President Obama nominated three new candidates, including two Republicans, to the National Labor Relations Board, urging the Senate to confirm the nominees quickly, Josh Hicks reported at the Washington Post (4/9).
The status of the board has been in limbo since a three-judge panel of the DC Circuit Court of Appeals overruled a century of precedent when it decided in January that Obama exceeded his constitutional authority by appointing three of the board’s members while lawmakers were on break in January 2012 after Republicans blocked their confirmation.
Republicans in the House were expected to vote on a bill that would prohibit the board from issuing decisions until the fate of Obama’s so-called recess appointments is resolved. If the Supreme Court chooses not to hear the case, the lower court’s decision would stand, effectively nullifying hundreds of NLRB decisions.
The president’s latest nominees are Harry I. Johnson and Phillip A. Miscimarra, both Republicans, and Mark Pearce, the current NLRB chairman whose term expires in August. In February, Obama renominated Sharon Block and Richard Griffin, whose recess appointments were ruled invalid by the appeals court.
Republicans also have blocked the confirmation of Richard Cordray, the acting director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, as permanent director, in the hopes of preventing its regulation of the financial industry.
Republicans have a 4-3 majority on the DC Circuit Court of Appeals and four seats are vacant, but Republicans blocked the first of President Obama’s nominees for the court, Caitlin J. Halligan, for 2-1/2 years before she withdrew her name from consideration. Obama nominated Deputy Solicitor General Sri Srinivasan to the DC Circuit, “a nominee so brimming with conservative endorsers and past jobs working for Republican judges and administrations that his nomination is practically an act of trolling by President Obama,” Ian Milhiser noted at ThinkProgress.org (4/10). Earlier, he had written, “If Senate Republicans choose to filibuster him, they will remove any remaining doubt that they are not acting in good faith, and that any nominee to the left of Sam Alito is in store for a filibuster.”
At the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Srinivasan’s nomination (4/10), Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) proposed that Congress cut the three remaining vacant positions so that Dem appointees would not gain a majority.
He didn’t give that reason, of course. Instead, Grassley claimed that the DC Circuit has the fewest number of appeals filed per judge, and he proposed redistributing two of those judges to busier courts. But Milhiser noted that the statistics are highly misleading. “Unlike other federal courts of appeal, the DC Circuit hears an unusually large number of major regulatory and national security cases, many of which require very specialized legal research, involve intensely long records, and take more time for a judge to process than four or five normal cases of the kinds heard in other circuits,” Milhiser noted. “The caseloads outside of the DC Circuit include many routine sentencing, immigration and other cases of the kinds that are often dispatched with in brief orders drafted by staff attorneys (who then have these orders approved by judges). The DC Circuit, by contrast, hears far fewer of these easy cases that require very little work on the part of judges.
“Indeed, it’s likely that even Chuck Grassley understands that Chuck Grassley’s numbers are misleading. In 2005, Grassley voted to confirm Judge Janice Rogers Brown, a Bush appointee to the DC Circuit. Brown was the tenth active judge on the DC Circuit when she took her seat. Shortly thereafter, Grassley voted to confirm Judge Thomas Griffith. Griffith was the eleventh active judge on the DC Circuit at the time of his confirmation.
“Now that President Obama is naming judges, however, Grassley suddenly thinks the DC Circuit is so underworked that it needs just eight judges. This isn’t credible. If Grassley tries to use this excuse in the future to block an Obama nominee to the DC Circuit, Senate Democrats can respond by nuking the filibuster and making Grassley’s transparently self-serving views irrelevant.”
In an interview with a public radio station in Nevada (4/5), Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) indicated that the weak-tea filibuster reforms Senate Republicans agreed to last January may not be the last round of reforms during the current Congress — at least if Senate Republicans continue to filibuster judges without good reason or consequence. During the interview, Reid threatened to invoke a process championed by Senate Republicans in 2005 in order to change the Senate’s broken rules and end conservative roadblocks against judicial confirmations:
“All within the sound of my voice, including my Democratic senators and the Republican senators who I serve with, should understand that we as a body have the power on any given day to change the rules with a simple majority, and I will do that if necessary,” Reid said on Nevada Public Radio.
KY. POLL AGAIN SHOWS McCONNELL WEAK. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell may have scared Ashley Judd out of a potential challenge with a mudslinging fusillade, but a Public Policy Polling survey in April shows he is still in weak shape for reelection. McConnell (R) sported a 36-54 job approval rating, virtually unchanged from his 37-55 score in December, David Nir reported at DailyKos.com (4/9). McConnell’s also slipped a bit against his most talked-about potential opponent, Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes (D), whom he now leads by just a 45-41 margin, down from 47-40 at the end of last year. And notably, that’s despite Grimes remaining mostly unknown and with her negatives inching up a bit, from 29-15 to 28-22.
This poll came out before Mother Jones reported (4/9) that McConnell’s campaign staff, calling for a “Whac-A-Mole” strategy in a meeting that was secretly recorded, discussed their plans to publicize Judd’s bouts with depression and her religious views in an attempt to drive her from the race.
PPP also scored McConnell against ex-Rep. Ben Chandler (D), who narrowly lost reelection to the House last year. The results are similar to Grimes’, with McConnell ahead 46-41. However, Chandler said shortly after his defeat that he wouldn’t run for Senate next year, though Nir added, “I suppose minds can always change. But just as notably, McConnell only manages a 46-35 lead over Some Dude Ed Marksberry (the only declared candidate so far), showing that he can’t crack 46% no matter whom he faces.”
Despite these very soft numbers, Nir noted, McConnell is still favored for reelection. “That 46 mark is not a hard ceiling. Rather, we’re still a long way off from election day, and if nothing else changes, there are a bunch of voters out there who will ultimately hold their noses and pull the lever for McConnell. That’s just a reality in a red state, where undecideds are simply going to lean to the right. But of course, this is why they play the games. Things can change, and while it won’t be easy, a relentless, high-energy campaign that makes the race all about McConnell could keep those undecided voters at home or even convince them to switch their allegiances.
“It’s a high-risk, high-reward play, though, particularly since McConnell’s warchest is very intimidating. He just announced that he raised another $1.8 mln in the first quarter of the year, bringing his warchest to a massive $8.6 mln. But it’s not like this is news, since McConnell was always going to be exceptionally well-funded. The question is whether Grimes wants to take this gamble. Given the head start McConnell has, I’d want to ante up sooner rather than later.”
LAX GUN STATES HAVE MORE GUN VIOLENCE. States with laxer gun laws tend to have the highest shares of national gun deaths and injuries, the Center for American Progress found. The authors of the report, called “America Under The Gun,” developed a list of ten indices of gun violence, ranging from gun homicide levels to firearm assaults to crime gun export rate (the number of guns sold in that state used in crimes around the country), and ranked each state from 1-50 along each index. They then took the average of each state’s ranking to determine its overall level of gun violence relative to other states. Louisiana was the highest, with an average of fifth-worst across all ten indices, followed in order by Alaska, Alabama, Arizona, Mississippi, South Carolina, New Mexico, Missouri, Arkansas and Georgia among the 10 states with the highest levels of gun violence. Hawaii’s 45.4 ranking was the best, followed by Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Jersey, New York, Iowa, Rhode Island, Minnesota, Maine and Nebraska.
A statistical regression comparing these rankings with strength of gun law found a correlation between weak gun laws and violence levels as measured by the 10-index average. Comparing a state’s relative ranking in strength of gun law (as judged by the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence) to a state’s relative gun violence ranking yielded clear evidence that states with looser gun laws contributed more to the national gun violence epidemic.
The CAP report’s finding is yet another contribution to a growing body of empirical evidence that strong gun laws work. A prior, less comprehensive study also established links between gun deaths and loose gun laws. After Missouri repealed its background check law, gun homicides went up 25% despite a national and regional decline. Three independent papers have found that counties with more guns have higher rates of gun death.
Zack Beauchamp noted at ThinkProgress.org (4/3) that the NRA has long attempted to use Congressional funding restrictions to cripple research on gun violence on grounds that it “may be used to advocate or promote” new gun laws.
Charles Posner, one of the authors of “America Under the Gun,” noted at ThinkProgress.org (4/8) that lax gun laws in Louisiana also put the state’s law enforcement officers at a much greater risk of gun violence. Louisiana ranks second behind South Dakota in law enforcement officers feloniously killed by guns — but South Carolina ranks 30th overall in gun violence.
Last November, the state passed an NRA-backed ballot initiative that enshrined gun ownership in the state constitution and removed provisions that prohibited certain individuals, such as domestic abusers and the seriously mentally ill, from carrying a concealed weapon. In March, a New Orleans judge ruled the amendment outlawed a state statute forbidding certain felons from possessing firearms, noting that “The courts cannot question the wisdom of fundamental law and frustrate the will of the people.”
IMMIGRATION REFORM ADVANCES WITH VISA DEAL. Prospects for a comprehensive immigration reform bill cleared a major hurdle when the AFL-CIO and the US Chamber of Commerce agreed on a new visa program for workers who come to the US. The new “W visa” breaks from the old “guest worker” visa in recognizing that a worker is not temporary and it also allows a worker to walk away from a job where he or she is unpaid or subject to abuse without risking deportation. Workers would be able to apply for a green card after one year and they would be covered by state and federal employment laws to the same extent as permanent residents. “They’ll earn decent wages, the same as American workers, so they won’t be seen as lowering standards and working conditions for all workers,” wrote Ana Avendaño, director of immigration and community action for the AFL-CIO.
“With the help of allies, including United We Dream, we let the Gang of Eight [senators working on a bipartisan bill] know — most recently, by using our nationwide political and grassroots infrastructure to mobilize working families — that immigrants are here to be part of our country and contribute to our economic and cultural fabric,” Avendaño wrote. “At our many recent immigration reform campaign events around the country, our message was clear: It’s time for the commitment to the 11 mln aspiring Americans to be recognized with a road map to citizenship. ...
“And there has already been overwhelming support for this new program. Editorial pages across the country have praised the deal as a commonsense solution, and some unexpected voices, most notably in the Republican Party, have been forced to recognize that immigration reform with a road map to citizenship is not only doable; it’s desirable.
“This new visa program is only one piece of the whole reform puzzle, to be sure, but it also represents further proof that, this time around in Washington, the question is not ‘if’ a commonsense immigration reform will manage to pass. The question now is ‘when’ it will pass.”
US COLLECTS LESS TAXES THAN ALL BUT 2 INDUSTRIALIZED NATIONS. Speaking of taxes, the US collects less in taxes than all but two industrialized countries. Citizens for Tax Justice compared levels of taxation in 2010 in the 35 countries that make up the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and found that US federal, state and local taxes combine for 24.8% of the GDP. Only Chile, at 19.6%, and Mexico, at 18.8%, had lower taxation as a share of GDP. All the OECD nations except the US averaged 33.4% of GDP and the highest tax level was Denmark at 47.6%. (The UK was 34.9%.)
Travis Waldron at ThinkProgress.org noted (4/8) that the US share of taxes has likely increased slightly since 2010, the latest year for which OECD data is available, because of tax increases from Obamacare and from the fiscal cliff deal that restored Clinton-era tax rates on all incomes above $450,000. Those increases likely won’t push the US up the chart and would leave it well short of the OECD average. Similar data for corporate taxes shows that the US collects less than all but one other OECD countries.
The US has historically collected less in taxes and spent less than the majority of its OECD counterparts, in part because it operates such a stingy social safety net that doesn’t assist the least fortunate in society as well as programs in other countries do. Still, the chart shows that the US is far from a high-tax country, and Democratic offers to raise modest amounts of revenues in the budget process would hardly send the nation’s level of taxation through the roof.
POSTAL SERVICE KEEPS SATURDAY DELIVERY. The US Postal Service’s Board of Governors bowed to the law and announced (4/10) it will not end Saturday mail delivery. Postmaster General Patrick Donohue had proposed to end Saturday delivery in August but Congress in March, as part of the government funding resolution, specifically barred USPS from going to five-day delivery.
National Association of Letter Carriers President Fredric Rolando, who is fighting efforts to scale back the Postal Service, welcomed the postmaster general backing off. “Cutting a day of mail delivery would not save the Postal Service money, but would instead drive more business away to look for more reliable alternatives, sending the agency into a spiral toward insolvency from which it would be extremely hard to recover.”
The Postal Service has lost much of its first-class mail business, but the root of its financial problem lies with the 2006 requirement that USPS prefund retirement benefits 75 years in the future over 10 years, which costs $5.5 bln a year. Without that requirement, he noted, USPS would have shown a $100 mln profit the first quarter of 2013.
The Postal Service is still planning to go ahead with the closure of 71 mail processing plants, which American Postal Workers Union President Cliff Guffey said will eliminate jobs, harm communities and delay mail delivery. A bill to stop those closures and spare many small town post offices passed the Senate last year but never got a hearing in the House, where Government Reform Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) has his own bill to accelerate the privatization of the Postal Service.
The Postal Service Protection Act, which was introduced by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) in the Senate and Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) in the House on 2/13, would address the cause of the Postal Service’s manufactured financial crisis, stop the closure of rural post offices and mail processing centers and allow the USPS to develop new products and services.
MODERN GOP WOULD REJECT ‘IRON LADY.’ Margaret Thatcher, the first female prime minister of the United Kingdom, died (4/8), leaving behind her a legacy of conservative values that American politicians still cite to this day. Upon learning of her death, Republican House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said she was the “greatest peacetime prime minister in British history.”
But while Thatcher stands as a role model for modern conservativism in the US, Annie-Rose Strasser of ThinkProgress.org noted (4/8), her policies likely wouldn’t hold up under the scrutiny of a modern-day GOP:
• Thatcher left the socialized National Health Service intact. “I believed that the NHS was a service of which we could genuinely be proud,” she wrote in her book.
• Spending actually rose during Thatcher’s first seven years in office, and taxes took up a larger percentage as share of gross domestic product. By the end of her time in office taxes were still a higher percentage of GDP (35.4% in 1989-90) than the US (15.4% in 2011 and 20.6% in 2000, the last year the federal budget showed a surplus, under Bill Clinton).
• She also believed in climate change, warning “The danger of global warming is as yet unseen but real enough for us to make changes and sacrifices so that we do not live at the expense of future generations.”
• She recognized that gun laws can limit gun violence. After a deadly shooting rampage in England, Thatcher said, “If [gun laws] need to be tightened up, or if we think that it could prevent anything more like this, then of course that will be considered.” A year later, the government passed the Firearms (Amendment) Act 1988, which outlawed semi-automatic weapons, changed requirements on registering guns, allowed police to refuse a weapon to anyone they saw unfit, and allowed the Home Secretary to add other guns to the list of banned firearms.
Strasser noted that Thatcher was far from a progressive champion. Her policies threw the UK into recession, decimated British labor unions, and sharply divided the country she reigned over for nearly 12 years. But despite that track record, and even if she is a “political heroine” to modern Republicans like former Vice Presidential candidate Sarah Palin, Thatcher’s old school conservatism would never mesh with the ideology of the modern Republican Party in the United States.
HIGHLIGHTS OF PRESIDENT’S DOA BUDGET. President Obama released a sweeping budget proposal (4/10) that is aimed at reaching a “grand bargain” with House and Senate Republicans on resolving the nations long-term debt. The budget would replace the automatic “sequestration” budget cuts that went into effect 3/1 with $1.8 tln in deficit reduction achieved through a mix of spending cuts and revenue increases, Travis Waldron noted at ThinkProgress.org. And, Dispatches notes, it’s dead on arrival in Congress.
Obama’s budget also includes many of the administration’s priorities, including stimulative investments, funding for a universal preschool program, and an increase in the minimum wage to $9 per hour. But it also cuts $200 bln from discretionary spending, balanced evenly between defense and domestic programs. It includes $200 bln in cuts from mandatory spending by reducing farm subsidies and reforming federal retiree benefit programs. It achieves $210 bln in savings from reduced interest payments on the debt and $400 bln in health savings aimed at cutting waste and fraud and strengthening Medicare.
Chained CPI: The most contentious of the budget’s provisions is a new inflation measure, known as chained CPI, that will save $230 bln over the next decade. The Obama budget applies chained CPI to all government programs except those that are means tested. The budget also includes protections for low-income seniors to offset those benefit cuts, and senior White House officials said the administration would not accept the reform without those benefit protections.
Taxes: The budget seeks $580 bln in new revenues through the closure of tax loopholes — including oil and gas subsidies and tax credits that benefit companies who shift jobs overseas — and by limiting deductions for wealthy taxpayers. It also closes loopholes Obama has targeted before, including the corporate jet loophole and one that benefits wealthy hedge fund managers. It also institutes the Buffett Rule, a plan named for wealthy investor Warren Buffett that would institute a minimum income tax rate on millionaires. Meanwhile, it makes permanent the America’s Opportunity Tax Credit that goes to families with children in college, improves the Child and Earned Income tax credits, and gives tax cuts and other breaks to small businesses, all of which it pays for by closing tax loopholes.
Job creation: The budget includes a modest amount of stimulative investments, many of which were derived from Obama’s American Jobs Act that the GOP blocked in 2011. It has $50 bln in infrastructure investments, $1 bln to launch manufacturing innovation programs, and increases for research and design. It also includes education investments and funding for job training programs.
Universal preschool: Following up on a promise made in his State of the Union address, Obama’s budget includes funding to expand preschool programs to low-income children. The program, funded by increased tobacco taxes, would help expand preschool enrollment among four-year-olds by partnering with states to subsidize preschool for children in families who earn up to 200 percent of the federal poverty line.
In total, Waldron notes, the budget represents a sharp move to the center for Obama, who embraced entitlement reforms unpopular among his base while also including $2 in spending cuts for every $1 in revenues. The budget would bring the total deficit reduction achieved in the last four years to more than $4 tln, the vast majority of which has already been through spending cuts and not revenues. Overall, it reduces deficits to 2.8% of the economy in 2016 and 1.7% by 2023.
And while it focuses more on job creation, infrastructure, and other important long-term investments than Republicans have, it achieves less in both stimulus spending and revenues than budgets offered by House and Senate Democrats, and it still focuses largely on reducing the deficit at a time when America’s borrowing costs are historically low and unemployment is persistently high. Administration officials said (4/10) that the budget proves that both deficit reduction and job creation could be achieved at the same time, but job growth remains slow and deficit reduction efforts have thus far hindered the economic recovery compared to past post-recession periods, begging questions about whether further spending cuts should be the focus at all. Focusing solely on stimulus and job creation, though, is out of the question with the very Republicans with whom this budget is seeking to compromise.
Dispatches notes that the President’s budget was dead on arrival at the House, where House Speaker John Boehner said the proposal for new taxes shows the President is not serious, and the Senate, where Democrats are extremely unlikely to adopt anything like the chained CPI for Social Security and other retirement benefits.
President Obama’s proposal to cut future cost-of-living increases for Social Security and other retirement programs is drawing raspberries from the nation’s seniors, as AARP released the results of a survey of senior voters’ opinions on the chained CPI, which showed that 70% of voters aged 50 or older oppose changing the way the Social Security cost-of-living adjustment is calculated. That includes 75% of Democrats, 63% of Republicans and 69% of independents. Even more, 78% of of voters aged 50-plus oppose changing the way the COLA is calculated for retired and disabled veterans (80% Democrats, 72% Republicans and 79% independents).
SMALL BIZ OPPOSES OFFSHORE TAX BREAKS. Small business owners oppose the current system for taxing US-based multinational corporations, according to a new poll released by the American Sustainable Business Council and the Main Street Alliance — two national business policy groups.
Current tax law enables companies to defer indefinitely taxes on profits earned overseas. The ASBC-MSA poll tested three possible reforms: ending deferral, instituting a territorial system, and establishing combined reporting. The report of poll results may be found at <http://bit.ly/msa-asbc-poll-report-taxes>.
Key findings from the survey include:
• More than four out of five small business owners (85%) oppose a territorial tax system, which would permanently exempt offshore profits from US taxation. Across party affiliation, 67% or more are strongly opposed to the proposal.
•76% of small business owners support closing overseas tax loopholes by implementing a unitary combined reporting system, which would limit the ability of corporations to avoid taxes by shifting profits offshore. A majority (55%) are strongly supportive.
• 64% support ending deferral, a provision of current tax code that allows corporations to indefinitely defer payment of US taxes on profits made or shifted offshore. Across parties at least 62% support this idea.
By a margin of more than two to one, small business owners prefer to close corporate tax loopholes rather than cut government programs. Both Democratic and Republican small business owners preferred closing loopholes to cutting spending on education, infrastructure or defense.
Respondents in the scientific survey of 515 owners of small businesses (2-99 employees) were politically diverse, with a strong plurality of Republicans or Independents who lean Republican: 47% identified as Republican or Independent-leaning Republican; 27% as Democratic or Independent-leaning Democratic; and 26% as Independent or other.
“I’m not afraid as a small business to compete with the big boys,” said Henry Passapera, a member of the Main Street Alliance and the co-owner of P&R Trading, an international supplier of airline parts and equipment based in East Rutherford, New Jersey. “But when big corporations use offshore tax havens to avoid their tax responsibility, it puts small businesses like mine at a competitive disadvantage. If you want to fly the American flag at your corporate headquarters, you ought to pay your fair share of taxes.”
From The Progressive Populist, May 1, 2013
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