reporter not doing enough homework and 2) ditto for me. Thanks for this detail, Sean. I'd like to think that the culture can improve in Washington with both parties holding some power, and I'm glad this isn't a sign of Pelosi going back on her word.

Hilda said...

You need to be vary careful about the "news" that appears in the Washington Times - it is the print equialent to Fox News. It reportedly was Ronald Reagan's favorite newspaper.

In case you didn't know the paper was founded, and I believe is tillowned, by Reverend Sun Mung Moon (sp?) leader of the Unification Church (the Moonies).

Here are the details:

Rob Robinson said...

Yikes. I clearly need to pay a little more attention before jumping on a post that piques my interest. I knew the Times tended to be more conservative than the Post, but I did not know all of that.

This is a good reminder not to post in a hurry. Thanks, Hilda. :)