Filling up on feel-good legislation for 2007

I was traveling last week, and no matter where I went, the newspaper headlines seemed the same.

Inevitably, there would be stories trumpeting some new feel-good legislation as if it were the answer to all human problems past and present.

Take the nonbinding Senate resolution on the war in Iraq. The Democrats and a handful of Republicans are busy sorting out the details of just how tough they want this resolution to sound, to send President George W. Bush a message that he better not screw this war up anymore.

Sorry, but Bush isn't taking messages. He has stated flat-out that he's going to ignore any nonbinding resolution. He ignored his party's losses in November, which were a referendum on his leadership. He ignores poll after poll that show a wide majority of Americans don't support him. He ignored the bipartisan Iraq Study Group, headed by Bush family consigliere James Baker, which was designed to rescue his grand Iraqi adventure. I think he would ignore a whack to the head with a frying pan.

In other words, all this talk in Congress amounts to hot air, a contribution to global warming. If opponents of the war want to do something about it, then put some teeth into this legislation. Make it binding, exercise your Constitutional war-making powers, or go work on something else. You are wasting our time.

Congress has been working on other things, too, like the new minimum-wage law. Too bad that it is pretty much another feel-good piece of legislation.

I'm not against having a minimum wage. It keeps us from reverting back to the sweatshop world of the past, and at least provides some protection for those at the bottom of the economic ladder. But let's not kid ourselves into thinking this is really going to have much effect on our society.

For the vast majority of America, those making minimum wage fall into three categories: teenagers working their first jobs; illegal immigrants; and tipped employees, like bartenders and waitresses, who make most of their income off of tips.

So, if you are thinking that raising the minimum wage will actually do something to improve living standards, I've got a nonbinding resolution to sell you. The extra costs for labor will simply be passed down to the consumer. So, even if you can find that mythical minimum-wage family, whatever extra income they get will be sucked up by inflation.

If Congress wants to improve our standard of living, they can do something about health care costs. Until they do, maybe they should be put on minimum wage, to teach them a lesson about priorities.

And if you want to talk lessons, I'm sure education will be the top issue in most state legislatures this year, and it's a ripe field for feel-good legislation.

When it comes to education funding, our elected officials like to throw around dollar signs with lots of zeros behind them. This is to supposedly show they are serious about the subject. The more money, the more important they think it is. That's how we all keep score.

But this isn't a football game. Those education systems with the most money aren't necessarily the best. It takes more than dollars to educate a child.

Do our schools need more money? Some definitely do. But others don't. Some need to make better use of their money. Some of the larger systems need to cut the bureaucracy and get back to teaching our children. Create systems where teachers have a real stake in their students' success, and not just in their test scores.

But I have little hope for these kinds of changes in the near term. We will continue to be pandered to by our elected officials, who will brag that they did this, or did that, and that X dollars are being spent to correct the problem. And we will all keep feeling good until we get a reality smack in the face, and a new crop of politicians will promise a whole new round of feel-good legislation.

• Kirk Caraway is editor of, and also writes a blog on


Use the comment form below to begin a discussion about this content.

Sign in to comment