Americans work hard; Congress, not much

Miami Herald Editorial Board


On Labor Day, we offer our annual tribute to America’s working men and women, who put in more time on the job than their counterparts in the world’s largest economies and generally are more productive.

And as we salute those who are working hard, we’ll also offer a Bronx cheer (pfffft!) to those who are hardly working: our members of Congress. They went on vacation without bothering to act on President Obama’s request for money to fight Zika and refused entreaties to come back to work when the viral infection expanded across South Florida.

We’ll come back to that, but first consider the plight of America’s beleaguered working class.

For many, it seems the harder they work, the behinder they get. That’s no joke, but rather a sad fact of life.

A Pew Research Center study found that even if you get a raise, a bigger paycheck often doesn’t result in more purchasing power because raises haven’t kept up with inflation.

The study was conducted in 2014, but things are hardly better today. Friday’s jobs report said salaries have increased just 2.4 percent in the last 12 months, barely ahead of rising prices. Many feel the government’s official inflation rate doesn’t reflect the actual prices increases in the marketplace.

Fixing the national economy is not a matter of waving a wand. World economic trends, rising healthcare costs, even climate change and changing weather patterns — all of these factors and many more play a role. But you can’t fix it if you don’t try.

That’s where Congress comes in. Or doesn’t.

This week, members are coming off the longest summer recess in three decades. This was by design. The schedule set by House leaders late last year for 2016 called for just 95 votes before going home to campaign full time after Sept. 30.

Then they’ll be back for four weeks after the November election for a lame-duck session. But the only reason such a session is needed is that lawmakers know they haven’t done enough work in the regular session to complete their business.

The decline in working days and productivity is a long-term trend. Since fiscal 1997, Congress has failed every year to enact on time all of the government appropriations bills needed for a full federal budget.

But it’s getting worse, and so is the gridlock. In this Congress, even disease is a partisan issue. Congress’ abject failure to find money to fight Zika forced researchers to take money from Ebola to pay for Zika, and it’s still not enough.

Republicans passed a bill that used Zika money as leverage to force Democrats to take an unnecessary vote on a variety of unrelated issues, like Planned Parenthood and use of the Confederate flag.

A less partisan Congress would have deemed Zika funding a no-brainer, a matter of routine, and passed a clean bill without poisonous attachments.

Then again, a less partisan Congress would have raised the minimum wage, as Democrats have been asking all year.

According to the Department of Labor, since the last time it was raised — to $7.25 in 2009 — the cost of living has increased by nearly 12 percent. That adds up to penury.

So as the 114th Congress returns to Capitol Hill for the rest of the month, we urge lawmakers to move quickly on Zika funding and get a bill on the president’s desk by the end of the week. There can’t possibly be anything more to argue about.

And pass a minimum-wage bill to give America’s lowest-paid workers a break. Unlike the lawmakers, they’ve earned it.