Thank God for elections and election years. An election gives our president, who must face the voters in November, permission to think and act like a partisan. It’s long overdue.
President Obama has boldly made key recess appointments to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) and to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB). The Republican strategy has been to destroy these agencies by failing to confirm appointees. In the case of the new CFPB, that meant nobody in charge to make key decisions to make the new bureau operational. In the case of the NLRB, it meant the lack of a quorum would paralyze the agency altogether.
In naming Richard Cordray to head the CFPB, the president has called the Republicans’ bluff. This was the agency that Elizabeth Warren invented and dearly hoped to lead. Republicans made clear they would block her appointment. When Obama passed her over in favor of the less-well-known Cordray, former Ohio Attorney General and also a strong consumer advocate, Republicans blocked his confirmation, too.
The selection of Cordray, an activist very much in the spirit of Warren, is in many ways a tribute to her leadership in fighting both for a strong consumer protection agency and a strong leader to head it. Cordray is that leader. Consumers will finally have an agency to keep watch for abuses that do not only harm small borrowers but aggregate to major threats to the financial system. Had there been a consumer bureau in the Warren spirit a decade ago, it would have noticed that sub-prime loans were not only ripping off homeowners but threatening to take down the economy.
In the case of the NLRB, the agency, which protects the right of workers to organize or join a union free from employer harassment, would have been totally paralyzed. The Republicans said as much. Here’s what Obama said, in naming Richard Griffin, Sharon Block, and Terrence Flynn to vacant seats on the NLRB:
When Congress refuses to act and as a result hurts our economy and puts people at risk, I have an obligation as President to do what I can without them. I have an obligation to act on behalf of the American people. I will not stand by while a minority in the Senate puts party ideology ahead of the people they were elected to serve. Not when so much is at stake. Not at this make-or-break moment for the middle class.
Well said. These actions define a president who is leading, not searching for futile compromises. It exposes both the Republican obstructionism, the unprecedented tactic of destroying agencies by refusing to allow confirmations, as well as the Republican hostility to agencies that defend regular Americans against powerful corporate elites.
Predictably, the Republicans, having invented new forms of obstructionism such as the use of the filibuster on ordinary legislation and not special cases, as well of refusal to consent to routine extension of the debt ceiling, now cry foul when Obama uses a constitutional provision, the recess appointment, which has been conventional for presidents of both parties. Their contrivance of a fake nominal session when Congress is actually in recess is shameless. The more of a fuss they make, the more they out themselves as defenders of the one percent.
As in the case of the extension of the payroll tax cut, this conciliatory president seems to be warming to the concept of maximizing partisan advantage, particularly when the Republicans hand him opportunities on a platter. Just to make sure that message did not lost, Obama chose Cordray’s hard-pressed home state of Ohio for his announcement of the appointment, and painted Republican obstructionists as allies of Wall Street.
The citizenry loves a fighter far more than a punching bag. The right hates Obama. In the spirit of Franklin Roosevelt, he might as well earn that hatred.
By: Robert Kuttner, The American Prospect, January 5, 2011
Eric Cantor’s op-ed laying out the Republican agenda is filled with the kind
of distortions you’d expect, but this passage deserves special commendation.
After decrying a National Labor Relations Board Ruling, he continues:
Such behavior, coupled with the president’s insistence on raising the top tax rate paid by individuals and small businesses, has resulted in a lag in growth that has added to the debt crisis, contributing to our nation’s credit downgrade.
So Cantor is arguing that S&P downgraded U.S. debt because of President
Obama’s future plans to increase the top tax rate. That’s such a mind-boggling
claim that even Cantor cannot bring himself to put it in quite these terms. So
instead he breaks it into a series of steps.
First, he claims that the future promise of upper-bracket tax hikes “has
resulted” in a lag in growth. (Question: if the mere possibility of future tax
hikes is enough to depress growth, why don’t we go ahead and just raise taxes?
If we’re going to get the slower growth anyway, might as well get the revenue,
Second, the lag in growth “caused” by hypothetical future tax hikes added to
the debt crisis.
Third, the debt crisis contributed to the downgrading of the debt.
It’s a fairly brilliant bit of rhetoric. After all, S&P specifically cited the Republican threat to fail to lift the debt ceiling and Republican refusal
to consider any tax increases as the cause of the downgrade. cantor has
found a way to present Obama’s support for higher taxes as the cause of the
downgrade. That’s so brazen I almost have to admire it.
By: Jonathan Chait, The New Republic, August 22, 2011
The battle has resumed in Wisconsin. The state supreme court has allowed Governor Scott Walker to strip bargaining rights from state workers.
Meanwhile, governors and legislators in New Hampshire and Missouri are attacking private unions, seeking to make the states so-called “open shop” where workers can get all the benefits of being union members without paying union dues. Needless to say this ploy undermines the capacity of unions to do much of anything. Other Republican governors and legislatures are following suit.
Republicans in Congress are taking aim at the National Labor Relations Board, which issued a relatively minor proposed rule change allowing workers to vote on whether to unionize soon after a union has been proposed, rather than allowing employers to delay the vote for years. Many employers have used the delaying tactics to retaliate against workers who try to organize, and intimidate others into rejecting a union.
This war on workers’ rights is an assault on the middle class, and it is undermining the American economy.
The American economy can’t get out of neutral until American workers have more money in their pockets to buy what they produce. And unions are the best way to give them the bargaining power to get better pay.
For three decades after World War II – I call it the “Great Prosperity” – wages rose in tandem with productivity. Americans shared the gains of growth, and had enough money to buy what they produced.
That’s largely due to the role of labor unions. In 1955, over a third of American workers in the private sector were unionized. Today, fewer than 7 percent are.
With the decline of unions came the stagnation of American wages. More and more of the total income and wealth of America has gone to the very top. Middle-class purchasing power depended on mothers going into paid work, everyone working longer hours, and, finally, the middle class going deep into debt, using their homes as collateral.
But now all these coping mechanisms are exhausted — and we’re living with the consequence.
Some say the Great Prosperity was an anomaly. America’s major competitors lay in ruins. We had the world to ourselves. According to this view, there’s no going back.
But this view is wrong. If you want to see the same basic bargain we had then, take a look at Germany now.
Germany is growing much faster than the United States. Its unemployment rate is now only 6.1 percent (we’re now at 9.1 percent).
What’s Germany’s secret? In sharp contrast to the decades of stagnant wages in America, real average hourly pay has risen almost 30 percent there since 1985. Germany has been investing substantially in education and infrastructure.
How did German workers do it? A big part of the story is German labor unions are still powerful enough to insist that German workers get their fair share of the economy’s gains.
That’s why pay at the top in Germany hasn’t risen any faster than pay in the middle. As David Leonhardt reported in the New York Times recently, the top 1 percent of German households earns about 11 percent of all income – a percent that hasn’t changed in four decades.
Contrast this with the United States, where the top 1 percent went from getting 9 percent of total income in the late 1970s to more than 20 percent today.
The only way back toward sustained growth and prosperity in the United States is to remake the basic bargain linking pay to productivity. This would give the American middle class the purchasing power they need to keep the economy going.
Part of the answer is, as in Germany, stronger labor unions — unions strong enough to demand a fair share of the gains from productivity growth.
The current Republican assault on workers’ rights continues a thirty-year war on American workers’ wages. That long-term war has finally taken its toll on the American economy.
It’s time to fight back.
By: Robert Reich, RobertReich Blog, June 15, 2011