When the community of SeaTac, Wash., home to the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, on 1/1 became the first in the nation to approve a $15 minimum wage law, employers warned that they would have to lay off workers and reduce hours and benefits.More than eight months later, Dana Milbank highlighted the results in the Washington Post (9/5).

“As fast-food workers demonstrate nationwide for a $15 hourly wage, and congressional Republicans fight off a $10 federal minimum, little SeaTac has something to offer the debate. Its neighbor, Seattle, was the first big city to approve a $15 wage, this spring, but that doesn’t start phasing in until next year. SeaTac did it all at once. And, though there’s nothing definitive, this much is clear: The sky did not fall.

“‘SeaTac is proving trickle-down economics wrong,’ says David Rolf, the Service Employees International Union official who helped lead the $15 effort in SeaTac and Seattle, ‘because when workers prosper, so do communities and businesses.’”

In fairness, SeaTac is a small community and the number of affected workers is quite modest, making this a difficult test case, Steve Benen noted at Maddowblog.com. Still, as Milbank noted, the owner of a SeaTac hotel, who had strongly opposed the minimum-wage increase during the 2013 debate, said the hike would invariably lead to local layoffs and eliminated jobs. Instead, this year, with the $15 minimum wage in effect, the hotel is moving forward with a multi-million dollar expansion anyway.

And what of Seattle, which will soon have easily the highest minimum wage of any major US city?

Milbank wrote: “In Seattle last week, I stopped in at the jammed Palace Kitchen, flagship of Seattle restaurateur Tom Douglas, who runs upward of 15 establishments. He warned in April that the $15 wage could ‘be the most serious threat to our ability to compete,’ and he predicted that ‘we would lose maybe a quarter of the restaurants in town.’ Yet Douglas has opened, or announced, five new restaurants this year.

“Likewise, the International Franchise Association has sued to block implementation of the law, arguing that nobody ‘in their right mind’ would become a franchisee in Seattle. Yet Togo’s sandwiches, a franchise chain, is expanding into Seattle, saying the $15 wage isn’t a deterrent.

“And a spokesman for Weyerhaeuser, the venerable wood and paper company, says the $15 wage didn’t factor into its decision, announced last month, to move its headquarters and 800 employees to Seattle from outside Tacoma.”

It’s against this backdrop that the political debate continues to unfold, Benen noted. The White House made a minimum-wage increase the subject of its official weekly address over the weekend, and just last week, two Republican opponents of a wage hike – Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and Senate hopeful Rep. Tom Cotton – both started hedging on whether an increase is a good idea.

GOP NIGHTMARE: OBAMACARE IS WORKING. The politics of the Affordable Care Act have undergone a sea change since its disastrous rollout last fall, when many conservative operatives were salivating at the prospect of a GOP wave in the midterm elections due to an Obamacare “train wreck.”

But the train never wrecked, Sahil Kapur noted at TalkingPointsMemo.com (9/8). The law rebounded, surpassed its signups goal and withstood a flurry of attacks. The issue seems to have mostly lost its power as a weapon against Democrats, and a growing number of Republican governors — even in conservative states — are warming to a core component of Obamacare, the Medicaid expansion.

Obamacare has provided a lifeline by providing coverage to 8 mln people on the exchanges, 7 mln under Medicaid expansion and 5 mln who bought insurance outside the exchanges but benefit from new regulations like the coverage guarantee for individuals with preexisting conditions. Even Republicans in deeply conservative states are suggesting that the popular new benefits cannot be taken away, even if the Obamacare brand still struggles.

Kapur noted that the shift has been crystallized in contentious Senate races this fall. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) recently signaled that Kentuckians benefiting from the state’s Obamacare exchange and Medicaid expansion should be able to keep their coverage. Senate GOP candidates Joni Ernst of Iowa, Tom Cotton of Arkansas, Scott Brown of New Hampshire and Terri Lynn Land of Michigan have all refused to call for rolling back Medicaid expansion in their states. The number of television ads attacking the law have plummeted in key battleground states since April, and now even vulnerable Democratic Sen. Mark Pryor of Arkansas is touting his vote for protecting Americans with preexisting conditions under Obamacare.

But even if the Obamacare attacks are fading, Republicans remain poised to make gains in the midterms due to a variety of structural advantages. They continue to oppose Obamacare as a whole, and point out that Americans still react negatively when asked about the law.

“For Democrats,” Kapur noted, “the dream scenario was that Obamacare would eventually join Social Security and Medicare as an unassailable feature of the American safety net. Like those other major programs, Obamacare won’t be without its share of problems — cost uncertainties for automatically-renewed plans among them. But after more than 50 House votes to repeal or dismantle the law, few could have predicted that Republicans would start warming up to central pieces of the law within a year of its rollout.”

VA. GOV. McAULIFFE GETS LIMITED MEDICAID EXPANSION. Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) ran on a platform of Medicaid expansion during his successful campaign last year, but he was unable to get the Republican-controlled legislature to go along with his plans to accept the federal funds under the Affordable Care Act to expand healthcare to 400,000 uninsured working poor Virginians, Steve Bennen noted at Rachel Maddow’s Blog (9/9)

McAuliffe had proposed a two-year pilot expansion of Medicaid that could be canceled if it proved unsuccessful, but the House Appropriations Committee wouldn’t hear of it. Dahlia Lithwick noted at Slate.com (4/8) that without Medicaid expansion, it’s quite likely that some struggling Virginians will, in fact, die unnecessarily. She added that “the sheer nihilism on display in Richmond shows what happens when you convince yourself that government can fix nothing.”

The best McAuliffe’s Department of Health and Human Resources was able to do was to put together a plan to cover 25,000 of the working poor, using $40 mln in leftover state funds to expand coverage, mainly to children of state employees and people struggling with mental health issues. Republican legislators managed to keep roughly 375,000 poor Virginians uninsured.

Ann Doss Helms and Tony Pugh of McClatchy Newspapers reported in September, based on figures from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Urban Institute, that the 23 states still rejecting Medicaid expansion stick with that decision, they’ll contribute $152 bln over 10 years to states that take the federal money. Florida is passing up $66.1 bln in federal Medicaid funding but will pay $20.1 to other states; Texas is forgoing $65.6 bln but will pay $36.2 bln, North Carolina is forgoing $39.6 bln but will pay $10.2 bln; Georgia is forgoing $33.7 bln but will pay $10.8 bln; Tennessee is forgoing $22.5 bln but will pay $7.8 bln; Virginia is forgoing $14.7 bln but will pay $10.6 bln.

OBAMA BEATS REAGAN ON ECONOMIC RECOVERY, BUT CAN’T GET WORD OUT. You’d never know it by listening to AM talk radio, or watching cable news, or even reading social media, Bob Ceska noted at TheDailyBanter.com (9/9), but based on leading economic indicators, President Obama’s record on the economy is actually much stronger than Ronald Reagan’s record.

Forbes‘ Adam Hartung consulted with Rob Deitrick, CEO of Polaris Financial Partners, regarding the comparative records of Obama and Reagan. In terms of employment, economic expansion and financial investments, the state of the economy has improved more rapidly and more robustly under Obama than it did under Reagan. Yet Reagan, in today’s political mythology, enjoys a status he doesn’t entirely deserve while Obama is regarded poorly in comparison, Hartung noted (9/5).

Job creation held steady above 200,000 new jobs per month for most of the year until August, when the Bureau of Labor Statistics showed only 142,000 jobs created. Decent, but the streak was still broken, Ceska noted. However, unemployment continued to fall, dropping to 6.1%, down from around 10% at its peak.

Contrast this with Reagan’s record at this stage of his presidency. Deitrick pointed out to Forbes that Reagan’s unemployment numbers peaked higher (around 11%) than Obama’s high-water mark, and Obama’s 6.1% unemployment figure in his sixth year has bested Reagan by a full year. In Reagan’s sixth year, unemployment was still in the low sevens. Deitrick added that Polaris expects unemployment to drop to 5.4% by next summer — nearly half what it was in 2010.

During the Obama administration, Forbes reported, there’s been 63 consecutive months of economic expansion, in addition to 25 months of increased manufacturing. This according to the Institute for Supply Managaement’s Purchasing Managers Index. And the numbers are growing — up two points in August to a score of 59. New orders for manufacturing have reached a level not seen since early 2004.

During the Reagan years, your investments would’ve increased by 190%. Under Obama, the same dollar has yielded a 220% gain. “If you own shares in the company you work for, you’re probably doing better. If you have a 401(k), you’re probably doing much better. If you have an IRA, you’re doing great. The Dow has reached record highs under Obama — over 17,000 — not too shabby for a guy whose economic policies were considered to be the arrival of European socialism, or worse,” Ceska noted.

On the deficit, Ceska noted that it doubled and the debt tripled under Reagan. Under Obama, the deficit has declined by just under $1 tln — from $1.4 tln when Obama took office to $500 bln at the end of this year. And while government employment increased under Reagan, literally expanding the size of government, it’s declined under Obama, much to the detriment of his overall employment numbers.

The one thing Obama has failed at is messaging, Ceska wrote. “Given the strength of the Obama economy, he should be riding high in terms of approval ratings, but overall and specifically on the economy, his numbers are incongruously low. Sure, times have changed. Washington is more cynical and ridiculously more divisive than it was 30 years ago. There wasn’t the internet, social media, 24-hour cable news or widely syndicated talk radio screechers. Perhaps this is one reason why, whenever the White House happens to be on-point with its messaging, it doesn’t really stick to the wall. But it’s difficult to overcome, even for the chief executive, the deafening noise machine with its confirmation bias and misinformation racing around the world before the truth gets its pants on. The Obama legacy is at stake now, and if he ever intends to leave office in 2017, he needs to improve his game. He surely has the oratory ability to do it, but maybe his communications staff isn’t up for the job.”

DEMS CAN WIN ON FIGHTING TO INCREASE SOCIAL SECURITY. A new poll confirms that voters don’t just want their Social Security benefits protected, they want them expanded – in overwhelming numbers, across geographical distances, and crossing all party lines. It’s not just “liberals” who feel that way. Three out of four Republican voters support it, RJ Eskow wrote at OurFuture.org (9/10). What’s more, voters say they’re far more likely to vote for candidates who vote to increase Social Security benefits. This is a winning issue for Democrats who are willing to take a firm stand as defenders – and expanders – of Social Security.

Pollster Celinda Lake summarizes her findings by writing that “voters overwhelmingly support increasing Social Security benefits.” Lake and her team interviewed voters nationwide and in seven “red, blue, and purple” states, asking likely voters in November’s election if they support “increasing Social Security benefits and paying for that increase by having wealthy Americans pay the same rate into Social Security as everybody else.” The response was, indeed, overwhelming:

• 90% of Democrats said they support the idea, and 75% strongly support it.

• 73% of independents support it; 55% strongly support it.

• 73% of Republicans support it; 47% strongly support it.

• 63% said they are more likely to vote for a member of Congress who votes to increase Social Security.

• 70% said they’re less likely to vote for one who votes to cut Social Security benefits.

These findings are consistent with earlier polling (compiled in PopulistMajority.org) which found, for example, “87% of voters favor protecting Social Security and Medicare.”

So why aren’t more Democrats supporting Social Security benefit expansion?

Eskow noted that some Democrats have already signed onto the idea, including Sens. Tom Harkin, Sherrod Brown, Mark Begich, and Elizabeth Warren.

For Alaska’s Begich, who is up for reelection, Social Security expansion isn’t just smart policy. It’s also a very smart political move. 76% of voters in his Reddish state support the idea, while 59% strongly support it. 59% of likely Alaska voters tell pollsters that they’re more likely to vote for a candidate who votes to expand the program.

There’s another compelling reason for Democrats to push for Social Security expansion: Republicans have outflanked them on this issue before. Republicans ran to the left of Democrats in 2010 with a “Seniors’ Bill of Rights,” promising to protect Social Security and Medicare.

This was a craven move, given the fact that their party opposed both programs when they were created and had been trying to cut them for decades, Eskow noted. But it worked. Democrats lost the House of Representatives that year.

GA. GOP’ER COMPLAINS ABOUT EARLY BLACK VOTERS. A Georgia state senator is unhappy with the decision of one of Georgia’s largest counties to allow early voting on a Sunday in late October in a shopping mall popular among local African-Americans. Concerned that this will lead to higher black voter turnout and hurt his party’s dominance, state Sen. Fran Millar (R) is vowing to stop this easy voting for minority voters.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported (9/9) that Millar, who represents part of DeKalb County and is senior deputy whip for the Georgia Senate, wrote:

“Now we are to have Sunday voting at South DeKalb Mall just prior to the election. Per Jim Galloway of the AJC, this location is dominated by African American shoppers and it is near several large African American mega churches such as New Birth Missionary Baptist. Galloway also points out the Democratic Party thinks this is a wonderful idea – what a surprise. I’m sure Michelle Nunn and Jason Carter are delighted with this blatantly partisan move in DeKalb.

“Is it possible church buses will be used to transport people directly to the mall since the poll will open when the mall opens? If this happens, so much for the accepted principle of separation of church and state.”

Many predominantly black churches around the country organize “Souls to the Polls” events that encourage churchgoers to vote after Sunday church services. This often relies on carpooling and is perfectly legal, according to the Freedom From Religion Foundation (which advocates for a strict separation of church and state). While Republicans in places like North Carolina and Ohio have pushed to eliminate Sunday voting hours, Josh Israel noted at ThinkProgress (9/9), it is unusual for a legislator to so candidly admit that this strategy is about reducing black turnout.

Millar notes that he is “investigating if there is any way to stop this action” and that he and state Rep. Mike Jacobs (R) “will try to eliminate this election law loophole in January,” as it might boost Dem voter turnout.

SENATE REPUBLICANS BLOCK CONSTITUTIONAL FIX TO ‘CITIZENS UNITED’. The Senate took up a constitutional amendment to overturn the CItizens United decision and other Supreme Court rulings that loosen restrictions on money in politics. The procedural vote was 79-18 in favor of allowing the Senate to debate the measure. But Sahil Kapur noted at TalkingPointsMemo.com (9/8) that the measure is highly unlikely to ultimately pass the Senate as it faces fierce Republican opposition. It needs to clear another 60-vote threshold in order to end the debate and come to a final vote. And that final vote would require support of two-thirds of senators (67) to succeed. The measure, sponsored by Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.)would restore the ability of Congress to set campaign spending limits.

On 9/11, on a straight party-line vote of 54-42, Republicans in the US Senate blocked the constitutional amendment that would have overruled the Citizens United decision.

THE RACE IS ON. With the 9/9 primaries, the general election lineup is taking shape and the handicappers don’t give Democrats much chance of holding onto the Senate, where Republicans need to pick up six seats to gain the majority and make President Obama a lame duck. Charlie Cook wrote: “While the contest for the majority in the Senate has many facets, none is more important than whether Democrats can hold onto any of their six most vulnerable seats: those that are up in states that Mitt Romney carried in 2012. Three of them—the open seats in Montana, South Dakota, and West Virginia—look pretty hopeless for Democrats. The remaining three incumbents—Mark Begich in Alaska, where Romney won by 14 points; Mark Pryor in Arkansas, which Romney carried by 24 points; and Mary Landrieu in Louisiana, where Romney won by 17 points—all look increasingly problematic for Democrats. And, of course, what happens in states where Obama and Romney were reasonably close—as in Colorado (Mark Udall), North Carolina (Kay Hagan), and the Iowa open seat—is also key. So, too, are the outcomes in GOP-held states and in strong Obama states. If Democrats get wiped out in red states, that could be the whole ball game when it comes to Senate control. They had better knock off a Republican seat somewhere and sweep the purple states.”

Aaron Blake of the Washington Post notes, “President Obama is a drag on Democrats this year, any way you slice it. His disapproval rating has been hovering around 60% in the key Senate states, that hasn’t gotten better, and 55% of registered voters rate his presidency as a ‘failure.’ The history of an unpopular president’s party in midterm election is even gloomier.

“But tucked inside Tuesday’s new Washington Post-ABC News poll is a semi-encouraging figure for Democrats: Among the clear majority of Americans who disapprove of Obama (54%), a little bit less than three-quarters of them say they are voting Republican in the coming election — just 72%.

“I say ‘just’ 72%, because that’s in contrast to the 85% of Obama approvers who say they will vote for Democrats. In other words, opposing Obama is not an analogue for voting Republican in the upcoming election. And that’s why Democrats still have at least a fighting chance to keep the Senate (current generic ballot: 46% for Democrats, 44% for Republicans).”

In Kansas, the decision by Democrat Chad Taylor to quit the race might swing enough support to centrist independent Greg Orman to overtake unpopular 3-term GOP Sen. Pat Roberts. A poll by KSNW-TV in Wichita (9/8) showed the race effectively tied, with Orman getting 37%, Roberts 36% and Taylor (who remains on the ballot) with 10%. Another 6% support the Libertarian and 11% were undecided.

McCARTHY BREAKS PROMISE ON CLOSING EX-IM BANK. Being majority leader of Republicans is hard, as Kevin McCarthy found after he was elected to succeed former Majority Leader Eric Cantor, who was unseated in a GOP primary in his rural Virginia district. David Brat, a right-win economics professor with the backing of some high-powered right-wing radio hosts, campaigned that Cantor was insufficiently conservative and a “crony capitalist” who was more responsive to the interests of Wall Street than conservative voters.

On Fox News (6/22) shortly after he was elected new majority leader and knowing that he had to give the Tea Party something if he wanted to have any sort of credibility with the hard-right conservatives in the House Republican caucus, McCarthy said he would let the Export-Import Bank expire in September. The bank provides federally subsidized loans to overseas companies so they can buy American goods, and many conservatives consider it to be corporate welfare — unless they are involved in selling goods overseas.

Simon Maloy of Salon.com noted (9/10) that, as is so often the case, the political ground shifted beneath McCarthy’s feet, and now it looks like he has to break his promise on the Export-Import Bank.

Coming into the abbreviated September session, House Congressional leaders formulated a strategy to prevent Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and other conservative mischief-makers from shutting down the government or causing any sort of drawn-out fights over legislation that could cause political headaches for the GOP. This means passing a continuing resolution to fund the government and a temporary reauthorization of the Export-Import Bank’s charter, and then heading back out on the campaign trail as soon as possible.

That has conservative activists, led by Heritage Action, steamed. They oppose any effort to attach the Ex-Im reauthorization to the continuing resolution, and won’t support any “standalone measure” to extend the bank’s charter. The group also joined with the right-wing Club for Growth to write a letter to McCarthy reminding him of what he said about the Ex-Im Bank in June.

“And so McCarthy is stuck,” Maloy wrote. “He promised activists that he would let the bank die this month. But the leadership doesn’t want to rock the boat before the elections. Boehner has already signaled that the bank will be reauthorized, likely by attaching an amendment to the continuing resolution. This means McCarthy will have to go back on his word.

“This is the inevitable consequence of being a leader of the modern Republican Party. You can pander all you want to the Tea Party and try to convince them that you’re down for the struggle, but at some point there is going to be an irreconcilable tension between the increasingly anti-government demands of the GOP’s conservative base and the responsibilities of actually ensuring that the government continues to function.

“Cantor was about as conservative and obstructionist a majority leader as a Republican could hope for: he stymied Obama at just about every turn, rallied the caucus to oppose every big initiative from the White House, and made sure that the government accomplished as little as possible. And he got booted after a Tea Party crank successfully painted him as a sellout.

“McCarthy is cut from the same cloth as Cantor, so it was inevitable that he would have to break with the activists and bring down the wrath of the base. It’s just remarkable that it’s happening so quickly.”

HOUSE PASSES BILL TO HALT EPA WATER RULE. House Republicans voted (9/9) to block the Environmental Protection Agency’s attempt to define its jurisdiction over bodies of water.

Passed 162-152, largely along party lines, HR 5078 overrides a rule proposed in March by the EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers, which sought clarify two Supreme Court decisions that made it difficult to determine whether waterways that are dry for part of the year are protected by the Clean Water Act — confusion that polluters have readily taken care of.

The new rule would give the EPA regulatory authority over millions of acres of wetlands along with about 2 mln miles of small streams, the latter of which feed into rivers, lakes and reservoirs that provide drinking water for more than 115 mln Americans (all of whom, presumably, prefer that water to be pollution-free), Lindsey Abrams noted at Salon.com (9/10). It would also protect critical fish and wild habitats.

The EPA emphasized that it would not be expanding the Clean Water Act, only reasserting its authority over water sources that have historically been protected. ”We are clarifying protection for the upstream waters that are absolutely vital to downstream communities,” EPA administrator Gina McCarthy said in March. “Clean water is essential to every single American, from families who rely on safe places to swim and healthy fish to eat, to farmers who need abundant and reliable sources of water to grow their crops, to hunters and fishermen who depend on healthy waters for recreation and their work and to businesses that need a steady supply of water for operations.”

Republicans twisted the action into “one of the biggest land grabs by the federal government ever perpetrated on the American public.”

A Pennsylvania woman who lost her job at a West Virginia coal mine in May is suing her former employer, Murray Energy, claiming she was unlawfully fired for refusing to give money to political campaigns supported by the company CEO.

FORMER COAL MINE FOREMAN: ‘FIRED BECAUSE I WOULDN’T CONTRIBUTE TO GOP.’ A Pennsylvania woman who lost her job at a West Virginia coal mine in May is suing her former employer, Murray Energy, claiming she was unlawfully fired for refusing to give money to political campaigns supported by the company CEO.

First reported by Ken Ward Jr. at the Charleston Gazette (9/9), the lawsuit claims that Jean F. Cochenour was fired from her job as a foreman at the Marion County Mine because of her “failure to donate” to political candidates preferred by company founder Robert Murray, who is notorious for inserting himself in political fights over coal regulation, most recently accusing the Environmental Protection Agency of lying about the existence of global warming.

Murray allegedly sent letters to employees at the Marion County Mine, asking them to support “pro-coal” candidates for political office. The lawsuit claims Murray would keep track of who made the requested contributions, and who didn’t. This practice was known to the mine’s employees, the suit says, citing “at least one manager” who told Cochenour that failing to contribute could impact her job. The allegations echo a 2012 investigative piece from the New Republic’s Alec MacGillis, which stated that Murray has “for years pressured salaried employees to give to the Murray Energy political action committee (PAC) and to Republican candidates chosen by the company.” (Emily Atkin, ThinkProgress.org, 9/10)

From The Progressive Populist, October 1, 2014


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