The GOP agenda

Amid Iraq debate, Republicans cut the estate tax, fight off a minimum-wage increase and stall the Voting Rights Act.

Published June 23, 2006 7:11PM (EDT)

Republicans in Washington succeeded this week in fighting off Democratic attempts -- as divided and inadequate as they were -- to chart some kind of new course for the Iraq war. But don't think the GOP was all about staying the course. Although Americans continue to view the war as the nation's No. 1 priority, the Republicans have been busy tending to other concerns. Among them:

Minimum wage: For the ninth time since 1997, Senate Republicans this week rejected raising the federal minimum wage. The federal minimum shall remain at $5.15 an hour, the level at which it was set in 1997. The House leadership intends to avoid a vote on the matter -- not so much to avoid the embarrassment of voting against it, but apparently out of fear that it might actually pass.

Estate tax: The House of Representatives voted 269-156 Thursday to exempt multimillion-dollar estates from taxation. Under the House bill, estates worth up to $5 million (individuals) or $10 million (couples) would be exempt from the estate tax; taxes for even larger estates -- those worth up to $25 million -- would be reduced dramatically from the current levels. If the bill gets through the Senate, it's expected to reduce federal revenues by $283 billion between 2006 and 2016. That's roughly the same as the cost of the Iraq war to date. Democratic House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi calls the tax cut "morally wrong ... especially when we are turning down, rejecting, an increase in the minimum wage." That's a fair point, and it's one she should share with the three dozen Democrats who voted in favor of the estate-tax cuts.

Voting Rights Act: Leaders of the House and Senate made a good show of bicameral bipartisanship in May when they vowed to get renewal of the Voting Rights Act through Congress and onto the president's desk. But in the House this week, the Republican leadership was forced to table renewal legislation in the face of complaints from some GOP members. Their issue? They don't like the fact that the Voting Rights Act still requires states with a history of racial discrimination to get Justice Department approval for their election laws, and they oppose requirements that some states print ballots in languages other than English.

As the Los Angeles Times reports, Georgia Rep. Lynn Westmoreland is arguing that it's unfair to single out Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas and Virginia for special scrutiny. We might agree: That list seems a little lonely without Ohio, doesn't it?

By Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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