Progressives scored a populist win over corporate interests (1/26) as Oregon voters by a 54%-46% margin approved measures to balance the state’s budget by increasing taxes for households with income over $250,000 and setting higher taxes on large corporations to generate $733 mln.

The Portland Oregonian reported (1/27), “The double-barreled victory is the first voter-approved statewide income tax increase since the 1930s. Other states, facing similar budget woes, are watching the outcome closely because Oregon, after all, is a state that capped property taxes and locked a surplus tax rebate program into the constitution.”

But progressives argued that the tax reforms protected nearly $1 bln in vital services, like education, health care and public safety. They preserve class sizes, save jobs for teachers, provide seniors with in-home care and provide health care for thousands of Oregonians through the Oregon Health Plan.

Oregon’s progressive community rallied with strong backing from labor, the state’s Democratic officeholders and a huge range of activist groups, including The Bus Project (busproject.org), which mobilized young voters, Joan McCarter noted at DailyKos (1/27). Oregon AFL-CIO President Tom Chamberlain praised the coalition, “I’ve never seen a field effort like the one the campaign is running.” The progressive campaign beat anti-tax activists calling themselves “Oregonians Against Job-Killing Taxes,” led by Nike CEO Phil Knight.

As Bus Project booster Matt Singer of Montana tweeted on election night: “Bus Project engaged youth. Progressives campaigned as populists. This is how we win.”

Sarah Burris noted at OpenLeft.com (2/6) that Massachusetts only got a turnout of 15% of young voters (age 18-29), who voted 58% for Martha Coakley (D), compared with 57% for older citizens. Oregon saw a 24% turnout of youth voters, Burris said, while the turnout for all voters was 62.3%.

Jonathan Singer noted at MyDD.com (1/26): “After the Beltway elite read the results of the special Senate election in Massachusetts last week as an indication of conservatism on the rise, Oregon voters clarified the message: It’s not conservatism, but rather populism that is on the rise. ... Voters are in a populist mood right now — not an anti-government one, necessarily, but a populist one nevertheless. The progressive brand of populism that resonated with Oregonians this month is slightly different than the one that rang true in Massachusetts. Yet the message is just as clear.”

Unfortunately, the corporate news media buried news of this progressive populist victory in Oregon, which is why you need independent media such as TPP and the aforementioned Internet sources to get the word out.

BIPARTISAN DRIVE FOR PUBLIC FUNDING OF ELECTIONS. Former Sen. Warren Rudman (R-N.H.), in a column written for the Washington Post (2/5), noted that the Republican Party has a tradition of campaign finance reform that goes back to the Tillman Act of 1907 and the Federal Corrupt Practices Act of 1910, advocated by President Theodore Roosevelt as the first laws limiting corporate money in federal elections and requiring strict disclosure of campaign funds, as well as the Taft-Hartley Act that banned union contributions to political campaigns.

“Those laws were dealt a serious blow by last month’s Supreme Court decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. That such a rash and immoderate ruling could come from a chief justice once committed to respecting precedent, and win praise from leaders of my party, is beyond my comprehension.” Rudman has joined with former Sens. Alan Simpson (R-Wyo.), Bill Bradley (D-N.J.) and Bob Kerrey (D-Neb.) to support public funding of all federal elections. “It’s time [for Republicans] to return to our roots and take up Teddy Roosevelt’s challenge from over a century ago by enacting the only real and lasting solution I know: citizen-funded elections,” Rudman wrote. “Under the proposed Fair Elections Now Act, sponsored by more than 130 members of Congress, money from special interests would be replaced by small donations from constituents and matching federal funds. Matching funds, raised through a fee on large-scale government contracts, would go to serious, hardworking candidates who demonstrate a broad base of public support and who say no to large donations.

“Republicans and Democrats in Congress must work together to expand political speech for all citizens by replacing special-interest money in politics with small donations and public matching funds. Supreme Court opinion notwithstanding, corporations are not defined as people under the Constitution, and free speech can hardly be called free when only the rich are heard.”

Three states — Arizona, Connecticut and Maine — already have public funding for state offices, while North Carolina has public funding for judicial elections and Albuquerque, N.M., New York City and Portland, Ore., have public funding for city elections. See Americans for Campaign Reform at youstreet.org.

‘FREE SPEECH FOR PEOPLE’ AMENDMENT UNVEILED. Reps. Donna Edwards (D-Md.) and John Conyers (D-Mich.), the chair of the House Judiciary Committee, have proposed a constitutional amendment to reverse the Supreme Court’s controversial Citizens United decision that gives corporations the right to get involved in political campaigns.

The proposed 28th Amendment reads: “Section 1. The sovereign right of the people to govern being essential to a free democracy, the First Amendment shall not be construed to limit the authority of Congress and the States to define, regulate, and restrict the spending and other activity of any corporation, limited liability entity, or other corporate entity created by state or federal law or the law of another nation.

“Section 2. Nothing contained in this Article shall be construed to abridge the freedom of the press.”

A coalition of public interest organizations and independent business advocates praised Rep. Edwards’ action. The groups, Voter Action, Public Citizen, the Center for Corporate Policy and the American Independent Business Alliance, say the Court’s ruling in Citizens United v. FEC poses a serious and direct threat to democracy. The coalition launched www.freespeechforpeople.org to correct the judiciary’s creation of corporate rights under the First Amendment over the past three decades.

Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) joined the call today for a constitutional amendment. In testimony before the Senate Committee on Rules and Administration, Kerry said a constitutional amendment is needed “to make it clear once and for all that corporations do not have the same free speech rights as individuals.”

CREDIT WHERE DUE. The New York Times published (2/2) a chart by Ben Schott that showed Standard & Poor’s credit ratings for 67 countries and 50 states. It showed, among other things, that the US was among 11 nations with an AAA rating, the highest, which indicates “extremely strong capacity to meet debts.” Only 11 states had AAA ratings — Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Iowa, Maryland, Minnesota, Missouri, North Carolina, Utah and Virginia. California, which has one of the toughest anti-tax laws in the country, requiring a two-thirds majority to approve a tax, had the lowest credit rating, at A-minus, indicating its capacity to meet debts was very susceptible to adverse changes in economic conditions. California’s rating was the same as Poland’s and Libya’s, and not quite as good as Botswana’s “A.”

Some ratings agencies are coming under political pressure to reduce the federal government’s credit score if Democrats do not reduce budget deficits, but Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner told ABC News (2/7) that the US will “never” lose its AAA rating. “When people were most worried about the stability of the world, they still found safety in the Treasuries and the dollar,” Geithner said. “That is a very, very important sign of basic confidence in our capacity as a country to work together to fix these problems.”

Paul Krugman noted in the New York Times (2/5) that more than half of the deficit the federal government is running now is caused not by runaway spending growth, but by the “ongoing economic crisis, which has led to a plunge in tax receipts, required federal bailouts of financial institutions, and been met — appropriately — with temporary measures to stimulate growth and support employment.”

Krugman also noted that the Obama administration’s latest budget proposal projects that in the next decade interest payments on the federal debt will have risen to 3.5% of GDP “How scary is that? It’s about the same as interest costs under the first President Bush.”

In an illustration of how quickly conservative alarm over the national debt can turn around, Krugman also reminded us, in his NYT blog (1/20) that in 2001, when the US budget was in surplus, then-Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan warned that we were paying of our debt too fast, as he called for tax cuts for the rich.

SOCIAL SECURITY BENEFITS: IT’S THE LAW. Allan Sloan, a senior editor at Fortune magazine, told Marketplace radio listeners (2/8) that future retirees should be worried about their Social Security benefits because the program is now paying out more in benefits than it collects in taxes. In fact, Dean Baker noted at Prospect.org (2/8), Social Security has accumulated more than $2.5 tln in its trust fund. The Congressional Budget Office projects that this fund will be sufficient to pay all scheduled benefits through the year 2044. “Even after that date, if nothing is ever done to change the program, the projections still show that it will be able to pay close to 80% of scheduled benefits.” Congress would have to vote to prevent the payment of benefits, he added.

GOP GIVES DEMS A WEDGE ISSUE. Republicans are going ahead with a budget proposal that would cut Social Security and Medicare benefits before effectively privatizing the entitlement programs that seniors depend upon. And Democratic congressional leaders are ready to force them to actually vote on the GOP plan. For the past year, Republicans have bashed Democratic health care plans for cutting $400 mln out of Medicare — mainly from the privatized Medicare Advantage program as well as waste, fraud and abuse — while budget hawks such as Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), ranking Republican on the Budget Committee, view controlling Medicare costs as essential to balancing the budget. Ryan produced a budget blueprint that includes reductions in Social Security benefits for those younger than 55, along with an increase in the retirement age; an option to move to privatized personal accounts; and vouchers to allow Medicare recipients to buy private health insurance. It also cuts taxes.

UNEXPECTED DROP IN JOBLESS RATE. The US lost 20,000 jobs in January, but the unemployment rate dropped from 10% to 9.7%, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported (2/5). The total number of payroll jobs lost since the start of the recession in December 2007 now stands at 8.4 mln. Long-term unemployment, however, continued to rise, with over 40% of the nation’s unemployed out of work for more than 6 months, a new record. “Policy makers need to pass a substantial jobs bill, because if anything should be seen as too big to fail, it should be the livelihood of America’s working families,” said Heidi Shierholz, an economist with the Economic Policy Institute (epi.org).

STILL DEPRESSION-LEVEL UNEMPLOYMENT. Bob Herbert noted in the New York Times (2/9) that the Center for Labor Market Studies at Northeastern University in Boston analyzed labor conditions in the fourth quarter 2009 in each of 10 income levels from the previous year. It found that in the highest group, with incomes of $150,000 or more in 2008, 3.2% were unemployed during the fourth quarter of 3.2%. The next highest group, with incomes from $100,000 to $149,999 in 2008, had 4% unemployment in 2009. Contrast that with households with incomes under $12,500 experiencing a staggering 30.8% unemployment. Herbert noted that’s more than 5 points higher than the overall jobless rate during the eight of the Great Depression. The next lowest group, with incomes of $12,500 to $20,000, had 19.1% unemployment. “These are the kinds of jobless rates that push families already struggling on meager incomes into destitution. And such gruesome gaps in the condition of groups at the top and bottom of the economic ladder are unmistakable signs of impending societal instability,” Herbert wrote.

The middle class also has been hurt, as households with incomes of $40,000 to $49,999 had a jobless rate of 9%, close to the national average, he noted. The $50,000 to $59,999 group had 7.8% jobless; and $60,000 to $75,000 had 6.4% jobless. “Those who believe this grievous economic situation will right itself of its own accord or can be corrected without bold, targeted (and, yes, expensive) government action are still reading from the Ronald Reagan (someday it will trickle down) hymnal,” Herbert concluded.

POOR LITTLE RICH FOLKS. A million dollars does not go as far as it used to, Republican National Chairman Michael Steele said in a debate recently. “Trust me, after taxes, a million dollars is not a lot of money,” Steele said in a debate with former Rep. Harold Ford (D-Tenn.) at the University of Arkansas, the Associated Press reported (2/4). Steele was criticizing Obama’s plan to let Bush tax cuts expire for Americans who make more than $250,000 a year. Anticipating the poor-mouthing, Daniel Gross of Slate.com noted (2/3) that an income of $250,000 is five times the median household income of $50,303 and puts those tax targets in the top 2.1% of wealth. “I regret to inform you yet again: Yes, you are indeed rich — any way you slice it,” Gross wrote.

Duncan Black also noted that the tax increases on the $250,000-plus set are marginal tax increases, which only apply to income in excess of $250,000. “People making, say, $300,000 aren’t going to see their tax bill increase by very much,” he said at EschatonBlog.com (2/2).

SPLIT SENATE CONFIRMS BERNANKE. The Senate gave Ben Bernanke a second four-year term as chairman of the Federal Reserve with a 70-30 vote (1/28) that was the weakest endorsement in the Fed’s 96-year history. Voting against confirmation were 18 Republicans, 11 Dems and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), a leader of the opposition to Bernanke, who said the vote “sends a loud and clear message to the Fed and to Chairman Bernanke: Start representing the needs of the middle class and working families, not just Wall Street CEOs. Stop credit card ripoffs. Free up credit for small businesses. Break up big banks, and stop the secrecy surrounding trillions of dollars in blind loans.”

Sanders noted in a press release that the Fed has the power to require bailed-out banks to stop ripping off consumers and small businesses by charging interest rates of 30% or more on credit cards and other loans. The historic opposition to Bernanke also should persuade the Fed to take seriously its responsibility to promote full employment, Sanders said. It should provide low-interest loans to small- and medium-sized businesses to create jobs in the productive economy. The Federal Reserve also must break up too-big-to-fail banks so that they no longer pose a catastrophic risk to the economy, and tell the American people exactly who has received more than $2 tln in taxpayer assistance from the Fed since the financial crisis started.

PUBLIC BACKS BANK REGULATION. President Obama sounded populist themes in his State of the Union speech with his proposal for financial regulatory reform, and Ruy Teixeira of the Center for American Progress noted (2/8) that it is likely to tap into a wellspring of public support. For example, in a late January CNN poll, 64% of the public said it was extremely or very important for the president and Congress to deal with “regulation on big banks” this year. In the same poll, 62% of respondents favored new government regulations to “limit the size and activities of the country’s largest banks.” Teixeira noted, “Obama’s proposals appear to strike a responsive chord in the public. Now it’s up to policymakers to follow through.”

BANKS BLOCK STUDENT LOAN REFORM. After the House approved legislation ending $80 bln in subsidies for big banks to provide student loans, proposing to divert the money to provide Pell grants, direct loans and tax credits to help working families pay for tuition, bank lobbyists are out to kill the student loan reform in the Senate. The banks — led by Sallie Mae — have spent over $8 mln on lobbying and $2 mln on political donations to stop the reform, which President Obama supports.

“Taxpayers are now subsidizing big banks to make loans to college students that our government guarantees anyway. Then the banks gouge the students with hidden fees and excessive penalties, fleecing students who have lost their jobs,” Robert Borosage said at ourfuture.org (2/8). Direct lending — which the government had to do when the banks abandoned the program in the financial collapse — would save $80 bln over 10 years. That will help make college affordable for millions of kids, Borosage noted.

WALL STREET SOURS ON DEMS. President Obama has hurt Wall Street’s feelings with his attacks on “fat cats,” and Republicans are capitalizing on the backlash, David D. Kirkpatrick reported in the New York Times (2/8). Just two years after Obama helped his party pull in $89 mln from the securities and investment business, according to the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics, some of Obama’s biggest supporters, like JPMorgan Chase chief executive Jamie Dimon, have become the industry’s chief lobbyists against his regulatory agenda.

“The expectation in Washington is that ‘We can kick you around, and you are still going to give us money,’ ” a top official at a major Wall Street firm, speaking on the condition of anonymity for fear of alienating the White House, told the Times. “We are not going to play that game anymore.”

Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, said he visited New York about twice a month to try to tap into Wall Street’s “buyers’ remorse.” He said, “I just don’t know how long you can expect people to contribute money to a political party whose main plank of their platform is to punish you.”

MOVING GOALPOSTS ON TERRORISM. Steve Benen of WashingtonMonthly.com (2/7) offered the following checklist for any Republicans criticizing Obama’s policies on dealing with terror suspects:

• Bush/Cheney read Miranda rights to attempted terrorists. Did you publicly criticize this at the time?

• Bush/Cheney put terrorists on trial in civilian courts on American soil. Did you publicly criticize this at the time?

• Bush/Cheney locked up terrorists in American prisons on American soil. Did you publicly criticize this at the time?

• Bush/Cheney endorsed closing the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay. Did you publicly disagree at the time?

“This isn’t complicated. If a conservative critic of the president can honestly answer ‘yes’ to any of these questions, he/she is at least on consistent ground, Benen noted. “... It’s so transparent as to be obvious: those who answer ‘no’ to the questions above, but who are now trashing the Obama administration, are shameless and dishonest hacks. Period.”

PLEADING IGNORANCE. Republicans have been arguing that failed underwear bomber Umar Abdulmutallab should have been put in military detention rather than being charged through the criminal justice system. After hearing enough selective outrage, White House Counterterrorism Adviser John Brennan revealed on NBC’s Meet the Press (2/7) that Republicans had been informed on Christmas night that Abdulmutallab was in FBI custody, that he was talking and that he was cooperating, and the Republicans hadn’t raised any concerns at that time. Rep. Peter Hoekstra (R-Mich.), the ranking Republican on the House intelligence committee, responded (2/8) that he didn’t know that meant Abdulmutallab was going to be read his Miranda rights.

“Apparently these men, who claim leadership on national security, know less about FBI procedure than the average movie-goer,” Spencer Ackerman noted at WashingtonIndependent.com (2/8).

PUBLIC BACKS HEALTH REFORM. Nearly two-thirds of Americans say they want Congress to keep working to pass comprehensive health-care reform, a Washington Post/ABC News poll found (2/9), and 58% say Republicans are doing too little to compromise with Obama on important issues.

TEABAGGERS TARGET RON PAUL. Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) helped inspire the Tea Party movement with his insurgent campaign for the 2008 Republican presidential nomination, but he still drew three Republican primary challengers with Tea Party ties. Tom Benning of the Dallas Morning News reported (2/7) that “many of the challengers’ criticisms echo concerns of Paul’s past opponents: that he is too focused on his national ambitions; that his views are too extreme; that he doesn’t support the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan; that he votes “no” on everything, including federal aid for his district after Hurricane Ike. ‘The word I keep hearing is “ineffective,’ ”‘ said John Gay, a school business administrator. ‘This district is not really being represented as it could be.’”

David Weigel of WashingtonIndependent.com, who has reported on the Tea Party movement, noted (2/8), “The criticism is, to say the least, ironic. Almost nothing that Paul does cuts against the rhetoric of the Tea Party movement that is mentioned most in the press: responsible spending and adherence to the Constitution. But some of it does cut against the priorities of national security conservatives and partisan Republicans.”

HATCH: HEALTH REFORM VIA RECONCILIATION MEANS WAR. Greg Sargent notes at Plum Line (1/29) that Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) warned that if Dems try to pass health care reform via reconciliation it will lead to permanent “war” between the two parties — even though Hatch voted for more than a half dozen GOP bills passed through the process known as … reconciliation.

Sargent noted that Hatch voted for …

• The College Cost Reduction Act of 2007, which passed through reconciliation;

• The Tax Increase Prevention and Reconciliation Act of 2005, which passed through reconciliation;

• The Deficit Reduction Act of 2005, which passed through reconciliation;

• The Jobs and Growth Tax Relief Reconciliation Act of 2003, which passed through reconciliation;

• The Economic Growth and Tax Relief Reconciliation Act of 2001, which passed through reconciliation;

• The Marriage Tax Penalty Relief Reconciliation Act of 2000, which passed through reconciliation; and

• The Taxpayer Refund and Relief Act of 1999, which passed through reconciliation.

Someone might inquire of Hatch and his fellow obstructionists as to how “war” between Republicans and Democrats would differ from the situation that now exists.

SUPERMAJORITY STOPS PROGRESSIVES. Chris Bowers of OpenLeft.com noted (2/8) that ProgressivePunch.org, looking at “crucial votes” found that the average Democratic senator voted with the progressive position 82.4% of the time over the course of their career. By contrast, the average Republican senator voted with the progressive position 3.5% of the time throughout their career. Voting habits like these mean that, in order to reach 60 progressive votes on crucial votes, Democrats actually need 72 senators. By contrast, Republicans only need 54 senators to break progressive filibusters. “If there was no filibuster, and only 51 votes were required to pass legislation in the Senate, Democrats require 59 votes to hold the slimmest of majorities (50.1 effective votes), and even then they only hold the majority if a Democrat is Vice-President. So, even without the filibuster, passing progressive legislation such as card check, the public option, and cramdown would have been fraught with nailbiters in 2009-2010.”

Bowers concluded, “If you are a progressive, unless you got into politics just to slow down the corporate capture of the federal government, getting rid of the filibuster is a smart move. A progressive majority in the Senate simply impossible as long as it exists.”

Historical Note: Republicans have never had a filibuster-proof supermajority since the Senate adopted the cloture rule in 1917, but they have been able to pass legislation because Democrats were much less likely to filibuster them, and conservative Dems are more likely to side with Republicans. Democrats had a filibuster-proof supermajority in 1935-37, when they had 69 seats — five more than needed out of 96 total, and expanded it 1937-39, with 76 seats. Dems also had 69 seats in 1939-41, their last filibuster-proof majority until 1965-67, when they had 68 seats, one more than cloture, but Lyndon Johnson couldn’t count on Southern Dems on some of his signature Great Society programs, including civil rights legislation, repeal of “right to work” union restrictions, and a D.C. home rule amendment. Johnson did get 70 votes to stop a filibuster of the Voting Rights Act. (Medicare was approved in July 1965 in the House 307-116 and in the Senate 70-24. Despite intense opposition of the AMA and conservatives, it was not filibustered.) The cloture threshold was reduced to 60 votes in 1975, after Republicans increasingly started to use it routinely to block bills. Dems were at or above the cloture level in 1975-77 (with 60 seats) and 1977-79 (61). Dems only reached the 60-vote level again in 2009 with the support of independents Bernie Sanders (Vt.) and Joe Lieberman (Conn.), Arlen Specter’s switch from R to D three months into the session and Al Franken finally was seated six months into the session after overcoming court challenges to his election.

From The Progressive Populist, March 1, 2010


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