Roosevelt Reacts: What Else Did We Need From the 2015 State of the Union?

Jan 23, 2015

Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network members and alumni weigh in on President Obama's sixth State of the Union address.

Brett Dunn, University of Alabama '17:

Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network members and alumni weigh in on President Obama's sixth State of the Union address.

Brett Dunn, University of Alabama '17:

In the face of strong Republican opposition, President Obama made his stance on many controversial topics quite clear. He outlined his views on topics such as the minimum wage, equal pay for women, LGBTQ+ rights, tax reform and more. These bold and somewhat ambitious goals for change in 2015 will require bipartisan compromise in Congress. It is likely, however, that there will be little correlation between President Obama’s bold vision for the future of the United States and Congress’ actions in the final two years of his presidency. No matter how wonderful or ambitious President Obama’s plans are for the country, the likelihood of any these issues being independently addressed by a Republican controlled Congress is very slim. Yet the president’s plans do not fall on deaf ears. President Obama’s speech gives Democrats in Congress and, more importantly, the American public, ammunition against the Republican’s inevitable inaction, which could potentially help set the stage for the 2016 election.

Chisolm Allenlundy, University of Alabama '16:

It was difficult to miss the amount of politics that happened on Tuesday at President Obama’s next-to-last State of the Union address. What might have been easy to miss, however, was the meaning of it all.

President Obama knows that his days of passing game-changing progressive legislation are over. This is a common position for 4th-quarter presidents to find themselves in, and Obama did exactly what such presidents do when they can no longer effectively push for policy change: they push for culture change.

But most Americans don’t watch the political process so much as they hear about it from media sources, which put their own spin on material. According to consumer watch company Nielson, 31.7 million people tuned in for the SOTU, and even that figure is at a 15-year low. While the president has attempted to set the direction for progressive politics for the next year, policy change will be a struggle, and he needs to reach many more Americans to steer the course on our political culture. 

Tarsi Dunlop, Middlebury College '09:

Middle class economics played a key role in the President’s 2015 State of the Union. He explained that middle class economics is about the policies needed for average American families to get ahead. These policies aren’t handouts, but they make daily life better, easier, more fulfilling. For example, what if students could graduate from K-12 with good grades and know they had the option of going to community college without the staggering cost of debt? Granted, there are certain investments that must be made to make sure that community colleges are, as an institution, prepared for the role the President wants them to serve for our nation’s youth.

The President also touched on other elements of middle class economics: key policy proposals that will help young people, new families, and the elderly. He emphasized affordable day care (right now monthly costs can run higher than a mortgage payment), as well as paid family leave and sick leave. Families shouldn’t have to choose between time with new babies and paid work, nor between working and staying home with a sick child. We need a vision and a budget to help the middle class thrive and it was great to hear concrete proposals in the President’s speech.

Hayley Brundige, University of Tennessee, Knoxville '17:

Obama's State of the Union Address illustrated just how far we still have to go in the fight for gender equality. I was ecstatic when Obama asserted that the right to quality childcare and paid maternity and sick leave are not just “women's issues” — as they are often brushed aside as — but a “national economic priority.” But in the back of my mind, I was dismayed that this concept that is so obviously a human right is still so far from being obvious to our elected officials. 

Noticeably missing from the speech was any mention of preventing sexual assault, especially on college campuses. This was particularly surprising seeing as the administration has made this issue a point of focus recently, creating a White House task force on sexual assault and investigating colleges for Title IX violations. Obama even had a readily supplied anecdote, as campus activist and sexual assault survivor Emma Sulkowicz was literally in the audience. As a college student, I applaud Obama's efforts to make community college more accessible, but it's disheartening for him to not address the importance of keeping our campuses safe. No president on record has discussed sexual assault in a State of the Union address.

Zachary Agush, Wheaton College '12:

Over the years, President Obama has always integrated personal stories into his annual State of the Union addresses to paint a visual about the troubles individuals may be facing or to explain how a certain effort can help spark further growth and development for others. I have always considered that a major strength. This year’s speech focused in particular on young families. The President knows that the new generation is quickly becoming the majority of the nation's population and that the lingering inequalities and economic hardships will definitely make it increasingly difficult for them to have the quality of life they desire. This generation is also going to struggle to maintain Social Security and Medicare for those entering these safety net programs in the coming decade. I think those stories in particular hit some members of Congress, even those of the new Republican majority, that something needs to be done to at least give the next generation a chance at success. I am cautiously optimistic that something may happen - but it will only happen if this Congress can actually stop and think about how their gridlock is directly affecting the next generation. Maybe then, there can be progress.

Sarah Hilton, Wheaton College '16:

President Obama made huge strides for education policy on Tuesday night; even raising the issue of rising college tuition is a positive step forward. However, the President hardly mentioned the K-12 system. He praised rising graduation rates and higher test scores then ever before, but ignored the staggering inequality and lack of student performance when compared internationally. Obama’s two-year community college plan, while economically beneficial for the middle class, shows that our base expectations for education continue to require more time and expense.

The focus instead should be on improving the K-12 system we already have by creating more diverse programs that train students for a variety careers from academic to vocational. Today, about half of students begin community college in remedial classes. We should be making our high schools more effective at reaching students. Vocational training for profitable and interesting jobs can be done in high school, and academic programs should be strengthen to reduce the need for remedial classes in community colleges. Strengthening the underlying K-12 system and increasing vocational training would have an earlier impact on our students’ lives.

Jas Johl, University of California, Berkeley '08:

The main rhetorical touch point for the state of the union was 'middle class economics.' Throughout the address, Obama repeatedly turned to that concept, presenting policy ideas designed to bolster it.  Of paramount importance to the ongoing success of middle class, he argued, would be to make the first two years of community college free for all. This proposal does address some of the symptoms of growing economic inequality, namely rising student debt. Nonetheless, it overlooks the underlying, systemic issues at the core of the problem: the broken state of our current education system. 

As The Institute for College Access & Success and the Brookings Institute have both argued, the majority of those attending community college are already getting their tuition covered through Pell Grants and other means of financial support. I’d argue the more pressing issue is the fact that many of the students who enroll in community colleges are ill-prepared for 4-year universities, and spend the first two years of college taking remedial college (read: high school) courses that they didn't do well in or even pass the first time. Free college doesn’t help a student who isn’t ready for it.

Obama makes the very valid point that making those colleges free would assuage the financial burden of a large number of young adults, and likely precipitate a better-prepared workforce. But a glaring absence in the president's speech was acknowledgement of the fundamental cracks in our institutions, namely, our already free K-12 educational system. Real middle class economics necessitate not just free education, but better education for all.

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After Four Decades with Roe, U.S. Women Still Need Abortion Access, and So Much More

Jan 23, 2015Andrea FlynnShulie Eisen

As economic inequality takes center stage in politics, it's important to remember that reproductive justice and bodily autonomy are just as essential for secure lives.

As economic inequality takes center stage in politics, it's important to remember that reproductive justice and bodily autonomy are just as essential for secure lives.

Yesterday’s 42nd anniversary of the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision prompted a week of stark contradictions. Thousands of anti-choice protesters descended on Washington yesterday while the House of Representatives passed HR7, a bill limiting insurance coverage for abortions (after a broader abortion ban was – for the time – abandoned). Yesterday, Congressional Democrats re-introduced the Women’s Health Protection Act, a bill meant to protect abortion access from the medically unnecessary restrictions that have already made the landmark decision meaningless in many parts of the country. And in his State of the Union address on Tuesday night, President Obama professed his support for abortion rights, along with equal pay, paid sick and family leave, a minimum wage hike, and expanded health coverage. It’s all been a reminder of what has been won and just how much there is left to fight for – from abortion rights to economic security.

Over the past four years we’ve seen an unprecedented number of attacks on reproductive health – more than 200 between 2011 and 2013 – leaving many states with a scant number of abortion providers. Scores of women are now required to travel long distances, at great cost, to access not just abortion, but a wide range of comprehensive health services.

While reproductive health has certainly been the obsession of choice of conservative lawmakers in recent years, it hasn’t been the only issue in their crosshairs. In many ways, the increasing hostility to abortion and family planning is reflective of a broader war against the poor that is sure to persist under the new Congress. It turns out the same lawmakers who have championed abortion restrictions in the name of protecting women’s health have done very little to actually help women and families. Indeed, a recent report from the Center for Reproductive Rights and Ibis Reproductive Health shows that states with the most abortion restrictions also have some of the worst indicators for women’s health and wellbeing. So lawmakers are restricting access to health services at the same time they are dismantling the social safety net on which so many women and families rely. The overall impact has been devastating.

In states across the country, women are struggling under the burden of intersecting health and economic injustices. Let’s look, for example, at Kansas, where conservative Governor Brownback slashed business regulations, cut taxes for the wealthy, nearly eliminated income taxes, and privatized Medicaid delivery, all with the goal of making the state a conservative utopia. In the meantime, Kansas women continue to struggle with high rates of poverty, a lack of health insurance, un- and underemployment, and a persistent wage gap. Kansas is one of the sixteen states that refuse to participate in Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act, leaving nearly 80,000 adults (half of whom are women) uninsured. It is the only state in the country that actually experienced an increase in its uninsured rate last year.

To make matters worse for women in Kansas, lawmakers eliminated abortion access from 98 percent of the state’s counties – in which 74 percent of the state’s women live – and passed House Bill 2253, a 47-page law comprised of countless and senseless abortion restrictions. It included a 24-hour waiting period; medically inaccurate pre-abortion counseling; prohibiting abortion providers from working or volunteering in public schools; banning University of Kansas Medical School faculty members from teaching students and residents how to perform abortions; and eliminating public health insurance coverage of all abortion services. And the list goes on. Sadly these laws are not unique to Kansas and they have significantly diluted the initial promise Roe held four decades ago.

The economic injustices described above, and those being felt by low-income families throughout the country, are starting to get the attention they deserve, and the policy solutions to address them are gaining traction (see the recent support for raising the minimum wage and instituting paid sick and family leave). But while economists and policymakers are increasingly focused on the pernicious impacts of inequality and economic insecurity, they rarely acknowledge how these issues intersect with reproductive health and rights.

Let us use the anniversary of Roe to remember there can be no economic justice without reproductive justice. We can’t win on one front while losing on the other. Reproductive health – a cornerstone of which is family planning and abortion – is not a frill. It is a core component of comprehensive health care, which is a basic pillar of every individual’s personal, social, and economic wellbeing.

What good is better and more equal pay if we can’t plan the timing and size of our families? What good is paid sick and family leave if there are no quality, affordable, and accessible providers to give us the care we need when we need it? We need all of it. Now. That’s just demanding a basic – very basic – floor of wellbeing. And that shouldn’t be too much to ask. Roe has served as part of that foundation for the last 42 years. But conservatives have successfully chipped away at it and will continue to do so until there’s nothing left to stand on. Perhaps we can seize upon the new energy around closing the inequality gap to remind our leaders that without bodily autonomy, we will never be secure.  

Andrea Flynn is a Fellow at the Roosevelt Institute. Follow her on Twitter @dreaflynn.

Shulie Eisen is an independent reproductive health care consultant. Follow her on Twitter @shulieeisen.

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Obama’s Middle Class Economics Has to be About Fairness and Prosperity

Jan 22, 2015Richard Kirsch

The more-fair "middle-class economics" described in the State of the Union are also the right policies to help the economy grow.

The more-fair "middle-class economics" described in the State of the Union are also the right policies to help the economy grow.

In coining the new term “middle-class economics” and linking it to raising wages and taxing the rich and Wall Street to put money in the pockets of working families, President Obama used his State of the Union address to ask the public that most potent of political questions: “Which side are you on?” And as Republicans say no to improving wages and making college more affordable in order to defend the super-rich, Americans will get a clear answer. That’s a sure win for Democrats.

But the President’s explanation of middle class economics downplayed an important part of the story: it’s not just about fairness, it’s about how we create prosperity.

With the term “middle class economics,” the President is creating a contrast between economic programs aimed at boosting the middle-class and the Republican agenda of shrinking government and lowering taxes for corporations. But Obama’s use of the term missed an opportunity to drive home to the American public that middle class economics is not just about fairness, but also about moving the economy forward.

Obama defined middle class economics as “the idea that this country does best when everyone gets their fair shot, everyone does their fair share, and everyone plays by the same set of rules.” That is one of the President’s favorite phrases. But for all its appeal, it does not explain how middle-class economics drives economic progress and increases wealth. He fails to replace the Republican story that cutting government, taxes, and regulation are the keys to economic growth.

The President actually included such an explanation of what drives the economy in his 2013 State of the Union address, when he said: “It is our generation's task, then, to reignite the true engine of America's economic growth: a rising, thriving middle class."

Democrats need to firmly claim both the grounds of fairness and prosperity. As I recently wrote, “The policies that do the most to bolster fairness are in fact the most powerful policies to move the economy forward and create broadly shared prosperity.”

This is an easy case to make, as it’s true for most of the policies in the President’s middle class economic agenda.

To take just one example, raising the minimum wage is not just about basic fairness for low-wage workers. Raising wages is about creating economy-boosting jobs instead of economy-busting jobs. When wages are raised, workers have more money to spend, essential when 70 percent of the economy is made up of consumer spending.

The President’s tax proposals are also about more than just the unfairness of a tax code riddled, as he said, “with giveaways the superrich don't need, denying a break to middle class families who do.” His proposed taxes on risky bank speculation move that money to invest in vital infrastructure. When he proposes raising taxes on the rich, who already have more money than they can spend, and using those funds to make community colleges more affordable, he’s putting that money into the economy and investing in people’s skills to contribute to economic progress.

Fairness is a very powerful American value. That’s why the most successful Democratic candidates in 2014 made it clear that they were on the side of working families against Wall Street.

But the reason that fairness is so powerful is because of the contrast between the few with vast wealth and what Americans most want, to be able to care for and support their families. We value prosperity and security. That is why it is essential that Democrats can tell a clear story about how we move the economy forward. Middle-class economics is about more than fairness – it’s about how working families and the middle class drive the economy. 

Richard Kirsch is a Senior Fellow at the Roosevelt Institute, a Senior Adviser to USAction, and the author of Fighting for Our Health. He was National Campaign Manager of Health Care for America Now during the legislative battle to pass reform.

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Daily Digest - January 22: Going Beyond the State of the Union

Jan 22, 2015Rachel Goldfarb

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Obama’s Proposal On Inequality: Is It Enough? (Here & Now)

Roosevelt Institute Chief Economist Joseph Stiglitz speaks to Jeremy Hobson about the State of the Union, emphasizing that the president's proposals don't go far enough.

Click here to subscribe to Roosevelt First, our weekday morning email featuring the Daily Digest.

Obama’s Proposal On Inequality: Is It Enough? (Here & Now)

Roosevelt Institute Chief Economist Joseph Stiglitz speaks to Jeremy Hobson about the State of the Union, emphasizing that the president's proposals don't go far enough.

Is Net Neutrality the Real Issue? (Marketplace)

Roosevelt Institute Fellow Susan Crawford believes that monopoly control of Internet service providers, and the payments they extract from content providers, could be a larger concern.

Obama Says Family Leave Is an Economic Necessity, Not Just a Women’s Issue (NYT)

Claire Cain Miller praises the president for recognizing that child care and paid family leave should be treated as national economic priorities.

The Grand Old Party … for the Poor? (MSNBC)

Suzy Khimm points out how Republican responses to the State of the Union tried to tie the party to anti-poverty efforts, despite continued support for policies that cut the safety net.

First Thing We Do, Tax All the Banks: Why Obama's Middle-Class Economics Plan Makes Good Sense (The Guardian)

David Dayen says that the president's proposal to tax banks on their liabilities, or what they owe, is a potential first step toward additional financial reform needed post-Dodd-Frank.

New on Next New Deal

Obama’s Middle Class Economics Has to be About Fairness and Prosperity

Roosevelt Institute Senior Fellow Richard Kirsch says the president's speech left out an important story about middle-class economics: these policies are better for the economy than Republican austerity.

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Is Inequality Killing U.S. Mothers?

Jan 14, 2015Andrea Flynn

The United States' embarrassing maternal mortality figures are closely tied to extreme economic inequality, and better understanding of one will help the other.

The United States' embarrassing maternal mortality figures are closely tied to extreme economic inequality, and better understanding of one will help the other.

Imagine that each year six U.S. passenger jets crashed, killing all passengers on board. Imagine that every person who died on those planes was a woman who was pregnant or recently gave birth. Instead of offering interventions and regulations that might prevent more planes from falling from the sky, lawmakers attempted to defund and repeal the very programs meant to improve air safety. That, in a nutshell, is the maternal mortality crisis in the United States.

Today, more U.S. women die in childbirth and from pregnancy-related causes than at almost any point in the last 25 years. The United States is the one of only seven countries in the entire world that has experienced an increase in maternal mortality over the past decade (we join the likes of Afghanistan and South Sudan), and mothers in Iran, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates, Serbia and Greece (among many other countries) have a better chance of surviving pregnancy than do women in the United States.  

It should be no surprise that maternal mortality rates (MMRs) have risen in tandem with poverty rates. The two are inextricably linked. Women living in the lowest-income areas in the United States are twice as likely to suffer maternal death, and states with high rates of poverty have MMRs 77 percent higher than states with fewer residents living below the federal poverty level. Black women are three to four times as likely to die from pregnancy-related causes as white women, and in some U.S. cities the MMR among Black women is higher than in some sub-Saharan African countries.

New research suggests that one of the many factors driving this crisis might be inequality. We may have just celebrated the dawn of 2015, but in terms of economic inequality it might as well be 1929, the last time the United States experienced such an extraordinary gulf between the rich and the, well, everyone else. Today nearly one in three Blacks and one in four Hispanics (compared to one in ten whites) live in poverty, and in certain states those percentages are even higher. Since the 2008 financial crisis, the net worth of the poorest Americans has decreased and stagnant wages and increased debt has driven more middle class families into poverty. Meanwhile, the wealthiest Americans have enjoyed remarkable gains in wealth and income. Those in the top one percent have seen their incomes increase by as much as 200.5 percent over the past 30 years, while those in the bottom 99 percent have seen their incomes grow by only 18.9 percent during that same time.

As the financial well-being of the majority of Americans has eroded, so too has their health. A recent study conducted by Amani Nuru-Jeter from University of California, Berkeley shows that inequality has very different impacts on Black and white Americans. The study found that each unit increase in income inequality results in an additional 27 to 37 deaths among African Americans, and – interestingly – 417 to 480 fewer deaths among white Americans. Nuru-Jeter and her colleagues were surprised to discover the inverse relationship between inequality and death for whites, and suggested that more research is needed to better understand it. “We do know that the proportion of high-income people compared to low-income people is higher for whites than for African Americans. It’s possible that the protective effects we are seeing represent the net effect of income inequality for high-income whites,” she said.

The research shows us that rising tides might lift some boats, but it sinks others. And it is unclear if the boats of poor whites actually rise, or if it just appears like they rise because of the higher concentration of people benefitting from inequality in white communities compared to black communities.

Either way, we know that the boats of women of color have certainly not been rising in recent years and these recent findings beg us to ask how inequality is impacting U.S. mothers specifically. After all, we know that women of color have been disproportionately impacted by the economic downturn. Today the poverty rate for black women is 28.6 percent, compared with 10.8 percent for white women. A 2010 study found that the median wealth for single Black and Hispanic women was only $100 and $120 respectively, while the median wealth for single white women was just over $41,000. And in the years following the recession Black women represented 12.5 percent of all American workers but accounted for more than 42 percent of jobs lost by all women. Black women have an unemployment rate nearly double that of white women.

Given these grim statistics, it should be no surprise that inequality and maternal-related deaths have increased on parallel tracks over the last decade. But while inequality – and its threats to the economy and the wellbeing of average people – has recently gained long overdue attention, maternal mortality remains an invisible health crisis (unless, of course, you live in one of the communities where it’s all too common for women to die from pregnancy). The media rarely talks about it, foundations aren’t collaborating to invest in initiatives to help us understand – let alone improve – the situation, and policy makers aren’t even pretending to care about it. In fact, the conservative-dominated Congress seems eager to trim or prevent the very programs that help mothers have a healthy foundation for pregnancy: food stamps, reproductive health coverage and access, and wage increases, just to name a few.

The Affordable Care Act is providing much-needed health coverage to many poor women for whom it was previously out of reach and if fully implemented could certainly help stem maternal deaths. But conservative members of Congress are doing their best to make it as ineffective as possible for the people who need it the most. Nearly 60 percent of uninsured Black Americans who should qualify for Medicaid live in states that are not participating in Medicaid expansion. And a recent study found that as a result of conservative opposition to expansion, 40 percent of uninsured Blacks who should have Medicaid coverage will not get it (compared to 24 percent of uninsured Hispanics and 29 percent of uninsured whites).

Nuru-Jeter’s research shows us that we will need a host of strategies to tackle deaths in the Black community, and maternal deaths are certainly no exception. Better understanding how inequality might be driving unnecessary deaths among women of color would better enable us to identify exactly what those strategies should be and how they should be implemented. And perhaps we wouldn’t get all boats to rise immediately, but it just might get them all to float. It’s sad we aren’t even trying to accomplish that much. 

Andrea Flynn is a Fellow at the Roosevelt Institute. Follow her on Twitter @dreaflynn.

Photo via Amnesty International.

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Daily Digest - January 13: A Tax Plan to Fight Inequality

Jan 13, 2015Rachel Goldfarb

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Democrats, in a Stark Shift in Messaging, to Make Big Tax-Break Pitch for Middle Class (WaPo)

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Democrats, in a Stark Shift in Messaging, to Make Big Tax-Break Pitch for Middle Class (WaPo)

Lori Montgomery and Paul Kane explain Rep. Chris Van Hollen's proposal, which is being pitched as the Democrats' "action plan" for fighting income inequality.

  • Roosevelt Take: Roosevelt Institute Chief Economist Joseph Stiglitz also promotes tax reform as a way reach broadly shared prosperity in this white paper.

Congress's Financial Plan for 2015: Curb Your Enthusiasm (The Guardian)

Siri Srinivas looks at the legislation that is likely to reach the House floor in 2015, and explains how Republican control of the Senate will impact this year's agenda.

Elizabeth Warren Wins on Antonio Weiss Nomination (Politico)

Ben White reports that Weiss has asked the president not to resubmit his nomination, instead accepting a position in Treasury that doesn't require Senate confirmation and carries less authority.

  • Roosevelt Take: Roosevelt Institute Senior Fellow Brad Miller argued that Weiss's nomination was indicative of a larger anti-democratic approach to economic policy.

The House Is Set to Pass a GOP Bill Wiping Out Wall Street Reforms (MoJo)

Erika Eichelberger explains how the legislation, expected to pass this week, would weaken key provisions of Dodd-Frank, including delaying the Volcker Rule and weakening transparency rules.

Labor at a Crossroads: Can Broadened Civil Rights Law Offer Workers a True Right to Organize? (TAP)

Richard D. Kahlenberg and Moshe Z. Marvit explain why individual-focused civil rights law can and should be used on behalf of union organizing to promote the collective welfare of all workers.

Investors Shift Bets on Fed Rate Increase (WSJ)

Min Zeng writes that current market patterns indicate that investors think the Federal Reserve is going to hold off on increasing interest rates for longer than was initially planned.

New on Next New Deal

Van Hollen Tax Proposal An Economic and Political Home Run

Roosevelt Institute Senior Fellow Richard Kirsch praises Van Hollen's plan for forcing Republicans to admit that they are supporting Wall Street over working-class families.

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Van Hollen Tax Proposal An Economic and Political Home Run

Jan 12, 2015Richard Kirsch

By forcing Republicans to admit their support for Wall Street over working families, Van Hollen's proposal opens the economic debate the Democrats need.

By forcing Republicans to admit their support for Wall Street over working families, Van Hollen's proposal opens the economic debate the Democrats need.

Rep. Chris Van Hollen’s (D-MD) proposal to tax Wall Street speculators and CEO millionaires to put money in the pockets of working families and the middle class, the engines of our economy, is a political and economic home run. It allows Democrats to focus on economic growth and fairness at the same time, sharply defining the debate on the key question voters ask: “Which side are you on?”

Leading politicians from both parties are all expressing sympathy for the stagnant prospects of the middle class. If you need evidence, here is Jeb Bush sounding like Elizabeth Warren: “Millions of our fellow citizens across the broad middle class feel as if the American Dream is now out of their reach … that the playing field is no longer fair or level.”

Where the two parties split – and where the core debate that will define the next two years and the 2016 election lies – is on who is to blame and what to do about it.

Americans believe we need economic growth, but they are more likely to place the blame for stagnant wages on the super-rich and powerful who game the system at their expense. That is why they told pollsters they prefer “an economy that works for all of us, not just the wealthy” over “growing the economy” by 22 points.

Van Hollen claims both grounds – growth and fairness. As he says, “What our country needs is a growing economy that works for all Americans, not just the wealthy few.”

The heart of the plan is providing a $1,000 tax credit for workers, phased out as income rises, along with an additional $250 tax credit when workers save. He would pay for that by taxing Wall Street speculation (with a tiny financial transactions tax) and closing loopholes that allow millionaires to pay lower taxes than average people.

It’s clear that this is great politics: taxing Wall Street gambling and the super-rich to put more money in the pockets of working families and the middle class.

Republicans tell another story, placing the blame for middle-class woes on government and focusing on lowering taxes and cutting government regulation to grow the economy. In opposing the Van Hollen proposal, they are forced to defend the wealthy and deny tax breaks to the middle-class, as we saw from Speaker John Boehner’s spokesperson's comment opposing the Van Hollen plan.

This is the economic argument Democrats want to have. Republicans say we grow the economy by taking the side of the Wall Street banks that wrecked the economy and the corporate CEOs who cut our wages and shipped our jobs overseas. Democrats say we move the economy forward by putting more money in the pockets of working families and the middle class.

Van Hollen adds another proposal, which is also brilliant politics and sharp economics. He would not allow corporations to get tax breaks for million-dollar executive pay unless they shared the rewards of soaring corporate profits with their workers. Van Hollen accomplishes this by proposing to end corporate tax deductions for executive compensation of over $1 million, unless the corporation’s wages are raised enough to keep up with worker productivity and the cost of living. Another way that corporations could deduct higher executive pay is by providing employees with ownership and profit-sharing opportunities.

With this proposal, Van Hollen puts the focus squarely on the corporate behavior that has driven down wages and crushed middle-class aspirations. His proposal would boost worker income, which drives the economy forward. When Republicans oppose this, the choice will again be clear to Americans: CEO millionaires or working families.

As Van Hollen recognizes, his proposal is not the complete solution to creating an economy of broadly shared, sustainable prosperity. He recognizes the need to raise wages and job standards, which directly turn today’s low-wage, economy busting jobs into economy boosting jobs. He reinforces the necessity of investment in infrastructure, research and education.

It will be important to do all these things. We need to raise wage standards and strengthen the ability of workers to organize, to make sure that every job pays enough to care and support a family in dignity. It is essential that we make huge investments in transportation, clean energy, communications, and research to build a powerful economic foundation for the future. That investment will take revenues, which can be raised from closing corporate loopholes, raising tax rates on the wealthy, or other progressive tax measures. We can also discuss whether some of the revenues Van Hollen raises would be better spent on infrastructure rather than tax breaks for upper-middle income people.

Simplicity is key to political communication. In its simplest terms, Van Hollen is saying that we drive the economy forward by putting money in the pockets of working families and the middle-class, not Wall Street and the super wealthy. And then his proposal invites Americans to ask their elected officials: “which side are you on?”

If Democrats around the country are willing to stand up to their big campaign contributors and ask that question with such a powerful proposal in 2016, they will triumph. And in triumphing, they will move the country toward an America that works for all of us, not just the wealthy. 

Richard Kirsch is a Senior Fellow at the Roosevelt Institute, a Senior Adviser to USAction, and the author of Fighting for Our Health. He was National Campaign Manager of Health Care for America Now during the legislative battle to pass reform.

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Daily Digest - January 6: Who Needs Independent-Minded Advisors at the SEC?

Jan 6, 2015Rachel Goldfarb

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Nobel Laureate Stiglitz Blocked From SEC Panel After Faulting High-Speed Traders (Bloomberg News)

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Nobel Laureate Stiglitz Blocked From SEC Panel After Faulting High-Speed Traders (Bloomberg News)

Dave Michaels reports that Roosevelt Institute Chief Economist Joseph Stiglitz believes he was blocked from the advisory panel because he is not "owned" by the industry in any way.

Fossil Free AU (WKOK)

Mark Lawrence interviews Katie Kirchner, president of the American University chapter of the Campus Network, about the campaign to get her university to divest from fossil fuels.

Poverty Leads to Death for More Black Americans Than Whites (The Guardian)

Jana Kasperkevic speaks to the study's lead researcher, who explains possible reasons that increases in income inequality would reduce mortality rates for whites and increase them for Blacks.

Cities Set to Take Minimum-Wage Stage (WSJ)

Eric Morath looks at the trend of cities raising their own minimum wage, in the face of state and federal GOP resistance. Federal action is seen as particularly unlikely with the current Congress.

The Mortal Threat to Medicaid -- and How to Fix It (LA Times)

On January 1, a short-term raise in Medicaid reimbursement rates expired, and Michael Hiltzik says that unless that raise is restored, Medicaid enrollees will struggle to find doctors.

American Consumers are More Upbeat (WaPo)

Catherine Rampell suggests that Americans' renewed confidence in the economy could be due to small improvements in wages and jobs – or because even mediocrity looks good today.

New on Next New Deal

Wall Street's Choice: Antonio Weiss Nomination Illustrates What's Wrong With Economic Policy

Roosevelt Institute Senior Fellow Brad Miller argues that Weiss's nomination is part of a larger anti-democratic pattern of prioritizing the financial sector's prosperity above all else in economic policy.

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Daily Digest - January 5: Time for Federal Regulations for Predatory Payday Loans

Jan 5, 2015Rachel Goldfarb

Click here to subscribe to Roosevelt First, our weekday morning email featuring the Daily Digest.

Click here to subscribe to Roosevelt First, our weekday morning email featuring the Daily Digest.

Roosevelt Institute Fellow Saqib Bhatti's proposal to allow the Fed to lend directly to municipalities is one of many ideas you can vote on in the Progress Change Institute's Big Ideas Project. The top 20 ideas will be presented members of Congress. Voting ends on Sunday, January 11. Click here to vote!

CFPB Sets Sights on Payday Loans (WSJ)

Alan Zibel reports on the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau's plans to explore creating new rules to regulate predatory payday lending, the first such rules on a federal level.

Signs of Economic Promise Are Offering Some Hope for the New Year (NYT)

Rachel Swarns reports on the positive signs that some are seeing, including new jobs for long-term job seekers and raises and more hours for workers at retail chains like Zara.

Don't Believe What You Hear About the U.S. Economy (AJAM)

Dean Baker says it's not yet time to celebrate an economic comeback. Growth is still slow enough that the labor market won't reach pre-recession numbers by the end of 2015.

Why the Democrats Need Labor Again (Politico Magazine)

Timothy Noah interviews Thomas Geoghegan on his new book, which he describes as a "last-ditch effort for the Democrats" to revive the labor movement and win elections.

California Colleges See Surge in Efforts to Unionize Adjunct Faculty (LA Times)

Larry Gordon speaks to adjunct faculty at some of the private colleges in California that are seeing union organizing on campus for the first time.

Austerity’s End Strengthens U.S. Recovery (MSNBC)

Steve Benen corrects Grover Norquist's attempt to give Republicans credit for economic growth, pointing to small increases in public spending as proof that austerity didn't fix anything.

The Five Major Things We Screwed Up in Inequality in 2014 (The Guardian)

Suzanne McGee's list includes the minimum wage, which she says needs a boost at a federal level, and race and economic opportunity, an issue she says we practically ignored.

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Daily Digest - December 16: Inequality Hurts our Children Most

Dec 16, 2014Rachel Goldfarb

Click here to subscribe to Roosevelt First, our weekday morning email featuring the Daily Digest.

Inequality and the American Child (Project Syndicate)

Click here to subscribe to Roosevelt First, our weekday morning email featuring the Daily Digest.

Inequality and the American Child (Project Syndicate)

Roosevelt Institute Chief Economist Joseph Stiglitz says the impact of economic inequality in the U.S. is even stronger on its children, who could be protected through the right policy changes.

Taxpayers Could be Liable Again for Bank Blunders (CBS News)

Erik Sherman speaks to Roosevelt Institute Fellow Mike Konczal about the modification to Dodd-Frank built into the spending bill. Mike says the changes come straight from the banks.

Progressives Just Lost a Fight on the Budget. So Why Are They So Happy? (TAP)

Paul Waldman suggests that GOP control of Congress is liberating to the more progressive Democrats, because they no longer have to compromise to pass Democratic legislation.

The Year in Inequality: Racial Disparity Can No Longer Be Ignored (AJAM)

Ned Resnikoff says solving American economic inequality will prove impossible without acknowledging the racial disparities brought on largely by inheritance and homeownership.

Economic Recovery Spreads to the Middle Class (NYT)

Nelson D. Schwartz says the U.S. economy is showing its very first signs of the wage gains that will be needed for the economic recovery to reach the middle class.

Even With a GOP Congress, Obama Could Still Defend American Workers. Here’s How. (In These Times)

David Moberg puts together a list of ten items that the president could accomplish using the Department of Labor, in particular by strongly enforcing the Fair Labor Standards Act.

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