After Republican state Sen. Scott Brown surprised Democrats with his upset victory over Massachusetts Atty. Gen. Martha Coakley in the special election for late Sen. Ted Kennedy’s old seat (1/19), Republicans, media pundits and even some congressional Democrats concluded that Massachusetts — and the rest of the nation — was rejecting health care reform. On election night, Sen. Evan Bayh (D-Ind.) blamed the Democrats’ problems on “the furthest left elements,” which he claims dominates the Democratic Party. Lanny Davis, former counsel to President Bill Clinton, echoed that claim in the Wall Street Journal (1/20): “Blame the Left for Massachusetts,” arguing that voters were rejecting the “big government” approach to health care.

But a Washington Post/Kaiser/Harvard poll conducted 1/20-21 suggests that while the election was a “protest of the Washington process,” it was not a rejection of progressive policy. Only 11% of voters, including 19% of Brown voters, want Brown to “stop the Democratic agenda,” while 70% of all voters think Brown should work with Dems on health care reform; 52% were enthusiastic or satisfied with Obama administration policies; and 68% of voters, including 51% of Brown voters, approve of Massachusetts’ health care reform, which is a model for the national plan.

Democrats are concerned that nearly half of union households supported Brown. A poll conducted by Hart Research Associates for the AFL-CIO found that 49% of Massachusetts union households supported Brown in the special election, while 46% supported Coakley. Coakley carried college graduates by 5 points, but lost the non-college vote by 20 points. “What happened in Massachusetts is that working families did not see the Democratic candidate as being on their side,” said Karen Ackerman, the labor federation’s political action director. Guy Molyneux, a pollster with Hart Research Associates, said the poll showed “pretty strong evidence” of voters who worried that health reforms would tax their employer-provided benefits, even though Obama agreed to a deal that exempted workers in collective bargaining agreements until 2018.

Leo Gerard, president of the United Steelworkers, spelled out the meaning of Massachusetts: J-O-B-S. “It’s the economy, stupid. The Main Street economy. ...The Great Recession of Bush II is more than two years old now. Workers are frightened and angry. They see bailouts for Wall Street, big bonuses for bankers and unemployment continuing to rise. They will vent their frustration on politicians. Massachusetts showed it.”

Jeff Crosby, president of IUE-CWA Local 201 in Lynn, Mass., wrote at blog.aflcio.org (1/22) that Coakley lost because Democrats forgot the working class. Union officials were unable to convince members that the Democrats were not going to tax their health benefits. AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka got Obama to concede on taxing union benefits the Thursday before the election but many union members were still skeptical.

An election-night poll for MoveOn.org of 1,000 Massachusetts voters who voted for Obama in 2008 found real populist anger. Half of the respondents did not vote in the special election and half of them voted for Brown. But the poll found that 49% of Obama voters who voted for Brown supported the Senate health care bill or think it does not go far enough. Only 11% thought the legislation goes too far. And 53% of Obama voters who voted for Brown and 56% of Obama voters who did not vote in the special election said that Dems enacting tighter restrictions on Wall Street would make them more likely to vote Democratic in November.

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, in a speech at the National Press Club (1/11), called for a jobs program that would produce 4 mln jobs with dramatically increased spending on infrastructure and green jobs, direct lending of refunded bank bailout money to small and mid-sized businesses that can’t get credit because of the financial crisis. He warned that time is running out. “The reality is that when unemployment is 10% and rising, working people will not stand for tokenism. We will not vote for politicians who think they can push a few crumbs our way and then continue the failed economic policies of the last 30 years.”

David Plouffe, who managed Barack Obama’s 2008 election campaign before taking time off to write Audacity to Win, has returned to Obama’s political team. In a column written for the Washington Post (1/24) he urged Democrats to pass the health care reform as soon as possible. “I know that the short-term politics are bad,” he wrote. “It’s a good plan that’s become a demonized caricature. But politically speaking, if we do not pass it, the GOP will continue attacking the plan as if we did anyway, and voters will have no ability to measure its upside. If we do pass it, dozens of protections and benefits take effect this year. Parents won’t have to worry their children will be denied coverage just because they have a preexisting condition. Workers won’t have to worry that their coverage will be dropped because they get sick. Seniors will feel relief from prescription costs. Only if the plan becomes law will the American people see that all the scary things Sarah Palin and others have predicted — such as the so-called death panels — were baseless. We own the bill and the health-care votes. We need to get some of the upside. (P.S.: Health care is a jobs creator.)”

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi reportedly can’t assure passage of the bill in the House without an agreement to fix the excise tax on high-dollar insurance plans that would hit labor union members, but Senate leaders think that can be accomplished through the budget reconciliation process. House members also would like to cut out the special deal to fully fund Medicaid in Nebraska, which Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) demanded but has since asked to be removed from the bill. House progressives also would like to increase subsidies for working-class families, make insurance exchanges federally regulated and relax the Senate’s restrictions on abortions in federally administered plans.

David Waldman at DailyKos.com noted (1/25) that the House could put the agreed changes in HR 3200, the omnibus bill that the House worked out in July, which was discharged from the House Budget Committee in October, and send it to the Senate as part of the fiscal year 2010 budget resolution, SJR 13. Budget reconciliation is available for parts of the health bill that have an effect on outlays or revenues. Then the Senate could either approve the substitute bill under its budget reconciliation procedures, which are not subject to filibuster, or amend it and send it back to the House. Then — because the reconciliation is technically an amendment of the Senate Bill, the House can pass the original Senate bill and let President Obama sign it into law before it passes the budget reconciliation, amending the Senate bill.

IGNORANCE HURTS HEALTH BILL. A Kaiser poll on health care (conducted 1/7-12) found that 42% of respondents supported the health care proposals discussed in Congress while 41% were opposed. The health reform bill would be more popular if more people knew about tax credits to small businesses (73%), people will be able to use health insurance exchanges (67%), most people’s existing insurance arrangements won’t change (66%), insurance coverage is guaranteed for pre-existing conditions (63%), expansion of Medicaid (62%), the plan helps close the Medicare “donut hole” (60%), it increases taxes on the wealthy (59%), federal money will not be spent for abortions (55%) and federal money will not be spent on coverage of illegal immigrants (52%). The least popular feature is the individual mandate, but Kevin Drum of MotherJones.com noted (1/22), “Unfortunately, the whole plan falls apart without a mandate, so there’s not much we can do about that.”

PLOUFFE TO DEMS: NO BED-WETTING. David Plouffe also wrote in the Washington Post (1/24) that Democrats need to show they are creating jobs and do a better job making sure voters understand what the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act did for the economy. And Dems should not accept any lectures from the Republicans on spending. “The GOP took us from a $236 bln surplus when President Bush took office to a $1.3 tln deficit, with unpaid-for tax cuts for the wealthy, two wars and the Medicare prescription drug program. Republicans’ fiscal irresponsibility has never been matched in our country’s history. We have potent talking points on health care, honest budgeting and cuts in previously sacrosanct programs. Republicans will try to win disingenuously by running as outsiders. We must make them own their record of disastrous economic policies, exploding deficits, and a failure to even attempt to solve our health care and energy challenges.” Democrats will have to show that they have implemented changes; they’ll have to run great campaigns; and there can be no bed-wetting. “Instead of fearing what may happen, let’s prove that we have more than just the brains to govern — that we have the guts to govern,” he wrote. “Let’s fight like hell, not because we want to preserve our status, but because we sincerely believe too many everyday Americans will continue to lose if Republicans and special interests win.”

GOP ACHIEVES SUPERMINORITY. What a difference a special election makes. In D.C.’s new math, 41 is greater than 59, as CNN’s Brianna Kellar reported (1/21) that the election of Scott Brown “tips the balance of power to the GOP,” even though Brown is only the 41st Republican and the Democrats still have an 18-seat advantage in the Senate. As Jed Lewison noted at DailyKos.com (1/21), Democrats still control the agenda; Republicans can’t stop budget reconciliation; Republicans can filibuster but they can’t decide whether they actually have to stay on the floor and talk during filibusters; and with 41 votes they still can’t pass a bill.

At least Comedy Central’s Stephen Colbert was kidding when he congratulated the GOP for securing a 41-seat superminority.

LIEBERMAN READY IF SENATE IS IN BALANCE. Not many were surprised that Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) is positioning himself to become a Republican if the GOP is in a position to take the majority. He said in a Connecticut TV interview, “It’s possible” that he would become “a good old-fashioned New England moderate Republican.”

Delaware Atty. Gen. Beau Biden dealt a blow to the Dems when he announced (1/25) that he will not seek the US Senate seat that his father, Vice President Joe Biden, held. That leaves Rep. Mike Castle (R-Del.), a former governor, favored to win the seat now held by interim Sen. Ted Kaufman (D-Del.), who said he won’t seek election.

Jerome Armstrong wrote at MyDD.com (1/25) that at least 9 seats now held by Dems are considered vulnerable. Current Democratic seats leaning Republican include Delaware and North Dakota, while Democratic seats that are rated as “tossups” include Nevada, Arkansas, Colorado, Pennsylvania, Indiana and Illinois. Republicans even hope to take out Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.).

But Dems also are expected to mount strong challenges of Republican seats in Florida, Missouri, Kentucky, New Hampshire, North Carolina and Ohio. And if right-wing former Rep. J.D. Hayworth beats Sen. John McCain in the Arizona Republican primary, a strong Democratic challenger would have a good chance of defeating Hayworth.

OBAMA PROPOSES ‘ANTI-STIMULUS’. President Obama reportedly is proposing a three-year freeze on non-security-related discretionary funding, aiming at saving some $250 bln over the next 10 years. Andrew Leonard noted at Salon.com (1/25) that such an “anti-stimulus” could repeat the error of 1937, when Franklin Roosevelt cut spending in an attempt to balance the budget too quickly, strangling a nascent recovery from the Great Depression. The New York Times’ Jackie Calmes wrote (1/25) that the move “would signal to voters, Wall Street and other nations that Mr. Obama is willing to make some tough decisions at a time when the deficit and the national debt, in the view of some economists, have reached levels that undermine the nation’s long-term prosperity.” But Leonard noted, “bond investors have yet to signal in any meaningful way that they are worried about current levels of debt. The US government is still able to borrow on extraordinarily good terms.”

Economist Brad DeLong, who said the president looks like Barack Herbert Hoover Obama, ripped the proposal as “a perfect example of fundamental unseriousness: rather than make proposals that will actually tackle the long-term deficit ... come up with a proposal that does short-term harm to the economy without tackling the deficit in any serious and significant way.”

Robert Reich argued that a freeze would hurt the jobs effort: “A spending freeze will make it even harder to get jobs back because government is the last spender around. Consumers have pulled back, investors won’t do much until they know consumers are out there, and exports are minuscule.”

Jared Bernstein, one of the few progressive economists on the White House staff, emphasized on MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow Show that jobs programs would be exempt from the freeze but Maddow was unconvinced: “Not only [are you] not talking about a second stimulus, you`re talking about trying to cut $250 bln out of the budget. I have to tell you, it sounds completely, completely insane.”

But Matt Yglesias wonders if the initiative was deliberately leaked by the White House “in an effort to get denounced by the left and I don’t want to give them the satisfaction.”

Key House Democrats on the House Appropriations and Budget committees told The Hill magazine (1/19) they would not go along with the White House’s proposed freeze in discretionary spending.

UNION CHIEF: SUPREME COURT TILTS FOR BUSINESS. While defenders of the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision said it preserved free-speech rights for unions and other nonprofit groups as well as corporations, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said (1/21) the Supreme Court further tilted the playing field in favor of business corporations. “By allowing unlimited corporate treasury expenditures that explicitly support or oppose particular candidates, the Court has increased the already excessive influence that corporations exert in our electoral system. And we believe the Court wrongly treated corporate expenditures the same as union expenditures, contrary to the arguments we made in our brief in this case. Unions, unlike businesses, are democratically-controlled, nonprofit membership organizations representing working men and women across the country, and their independent speech should accordingly be given greater protection.

“The AFL-CIO supports a system of campaign finance regulation that promotes democratic participation in elections by individuals and their associations; protects legitimate independent speech rights; offers public financing to candidates while firmly regulating contributions to them; and guarantees effective disclosure of who is paying for what.” (See aflcio.org.)

CEOS CALL FOR PUBLIC FINANCING OF FED CAMPAIGNS. While the Supreme Court was unleashing corporations to invest more in politics, dozens of current and former corporate executives who are tired of getting hit up for campaign contributions sent a letter to congressional leaders (1/22) urging them to approve public financing for House and Senate campaigns. Some 40 executives from companies including Playboy Enterprises, ice cream maker Ben & Jerry’s, the Seagram’s liquor company, toymaker Hasbro, Delta Airlines and Men’s Wearhouse sent the letter supporting the Fair Elections Now Act (S. 752 and HR 1826), introduced by Sens. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Arlen Specter (D-Pa.) and Reps. John Larson (D-Conn.) and Walter Jones Jr. (R-N.C.). The bills would allow federal candidates to run for office without having to rely on large contributions, big money bundlers or donations from lobbyists.

To qualify for public funding, candidates for the House would have to collect 1,500 contributions from individuals in their state and raise $50,000. Candidates for the Senate would have to raise 2,000 contributions plus an additional 500 contributions for each congressional district in the state. Qualified House candidates would receive $900,000 in funding. Senate candidates would receive $1.25 mln plus $250,000 for every congressional district in their state. Funding would be split with 40% for the primary and 60% for the general election. Candidates who face a well-financed or self-financed opponent or is the target of an independent expenditure would be eligible to receive additional matching Fair Elections funds if they continued to raise small donations from their home state. Joint fundraising committees between candidates and parties would be prohibited. See fairelectionsnow.org. Qualifying candidates would have to accept fundraising limits for any affiliated political action committees.

The estimated cost of $700 mln to $850 mln per year would be paid with fees on large government contractors and a 10% share of revenues generated through the auction of unused broadcast spectrum.

“Members of Congress already spend too much time raising money from large contributors,” the business executives’ letter said. “And often, many of us individually are on the receiving end of solicitation phone calls from members of Congress. With additional money flowing into the system due to the court’s decision, the fundraising pressure on members of Congress will only increase.”

Even before the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling, corporate special interest money was making a huge impact on the legislative process. From 1998 to 2009, the financial, insurance, and real estate lobbies spent nearly $3.8 bln in Washington, successfully deregulating Wall Street, passing huge tax cuts for the wealthy, barring Medicare from negotiating for lower drug prices, killing mortgage cramdown legislation, and weakening financial and health reforms.

According to polling in November 2008, 69% of the American people support publicly financing all campaigns, including the majority of self-identified Dems, Repubs and independents. The bipartisan Fair Elections Now Act currently has six Senate co-sponsors and 125 co-sponsors in the House President Obama was a co-sponsor when he was a senator.

Seven states and two cities have Clean Elections laws that provide public financing: Arizona, Connecticut, Maine, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Carolina and Vermont, as well as Albuquerque, N.M.; and Portland, Ore. Activists in 28 states are working to advance full public financing. See publicampaign.org.

AIR AMERICA RADIO PULLS PLUG, PROG RADIO GOES ON. The talk radio network Air America was more successful in establishing a market for progressive talkers than it was in making a profit, as the network went out of business (1/21) after nearly six years of struggle. Bill Press, host of his own syndicated talk show, noted at HuffingtonPost.com that Air America had previously declared bankruptcy in 2006 and in 2007, when Al Franken left the network to run for US Senate. The network, which started 3/31/04, was a “textbook case of a great idea, but lousy execution. The plan was to create a progressive talk radio network to compete with the army of right-wing talk show hosts. Given that 50% of the country did not vote for George W. Bush and are therefore not served by talk radio, that idea was, and remains, a solid business proposition.” But Air America was not properly funded from the beginning, he noted, it was victimized by a “con artist” who was later convicted on unrelated charges of business fraud. Money was spent on talent and studios, but little advertising income was generated and, as radio industry ad revenues were down the past 10 quarters, and were down 21% in 2009, it was a tide the struggling network could not overcome. “At one point, Press noted, staff went without pay checks while Al Franken hustled money from new investors. “New owners took over, but the operation continued to bleed cash until the latest owner finally said: Enough!”

But the network, which had about 100 affiliates at the end, promoted several progressive media personalities, including Franken (who was elected to the Senate from Minnesota), Rachel Maddow (who now anchors a prime-time show on MSNBC), Thom Hartmann, Randi Rhodes and Mike Malloy. All had left Air America well before the network’s closing. Other popular liberal radio hosts — including Press, Ed Schultz and Stephanie Miller, never worked for Air America but they benefitted from the network’s promotion of liberal radio talk. Miller’s executive producer, Chris Lavoie wrote on Twitter (1/22) that the network’s demise could actually benefit Miller because she could pick up new stations. Among the remaining Air America hosts, Ron Reagan Jr. was picked up at CBS Radio’s KPTK in Seattle, Talkers Magazine reported. Ring of Fire, a weekend show featuring Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and Mike Papantonio, said at its website that it expects to be picked up for syndication by Westwood One.

FILIBUSTER ONLY STOPS DEMS. Republicans have never had a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate since that chamber adopted the cloture rule in 1917, although through the years they have often managed to put together a working supermajority with the help of conservative Democrats. Republicans topped out at 61 seats in 1907-09, before there was a way to shut down debate. The Senate in 1917 adopted “cloture,” which allowed a two-thirds majority to shut down debate, but the filibuster was seldom used in that era as it actually required senators to hold the floor during marathon speeches. Democrats had a filibuster-proof majority in 1935-37, when they had 69 seats — five more than needed out of 96 total, and expanded it 1937-39, with 76 seats (but cloture failed twice, as Southerners blocked an anti-lynching bill). Dems also had 69 seats in 1939-41, their last filibuster-proof majority until 1965-67, when they had 68 seats, one more than cloture, but again Lyndon Johnson couldn’t count on Southern Dems on some of his signature Great Society programs, including civil rights legislation, which lost three cloture votes, repeal of “right to work” union restrictions, which lost two votes, and a D.C. home rule amendment. Johnson did get 70 votes to stop a filibuster of the Voting Rights Act. (Medicare was approved in July 1965 in the House 307-116 and in the Senate 70-24. Despite intense opposition of the AMA and conservatives, it was not filibustered.) The cloture threshold was reduced to 60 votes in 1975, after Republicans increasingly started to use it routinely to block bills. Dems were at or above the cloture level in 1975-77 (with 60 seats) and 1977-79 (61). Dems only reached the 60-vote level again in 2009 with the support of independents Bernie Sanders (Vt.) and Joe Lieberman (Conn.) and Arlen Specter’s switch from R to D three months into the session. Filibuster rules, like all House and Senate rules, must be adopted by simple majority vote at the start of each Congress. When Senate Republicans had 55 seats in 2005-2007, Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.), in frustration with Democratic filibusters of George W. Bush’s judicial nominees, threatened to do away with the filibuster but backed off when a group of moderate Dems agreed to let all but the most radical nominees proceed. John Roberts and Sam Alito later were confirmed to the Supreme Court.

WHAT WOULD MILTON SAY? Free-market evangelist Milton Friedman wrote in 1970 that corporate executives should be interested only in increasing profits for their shareholders “within the rules of the game,” Justin Fox, editor of the Harvard Business Review, noted at blogs.hbr.org (1/25). Fox noted that the ideal for-profit corporation “is supposed to behave in a fashion that for an individual would probably be described as psychopathic. And if corporations are allowed to play a decisive role in shaping the ‘rules of the game,’ we have effectively put the inmates in control of the asylum.” That’s why corporations have treated corporations differently from individuals in the political process.

Justice Anthony Kennedy dwelled on the line between corporate and individual activity in his majority opinion in *Citizens United v. FEC*, Fox wrote. “Legal opinions are supposed to be consistent with precedent and the law. In this case, though, the Supreme Court was dealing with three different and conflicting strands of law and precedent: (1) the many laws and past court rulings restricting corporate political involvement, (2) the precedent that political spending is equivalent to First-Amendment-protected speech, (3) laws and precedent that establish corporations as persons.

“The Court majority chose to jettison (1) and stick with (2) and (3). I’m in no position to say the justices were wrong as matter of law. But as a matter of policy and common sense, it’s clearly (3) that’s most problematic. If corporations are persons, they are — if they behave as Milton Friedman wanted them to — persons with mental and emotional impairments so severe that any decent judge would feel entirely justified in declaring them incompetent.”

SUBURBANIZATION OF POVERTY. In 2008, 91.6 mln people — more than 30% of the US population — fell below 200% of the federal poverty level, the Brookings Institution reported (1/20). Between 2000 and 2008, large suburbs saw their poor population grow by 25% — the greatest uptick in the share of the population living under 200% of poverty. Midwestern cities and suburbs experienced by far the largest poverty rate increases over the decade, led by increasing poverty in auto manufacturing metro areas — like Grand Rapids, Mich., and Youngstown, Ohio — with poverty rates climbing 3 percentage points in cities and 2.2 points in suburbs. At the same time, Northeastern metros — led by New York and Worcester, Mass. — actually saw poverty rates in their primary cities decline, while collectively their suburbs experienced a slight increase.

S.C. LT. GOV.: POOR LIKE STRAYS. For an insight into why the South Carolina Legislature may have declined to impeach Gov. Mark Sanford (R) after it turned out that he had secretly left the state and his wife and family to spend a week in Argentina with his paramour, consider that his likely successor is Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer, who is running for the Republican nomination for governor and held a town hall meeting (1/22) where he argued that government should be tougher on families whose children receive free and reduced-price lunches. According to the *Greenville News*, Bauer said that parents should be required to “pass drug tests or attend parent-teacher conferences or PTA meetings.” He also compared people receiving government assistance to stray animals: “My grandmother was not a highly educated woman, but she told me as a small child to quit feeding stray animals. You know why? Because they breed. You’re facilitating the problem if you give an animal or a person ample food supply. They will reproduce, especially ones that don’t think too much further than that. And so what you’ve got to do is you’ve got to curtail that type of behavior. They don’t know any better.” Later in his speech, Bauer, who styles himself as a Christian but apparently never got around to reading the Book, said, “I can show you a bar graph where free and reduced lunch has the worst test scores in the state of South Carolina,” adding, “You show me the school that has the highest free and reduced lunch, and I’ll show you the worst test scores, folks. It’s there, period.“

From The Progressive Populist, Febuary 15, 2010


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