The point of congressional Republicans’ obstructionism, which has reached unprecedented levels in the Obama era, is obviously to block Democratic priorities. GOP lawmakers could, in theory, negotiate with Democrats and work on bipartisan compromises, but in recent years, Republicans deliberately chose an unyielding strategy: no concessions, no cooperation, no tolerance for progressive goals.
On several key issues, most notably economic growth and job creation, the GOP tactic has proven to be quite effective. But what if the plan has quietly backfired? What if, by simply blocking attempts at governing, Republicans have undermined their own priorities?
On combatting the climate crisis, for example, GOP officials are obviously outraged by the Obama administration’s decision to use the Clean Air Act to impose new rules to reduce carbon pollution. But Jamelle Bouie raises an underappreciated point: “If Republicans are outraged by the announcement, they only have themselves to blame.”
In 2009, President Obama threw his support behind climate legislation in the House, and the following year, a group of Senate Democrats – including Kerry – began work with Republicans to craft a bipartisan climate bill. The process fell apart…. It’s not that EPA action wasn’t possible, but that the administration wanted legislation and would make key concessions to get it. In the absence of a law, however, the White House was prepared to act alone. […]
With a little cooperation, Republicans could have won a better outcome for their priorities. They could have exempted coal from more stringent spectrum of regulations, enriched their constituencies with new subsidies and benefits, and diluted a key Democratic priority. Instead, they’ll now pay a steep substantive price for their obstruction, in the form of rules that are tougher – and more liberal – than anything that could have passed Congress.
Congressional Republicans, through filibusters and obstinacy, can stop much of the governing process, but not all of it. When a policy runs into a choke point, its proponents begin looking for an alternative route to implementation.
In the case of climate policy, GOP lawmakers assumed they’d win by simply folding their arms and refusing to do anything. In practice, this often-mindless obstructionism simply forced the administration to begin to work on its own – without any regard for whether Republicans on Capitol Hill would like it or not, since the White House didn’t need their approval.
In other words, Republican tactics were self-defeating – GOP officials would have produced a more favorable policy, from their own perspective, if they’d only agreed to work a little with Democrats.
This keeps happening.
On judicial nominees, for example, Senate Democrats were reluctant to pull the trigger on the so-called “nuclear option.” Instead of leveraging that reluctance, Republicans did the opposite, vowing to block a series of nominees they found unobjectionable in order to force the issue.
Had the GOP minority been a little less ridiculous, Dems wouldn’t have pursued the nuclear option and Republicans would probably still be blocking a variety of judicial nominees right now.
The Affordable Care Act offers an even more striking example. President Obama and his team were desperate to strike a bipartisan deal on health care – they started with a Republican-friendly reform blueprint; they were prepared to bargain away progressive priorities, and they even signaled a willingness to incorporate conservative goals like “tort reform” into the legislation.
GOP lawmakers, under strict orders from party leaders, balked anyway, refusing any and all offers. No matter what the White House offered, Republicans said, the GOP would reject any attempts at reform.
But again, the obstructionism worked against Republicans – they didn’t stop the legislation; they simply blocked their own opportunity to easily move the legislation to the right.
We may yet see a similar dynamic unfold on immigration policy. House Republicans refuse to consider a bipartisan solution with broad support, pushing the president to consider unilateral action. If GOP lawmakers worked with the White House, they’d get a package that reflected their priorities, but by refusing to govern, they’re likely to end up with a presidential directive that gives Republicans nothing.
Bouie concluded, “[A]fter five years of relentless obstruction in the name of small government, Republicans may have helped set the stage for a world where government is much bigger – and expansive – than it is now. And if it happens, we should remember to thank Republicans for helping to make it possible.”
By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, June 4, 2014
“The Boost That Comes From Raising The Minimum Wage”: Au Contraire, Raising Wages Does Not Destroy Jobs
The standard argument — really, the only argument — against raising the minimum wage is that it will lead to job loss. The argument is beloved by die-hard opponents of raising the wage because it provides them with a veneer, however flimsy, of concern about the welfare of the working poor.
Economic studies have repeatedly shown that argument to be spurious. Now the latest survey of 350,000 small businesses from Paychex, a payroll provider company, and IHS, a business analysis firm, provides strong indications that the exact opposite may be true.
In April, the Paychex/IHS survey, which looks at employment in small businesses, found that the state with the highest percentage of annual job growth was Washington — the state with the highest minimum wage in the nation, $9.32 an hour. The metropolitan area with the highest percentage of annual job growth was San Francisco — the city with the highest minimum wage in the nation, at $10.74.
This suggests that the relationship between a high minimum wage and job creation needn’t be inverse. If anything, it suggests that relationship is direct.
To be sure, the Bay Area economy is booming, but minimum-wage opponents would nonetheless have us believe that mandating the payment of close to $11 an hour must cause job loss at least in fast-food joints and Chinatown’s kitchens. San Francisco shouldn’t be creating more small-business jobs than any other city. It’s theoretically impossible.
So much for the theory. San Francisco is doing exactly that.
The compatibility of higher wage standards and job creation shouldn’t come as a surprise. A classic study of fast-food employment by former White House economic adviser Alan Krueger and Berkeley economics professor David Card demonstrated that raising the minimum wage does not lead to an appreciable decline in employment. Opponents of a higher wage have invoked a recent study by the Congressional Budget Office that argued a raise in the national minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10, as President Obama has advocated, might cost up to 500,000 jobs. But even that study said that the raise would increase the wages of 16.5 million Americans — at least 33 times the number of those who might lose jobs — and elevate 900,000 people out of poverty.
What critics of a higher minimum wage ignore is that, by putting more money into the pockets of the working poor — a group that necessarily spends nearly all its income on such locally provided basics as rent, food, transport and child care — an adequate minimum wage increases a community’s level of sales and thereby creates more jobs. The Los Angeles Economic Roundtable recently concluded that raising the hourly minimum to $15 in Los Angeles County — the nation’s largest, home to 10 million people — would generate an additional $9.2 billion in annual sales and create more than 50,000 jobs.
The Seattle City Council is expected to enact a proposal from Mayor Ed Murray, developed by a business-labor task force, to phase in a $15 citywide minimum wage over seven years. The progress of the measure is a testament not only to the fast-food workers nationwide who’ve been campaigning for $15 hourly pay from McDonald’s and other chains but also to local labor and community leaders. They injected that issue into last year’s mayoral election, winning a pledge from Murray to push for the $15 standard. With direct employee-employer collective bargaining close to a dead letter in the private-sector economy, the likely success of the Seattle measure points to a new model for bargaining, in which progressive governments respond to worker pressure by legislating the wage increases employees can no longer win in the workplace.
In a nation where most people’s wages have been stagnant or dropping for many years, and where the combination of globalization and de-unionization has stripped from workers the bargaining power they once possessed, the role of government in addressing wage issues has become more central than ever. By investing in job-creating public works, by raising the minimum wage, by lowering taxes on those corporations that give their workers annual productivity increases and raising taxes on those that don’t, government can take up the slack created by the suppression and near-disappearance of private-sector unions. But first, it must dispel the canard that raising wages destroys jobs. Now it can point to San Francisco and Washington as evidence that it doesn’t.
By: Harold Meyerson, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, May 21, 2014
It was in 1931 that the historian James Truslow Adams coined the phrase “the American dream.”
The American dream is not just a yearning for affluence, Adams said, but also for the chance to overcome barriers and social class, to become the best that we can be. Adams acknowledged that the United States didn’t fully live up to that ideal, but he argued that America came closer than anywhere else.
Adams was right at the time, and for decades. When my father, an eastern European refugee, reached France after World War II, he was determined to continue to the United States because it was less class bound, more meritocratic and offered more opportunity.
Yet today the American dream has derailed, partly because of growing inequality. Or maybe the American dream has just swapped citizenship, for now it is more likely to be found in Canada or Europe — and a central issue in this year’s political campaigns should be how to repatriate it.
A report last month in The Times by David Leonhardt and Kevin Quealy noted that the American middle class is no longer the richest in the world, with Canada apparently pulling ahead in median after-tax income. Other countries in Europe are poised to overtake us as well.
In fact, the discrepancy is arguably even greater. Canadians receive essentially free health care, while Americans pay for part of their health care costs with after-tax dollars. Meanwhile, the American worker toils, on average, 4.6 percent more hours than a Canadian worker, 21 percent more hours than a French worker and an astonishing 28 percent more hours than a German worker, according to data from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.
Canadians and Europeans also live longer, on average, than Americans do. Their children are less likely to die than ours. American women are twice as likely to die as a result of pregnancy or childbirth as Canadian women. And, while our universities are still the best in the world, children in other industrialized countries, on average, get a better education than ours. Most sobering of all: A recent O.E.C.D. report found that for people aged 16 to 24, Americans ranked last among rich countries in numeracy and technological proficiency.
Economic mobility is tricky to measure, but several studies show that a child born in the bottom 20 percent economically is less likely to rise to the top in America than in Europe. A Danish child is twice as likely to rise as an American child.
When our futures are determined to a significant extent at birth, we’ve reverted to the feudalism that our ancestors fled.
“Equality of opportunity — the ‘American dream’ — has always been a cherished American ideal,” Joseph Stiglitz, the Nobel-winning economist at Columbia University, noted in a recent speech. “But data now show that this is a myth: America has become the advanced country not only with the highest level of inequality, but one of those with the least equality of opportunity.”
Consider that the American economy has, over all, grown more quickly than France’s. But so much of the growth has gone to the top 1 percent that the bottom 99 percent of French people have done better than the bottom 99 percent of Americans.
Three data points:
• The top 1 percent in America now own assets worth more than those held by the entire bottom 90 percent.
• The six Walmart heirs are worth as much as the bottom 41 percent of American households put together.
• The top six hedge fund managers and traders averaged more than $2 billion each in earnings last year, partly because of the egregious “carried interest” tax break. President Obama has been unable to get financing for universal prekindergarten; this year’s proposed federal budget for pre-K for all, so important to our nation’s future, would be a bit more than a single month’s earnings for those six tycoons.
Inequality has become a hot topic, propelling Bill de Blasio to become mayor of New York City, turning Senator Elizabeth Warren into a star, and elevating the economist Thomas Piketty into such a demigod that my teenage daughter asked me the other day for his 696-page tome. All this growing awareness is a hopeful sign, because there are policy steps that we could take that would create opportunity and dampen inequality.
We could stop subsidizing private jets and too-big-to-fail banks, and direct those funds to early education programs that help break the cycle of poverty. We can invest less in prisons and more in schools.
We can impose a financial transactions tax and use the proceeds to broaden jobs programs like the earned-income tax credit and career academies. And, as Alan S. Blinder of Princeton University has outlined, we can give companies tax credits for creating new jobs.
It’s time to bring the American dream home from exile.
By: Nicholas Kristof, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, May 14, 2014
“Crazy Climate Economics”: These Days, Republicans Come Out In Force To Oppose Even The Most Obviously Needed Regulations
Everywhere you look these days, you see Marxism on the rise. Well, O.K., maybe you don’t — but conservatives do. If you so much as mention income inequality, you’ll be denounced as the second coming of Joseph Stalin; Rick Santorum has declared that any use of the word “class” is “Marxism talk.” In the right’s eyes, sinister motives lurk everywhere — for example, George Will says the only reason progressives favor trains is their goal of “diminishing Americans’ individualism in order to make them more amenable to collectivism.”
So it goes without saying that Obamacare, based on ideas originally developed at the Heritage Foundation, is a Marxist scheme — why, requiring that people purchase insurance is practically the same as sending them to gulags.
And just wait until the Environmental Protection Agency announces rules intended to slow the pace of climate change.
Until now, the right’s climate craziness has mainly been focused on attacking the science. And it has been quite a spectacle: At this point almost all card-carrying conservatives endorse the view that climate change is a gigantic hoax, that thousands of research papers showing a warming planet — 97 percent of the literature — are the product of a vast international conspiracy. But as the Obama administration moves toward actually doing something based on that science, crazy climate economics will come into its own.
You can already get a taste of what’s coming in the dissenting opinions from a recent Supreme Court ruling on power-plant pollution. A majority of the justices agreed that the E.P.A. has the right to regulate smog from coal-fired power plants, which drifts across state lines. But Justice Scalia didn’t just dissent; he suggested that the E.P.A.’s proposed rule — which would tie the size of required smog reductions to cost — reflected the Marxist concept of “from each according to his ability.” Taking cost into consideration is Marxist? Who knew?
And you can just imagine what will happen when the E.P.A., buoyed by the smog ruling, moves on to regulation of greenhouse gas emissions.
What do I mean by crazy climate economics?
First, we’ll see any effort to limit pollution denounced as a tyrannical act. Pollution wasn’t always a deeply partisan issue: Economists in the George W. Bush administration wrote paeans to “market based” pollution controls, and in 2008 John McCain made proposals for cap-and-trade limits on greenhouse gases part of his presidential campaign. But when House Democrats actually passed a cap-and-trade bill in 2009, it was attacked as, you guessed it, Marxist. And these days Republicans come out in force to oppose even the most obviously needed regulations, like the plan to reduce the pollution that’s killing Chesapeake Bay.
Second, we’ll see claims that any effort to limit emissions will have what Senator Marco Rubio is already calling “a devastating impact on our economy.”
Why is this crazy? Normally, conservatives extol the magic of markets and the adaptability of the private sector, which is supposedly able to transcend with ease any constraints posed by, say, limited supplies of natural resources. But as soon as anyone proposes adding a few limits to reflect environmental issues — such as a cap on carbon emissions — those all-capable corporations supposedly lose any ability to cope with change.
Now, the rules the E.P.A. is likely to impose won’t give the private sector as much flexibility as it would have had in dealing with an economywide carbon cap or emissions tax. But Republicans have only themselves to blame: Their scorched-earth opposition to any kind of climate policy has left executive action by the White House as the only route forward.
Furthermore, it turns out that focusing climate policy on coal-fired power plants isn’t bad as a first step. Such plants aren’t the only source of greenhouse gas emissions, but they’re a large part of the problem — and the best estimates we have of the path forward suggest that reducing power-plant emissions will be a large part of any solution.
What about the argument that unilateral U.S. action won’t work, because China is the real problem? It’s true that we’re no longer No. 1 in greenhouse gases — but we’re still a strong No. 2. Furthermore, U.S. action on climate is a necessary first step toward a broader international agreement, which will surely include sanctions on countries that don’t participate.
So the coming firestorm over new power-plant regulations won’t be a genuine debate — just as there isn’t a genuine debate about climate science. Instead, the airwaves will be filled with conspiracy theories and wild claims about costs, all of which should be ignored. Climate policy may finally be getting somewhere; let’s not let crazy climate economics get in the way.
By: Paul Krugman, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, May 11, 2014
The more research that is done on the human toll of denying people health insurance, the easier it is to place a price in lives as well as dollars of decisions like that made by nearly half the states to reject the Medicaid expansion provided for in the Affordable Care Act. At Politico Magazine (in a piece given the wonderful, Celine-esque title, “Death on the Installment Plan”) Harold Pollack of the University of Chicago utilizes the findings of last week’s study on the lives saved by RomneyCare in Massachusetts to make some suggestions for those that might be saved by making Medicaid available to more non-elderly adults:
As a matter of fiscal policy, [rejecting the Medicaid expansion] makes little sense. The federal government would initially cover 100 percent of the costs. Its share will gradually drop to 90 percent over the coming years. Over the next decade, the federal government will cover more than 95 percent of the Medicaid expansion’s total cost. Edwin Park of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities notes that the ACA raises state expenditures on Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) by only 1.6 percent, when compared with what expenditures would have been in the absence of health reform.
Even the above figures overstate states’ true fiscal burden, since these federal dollars would cover many services such as mental health care, public hospital services and services to the correctional population that would otherwise be supported by states and localities. Medicaid expansion is a significant economic stimulus to the states that have adopted it. Even in deeply conservative states such as Texas, the expansion is strongly supported by the medical community, hospitals, cities and localities and other key constituencies.
Texas and other huge states like Florida are leaving tens of billions of dollars on the table. When asked to give an accounting of themselves, officials offer flimsy justifications to evade two obvious realities: First, Republican politicians do not want to embrace the centerpiece domestic policy achievement of the Obama presidency. Second, many of these same politicians display conspicuously tepid concern for the wellbeing of the expansion’s most obvious beneficiaries: poor, nonwhite, politically marginal residents of their own states….
Nearly 5 million low-income Americans are income-eligible for Medicaid under the ACA, yet live in states that now reject the Medicaid expansion. Within this rather small but critical low-income population, that same one-per-830 estimate [made in the Massachusetts study] implies that almost 5,800 people will die every year as a result of being left uninsured. That’s only an estimate. It may overestimate—or underestimate—the true human consequences. In my view, there’s no escaping the fact that partisan opposition to the ACA is costing thousands of actual human lives every year.
That’s a hell of a toll for scoring an ideological point.
By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Washington Monthly Political Animal, May 12, 2014