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“The Same Priorities She’s Emphasizing Now”: What Hillary Said About Paid Leave, Child Care, Inequality — Yesterday And 20 Years Ago

Following Hillary Clinton’s first major campaign speech on Saturday, purveyors of conventional wisdom have assured us again that she is tacking toward the left to deflect her challengers and mollify her party’s liberal base. Such assertions usually hint that Clinton is not progressive herself, but merely swayed that way by polls and consultants.

On the evening before her big event in Four Freedoms Park, New York’s memorial to its favorite son, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, I picked up a copy of her 1996 bestseller, It Takes A Village. (While many journalists once thumbed through it, few seem to remember its contents.) Published during an era when the nation showed few signs of turning leftward, Clinton’s first book offered pithy arguments for the same priorities she is emphasizing now. Consider the views she expressed on family leave — and, in particular, the limitations of the law signed by her husband in 1993:

As I have mentioned, the Family and Medical Leave Act guarantees unpaid leave to employees in firms with more than fifty workers. That is a good beginning. Many parents, however, cannot afford to forgo pay for even a few weeks, and very few employers in America offer paid maternity and paternity leave….

Other countries have figured out that honoring the family by giving it adequate time for caregiving is not only right for the family and smart for society but good for employers, who reap the benefits of workers’ increased loyalty and peace of mind. The Germans, for example, guarantee working mothers fourteen weeks’ maternity leave (six weeks before and eight weeks after delivery) at full salary…

Other European countries provide similarly generous leave, some of them to fathers as well as mothers. In Sweden, for example, couples receive fifteen months of job-guaranteed, paid leave to share between them…

As First Lady, Clinton obviously was in no position to demand that her husband’s administration (or the Republican-dominated Congress) institute paid family leave, but her own opinion was clear enough. So was her view of early childhood education, another current issue that she highlighted on Saturday:

Imagine a country in which nearly all children between the ages of three and five attend preschool in sparkling classrooms, with teachers recruited and trained as child care professionals. Imagine a country that conceives of child care as a program to “welcome” children into the larger community and “awaken” their potential for learning and growing.

It may sound too good to be true, but it’s not….More than 90 percent of French children between ages three and five attend free or inexpensive preschools called écoles maternelles…

While I was in France, I had conversations with a number of political leaders, from Socialists to Conservatives. “How,” I asked, “can you transcend your political differences and come to an agreement on the issue of government-subsidized child care?” One after another of them looked at me in astonishment. “How can you not invest in children and expect to have a healthy country?” was the reply I heard over and over again.

Finally, Clinton drew sharp attention to the social instabilities of the post-industrial American economy and the role of government in redressing what she called a “crisis.” Observing that “long-established expectations about doing business have given way under the pressures of the modern economy,” she warned bluntly:

Too many companies, especially large ones, are driven more and more narrowly by the need to ensure that investors get good quarterly returns and to justify executives’ high salaries. Too often, this means that they view most employees as costs, not investments, and that they expend less and less concern on job training, employee profit sharing, family-friendly policies…or even fair pay raises that share with workers – not to mention their families and communities – gains from productivity and profits…

Despite record profits for many companies, the gap in income between top executives and the average worker has widened dramatically….This growing inequality of incomes has serious implications for our children.

She went on to again praise Germany, where “there is a general consensus that government and business should play a role in evening out inequities in the free market system” — and where higher base wages, universal health care, and superb job training guaranteed “a distribution of income that is not so skewed as ours is.”

Writing 20 years ago, when President Clinton was running for re-election against the odds, Hillary hedged her message — and yet she was prescient in addressing the harms of an increasingly unfair economy. What she said then undergirds what she is still saying, more and more forcefully, in this campaign.

 

By: Joe Conason, Editor in Chief, Editor’s Blog, Featured Post, The National Memo, June 15, 2015

June 16, 2015 Posted by | Democrats, Economic Inequality, Hillary Clinton | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“It’s Worth Taking Seriously”: Washington Is Ignoring Obama’s Budget. You Shouldn’t

Mere hours after the White House released President Obama’s budget, Washington had reached a consensus about it: It’s “irrelevant.”

As this argument goes, the House and Senate have already agreed on a fiscal policy plan—the agreement from House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan and Senate Budget Chairman Patty Murray that Congress passed in the fall. Ryan-Murray lays out the basic parameters of what the government will take in and spend, not just for 2014 but also for 2015. Neither party wants to revisit that pact. And to the extent Obama is proposing new ideas for the long term, like pouring money into early childhood education, the Republicans simply aren’t interested in passing them. That would seem to render Obama’s new budget an exercise in pure political symbolism, and maybe empty symbolism at that.

I take a different view—and not simply because I’m nerdy enough to think of reading 200-plus pages of figures and charts as an opportunity, rather than a burden. For one thing, some of Obama’s budget proposals could still become legislation—not as sweeping initiatives, for sure, but as scaled-down pilots or add-ons to other pieces of legislation. It’s already happened once, in the Ryan-Murray spending agreement. Mostly that pact was about restoring some of the funding that various federal agencies had lost, because of budget sequestration. But the Administration and its Capitol Hill allies managed to squeeze out a little extra funding for early childhood programs. One reason: Obama’s call for a massive, $75 billion investment in the previous year’s budget put the issue onto the agenda.

The Administration may have another chance to scrounge up new funding for early childhood this year, now that leaders in both parties have expressed interest in reauthorizing and improving the Child Care and Development Block Grant, which is the federal government’s biggest program for financing day care. And that’s not the only pending legislation that could give the Administration and its allies a chance to fight for funds. Congress could take up a major highway bill, since the existing federal law expires in September. That’s an opportunity to drum up support for infrastructure projects, which include ports that need dredging as well as roads that need building.

“We can’t simply throw up our hands and not pass a highway bill,” one senior administration official said on Tuesday. And while this particular Congress has shown an unusual proclivity for doing nothing, thanks mostly to Republican intransigence, the two parties seem to have some of the same topics on their minds. Both Ryan and Senator Marco Rubio has expressed interest in expanding the Earned Income Tax Credit, so that childless adults can get benefits closer to the ones that families already receive. Obama’s budget calls for the same thing. House Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp has talked about closing corporate tax loopholes, bolstering tax breaks for the working poor, and even throwing a little funding at infrastructure. Obama’s budget includes versions of all of these.

The parties are still far apart—very, very far apart—on the specifics. Republicans and Democrats have fundamental disagreements about how to fund highway creation and maintenance, with one side supporting new taxes and the other favoring tax cuts. (You can guess who wants what.) The Republican EITC proposals would give more money to childless adults by giving less money to families; Obama’s proposal would increase funding across the board. But particularly when it comes to some of the provisions of Camp’s tax plan, a senior administration official said on Tuesday, “there’s basis for a serious conversation.”

Of course, Camp isn’t the problem. It’s the House Republican leaders, who are in no rush to put his plan—or anybody else’s plan—on the agenda if they can avoid it. That’s partly because an election is coming up. Republicans figure they will pick up seats in the midterms, giving them more leverage over any fiscal negotiations taking place. But a budget unlikely to generate legislation can still have meaning, as a statement of priorities. In this case, the Obama budget is a preview of the agenda Democrats will adopt whenever full-scale fiscal negotiations start up again—which, as Bob Greenstein of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities points out, is likely to happen sometime in 2015:

2014 likely won’t be a year of significant budgetary action beyond the appropriations bills. But 2015 may well be. Policymakers likely will seek to negotiate another budget deal to ease the scheduled sequestration budget cuts for 2016 and beyond and also may consider tax reform and other measures.  Both the new Obama budget and the budget proposal that House Budget Committee Chair Paul Ryan will unveil in a few weeks will offer dueling frameworks for a year-long debate on where fiscal and program policy should go, in advance of larger decisions next year.

That’s precisely the sort of information voters should have in November, when they decide which parties control the two houses of Congress.

The stakes in the fall may not be nearly as big as they were in 2008, when Obama was promising to reform health care and stop climate change—or in 2010, when Republicans were vowing to roll back Obama’s accomplishments and, then, roll back parts of the Great Society and New Deal. But those were unusually grandiose times. The difference between Democratic and Republican visions of government are still large—and in 2015, when the current spending agreement runs out, lawmakers will have to reconcile them. Obama’s budget is one vision for how to do that, which makes it worth taking seriously.

 

By: Jonathan Cohn, The New Republic, March 4, 2014

March 6, 2014 Posted by | Congress, Federal Budget, Fiscal Policy | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

   

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