Thursday, April 24, 2008

Memo to Republicans, right-wing pundits, and media bloviators

If you're wondering why anyone might dare suggest that the working class in America is "bitter," consider that it might have something to do with stories like this one.

Last spring, the Supreme Court--with newest member Sammy "Strip Search" Alito, who never met a pro-business court decision he didn't like--ruled that, if your employers can somehow manage to keep you from finding out for six months that you've been unfairly discriminated against in your pay, you can never take them to court to make it right.

This week, the Senate voted on a bill intended to correct this gaping injustice. Here's how it went:

Senate Republicans on Wednesday blocked a measure intended to overturn a Supreme Court decision limiting pay discrimination suits in a politically charged vote certain to be replayed in the presidential and Congressional campaigns.

By a vote of 56 to 42, the Senate fell four votes short of the 60 required to begin consideration of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, named for an Alabama woman who lost a case against the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company when the court found she not did file her complaint in time. Ms. Ledbetter had been paid as much as 40 percent less than her male counterparts doing the same job, according to her allies.

Note first of all that it only takes 51 votes for a bill to pass in the Senate; that 60-vote minimum was for cloture, to end a filibuster, which Senate Republicans have now made an automatic part of the process by which any remotely controversial bill comes to the floor. Two years ago, Senate Republicans (and their fellow travelers like Joe Lieberman) were arguing that filibusters were Satan's tool on earth--when Democrats were threatening to use them to stop things like Scalita's confirmation. Today, when Republicans resort to it as a matter of routine to obstruct the Democratic majority, the fact barely rates mention. What once were vices now are habits.

Note also the lame reason offered by Republicans who voted against the bill:

Republicans said the proposal to ease the time constraints would prompt more lawsuits and lead to litigation over outdated cases. “This debate today is not about allowing, favoring or supporting discrimination,” said Senator Johnny Isakson, Republican of Georgia.

Seems to me that there would only be a flood of Ledbetter litigation if there were in fact a flood of Ledbetter-style shenanigans by employers out there waiting to be uncovered. You think?

And finally, note that Fair Weather Populist Gordon Smith, Oregon's "Junior" senator, confident that the measure wasn't going to pass--that fellow conservative Senate Republicans who were themselves not up for re-election this year had his back--felt safe to engage in some political kabuki theater by voting for the doomed measure. One imagines that, after the vote, he returned to his office and scrubbed and scrubbed the hand that pressed the button for that Yea vote, reminding himself that, while unfortunate, it was necessary for the greater good.

So, pundits and press, remember this little episode the next time you're prepared to cluck your tongue at anyone who says that America's working class might be experiencing a tad of bitterness.

Then go somewhere and be quiet.

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