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The Democrats' economic wish list

They'd like a minimum wage hike and expanded healthcare and education programs, but need to find funding first.

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The Democrats have won control of Congress. But will that really enhance the prosperity of middle-class and poor Americans, as party advocates maintain?

Since the 1990s, most people in the United States have been treading water, economically. American paychecks began to rise faster than the cost of living only in October. Extra inflation, however, could again stall real wage gains.

"There will be some changes – but minor ones" with Democrats in charge on Capitol Hill, predicts Alan Blinder. He's a Princeton University economist who advised the failed presidential campaigns of Democrats Al Gore and John Kerry.

As Dr. Blinder puts it, the "800-pound gorilla" influencing the welfare of working people is "the market," that is, the status of the economy in the years ahead. The latest numbers indicate that the economy is slowing – not good news if this pattern continues into the new year.

Nonetheless, the "small monkey in the cage" with the gorilla is policy changes that Democrats may be able to make – if they can avoid a presidential veto.

Because the size of the government in the United States is relatively small compared with that of most other industrial nations, changes in government policies can have only limited impact on the distribution of income.

Presumably the Democrats will "do things that mitigate rather than exacerbate inequality," Blinder holds. They won't cut the taxes of the rich as much as the Republican-led Congress did.

The No. 1 measure promised by the Democrats is a popular, two-step hike in the federal minimum wage from $5.15 an hour to $7.25 by 2009.

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