After a New York Times analysis (11/10) found millions of middle-class families would see their taxes rise under Republican plans to give tax cuts to billionaires, despite repeated promises to the contrary by the Trump administration and Republican lawmakers, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) conceded in an interview with the Times that he “misspoke” when he declared that “nobody in the middle class is going to get a tax increase” under the Senate bill.

“I misspoke on that,” McConnell told the Times. “You can’t guarantee that absolutely no one sees a tax increase, but what we are doing is targeting levels of income and looking at the average in those levels and the average will be tax relief for the average taxpayer in each of those segments.”

McConnell’s reversal on a talking point that has become a mainstay for Republicans over the last several months as they attempt to sell their tax proposals to a skeptical public came just 24 hours after the Senate unveiled its own tax plan. Like the House version, the Senate bill calls for massive tax cuts for wealthy Americans and large corporations, Jake Johnson noted at CommonDreams (11/10).

The Times analysis found that, while middle class Americans would fare better under the Senate’s plan than the House’s, “both bills would disproportionately benefit high earners and corporations and raise taxes on millions of middle class families.”

The analysis continued:

“The Senate bill appears much better for the very wealthy than it is for the somewhat wealthy. About half of families earning between two and three times the median income—or about $160,000 to $240,000 for a family of three—would pay more in 2018 than under existing law. But among the richest families, those earning more than about $500,000 for a family of three, nearly 90% would get a tax cut.”

McConnell’s insistence that he “misspoke” in confidently declaring that no one in the middle class would see their taxes rise under the GOP plan was immediately seized upon by critics who have long seen through Republicans’ characterization of their bill as pro-middle class, Johnson wrote at CommonDreams.

“‘I misspoke’ is the thing you say when you can’t get away with lying anymore,” wrote Judd Legum of ThinkProgress.

AS EXPECTED, GOP TAX PLAN IS ALL UNICORNS. Republicans also misspoke when they claimed $1.5 trillion the proposed tax cut would add to the national debt over 10 years would trigger a surge in economic growth, higher wages, and job creation.

Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback (R) made a similar bet on supply-side economics with dramatic tax cuts in 2012, with the expectation that it would spur business expansion, and Dems hope to hang the economic catastrophe that followed in Kansas around the necks of GOP congressional leadership.

Charles P. Pierce noted at Esquire.com (11/2), “Brownback’s catastrophic imbibing of straight supply-side Sterno crippled his state, and the Center for American Progress immediately pointed out the similarities between what Brownback did in his state and what the Republican plan proposes to do to the country. Otherwise, the Republican plan is pretty much the same thing as David Stockman long ago said the first Reagan budget was: a Trojan horse to cut taxes on corporations and the wealthiest among us.”

“Clap as hard as you want, America,” Pierce concluded. “This is not going to happen because it never has happened in all the years that Republicans have been running this con on the country. It never has happened because it can’t happen. In the immortal words of Rocket J. Squirrel: ‘But that trick never works.’”

LANDMINE IN GOP TAX BILL WOULD GIVE FETUSES PERSONHOOD. An analyst poring over the 429-page Republican tax bill found on page 93 of the bill language that might serve to repeal the Roe v. Wade decision and outlaw abortion, RealtimePolitics noted. The stipulation allows fetuses to become inheritors of college savings accounts.

Rep. Diana DeGette (D-Colo.), co-chair of the Congressional Pro-Choice Caucus, stated: “This is a back-door attempt to establish personhood from the moment of conception. The tax code is no place to define what constitutes an ‘unborn child.’ What’s next, giving a Social Security number to a zygote?”

Republicans attempted to define life as beginning at conception by including the terms “unborn child” and “child in utero” in the provision.

Jeanne Mancini, president of the anti-abortion group March for Life, stated: “A child in the womb is just as human as you or I yet, until now, the US tax code has failed to acknowledge the unborn child.”

The real kicker is the fact that the tax bill removes the tax deduction on student loan interest, prompting RealtimePolitics to note, “Republicans care more about fetuses than young adults struggling to pay their tuition.”

GOP PLAN RAISES TAX ON GRADUATE STUDENTS. The Republican tax bill also would require graduate student tuition waivers to be counted as taxable income, which could make graduate school unaffordable for many students, Robbie Gonzalez reported at Wired.com (11/8).

In the case of Carnegie Mellon University, the annual stipend for a PhD student in computer science is about $32,400. The university covers the student’s $43,000 tuition, in exchange for the research she conducts and the courses she teaches. Under current law, the government taxes only a student’s stipend; the waived tuition is not taken into account. But under the GOP bill, her annual taxable income would rise from $32,400 to $76,234. Even factoring in new deductions also included in the proposal, a CMU document estimates her taxes would amount to $10,209 per year—nearly four times the amount under current law. That would slash her net annual stipend by 25%, from $29,566 to $22,191.

“It was just such a shock,” says Amanda Coston, who expects her degree will take another five years to complete. If the repeal were to become law, it would take effect in 2018-2019. “It really changes the calculus on my finances. This suddenly makes a lot of things like rent, car payments, groceries, all that stuff, no longer affordable.”

Current and would-be graduate students fear that, were the bill to pass, getting a PhD in the US could become financially impossible. “I monitor all legislation at the state and federal levels that could affect graduate and professional students, and this is just—this would have the greatest negative impact of anything I’ve seen,” says Samantha Hernandez, legislative director of the National Association of Graduate-Professional Students. “It would be devastating.”

OBAMACARE GROWS DESPITE TRUMP’S SABOTAGE. Donald Trump is determined to kill the Affordable Care Act, a.k.a. “ObamaCare.” But the health care plan is still showing signs of life, as more than 600,000 people enrolled at healthcare.gov in the first four days of open enrollment, according to numbers released by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. At this rate, Addy Baird noted at ThinkProgress (11/8), sign-ups are on pace to significantly exceed last year’s numbers in the first 12 days of the enrollment period when 1,008,218 signed up for coverage.

This year, on average, more than 34,000 people have enrolled in the ACA each day since open enrollment began, compared to about 20,500 each day last year.

“It’s a huge start to open enrollment,” Lori Lodes, a former Obama administration official now working for the Get America Covered campaign told ThinkProgress.

The question, she said, is how to keep the momentum going.

This year’s open enrollment period is significantly shorter than years past, running from Nov. 1 to Dec. 15 rather than until Jan. 31 in years past. Additionally, Trump has slashed the ACA advertising budget by 90% and cut $33 million from navigator groups that help people enroll in coverage.

The enrollment news comes on the heels of further proof that the repeal fight ultimately has backfired on the GOP.

MAINE VOTERS OPT FOR MEDICAID EXPANSION. Voters in Maine overwhelmingly elected to expand the state’s Medicaid program (11/7), becoming the first state to take the expansion offered under ACA via the ballot box. Although Gov. Paul LePage (R) is attempting to block the initiative, it will likely become law next year, making Maine the 32nd sate to expand Medicaid. Maine’s constitution makes clear that, despite LePage’s resistance, the law will go into effect 45 days after the legislature convenes again next January.

By mid-August of 2018, some 70,000 people should have access to the health care program for low-income people.

Additionally, in Virginia, a poll after the election found that health care was top of mind for many people. According to the poll by Public Policy Polling, health care was the most important or a very important issue for 67% of voters. Those who said health care was most or very important to them voted for winning Democratic candidate Ralph Northam, who has promised to protect the health care law, by a margin of 62 to 32.

The PPP survey found 50% of voters in Virginia now support the ACA, versus 39% who do not. According to the survey, 61% of voters in the commonwealth think the best path forward on health care is to keep the ACA and make fixes to the law, while 36% percent think the best path forward is to repeal it.

If Democrats take control of the House of Delegates, which is possible if one of three recounts go to the Dems, Northam could move to expand the state’s Medicaid program — which offers health care to the working poor — with the support of the legislature. Virginia Senate elections aren’t until 2019, but Democrats hope to overtake the Republicans’ two-seat majority, Baird noted at ThinkProgress.

About 400,000 people would receive access to health insurance if Virginia expanded Medicaid.

Nationally, about 2.5 million people fall into a coverage gap created by states that chose not to accept the federal money to expand Medicaid. They earn too much to qualify for traditional Medicaid, but not enough to receive subsidies for private insurance plans offered through the ACA exchanges.

Luke Mayville, co-founder of Reclaim Idaho, said the ballot measure’s success also sends a message to advocates in other states considering putting forward their own initiatives, Zoë Carpenter reported at TheNation.com (11/8). Mayville and others spent the summer driving around Idaho in a green 1977 Dodge camper dubbed the “Medicaid Mobile,” talking to residents about health care. Even in towns that voted for Trump by wide margins, almost everyone they talked to knew someone who would benefit from the expansion or who fell into the coverage gap themselves. They asked supporters to sign the camper, as a symbolic petition; soon it was covered in signatures, and Mayville started thinking that a ballot measure could really be viable.

Reclaim Idaho filed preliminary paperwork with Idaho’s secretary of state in October. So far many of the more powerful liberal groups in Idaho have been wary of supporting an initiative out of fear of a high-profile loss, Mayville said. “We think that Maine helps us forcefully respond to all those doubts,” he continued. “Here’s a rural, conservative-leaning state that got it done…. We think Idaho leans more conservative than Maine; however, the fact that the Maine initiative won by nearly 20 points gives us quite a bit of wiggle room.”

Advocates in Utah, where roughly 120,000 people fall into the Medicaid gap, have also filed an expansion initiative for the 2018 ballot. At least seven other states, including Florida, Missouri and Mississippi, could use the same tactic. Overall, the general election results suggest voters have more of an appetite for expanding insurance coverage than they do for cutting it: In Virginia’s gubernatorial contest, nearly 40% of voters identified health care as their top issue; those voters heavily favored winner Ralph Northam.

GOP READY TO PUSH TRUMP’S RIGHT-WING JUDICIAL NOMINEES THROUGH. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Sen. Chuck Grassley, who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, have set up a factory-style assembly line for Trump’s judicial nominees and are getting them confirmed at a dizzyingly fast rate, Amanda Marcotte reported at Salon (11/8).

McConnell deliberately kept scores of vacancies in the federal courts during Barack Obama’s presidency. McConnell’s decision to deny a confirmation hearing for Judge Merrick Garland, Obama’s highly qualified Supreme Court nominee, got some attention, but the fact that McConnell was doing the same thing for scores of other seats on the federal judiciary, in hopes of holding them open for a Republican president, barely got any attention in the media.

By the time Trump got to office, there were 103 judicial vacancies in the federal courts. Now, instead of finding reasons to slow the process down, McConnell and Grassley have gotten creative about how quickly they can cram these appointees through the confirmation process.

For instance, two judges who got rapid appointments at the end of October, Amy Coney Barrett of the Seventh Circuit in Chicago and Joan Larsen of the Sixth Circuit in Cincinnati, have extremely radical views on the record, Marcotte noted. Barrett is a radical anti-choicer, who not only rejects the legal arguments behind the Roe v. Wade decision but also takes a dim view of contraception access. Larsen takes a broad view of executive powers, arguing that the president can break laws banning things like torture if he believes doing so protects the nation. This is a particularly frightening position given Trump’s public record of longing for dictatorial powers.

When Obama was president, he appointed someone for the Seventh Circuit seat Barrett now occupies. But McConnell blocked the nomination, “stealing” the seat just as he stole Garland’s Supreme Court seat for Trump and Neil Gorsuch.

Recently, the Senate pushed through two more right wing extremists. Stephanos Bibas, who will serve on the Third Circuit in Philadelphia, wrote a 2009 article in which he argued in favor of “putting offenders in the stocks or pillory” so the public “could jeer and pelt them with rotten eggs and tomatoes.”

The other confirmation, Allison Eid of the 10th Circuit in Denver, has gone out of her way to deny due process to criminal defendants, as well as basic First Amendment protections against government establishment of religion.

Another nominee is Leonard Steven Grasz, whom Trump has named to the Eighth Circuit in St. Louis. Grasz is an anti-choice and anti-gay fanatic whom the American Bar Association has unanimously declared unqualified. Pamela Bresnahan of the ABA explained that the bar believes Grasz “would be unable to separate his role as an advocate from that of a judge,” specifically noting his belief that lower courts can reject abortion rights rulings the judges don’t like.

The Judiciary Committee (11/9) approved Trump’s nomination of Brett Talley, a 36-year-old lawyer who has never tried a case and who also has been unanimously deemed “not qualified” by the ABA, for a district court seat in Alabama, the New York Times reported (11/12). Talley is the fourth Trump judicial nominee to receive a “not qualified” rating.

The Senate committee on 11/9 also approved four other nominees for federal judgeships, including Holly Lou Teeter, who also received a “not qualified” rating for a district court seat in Kansas, the Times noted. Grassley held Teeter’s hearing before the ABA issued the ruling, the Washington Post noted (11/8).

As a blogger, Talley referred to Hillary Clinton as “Hillary Rotten Clinton” on his public Twitter account, which is now private. In 2013, he wrote on his blog that armed revolution was an important defense against tyrannical government, the Times reported, and in 2013, about a month after a gunman killed 20 children at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn., Talley on his blog pledged his total support to the National Rifle Association, “financially, politically and intellectually.”

The Times shed light on how Talley got the presidential nod, reporting (11/13) that he is married to Ann Donaldson, chief of staff to White House counsel, Donald F. McGahn II. That was a fact Talley failed to mention on his publicly released Senate questionnaire to identify family members and others who are “likely to present potential conflicts of interest.”

Charles P. Pierce noted at Esquire.com (11/13), “It seems pointless to say this again but, if brave truth-tellers like Jeff Flake and Bob Corker want actually to do something about the existential threat they say this president* represents, maybe they could vote to keep this guy from camping out on the federal bench for the rest of his freaking life. That would be a start.”

DEMS WIN WITH SERIOUS, AFFIRMATIVE AGENDA. The general elections (11/7) that swept many progressives, socialists and other leftists into office at the local and state level showed the progressive “farm team” has become bigger and stronger, Jimmy Tobias noted at (11/10).

“These fresh new pols now have a chance to make real change in their home cities and states: to fight for housing as a human right, rent control, higher taxes on the rich, stronger environmental protections, and an end to mass incarceration and the war on drugs. Just as crucially, some of them might eventually choose to keep going in politics, winding their way from school boards and city councils toward higher office,” Tobias wrote.

To build power, he suggested, look at Somerville, Mass., a city of roughly 80,000 just outside Boston. Last spring, a group of young people in the city formed a chapter of Our Revolution. They were outraged over Trump’s election and inspired by Bernie Sanders’s social-democratic vision, and they wanted to take power into their own hands.

They decided to dive into electoral work straight away—and they felt like they had to start at the ultra-local level, where elections were imminent. They recruited or endorsed a slate of seven leftist candidates to run on a joint ticket in the city’s Board of Aldermen elections this year. And then they did the real work. According to Penelope Jennewein, a 25-year-old organizer with Our Revolution Somerville, the group’s dozens of volunteers knocked on 300 doors a week for 11 weeks straight, right up until Election Day.

“We talked about economic justice, affordable housing, and tenants’ rights,” among other issues, says Jennewein. “And now I think it is fair to say that the balance of power on the Board of Aldermen has completely changed. It has swung to the left.”

This is, if anything, an understatement: All seven of the group’s chosen candidates were elected, and they now dominate the 11-member board. The new aldermen include Will Mbah, a recent US citizen who immigrated from Cameroon in 2010, and two members of the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), JT Scott and Ben Ewen-Campen. Among other issues, they hope to promote the use of community land trusts in the city and enshrine a tenants’ right of first-refusal—both as a means of protecting affordable housing.

“It is a shock,” says Jennewein. “I didn’t think we were going to have this many victories.”

Progressives also ran the table in Lancaster, Pa., where more than a dozen Democrats, many of them young and populist in outlook, won resounding victories in both the diverse liberal-leaning city and in its deep-red suburbs.

“It is so great,” says Eliza Booth, an organizer with Lancaster Stands Up, a local grassroots group founded by former Sanders campaign staff and volunteers. “We feel energized. Our base feel energized.”

And it should. Lancaster Stands Up worked tirelessly in the months leading up to the election, beginning as early as last spring, and not only endorsed all of the victorious Democrats but also registered voters and canvassed continuously in the lead up to the election. The group’s long-term goal is to unseat Republican Congressman Lloyd Smucker in the 2018 mid-term elections, and the 11/7 outcomes were a promising portent.

Consider the township of Manheim, a wealthy community that sits just outside Lancaster’s borders and where Democrats make up only 30 percent of all registered voters. Despite their serious underdog status, Democrats won all six open School Board seats, completely routing their opponents. They also picked up two seats on the Township Board of Commissioners. It was a major realignment in the political makeup of the area, says Nick Martin, a former field organizer for the Sanders campaign who now works for Jess King, a populist Democrat taking aim at Smucker’s seat.

“It is unprecedented. It is a really big deal,” he says. “I would call it a sign of what is possible.”

Indeed, Booth says Lancaster Stands Up is already mobilizing for next year’s big electoral face-off.

“We want to flip our congressional district blue in 2018, and get Lloyd Smucker out of there,” she says, of a district that has been held by Republicans for all of living memory. “That is our goal and that is what we are focused on. And we are moving in that direction.”

The common thread running through these victories, Tobias wrote, was “intensive organizing, combined with pavement-pounding, door-knocking and all the slow, steady labor that building power requires. Often the organizing took place under the aegis of Our Revolution, DSA, or the Working Families Party, but there were also instances, as in Lancaster, where activists came together on their own terms, in their own hyper-local organizations, to take back their cities. And these terms were significant. While the 45th president may have loomed large and threatening in the background of many campaigns, they weren’t just narrowly drawn reactions to Trump and Trumpism. They didn’t stop at ‘NO!’ Rather, they were grounded in an affirmative politics, offering tangible ideas and real solutions to the problems plaguing their communities.”

One clarion example was Larry Krasner, a longtime civil-rights attorney who pulled off a landslide victory to become Philadelphia’s next district attorney. In a major showing of progressive muscle, he won approximately 75% of the vote after a campaign that featured strong stances against the death penalty, cash bail, mass incarceration and the criminalization of addiction. In his victory speech, Krasner said he would bring “transformational change” to a prosecutor’s office with 600 staffers and a $54 mln budget.

Krasner noted the last three election cycles for DAs in Philly saw the total number of votes cast was in the range of 120,000 to 130,000 while his election drew around 200,000 votes. “You are looking at an incredible spike,” he said.

“The mainstream Democratic Party—and I am Democrat—really needs to wrap its loving arms around progressives,” he adds. “Republicans should be shaking in their boots because it is clear that for a long time there has been a big group of voters that would not get out to vote because they weren’t excited by their options.”

When you give people a bold progressive option, on the other hand, he said, “they will beat down the doors to go vote.”

BIG OIL LOSES BIG IN WASHINGTON STATE. Local elections, especially in non-presidential years, rarely draw the kind of national attention and money seen in statewide or nationwide races. But two local races in Washington state have captivated the fossil fuel industry, which funneled historic amounts of money to candidates friendly to their agenda, Natasha Geiling noted at ThinkProgress (11/8).

As Democratic candidates swept races from New Hampshire to Virginia, Big Oil found itself starkly rebuked in Washington state, as two candidates running on pro-environmental platforms proved that the fossil fuel industry, though powerful, is not infallible.

Voters in East King County — just outside of Seattle — elected Democrat Manka Dhingra to the state Senate, which tips the scale of that chamber in favor of Democrats. With a Democratic majority, Gov. Jay Inslee (D) could find enough allies to advance his environmental and climate agenda, which for years has included trying to pass a carbon tax.

In 2015, a Republican-controlled legislature refused to take action on a cap-and-trade bill backed by Inslee; in the meantime, Inslee has directed the state Department of Ecology to craft a plan for carbon emission reductions, but has suggested that he would prefer passing a carbon tax through the legislature.

The climate implications prompted fossil fuel interests to pour money into the local election: according to the Seattle Times, oil companies like Tesoro and Phillips 66 gave six-figure donations to the Republican candidate, Jinyoung Lee Englund, while climate activists like Tom Steyer and Michael Bloomberg funneled similar donations to Dhingra. All told, the campaign for Washington’s 45th District was the most expensive legislative race in the history of the state.

Washington joins Oregon and California as states with both a Democratic governor and a Democratic majority in the state legislature. Even before the election, governors from the three states had indicated their intent to work together on climate action — all three states are part of the US Climate Alliance, which pledges to uphold the US’ climate commitments under the Paris agreement despite the federal government’s desire to withdraw from the pact, and all have governors that have spoken out against the Trump administration’s anti-environmental agenda.

With a carbon tax now a distinct possibility in Washington — and with Oregon considering a similar policy — the three states could potentially link their carbon markets to create a regional emissions trading scheme, similar to the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), currently adopted by nine northeastern states.

A second local election also revealed cracks in the fossil fuel industry’s strategy in Washington, as Don Orange defeated his opponent, Kris Greene, to claim the third seat on the Port of Vancouver’s Board of Commissioners.

Fossil fuel interests and climate activists targeted the Vancouver election because the Port of Vancouver has, for years, been the site of a battle over the largest proposed oil-by-rail terminal in the US, known as the Tesoro-Savage terminal proposal. The terminal could handle 360,000 barrels of crude oil every day, brought by oil trains through the Columbia River Gorge that divides Oregon and Washington. The terminal would greatly increase oil train traffic, adding an additional 155 trains per week to the state’s railroads.

Environmental and climate groups — as well as local health organizations — have long been opposed to the project, arguing that the influx of oil trains endangers public health and the environment.

Tesoro, the company behind the proposal, spent at least $370,000 on Greene’s candidacy, who previously voiced support for the terminal (though he moderated his stance during the campaign, saying that he would defer to the state’s environmental impact study). Orange, on the other hand, ran on a decidedly anti-terminal campaign, arguing that the project would create only a small number of permanent jobs while jeopardizing the community’s health and natural resources. Orange advocated for terminating the project’s lease at the port — which was extended by the Vancouver Port Commission by a vote of two to one in March — and for bringing renewable energy jobs to the area.

“Big oil is trying to buy the race. We’re trying to protect the river and we’re trying to protect clean 21st-century jobs,” Orange told the Associated Press in October. “My intent is to do everything legally possible to stop Vancouver from becoming an oil town.”

With Orange on the Port Commission, the three-person board now has two outspoken critics of the terminal — an edge that environmental, climate, and public health advocates hope will spell the end of the project.

“Tonight, Clark County residents said loud and clear that they do not want to become just another polluted oil town,” Shannon Murphy, president of Washington Conservation Voters, said in response to Orange’s victory. “This win shows communities across the country that when we stand together we are stronger than big oil’s money.”

From The Progressive Populist, December 1, 2017


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