Each morning, Bill Scher and Terrance Heath serve up what progressives need to affect change on the kitchen-table issues families face: jobs, health care, green energy, financial reform, affordable education and retirement security. Bill Scher is off this week.
Senate Tries Again To Break Right-Wing Unemployment Filibuster
“Lawmakers come back to work Monday facing a tough decision: Whether it’s more important to spend money to keep the economic recovery going or to watch their pennies,” writes CNNMoney.com.
NPR reports on the pending fight over unemployment benefits: “More than 2 million people have had their benefits cut off in the six-plus weeks since lawmakers began debating the bill. Ever since the Eisenhower administration, Congress has approved jobless benefits that go beyond the usual half-year for up to two years of benefits during times of high unemployment. Democrats want to extend those now-expired benefits another six months. At about $300 a week per beneficiary, that would cost around $34 billion. All but two Senate Republicans say they won’t extend those expired benefits unless Congress cuts spending elsewhere; they say they don’t want to add to the deficit.
Progressives are putting the pressure on. Robert Creamer writes in The Huffington Post: “When Congress returns from its Fourth of July recess, there are not many things it can actually do to improve the economic picture in the four short months before Election Day. But there is, in fact, one thing Congress can do that will have a big impact right away: pass a jobs bill that provides fiscal relief to state and local government and extends unemployment benefits.”
Isaiah J. Poole presses the same message today on OurFuture.org: “The unemployed do not ask for much. They want conservatives in Congress to stop caricaturing them and using them to score ideological points. They want Congress to act with the same urgency with which they acted in 2008 and 2009 when the banking system was melting down. This week, it is time to break the filibuster against unemployment benefits. Next, authorize aid to the states to cover the mandatory Medicaid and children’s health care costs that are forcing therm to cut vital programs elsewhere in the budget. Then, pass the Local Jobs for America Act, which would pour $100 billion into states and localities to support public service jobs in both government and the private sector.”
Digby answers Dave Johnson’s question about those who are too old for a job but too young for Medicare or Social Security — “What are people supposed to do?”: “They are supposed to do all those jobs that are currently being done by undocumented immigrants — like picking strawberries or working as dishwashers. At least that’s the plan according to Republicans who insist that the unemployed are either too lazy to work or too high falutin’ to take work they think is beneath them. Rand Paul calls it ‘tough love.’ And when they raise the retirement age, folks who lose their jobs at 65 or 66 can pull a chair up on the median of the highway and sell oranges. See? Not a problem at all. *Oh and health insurance is available to people over 50 if they’re healthy and unemployed — and rich. Also not a problem. Unless you are an old parasite.”
Steve Benen says Obama must push for job creation, not deficit reduction, to give members of his party something to fight for: “My sense is that President Obama really hates — and actively avoids — picking fights he fully expects to lose. Based on his public comments and proposals, I’d say the president really does endorse his economists’ approach and wants additional stimulus, but doesn’t want to go the mat to fight for spending he’s not going to get. The defeat would leave him weaker, exacerbate intra-party tensions, and at the same time signal that the White House lacks confidence in the strength of the economic recovery. But the current alternative is far worse, especially given the fact that the White House should lack confidence in the strength of the economic recovery. It makes a lot more sense to push an ambitious jobs bill — like, now — invite Republicans to do what they always do, give Democrats something to fight for, and have the debate.”
The 2010 Census workforce, comprised of “more experienced workers with more sophisticated skills in recent memory,” is releasing workers back into a tough economy: New York Times: “In past decades, the bureau faced a challenge just keeping workers around to close up shop, as most dashed for new jobs that might pay better. Not this time around. Jobs remain scarce. In Rhode Island, the unemployment rate stands at 12.3 percent, higher than a year ago. The national rate, too, has not budged. As most census workers have nowhere to go, rushed farewells are rare. Self-reflection, and a touch of anxiety, mark the mood.”
Forward Press on Energy Bill
A decision on legislative strategy for energy legislation in the Senate is likely this week, reports The Hill: “[Senate Majority Leader Harry] Reid spokesman Jim Manley said Friday that Reid would review legislative options presented by staff early in the week and hopefully announce a decision by the end of the week. … Key senators involved in the talks have been pushing for the White House to take a more direct role in the negotiations and to provide the necessary additional guidance needed to bridge diverse views over the scope and strategy for a package.”
Carol Browner, director of the White House Office of Energy and Climate Change Policy, defends the administration’s push for comprehensive clean-energy legislation in Politico: “It’s time to reject the myth that a strong economy and a strong environment are mutually exclusive. It’s time to reject worn-out false choices that have plagued energy debates for decades. A robust economy and a healthy environment are inextricably linked. One begets the other, especially when it comes to leadership in clean energy technologies and jobs. … We are working with senators to achieve the strongest possible legislation during this Congress to provide the necessary incentives and certainty in the marketplace for a change to a clean energy economy. The president believes that the best way to accomplish this goal is to pass comprehensive energy and climate change legislation that puts a cap on harmful carbon pollution.”
Environmental activists don’t think the Gulf of Mexico oil disaster has translated into political momentum — yet. The Washington Post: “The story of 2010 is not that nothing happened after the BP spill, or after the coal-mine explosion that killed 29 in West Virginia on April 5. It’s that much of the reaction has focused on preventing accidents — on tighter scrutiny of rigs and mines — rather than broader changes in the use of oil and coal.” But: “Adam Rome, a historian of the U.S. environmental movement at Pennsylvania State University, said that it could take a year for the public to understand what the spill has done to the gulf — and for politicians to understand what the spill has done to the public.”
What’s this “green economy” we keep hearing so much about?: “The phrase “building a green economy” means different things to different people, but in general it refers to encouraging economic development that prioritizes sustainability — that is, working with nature and not against it in the quest to meet peoples’ needs and wants — instead of disregarding environmental concerns in the process of growing the economy. The primary way governments around the world are trying to “green” their own economies today is by increasing investment in — and, by extension, creating jobs in — industries on the cutting edge of non-polluting renewable forms of energy, such as solar and wind power.”
Economist Nancy Folbre in the New York Times’ Economix counters right-wing opponents of government spending on green-energy infrastructure: “Some economists, including my fellow Economix blogger Edward Glaeser, worry that public infrastructure projects can be wasteful. Yes, they can be. But it’s hard to imagine anything more wasteful than prolonged unemployment. Smart planning and performance-based incentives — making continued financing contingent on successful results — could substantially improve public infrastructure efforts.
The nation’s renewable energy future could be in Hawaii, where the nation’s highest fossil fuel bills are an incentive to push for alternatives. On Newsweek today: “According to [Hawaii] energy administrator Ted Peck, the Aloha State is now on track to halve its emissions within a decade. The big prize may be still to come. The state has attracted an enviable amount of private research money, spurring efforts to glean power from algae, animal fat, sea waves, and the islands’ plentiful volcanic heat. The goal, according to a 2008 DOE presentation, is a “replicable model” of energy independence.”
Now that Climategate has been debunked, can we get back to something that actually does exist? Like climate change, maybe: “There have since been several reports upholding the U.N.’s basic findings, including a major assessment in May from the National Academy of Sciences. This assessment not only confirmed the relationship between climate change and human activities but warned of growing risks — sea level rise, drought, disease — that must swiftly be addressed by firm action to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases. Given the trajectory the scientists say we are on, one must hope that the academy’s report, and Wednesday’s debunking of Climategate, will receive as much circulation as the original, diversionary controversies.”
Final Lap On Financial Reform
Passage of financial reform is a question of when, not if — but the New York Times’ David M. Herszenhorn says it’s still a pretty big “when,” given the need for at least two Republican votes to break a filibuster: “[Massachusetts Sen. Scott] Brown, while professing satisfaction with the removal of the bank tax, said he wanted to study the final legislative language over the holiday break. Mr. Brown is expected to vote for the measure, along with the Republican senators from Maine, Susan Collins and Olympia J. Snowe. But so far only Ms. Collins has committed her vote. And with [Wisconsin Democrat Russ] Feingold in opposition and [late West Virginia Sen. Robert] Byrd’s seat vacant, the math for passage is still tricky. Another Republican who supported the Senate version of the regulatory overhaul, Senator Charles E. Grassley of Iowa, has expressed some reservations about the final version, including the very change made to get Mr. Brown’s support, by ending the TARP program.”
Dead Pig And Live Deficit Zombies
“The pig is dead.” White House deficit commission leaders Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson tell governors “states can’t count on the federal government for more budget bailouts.” Bloomberg News says that warning comes as state finances worsen: “States face a fiscal imbalance next year that is “just as tough” as this year because the economy is on pace to grow at a “lackluster” rate of about 3 percent a year, Yolanda Kodrzycki, an economist at the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, told governors at the gathering Saturday. The budget pressure will be compounded by the need to help cities and towns faced with a drop in property tax collections, she said. … Property tax collections dropped in the first quarter for the first time since the onset of the real-estate market’s crash, to $107.7 billion from $108.4 billion a year earlier, the Census Bureau said on June 29.”
Where are the bond markets going to put the money that deficit hawks swear will be “cut off at the knees” if we run deficits?: “Into mortgage-backed securities? Into BP bonds? Bwahaha! Yeah, as if. The fact of the matter is that there is no investment more secure than U.S. or British government bonds. You see, there is this new invention that you may have heard of. I know conservatives disdain new things, but this new invention exists anyhow. It was invented in the mid 1400s, and is called the PRINTING PRESS. …But in any event, as long as British bonds are denominated in pounds sterling and U.S. bonds are denominated in U.S. dollars, the chances of default on British or U.S. bonds are effectively ZERO (since the Bank of London or Federal Reserve could always simply print the money to repay the bonds if necessary), and they are attractive to investors accordingly, which is why Britain and the United States are paying effectively 0 percent interest on sovereign debt when it sells bonds at auction.”
Meet the first of the Zombie Social Security Lies — Retirement age must be raised because people are living longer: “Clearly, despite the common misconception that we’re all living a dozen or so years longer than the 65-year-old retiree did 70 years ago, it’s just not true. …The fact is, men are living less than three years longer, women about five. Yes, there are more people living longer because they didn’t die at age 3 of whooping cough or polio, but the life expectancy for an individual has not been extended very much at all once age 65 is reached. Disturbingly, pushing the retirement age out five years as is currently proposed actually means an individual male retiree today is at risk of being cheated of two years more retirement than our supposedly drastically shorter-lived forebears received more than half a century ago. This statistic needs wider play. ..Every one of us should be dropping these numbers into every conversation we have about proposed reformations of the program.”
If the “test balloons” from politicians of all political stripes prove succesful, young people today might not get Social Security benefits until age 70: “Young Americans might not get full Social Security retirement benefits until they reach age 70 if some trial balloons that prominent lawmakers of both parties are floating become law. No one who’s slated to receive benefits in the next decade or two is likely to be affected, but there’s a gentle, growing and unusually bipartisan push to raise the retirement age for full Social Security benefits for people born in the 1960s and after. The suggestions are being taken seriously after decades when they were politically impossible because officials — and, increasingly, their constituents — are confronting the inescapable challenge of the nation’s enormous debt.”
♦ Dana Milbank busts AZ governor Jan Brewers myths of headless immigrants and other tall tales: “The Arizona Guardian Web site checked with medical examiners in Arizona’s border counties, and the coroners said they had never seen an immigration-related beheading. I called and e-mailed Brewer’s press office requesting documentation of decapitation; no reply. Brewer’s mindlessness about headlessness is just one of the immigration falsehoods being spread by Arizona politicians. Border violence on the rise? Phoenix becoming the world’s No. 2 kidnapping capital? Illegal immigrants responsible for most police killings? The majority of those crossing the border are drug mules? All wrong. This matters, because it means the entire premise of the Arizona immigration law is a fallacy. Arizona officials say they’ve had to step in because federal officials aren’t doing enough to stem increasing border violence. The scary claims of violence, in turn, explain why the American public supports the Arizona crackdown.”
♦ Will Tea Partiers turn on the NRA? Politico: “Critics cite a list of transgressions, from considering an endorsement of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), to endorsing moderate Republicans — and even Democrats — rather than their more-conservative challengers, to taking a cautious approach to Second Amendment court cases and President Barack Obama’s judicial nominees. … “The NRA is all about the NRA — helping their organization and not necessarily the cause,” said influential conservative blogger Erick Erickson, who has repeatedly taken to his blog RedState in recent weeks to urge conservatives to turn their backs on the NRA.”
♦ OurFuture.org’s Bill Scher says the Tea Party may survive, but it won’t remain significant: “The Tea Party is nothing new. It is merely the latest incarnation of the right-wing fringe that predictably overheats whenever a left-of-center reformer is elected to the presidency. It was the John Birch Society and the National Indignation Convention in the early 1960s, the Moral Majority and other ‘New Right’ groups in the late 1970s, and Rush Limbaugh’s ‘dittoheads’ and the militia movement in the 1990s. But survival is not the same as significant. The Tea Party is not large. Poll after poll has shown the Tea Party to be nothing more than a far-right faction of the Republican Party. They do not represent anything close to a majority of the country (a mere 18 percent in the April New York Times poll). And the more other Americans hear about the Tea Party’s conservative ideas, the less they like it.”
♦ Americans who support organized labor can now “walk their talk” with American-made, union-made work boots, shoes and sandals: “With apologies to Nancy Sinatra, these boots are made for working. And, they’re made by union members in Wausau, Wis. The American-made, union-made boots by United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) locals 668 and 717 members at the Weinbrenner Shoe Co., are available online at TheUnionBootPro.com—and union members get a 27 percent discount. Walter Brown, owner of BootPro Solutions LLC, says roughly 98 percent of the work boots sold in the United States are made overseas, primarily China. The three brands at TheUnionBootPro.com, Thorogood®, HellFire® and Work One®, are job fitted for virtually every professional trade in construction, manufacturing, metal works, mining, utilities, assembly, firefighting and law enforcement.”