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Amnesty, minimum wage, Social Security on table

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Will President Bush Lurch Left?

Amnesty, minimum wage, Social Security on table

No sooner had congressional Republicans lost the midterm elections, making them the opposition party in Congress, than President Bush called a press conference and made several statements that raised the question of whether these Republicans would also need to become the opposition party to his administration.

It will come as no surprise to readers of HUMAN EVENTS that President Bush’s position on immigration is closer to the position of congressional Democrats than to congressional Republicans. But it was a little unsettling when Bush happily made this point himself last week when prodded by a reporter.

Making Deals

“On immigration, many Democrats had more positive things to say about your comprehensive proposal than many Republicans did,” said the reporter. “Do you think a Democratic Congress gives you a better shot at comprehensive immigration reform?”

“Comprehensive immigration reform,” remember, is the code-phrase Bush uses to describe his plan for granting amnesty to illegal aliens.

“You know. I should have brought this up,” said Bush. “I do. I think we have a good chance. Thank you.”

“What are the odds for a guest-worker provision?” asked a reporter, using another code-phrase for not only amnestying illegals, but also allowing a continuing flow of unskilled foreign workers to enter the U.S.

“Well, that’s got to be an integral part of a comprehensive plan,” said Bush.

Ironically, in the same press conference, Bush also said he wanted to work with Democrats to increase the federal minimum wage. “[O]ne of these three characters [reporters] asked me about the minimum wage,” said Bush. “I said, there’s an area where I believe we can make some—find common ground.”

One wonders if Bush sees any contradiction between his amnesty/guest-worker plan and his new desire to increase the minimum wage. On the one hand, he wants to flood the U.S. with unskilled foreign workers, driving down wages for unskilled American workers. On the other hand, he wants the federal government to mandate higher wages for unskilled workers. In sum, his policy seems aimed at bringing in foreign workers so employers can pay them less than American workers, then passing a law mandating that employers pay the foreign workers more.

Why not just enforce the immigration laws, and let American employers and American workers negotiate wages in a free market?

Obviously, Bush knows increasing the minimum wage would hurt small businesses that no longer could afford to pay it. So, he has a plan for that, too. “And as we do [increase the minimum wage],” said Bush, “I’ll be, of course, making sure that our small businesses are—there’s compensation for the small businesses in the bill.”

What does that mean? Apparently the President wants to hand out tax dollars to subsidize businesses forced by an increase in the minimum wage to pay more to unskilled workers. With his guest-worker plan in place, does that mean taxpayers would subsidize the wages of imported foreign laborers?

Maybe this was a botched joke.

But then Bush moved on to education. “We had some pretty good success early on in this administration,” Bush said. “We got the No Child Left Behind Act passed, which was an important part of bipartisan legislation.” Noting that No Child Left Behind now needs to be reauthorized, Bush said, “There’s an area where we must work together for the sake of our children and for the sake of a competitive America. And I believe we can get a lot done.”

Yes, a lot more unnecessary federal spending will be done. The original No Child Left Behind Act, sponsored by Sen. Teddy Kennedy (D.-Mass.), caused federal education spending to more than double.

Yet, the biggest potential conflict between Bush and congressional conservatives may come from any deal he strikes with the Democrats on Social Security reform. “One of the big hot-button issues for the Democratic Party is Social Security and the idea of partial privatization, which you have talked about,” a reporter asked Bush. “I wonder if there’s anything in your agenda that you’re willing to adjust in the spirit of bipartisanship or back off from, given how important that is to the core of the Democratic Party.”

“I told [Treasury Secretary] Ken Paulson to tell the members that we’d sit down and listen to everybody’s ideas,” said Bush.

As Yogi Berra might say, this could be déjà vu all over again. Shortly after the 2004 election, discussing Social Security reform, Bush said, “We will not raise payroll taxes to solve this problem.” Then on Feb.15, 2005, in a discussion with the New Haven Register, he narrowed this promise to cover only the payroll tax “rate.” When asked whether he would oppose lifting the cap on the amount of income subject to the payroll tax, Bush equivocated. “I’m interested in good ideas,” he said. “People need to come forth with good ideas.”

When pressed by HUMAN EVENTS on whether the President would rule out lifting the cap on the amount of income subject to the payroll tax, then-White House spokesman Scott McClellan would not give a straight answer.

On November 5, Larry Kudlow of CNBC asked White House Spokesman Tony Snow whether Secretary Paulson was already talking with members of Congress about raising taxes as part of a deal on entitlement reform. Snow would not rule this out.

Kudlow said, “There are rumors now that Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, who was in consultation, I guess, with House and Senate members on both sides of the aisle … might be willing to accept an increase in the top personal tax rate and maybe an increase in the taxable wage base in order to get an entitlement compromise. Can you squash those rumors?”

“No, I can’t,” said Snow. “I don’t even know about what’s going on. I know that Secretary Paulson is, in fact, trying to take on the entitlement problem because the overhang on entitlements is something that’s unsustainable. And the President is absolutely committed to dealing with Social Security and Medicare, and he doesn’t care if he has to be the heavy between now and the time he leaves office.”

The President should be commended for trying to reform Social Security, but you didn’t need to read his lips or Tony Snow’s to realize the White House is not ruling out making a deal with the Democrats to increase taxes.

Congressional Republicans need to rule out such hikes for them, even if it means going into pitched opposition against a President of their own party.

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