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“Revealing A Truth He Didn’t Intend To Reveal”: Jeb Bush Wants You To Work More, Whether You Like It Or Not

Jeb Bush’s instantly controversial argument to the editorial board of the New Hampshire Union Leader—that “people need to work longer hours” if the U.S. economy is to attain perpetually high economic growth—has created a great deal of confusion, when the real implications of his view are clear and troubling.

Part of the confusion stems from the fact that it’s politically dumb to suggest, even unintentionally, that voters don’t work hard enough. Democrats and the political press are treating Bush’s statement as a gaffe, because his words can be plausibly construed to mean just that. The rest stems from the muddled context of his remarks, and his equally muddled attempt to clarify them. Both sets of comments betray a shaky grasp of basic economic terms. But the key difference between them is that in round one, Bush said people “need” to work more, whereas in round two he said people should be given “a chance” to work more. This is a real and crucial distinction—a true walkback, rather than some weaselly attempt to say the same thing using softer language. The problem is that there are plenty of reasons to suspect Bush was being more forthright in the first instance. It’s quite clear, when you examine Bush’s past statements and conservative orthodoxy more generally that Bush doesn’t merely want to use carrots to encourage work—he wants to use sticks as well.

Bush’s improbable goal is to make four percent annual economic growth normal rather than extraordinary. Both sets of comments speak to meeting that objective, and he reasons, quite sensibly, that it won’t happen unless people who aren’t currently working begin to work, and people who are currently working begin to work more.

The real controversy arises not from the bloodlessness of the words he chose, but from the tactics he would use to extract the necessary labor.

One way to increase hours worked is to eliminate laws and regulations that make it difficult for people to work as much as they’d like. If the government effectively penalizes employers for giving their workers more hours, or if workers face steep marginal tax penalties when they climb the income scale, then removing those obstacles would give people so inclined “a chance” to work more.

Another way to increase hours worked is to eliminate laws that give workers leverage over their employers. Supplement people’s incomes, and they have less incentive to work. Take away their benefits, and they’ll have little choice but to work more. They will “need” to.

The Affordable Care Act creates both kinds of work disincentives. Under the ACA, workers with subsidized insurance stand to lose hundreds and hundreds of dollars in premium subsidies when their incomes climb from 199 percent of the poverty line to 201 percent of the poverty line. But the ACA also creates a coverage guarantee, which means people no longer need to be so reliant on their employers for health insurance. This is a good thing. It will allow hundreds of thousands of people to leave jobs they don’t want to pursue other interests (startups, full-time parenting, retirement, leisure) without assuming the terrifying risk of medical bankruptcy. But conservatives, including Jeb Bush, think it’s terrible.

Bush doesn’t just support removing burdens that hinder people who want to work more. He supports steepening the costs and risks for people who don’t. If Bush can use economic policy as a cattle prod to hasten four percent growth, he will. When he said “people need to work longer hours” he meant our policies should leave people little choice but to do so. If Bush suffers politically for this, it will be because his words can be made to seem condescending. Workers don’t feel like they “need” to work more, and don’t like being told otherwise by a rich and powerful politician. That’s what political commentators are getting at when they call this a gaffe, but it was only a gaffe in that it revealed a truth he didn’t intend to reveal. The real reason his remarks are troubling isn’t that he meant to call workers lazy—he probably didn’t—but that he wants to make workers feel like working more is their only option.

 

By: Brian Beutler, Senior Editor, The New Republic, July 9, 2015

July 11, 2015 Posted by | Economic Growth, Jeb Bush, Workers | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“The Worst Of The Worse”: Maine’s Paul LePage Might Just Be The Worst Governor Of All

When Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington released its report on “The Worst Governors in America” last summer, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie was not even on the list. Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker did make the “cronyism, mismanagement, nepotism, self-enrichment” list, but the review of his tenure was not necessarily the most scathing in CREW’s assessment of Republicans and Democrats who had gone astray. And Ohio Governor John Kasich was ranked as nothing more than a “sideshow.”

Now Christie is busy answering questions about blocked traffic, misdirected Sandy aid and political misdeeds. Walker’s facing national and state scrutiny of secret e-mails and illegal campaign operations so intense that even Fox News Sunday’s Chris Wallace interrupted him to say, “But sir, you’re not answering my question.” And Kasich is scrambling to deal with a “Frackgate” controversy touched off by the exposure of a public-relations scheme—apparently developed by his administration, Halliburton and oil and gas industry lobbyists—to “proactively open state park and forest land” for fracking.

The scandals surrounding these prominent Republican governors, some of them potential presidential contenders, are serious. And they raise the question: Could there really be a governor who is more controversial? And whose actions might be even more troubling?

Meet Maine Governor Paul LePage, who ranked in the very top tier of CREW’s “worst” list with this review:

The first-term governor packed his administration with lobbyists and used his office to promote their environmental-deregulation agenda, and allegedly went so far as to fire a state employee who testified in favor of policies the administration opposed.

Gov. LePage also attempted to gut his state’s open records act, and is under investigation by the federal government for trying to bully employees of the state Department of Labor into deciding more cases in favor of business.

Now, the federal investigation has been completed, and LePage is still very much in the “worst governor” competition. A report from the US Department of Labor Office of the Solicitor General concluded that LePage and his appointees meddled with the process by which unemployment claims are reviewed—apparently with an eye toward advantaging employers and disadvantaging the jobless.

When the governor and his appointees engaged with officials who consider appeals from Mainers seeking unemployment benefits, the federal investigation concluded, they acted with “what could be perceived as a bias toward employers.” Specifically, the investigators determined, “hearing officers could have interpreted the expectations communicated by the Governor…as pressure to be more sympathetic to employers.”

The headlines from Maine newspapers Thursday were blunt:

Federal probe finds LePage pushed jobless benefits appeals officers to show ‘bias toward employers

Federal probe faults LePage administration on unemployment hearings

Federal investigation finds that LePage, Maine DOL endangered fairness of unemployment hearings

The roots of the investigation into LePage’s actions go back almost a year, as noted by Maine’s Sun Journal in a front-page story Thursday:

An April 11 Sun Journal investigation cited sources who said the governor had summoned DOL employees to a mandatory luncheon at the Blaine House on March 21 and scolded them for finding too many unemployment-benefit appeals cases in favor of workers. They were told they were doing their jobs poorly, sources said. Afterward, they told the Sun Journal they felt abused, harassed and bullied by the governor.

Emails released under a Freedom of Access Act request echoed complaints made to the Sun Journal by the hearing officers who attended the meeting.

LePage denied the charges and claimed his communications with the hearing officers were “cordial.” When the US Department of Labor investigation was launched—because hearing officers are paid with federal funds and must follow federal rules—the governor denied it was going on.

But there is no denying now that LePage has been called out for creating what reasonable people would interpret as an unfair “bias” against the jobless in a state that has a significantly higher unemployment rate than its northern New England neighbors New Hampshire and Vermont.

LePage is expected to seek re-election this year. Among the candidates he will face is Democratic Congressman Mike Michaud, a third-generation paper mill worker who says, “I understand what people are going through, the hard times that they are facing. Whether or not they have a job today or tomorrow, the uncertainty is real.”

Providing a fair process for reviewing unemployment claims helps to address that uncertainty. Infusing bias into the process is not just wrong, it’s cruel. And that cruelty—as much as any political abuse or ethical excess—provides a vital measure for assessing the worst of the worst governors.

 

By: John Nichols, The Nation, February 27, 2014

February 28, 2014 Posted by | Paul LePage, Republican Governors | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Political Gridlock’s Millions Of Victims”: It’s One Thing To Seek An Advantage At The Polls, Another To Make Innocent People Suffer

In an election year, there are always winners and losers. Rarely, however, are there so many victims.

Legislative gridlock, which was already bad enough, has devolved into a cynical, poisoned status. With a few obvious votes, Congress could improve the lives of millions of people — the unemployed, the undocumented, the uninsured. But instead of being helped, those in need are punished for nakedly political reasons.

It says a lot about this shameful state of affairs that Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) , one of the most powerful and savvy officials in Washington, had to put his career on the line to win an increase in the federal debt ceiling. Failure to act would have caused a catastrophic default. No new government spending was involved; rather, the Treasury simply needed to pay for spending that Congress already had authorized. Raising the limit was a no-brainer.

Yet Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), who continues to redefine the word “shameless,” almost led the nation into calamity by forcing Republican senators to go on record in favor of the increase. Since the GOP base has been told — wrongly — that refusing to hike the ceiling would somehow help get the debt under control, senators who voted to do the right thing risked a tea party challenge.

McConnell, who already faces a tough primary contest, sucked it up and did his duty. Cruz grinned and smirked during the vote, then presumably made preparations to receive a flood of tea party campaign cash for his anticipated presidential run.

At least Congress managed to avoid inflicting grievous harm on the entire nation. A number of subgroups have not been so fortunate.

The Americans most obviously suffering because of Congress’s unwillingness to do the right thing are the 1.7 million jobless workers who have lost their long-term unemployment benefits.

Democrats keep proposing legislation to extend those benefits, as has regularly been done in tough economic times. Republicans say they agree but insist — contrary to common practice — that the extension be paid for with cuts elsewhere in the budget.

Again, Republicans are wary of angering the party’s conservative base. It’s not so much a matter of increasing the deficit — a three-month extension would cost only $6 billion, and Democrats have proposed offsets — but that far-right dogma considers such payments a moral hazard that encourages idleness. Never mind that recipients of unemployment benefits, by definition, were employed until relatively recently and can demonstrate that they are actively looking for jobs.

The working poor are suffering unnecessarily as well. The federal minimum wage of $7.25 is far too low. In the past, Republicans have joined Democrats in voting for needed increases. In an election year, however, struggling wage-earners are out of luck.

The 11 million men, women and children who are in this country without documents are also victims of the calendar. President Obama and the entire congressional leadership agree that there is an urgent need for immigration reform.

The Senate has already passed a comprehensive bill that increases border security and offers the undocumented a path toward citizenship. Many observers believe there are enough votes in the House to pass the Senate bill and send it to Obama for his signature. But because of the looming election, that proposition isn’t being tested.

House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) would face a revolt in the conservative GOP caucus if he allowed Democrats and a few moderate Republicans to pass a comprehensive immigration bill. Boehner has established the precedent that he can use this maneuver to avert certain disaster — it’s how he got a “clean” debt-ceiling increase through the House. But his members will not abide being painted as “soft on immigration” in an election year.

Also unfairly punished are the millions of uninsured Americans seeking coverage through the Affordable Care Act. Despite the Republican Party’s best efforts, Obamacare is working. But it would work better if Congress would cooperate with Obama in making a host of technical adjustments to the program.

This sort of after-the-fact tinkering has been required for every big social program. But Republicans have so demonized Obamacare that collaborating in an effort to make it function more effectively would be, for the far-right base, tantamount to treason.

It’s one thing to seek an advantage at the polls. It’s another thing to make innocent people suffer for your ambition. Guilty members of Congress — and I’m specifically including you, Sen. Cruz — should hang their heads in disgrace.

 

By: Eugene Robinson, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, February 17, 2014

February 18, 2014 Posted by | Congress, GOP | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Pete Sessions And The GOP’s ‘Immoral’ Conservatism”: Allowing People To Die To Advance A Political Philosophy Isn’t Just Bad Policy

“It is immoral.”

That was the judgment of Rep. Pete Sessions, a Texas Republican and committee chairman, on the House floor this week. But the subject of his sermon wasn’t the Assad regime in Syria or human trafficking. What Sessions found immoral was the repugnant notion that the government would help Americans who lost their jobs and are looking for work.

Sessions was preaching in response to Democrats’ pleas that the Republican majority hold a vote on restoring unemployment-insurance benefits to the 1.7 million who have lost them since the benefits expired six weeks ago and the 70,000 or so who are losing them each week. Sessions, on the floor to usher through the House “sportsmen’s heritage and recreational enhancement” legislation, explained why he wouldn’t bring up jobless benefits: “I believe it is immoral for this country to have as a policy extending long-term unemployment to people rather than us working on creation of jobs.”

In fact, the economy has added about 8.5 million private-sector jobs in the last 47 months, and overall unemployment, at 6.6 percent in January, would be substantially lower if Sessions and his colleagues hadn’t been so successful in their “work” of cutting government spending when the recovery was fragile.

One result of the Great Recession, though, has been historically high long-term unemployment — 3.6 million people out of work 27 weeks or more, according to Friday’s Labor Department report. This is falling — by 1.1 million over the last year — but those still searching, from all parts of the country and all walks of life, need help.

Republican opponents of the benefits extension said they would consider extending that help if it were “paid for” by saving money elsewhere. So Senate Democrats drafted a three-month extension that was paid for using an accounting method Republicans have supported in the past. Republicans responded with another filibuster — and on Thursday they again succeeded in blocking an extension of benefits.

Those opposing unemployment insurance were conspicuously absent during the debate. Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) was brave enough to issue a statement: “We can get Americans back to work and our economy booming again, but this is not achieved by Washington turning a temporary federal benefit into another welfare program.”

That echoes the Sessions complaint that extending benefits is “immoral.” And, as is often the case, these complaints, in turn, echo Rush Limbaugh. After President Obama on Jan. 31 signed a memorandum directing the federal government not to discriminate against the long-term unemployed, the radio host responded: “So he says, ‘I’m directing every federal agency to make sure we are evaluating candidates on the level, without regard to their employment history.’ What if they’re fired because they’re drunk? What if they’re fired because they were having affairs with the boss’s secretary? Doesn’t matter. Can’t look at that.”

Of course, the memorandum says no such thing. Limbaugh and his congressional apostles are justifying indifference to the unemployed much the way one denies a panhandler under the rationale that he would use the money only to buy more booze. But these are not panhandlers; these are, by definition, people who had been working and are trying to work again.

The Sessions/Inhofe/Limbaugh definition of morality is based in the ideal world of universal productivity they’d like to see, but it offers little help for human misery in the real world. This morality can be seen, too, in the attempt, led by Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and embraced by many conservative lawmakers, to repeal the “risk corridors” that protect health insurers from unanticipated losses under Obamacare. That would likely bring down the entire health-care law, as its foes desire. But a collapse would also cause 30 million to 40 million additional people to lose their health insurance suddenly, with no obvious solution or easy way back to the old system. “It would precipitate a crisis,” says Larry Levitt of the Kaiser Family Foundation.

This morality is also at work in the decisions by 25 states under Republican control to reject the expansion of Medicaid offered under Obamacare. The states generally object because they are philosophically opposed to entitlement programs. But a new study from researchers at Harvard Medical School and City University of New York calculates that 7,115 to 17,104 more people will die annually than would have if their states had accepted the Medicaid expansion. The researchers, who favor a single-payer health system, examined demographic data and past insurance expansions.

Conservatives dispute the study’s findings, and I hope the critics are right. Allowing people to die to advance your political philosophy isn’t just bad policy. It’s immoral.

 

By: Dana Milbank, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, February 7, 2014

February 10, 2014 Posted by | Medicaid Expansion, Unemployment Benefits | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Writing Off The Unemployed”: Republican Imperviousness To Evidence Goes Along With A Stunning Lack Of Compassion

Back in 1987 my Princeton colleague Alan Blinder published a very good book titled “Hard Heads, Soft Hearts.” It was, as you might guess, a call for tough-minded but compassionate economic policy. Unfortunately, what we actually got — especially, although not only, from Republicans — was the opposite. And it’s difficult to find a better example of the hardhearted, softheaded nature of today’s G.O.P. than what happened last week, as Senate Republicans once again used the filibuster to block aid to the long-term unemployed.

What do we know about long-term unemployment in America?

First, it’s still at near-record levels. Historically, the long-term unemployed — those out of work for 27 weeks or more — have usually been between 10 and 20 percent of total unemployment. Today the number is 35.8 percent. Yet extended unemployment benefits, which went into effect in 2008, have now been allowed to lapse. As a result, few of the long-term unemployed are receiving any kind of support.

Second, if you think the typical long-term unemployed American is one of Those People — nonwhite, poorly educated, etc. — you’re wrong, according to research by the Urban Institute’s Josh Mitchell. Half of the long-term unemployed are non-Hispanic whites. College graduates are less likely to lose their jobs than workers with less education, but once they do they are actually a bit more likely than others to join the ranks of the long-term unemployed. And workers over 45 are especially likely to spend a long time unemployed.

Third, in a weak job market long-term unemployment tends to be self-perpetuating, because employers in effect discriminate against the jobless. Many people have suspected that this was the case, and last year Rand Ghayad of Northeastern University provided a dramatic confirmation. He sent out thousands of fictitious résumés in response to job ads, and found that potential employers were drastically less likely to respond if the fictitious applicant had been out of work more than six months, even if he or she was better qualified than other applicants.

What all of this suggests is that the long-term unemployed are mainly victims of circumstances — ordinary American workers who had the bad luck to lose their jobs (which can happen to anyone) at a time of extraordinary labor market weakness, with three times as many people seeking jobs as there are job openings. Once that happened, the very fact of their unemployment made it very hard to find a new job.

So how can politicians justify cutting off modest financial aid to their unlucky fellow citizens?

Some Republicans justified last week’s filibuster with the tired old argument that we can’t afford to increase the deficit. Actually, Democrats paired the benefits extension with measures to increase tax receipts. But in any case this is a bizarre objection at a time when federal deficits are not just falling, but clearly falling too fast, holding back economic recovery.

For the most part, however, Republicans justify refusal to help the unemployed by asserting that we have so much long-term unemployment because people aren’t trying hard enough to find jobs, and that extended benefits are part of the reason for that lack of effort.

People who say things like this — people like, for example, Senator Rand Paul — probably imagine that they’re being tough-minded and realistic. In fact, however, they’re peddling a fantasy at odds with all the evidence. For example: if unemployment is high because people are unwilling to work, reducing the supply of labor, why aren’t wages going up?

But evidence has a well-known liberal bias. The more their economic doctrine fails — remember how the Fed’s actions were supposed to produce runaway inflation? — the more fiercely conservatives cling to that doctrine. More than five years after a financial crisis plunged the Western world into what looks increasingly like a quasi-permanent slump, making nonsense of free-market orthodoxy, it’s hard to find a leading Republican who has changed his or her mind on, well, anything.

And this imperviousness to evidence goes along with a stunning lack of compassion.

If you follow debates over unemployment, it’s striking how hard it is to find anyone on the Republican side even hinting at sympathy for the long-term jobless. Being unemployed is always presented as a choice, as something that only happens to losers who don’t really want to work. Indeed, one often gets the sense that contempt for the unemployed comes first, that the supposed justifications for tough policies are after-the-fact rationalizations.

The result is that millions of Americans have in effect been written off — rejected by potential employers, abandoned by politicians whose fuzzy-mindedness is matched only by the hardness of their hearts.

 

By: Paul Krugman, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, February 9, 2014

February 10, 2014 Posted by | Economic Policy, Republicans | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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