I wasn’t looking for anything controversial, just a few quick early-morning facts before I began work. I suppose I should have been reading an almanac instead of a newspaper, for on one page an article explained why many people are sinking in credit card debt and on the other side a headline announced the United States Senate killed a proposal to raise the minimum wage. It is certainly ironic, probably obscene, and perhaps criminal that the Senate is also the august body that has thrust its collective head into the harness of the credit card companies and committed itself to protecting them while passing regulations that could chain millions of people to years of catastrophic consumer debt. And, let us not forget, this is the same body of wealthy lawmakers who have rigorously guarded their wages and benefits while combining with President Bush to self-righteously slash taxes, primarily for the rich, and drive the nation from atop an unprecedented budget surplus four years ago into a cavern of debt from which it may never emerge.
If the senators had really been against debt, they would have legislated with much greater restraint. Why don’t they atone for fiscal incompetence by reducing their salaries and robust retirement packages? Why don’t they also trim their large staffs? Why don’t they do away with some of their amenities? Why don’t they stop traveling so much? Why don’t they spend less on defense? There is a singular answer to all these inquiries: because they don’t have to. They don’t have to worry about voters, who are too often awed by those in power and unable to imagine having their pockets picked.
If most senators were forthright, they would admit they’re not opposed to debt. How could they be? They are in fact the most egregious debtors in world history. And they love their debt. Actually, it’s your debt, in terms of obligation, but it’s a debt they conceived and for which they are and shall continue to be remunerated. These highly paid and thoroughly pampered hypocrites strut around the capital making concessions and changing rules to benefit their financial supporters who then continue the unholy process by financing, entertaining, and ballyhooing the senators before, during, and after campaigns.
That’s been a thoroughly effective investment. The United States Senate is for sale, and those whose influence has been purchased are now intensifying their war against the poor and the debt-ridden. We must conclude – based on the recent vote – that a majority of senators believe $5.10 an hour is a fair working wage five years into the 21st century. The senators’ strange assessment is that paying people enough to possibly enable them to raise themselves out of poverty – where they currently wallow even working 40 or 50 hours a week – would somehow undercut the process of creating jobs. In other words, we’ll further imperil our national economic health if we pay some working parent a dollar or two more an hour, but we’ll be fine if corporate heads continue to be rewarded millions annually in unjustified bonuses taxed at reduced rates.
It’s been fairly easy for the new conservatives to slap around the poor, but their current goal to make indentured servants of middle class debtors will be more difficult, no matter what legislation the Republican-dominated Senate shoves through. Too many people who vote are learning what’s going on. Most severe consumer debts result because of illness, divorce, or loss of employment. And when people are thusly challenged, they must pay every available dollar just to match the monthly minimum requirements of their credit cards which, at a time of historically low interest rates, often charge customers 20% or more. And a late payment results in a late fee igniting a still-higher interest rate that pushes the debtor over the credit limit which unleashes even more penalties. Soon, no matter how you got into debt – and you wouldn’t have gotten in that deep unless credit card experts had deviously decided to let you dig the hole – you may not be able to get bankruptcy protection. You’ll have to grind away making massive minimum payments that only fractionally reduce the balance.
A handful of people in government and big business want you in a bad place. If they get you there, they’re not going to be empathetic.