Still Fighting for Insurance Coverage in Wisconsin

Oct 30, 2014Andrea FlynnShulie Eisen

In the Wisconsin gubernatorial election, Medicaid coverage for 120,000 people hangs in the balance. Read the other state-by-state analyses in this series here.

In the Wisconsin gubernatorial election, Medicaid coverage for 120,000 people hangs in the balance. Read the other state-by-state analyses in this series here.

In the upcoming Wisconsin Governor’s election, which may very well turn on women’s votes, Governor Scott Walker (R) and Mary Burke (D) are vying to show women that they have their best interests in mind. Recent polls show the candidates tied statewide, but with women favoring Burke by as many as 14 points and Walker favored by men by as many as 28 points. The two candidates stand in stark contrast on a number of issues vital to women and families.

Where do women in Wisconsin stand?

  • The poverty rate among women in Wisconsin is 14.4 percent, but rates among women of color are dramatically higher: 41 percent for African American women and 31.4 percent for Hispanic women.
  • One in five Wisconsin women work in low-wage jobs, and women are over twice as likely as men to hold a low-wage job.
  • Women in Wisconsin on average earn only 75 cents for every dollar a man makes, two cents less than the national average.
  • Many women and poor families with children that are eligible are not receiving state support such as food stamps and, as in most states, childcare options are few and expensive.
  • Over one in ten women (11 percent) in Wisconsin are uninsured, with 18 percent of African American women and 29 percent of Hispanic women lacking coverage. 
  • The state has no paid sick leave or family leave policies.

Where do the candidates stand?

Affordable Care Act

Under Governor Walker’s leadership, Wisconsin set up a state-based exchange but has not participated in Medicaid expansion, leaving over 500,000 low-income individuals without health coverage. If those individuals lived in any of the four neighboring states they would be covered under Medicaid. In 2013 he made changes to Wisconsin’s existing Medicaid structure that resulted in more than 60,000 people getting kicked out of the program. Technically, many of those individuals qualified for subsidies to purchase private insurance through the exchange, but it appears that the majority (61 percent, or about 38,000 people) did not do so, though they could have purchased a plan not on sold on the exchange, obtained employer-sponsored coverage, or gotten on a spouse’s plan. According to a recent report by The White House Council of Economic Advisers, Medicaid expansion in Wisconsin would mean coverage for an additional 120,000 people by 2016. The majority of Wisconsin’s voters (59 percent) say they’d like the state to accept federal funding to support Medicaid expansion.

Burke says one of the first three pieces of legislation she would prioritize in her first 100 days in office would be accepting federal funding for Medicaid expansion.

Reproductive Health

Walker identifies as “100 percent pro-life” and has received a zero rating from NARAL Pro-Choice America. In 2013 he signed a law that would require women seeking abortions to get ultrasounds and require abortion providers to have admitting privileges as a hospital within 30 miles (though the law is currently blocked). In 2012, he indicated support for a complete ban on abortion and the adoption of a personhood amendment in the state constitution, and in 2010 he stated his complete opposition to abortion, even in cases of rape or incest. From 2011 to 2013 Walker cut more than $1 million in funding for Planned Parenthood, leading to the closure of five clinics. In 2011, Walker attempted, unsuccessfully, to repeal the state’s Contraceptive Equity Law, which requires insurance companies to cover birth control. Walker also eliminated the state’s comprehensive sex education program and replaced it with an abstinence-based curriculum.

Burke is endorsed by Planned Parenthood. She “strongly supports a woman’s freedom to make her own health care decisions in consultation with her doctor and in accordance with her faith.”  She believes the restrictions supported by Walker are simply a “road block” that prevent women from making their own healthcare decisions, and that “women should have the ability to make their own decision when it comes to decisions that concern their own bodies.” She has promised to veto a 20-week abortion ban if one arrived on her desk.

Fair and equal pay

Wisconsin law requires the minimum wage to be a living wage, defined as one that is “sufficient” and enables workers to have “reasonable comfort, reasonable physical well-being, decency, and moral well-being.” Labor groups in the state have argued that the current wage – $7.25 an hour – does not meet that standard, and one group recently announced that it is suing Governor Walker to demand an increase. Sixty-one percent of likely Wisconsin voters favor increasing the minimum wage, a move that would increase the incomes of 333,000 women in the state.

In 2012, Walker supported the repeal of a law that made it easier for victims of wage discrimination to take their cases to court. He is against increasing the minimum wage and recently accused those who are in support of it as being  “involved in a ‘political grandstanding stunt’ to make ‘a cheap headline.’” He has said that he wants to focus on creating new jobs that pay better, not raising the wage of current jobs. In 2011, Walker received national attention for his support of a bill that dismantled the rights of public sector unions, a move that was a key motivator of the recall election he successfully fought off in 2012.

Burke is in favor of gradually raising the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour over the next three years. “People working full-time should be able to support themselves without having to rely on government assistance. At $7.25 an hour, that's just unrealistic.” Burke also says one of the first three pieces of legislation she would introduce and make a priority in the first 100 days in office is raising the minimum wage. She has also come out in opposition to Walker’s attack on unions, saying it was more than an attempt to address budget concerns, and was really “about undercutting our unions and taking away what I believe should be their right to collectively bargain." In addition to her stance on the minimum wage, Burke was applauded by First Lady Michelle Obama, who recently campaigned for her in the state, for being a leader who would fight for pay equity.

Social Safety Net

Walker believes that safety net benefits serve as incentives that prevent people from working. As such, he has supported drug testing for unemployment benefits and food stamps. In September he said, “My belief is that we shouldn’t be paying for them to sit on the couch, watching TV or playing Xbox.”

Burke is generally supportive of safety net programs such as unemployment insurance. “Making sure that people can access unemployment insurance while looking for work, bridging the gap between jobs, is important to ensuring economic stability.”

Read the rest of this series, to be published over the course of Thursday, October 30 and Friday, October 31, here.

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.

Share This

In Colorado, a Question of Personhood

Oct 30, 2014Andrea FlynnShulie Eisen

In Colorado, the Senate race is particularly divided by issues of personhood and the minimum wage. Read the other state-by-state analyses in this series here.

In Colorado, the Senate race is particularly divided by issues of personhood and the minimum wage. Read the other state-by-state analyses in this series here.

In September, a writer for the Denver Post accurately summed up the heated Colorado Senate race: "If Colorado's U.S. Senate race were a movie, the set would be a gynecologist's office, complete with an exam table and a set of stirrups." Perhaps more than in any other state, women’s issues have indeed been front and center in the sparring match between incumbent Senator Mark Udall (D) and Representative Cory Gardner (R). All eyes are on Colorado’s women’s vote, which is likely to determine that state’s next U.S. Senator, and in the process, set the course on a broad range of socioeconomic issues that disproportionately impact women.

Where do women in Colorado stand?

  • At first glance, women in Colorado are faring better than their counterparts in other states. Colorado has more women in the state legislature than any other state, and ranks among the top ten for the proportion of women with a bachelor's degree or higher and for its share of women in the workforce. But as a report from the Colorado Women’s Foundation illustrates, those gains obscure the disparities facing poor women and women of color.
  • Colorado women face higher poverty rates than men, and women of color experience rates twice that of white women. Two-thirds of all low-wage workers in Colorado are women. Families of color are particularly affected – median incomes for Black and Hispanic households are about 35 percent below the statewide median, and for American Indians, 40 percent below.
  • Only about half of low-income households headed by single women receive food stamps, and childcare in Colorado is among the most unaffordable in the country.
  • Colorado women make nearly $11,000 less annually compared to their male counterparts and are paid only 77 cents to every dollar paid to white, non-Hispanic men (African-American and Hispanic women earn 61 and 53 cents, respectively).
  • The state has no paid sick leave or family leave policies.

Where do the candidates stand?

Affordable Care Act

Colorado’s uninsured rate is 11 percent (down from 17 percent in 2013), thanks to its state exchange and Medicaid expansion. It now ranks fifth nationally among states’ reductions in the rate of uninsured under the ACA. It is predicted that Medicaid expansion will yield significant economic results: a 41.5 percent increase in federal payments, a more than $600 increase in average household earnings. the creation of 22,000 jobs, and a 20 percent growth in employment.

Udall was an early supporter of – and stands by his vote for – the ACA. He has said he is committed to making sure the ACA works for Colorado families. “We cannot go back to the old, broken system when adults and children could be refused coverage because of a preexisting condition, the sick faced annual coverage limits, and all of us were subject to persistent rate increases.”

As a representative Gardner opposed Colorado’s expansion of Medicaid, citing concerns over the state’s ability to pay for it. He has also cited concerns over discontinued plans and increased premiums resulting from the ACA’s new coverage requirements. “Health care should be about patients and doctors, not government and bureaucrats … As a member of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, I will be at the forefront of the effort to outline replacement legislation.”

Family Planning

Udall sponsored a bill in the Senate – the Not My Bosses’ Business Act – that would have nullified the Hobby Lobby ruling. He has also voted against banning federal funding for Planned Parenthood and against the Blunt Amendment, which would have granted broad exemptions to the ACA’s contraceptive mandate. He said, “It astounds me that some still think the legality of birth control and access to reproductive health services should be subject to debate.”

Gardner voted in support of banning federal funding for Planned Parenthood. He voted against a proposal that would allow pharmacists to prescribe emergency contraception (EC) and against a measure that would require insurance companies to cover contraception. He has opposed a bill that would expand Medicaid coverage for birth control and another that would allow hospitals to tell rape victims about EC. He spoke out against legislation that required science-based sexuality education.

After the Supreme Court announced the Hobby Lobby decision, Gardner said, “The court made the right decision today to protect religious liberty and the First Amendment.” He later recommended that oral contraceptives be made available over-the-counter, a move that many women’s health advocates criticized as being a blatant attempt at trying to get women’s votes.

Abortion

Udall received a 100 percent pro-choice rating from NARAL and has been endorsed by Planned Parenthood. He has voted against so-called partial-birth abortion bans and against measures to prevent the transportation of minors across state lines to get an abortion. He supported a measure to ensure that rape victims have access to emergency contraception in hospitals and supported legislation to expand funding and access to contraceptive services. “I’ll never stop fighting to protect the rights of Colorado women because I trust them and respect the choices they make.”

Gardner received a zero percent pro-choice rating from NARAL. He voted against the 2009 Birth Control Protection Act and for a bill that would have allowed hospitals to refuse to provide an abortion, even when a woman’s life is at risk. He sponsored a state bill that would have banned all abortions in the state, co-sponsored a personhood bill at the federal level (Life at Conception Act), and in August, backed both state and federal "personhood" measures in an effort to ban abortion. He has since changed his position on personhood efforts, citing his belief that restricting birth control is simply not right (the current CO personhood measures would have restricted EC). In one recent poll of likely female voters, 60 percent say they don’t trust Gardner when he says he no longer supports a personhood amendment.

Pay Equity

Udall voted for the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act in 2009 (meant to restore protections against pay discrimination on the basis of sex, race, national origin, age, religion, or disability) and is a co-sponsor of the 2013 Paycheck Fairness Act (which has yet to be voted on but would strengthen protections against sex discrimination in wages).            

Gardner helped block efforts to move the Paycheck Fairness Act forward in the U.S. House in 2013. However, when he was in the state legislature, he supported legislation that designated Equal Pay Day and acknowledged the “persistent problem of wage disparity among various groups.” In one recent poll of likely female voters, 40 percent said Gardner’s role in helping the House block the consideration of the Paycheck Fairness Act makes them less likely to vote for him.

Minimum Wage

Udall voted for the federal minimum wage hike bill in April 2014.            

 

Gardner opposes raising the federal minimum wage, saying that he thinks that “if there’s a minimum wage issue, shouldn’t the state of Colorado be best equipped to handle the minimum wage in the state of Colorado?” However, Gardner has also opposed state-level efforts—he criticized a 2006 ballot measure to increase the state minimum wage in Colorado, voted against a state measure to implement an amendment (approved by voters) to raise the minimum wage, and sponsored a floor amendment in 2007 to strip increases in the minimum wage adjusted for the consumer price index.

In one recent poll of likely female voters, close to two-thirds (61 percent) said they supported raising the minimum wage, and 41 percent said Gardner’s opposition to raising the minimum wage would make them less likely to vote for him.

Read the rest of this series, to be published over the course of Thursday, October 30 and Friday, October 31, here.

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.

Share This

Daily Digest - July 21: What Young Women Voters Want

Jul 21, 2014Rachel Goldfarb

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

Not Your Father's Electorate (Richard Heffner's Open Mind)

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

Not Your Father's Electorate (Richard Heffner's Open Mind)

Roosevelt Institute Vice President of Networks Taylor Jo Isenberg discusses the issues that young female voters are focused on today, zeroing in on economic concerns like paid leave.

The FCC Wants to Let Cities Build Their Own Broadband. House Republicans Disagree. (Vox)

Timothy B. Lee draws on Roosevelt Institute Fellow Susan Crawford's work to explain why municipalities should be allowed to build publicly-owned high-speed Internet networks.

The Bad Boss Tax (In These Times)

Sarah Jaffe looks at the "bad business fee" plan developing in Minnesota, which would fine employers for the de facto subsidies they receive when their workers are on public assistance.

Republicans Want to Control, Not End, the Fed (WaPo)

A GOP proposal would force the Federal Reserve to choose a mathematical rule for setting interest rates, but Matt O'Brien says that would be a hugely ineffective way to create policy.

Rep. Keith Ellison Wants to Make Union Organizing a Civil Right (MSNBC)

Ned Resnikoff reports on the Congressman's planned bill, which would allow workers to individually sue their employers for anti-union retaliation.

Part-Time Schedules, Full-Time Headaches (NYT)

Continuing his look at the problems that on-call schedules create for part-time workers, Steven Greenhouse emphasizes the near-impossibility of getting ahead without regular schedules.

The Last Hope for Extending Long-Term Unemployment Insurance May Have Just Gone Poof (MoJo)

Patrick Caldwell writes that with the GOP using a bit of budget trickery called pension smoothing to pay for highways, Democrats have to find a new option for funding long-term unemployment insurance.

New on Next New Deal

What Will the American Economy Look Like 26 Years From Today?

Roosevelt Institute Senior Fellow Bo Cutter introduces a series of speculations on the future of the American economy, with a focus on changes in technology, cities, and labor.

Share This

Money in Politics is a Local Problem, Too

Jun 30, 2014Eugenia Kim

Large donors dominate our politics even at the local level, but communities have the power to overcome them.

Large donors dominate our politics even at the local level, but communities have the power to overcome them.

Last summer, I interned for mayoral candidate Gary Holder-Winfield in New Haven, CT. New Haven is not a small town. While it’s 130,660 residents pale in comparison to New York’s 8,405,837, it is a major city in Connecticut. In New Haven, which is primarily Democratic, the real race for mayor was in the primary. In a local election with seven candidates, there are not going to be seven radically different perspectives.  Most of the candidates generally held the same values, to the point that the race was decided more on the likability of the candidates then the content of their platforms.

In trying to differentiate Gary Holder-Winfield from the field, we got in touch with voters directly. I saw him work a full day at his job and then come in to the campaign office and knock on doors for hours until after dark on weekdays, and then walk all day knocking on doors on the weekends, rain or shine. I saw him write his personal phone number on literature to give out to his community.

I also saw Holder-Winfield forced to drop out because of lack of money. He had agreed to fund his campaign through the Democracy Fund, which restricts the amount of campaign expenditures allowed, limits individual contributions to $370, and prohibits any PAC or business from donating all together. In return, the Democracy Fund matches donations up to $125,000 and provides a $19,000 grant for the primary and general elections. Ultimately, all of the candidates that ran in the mayoral election with the Democracy Fund were defeated. While the new mayor of New Haven, Toni Harp, is extremely qualified and will do well as New Haven’s next mayor, I am disappointed that the process of getting there required raising more than half a million dollars.  

Despite Holder-Winfield dropping out of the race, I was not yet completely disheartened.  But when I went to work on aldermanic campaigns, I realized that money was the largest barrier to entry in politics today. Aldermen in New Haven are the equivalent of city councilmen. They each represent particular neighborhoods in New Haven, making their concerns and constituents hyper-local. Some sitting members on the Board of Aldermen in New Haven have been there for decades without a serious challenge, in part because local interest groups have backed them financially.

By helping to run the campaigns of aldermanic candidates who wanted to run free of these local interests and maintain a campaign on very few funds, I learned what an uphill battle it was to get money out of politics even at such a local level. We backed five candidates; only one was elected. It’s sobering when paying for lawn signs is out of a campaign’s budget. It’s disheartening to see a second candidate  I worked for drop out because of funding. It’s devastating that a group of dedicated volunteers can spend weeks systematically knocking on doors and hours on phone calls with potential voters, only to have the incumbent pay for enough canvassers in the week leading up to election day to pull off the votes to win.

That summer, it became very clear to me that democracy came with a high price. This is not a call to action for my congressman or senator to advocate for campaign finance reform; I am too realistic for that request. My call to action is for people who care about their communities. Some people may not vote because they feel like their votes do not matter, and it's easy to understand why in heavily partisan national elections. However, the closest aldermanic race was won by 81 votes. Local elections are where our votes matter most, and where we are least aware of where power lies.

Money in politics has permeated the governance of local issues, so we need to start identifying the drivers of local politics. In New Haven, politics are centered on the effects of Yale University as an anchor institution. Aldermanic races are shaped by the influence of the unions partnered with Yale. We need to impress the importance of local elections and analyze the drivers of these local communities. We must identify who holds power, economically and socially in these communities, and harness that power. Locally, there is still a chance for the voices of voters over large donors.

Eugenia Kim is the Rethinking Communities Intern at the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network, and a member of the Rethinking Communities Brain Trust.

Image via Thinkstock

Share This

Florida Election Shows Danger and Promise in Obamacare Debate

Mar 17, 2014Richard Kirsch

Democrats may have lost the special election for Florida's 13th congressional district, but the polling shows a path to success in 2014 with the Affordable Care Act.

Democrats may have lost the special election for Florida's 13th congressional district, but the polling shows a path to success in 2014 with the Affordable Care Act.

As pundits debate the impact of Obamacare on the special Congressional election held in Florida on March 11, a headline from a new Bloomberg national poll actually does as good as any describing what happened in the Sunshine State: “Americans Stick with Obamacare as Opposition Burns Bright.” That national finding also describes what happened in Florida, where swing voters supported the ACA, but more opponents turned out to vote.

The Bloomberg survey found the “highest level of acceptance for the law yet” in Bloomberg’s polling, with almost two out of three (64 percent) of those surveyed saying they supported either retaining the Affordable Care Act (ACA) with “small modifications” (51 percent) or as it is (13 percent).

The troubling result in the survey for the political prospects of the ACA is that the one-third (34 percent) who want to repeal the law are much more likely to vote. No news here. We’ve known that the ACA is a highly motivating issue for Republican voters, who turn out at a much higher rate in off-year elections than Democrats and independents.

The real news is in the first set of findings, the growing popularity of Obamacare outside the Republican base. These findings were confirmed in the Florida election, when Alex Sink, the Democratic candidate, pushed back against attacks on the ACA from David Jolly, the Republican candidate, and independent groups supporting him.

Jolly’s position was clear:  “I’m fighting to repeal Obamacare, right away.” So was Sink’s: “We can’t go back to insurance companies doing whatever they want. Instead of repealing the health care law, we need to keep what’s right and fix what’s wrong.”

The key part of Sink’s message was to remind voters why people wanted health care reform in the first place. As one of Sink’s TV ads said, “Jolly would go back to letting insurance companies deny coverage.” That’s an effective reminder of the huge problems Americans have had for decades, when insurance companies could deny care because of a pre-existing condition, charge people higher rates because they were sick, even charge women higher rates than men. The ACA ended all that.

As would be expected in Florida – and even more so in a special election – the candidates worked especially hard for the votes of seniors. In their ads for Jolly, the Republican Congressional Campaign Committee repeated their misleading charge from 2010, trying to scare seniors into opposing the ACA by saying that it cut $716 billion from Medicare. But unlike 2010, when Democrats did not respond to attacks on the ACA, Sink pushed back. She reminded seniors that the ACA actually provides important new Medicare benefits, including closing the infamous prescription drug “donut hole.” Sink’s ads accurately said, “His [Jolly’s] plan would even force seniors to pay thousands more for prescription drugs.”

By Election Day, voters had a clear contrast between the positions of the candidates on the ACA. It was a close election, with Jolly winning by a small margin (48.4% to 46.5%) in a district with an 11-point Republican advantage, one that has been represented by the GOP for nearly 60 years. But polling found that independent voters in the district supported the “keep and fix” position over the “repeal” position by a margin of 57% to 31%. Sink actually gained ground over Jolly during the election on the question of which candidate had a better position on the ACA.

The narrow margin is encouraging in a district with this large a Republican voter advantage, but still falls short of the turnout in 2012, when President Obama narrowly carried the district. Democrats will need to do better in November, if they are going to hold on to contested Senate races and have a chance of picking up House seats.

Fortunately, unlike in 2010, the Democratic Senate and Congressional campaign committees at least understand that they can’t run away from Obamacare. Doing so will cede independent voters to Republicans, just when those voters are becoming very supportive of the “keep and fix” message. While Democrats would prefer to keep the focus on the economic pressures being faced by American families – highlighting issues like the minimum wage – they’ll only be heard if they also engage aggressively in the fight over the ACA.

In fact, the ACA is an economic issue; just ask anyone who has lost her job and her health coverage. Or the millions of low-wage workers who can’t afford to go to the doctor, or are trying to pay back medical bills from the visit they could not put off. As millions more Americans get coverage – 11 million as of the end of February between the new exchanges, the expansion of Medicaid and young people under 26 – Democrats should incorporate the ACA into their overall economic message.

Supporters of the ACA have consistently believed that once the ACA began to be implemented, it would become more popular. We’re starting to see that shift. The challenge now will be turning that popularity into votes in November. 

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.

Share This

Daily Digest - March 3: Will New York Fight for the People's Trust?

Mar 2, 2014Rachel Goldfarb

Click here to receive the Daily Digest via email.

The Future is Public Financing of Elections (Times Union)

Roosevelt Institute Board Chair Anna Eleanor Roosevelt, granddaughter of FDR and Eleanor, calls on New York Governor Andrew Cuomo to fight for public campaign financing in the state for the sake of trust in democracy.

Click here to receive the Daily Digest via email.

The Future is Public Financing of Elections (Times Union)

Roosevelt Institute Board Chair Anna Eleanor Roosevelt, granddaughter of FDR and Eleanor, calls on New York Governor Andrew Cuomo to fight for public campaign financing in the state for the sake of trust in democracy.

IBM Fires Small-Town Workers for Wall Street Numbers. That’s the Good Part (The Guardian)

Heidi Moore ties layoffs at IBM to the company's goal of $20 earnings per share by 2015. Layoffs cut costs, an easy way to get closer to this arbitrary target.

The Real Job Killers (Robert Reich)

We could create jobs by eliminating the minimum wage, safety regulations, and such – but that wouldn't create progress, which requires safe jobs that pay well, writes Robert Reich.

College, the Great Unleveler (NYT)

Reforms to federal student aid, increased state funding for public universities, and tighter regulation of for-profit schools are all needed to maintain the American Dream of upward mobility, writes Suzanne Mettler.

Amidst Camp Tax Plan Debate, D.C. Needs to Close the Reality Gap (WaPo)

The real problem in Washington, writes E.J. Dionne, is the gap between the real-life issues that American voters worry about and the abstractions, like the deficit, that get all of Congress's focus, as in Senator Camp's tax reform plan.

The Progressives' Image Problem (Washington Monthly)

When progressives take over, as in New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio's administration, their leadership experience is often criticized. Martin Longman says that's because managing activist groups is counted against them.

New on Next New Deal

Venezuela: The Crisis We Fuel With Our Apathy

Leslie Bull, former Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network Senior Fellow for Defense and Diplomacy, writes that when the American media ignores international crises, it only causes them to become more urgent.

Share This

Citizens United for Real Civic Engagement

Jan 21, 2014Joelle Gamble

On the 4th anniversary of Citizens United v. FEC, consider the ways that citizens can engage beyond campaign donations and the ballot box.

Today marks the 4th anniversary of the Supreme Court decision Citizens United versus the Federal Election Commission. The significance of this case is difficult to overstate as it gave limitless ability to mega-interest groups and corporations to spend money to convince voters to vote for or against a political candidate.

On the 4th anniversary of Citizens United v. FEC, consider the ways that citizens can engage beyond campaign donations and the ballot box.

Today marks the 4th anniversary of the Supreme Court decision Citizens United versus the Federal Election Commission. The significance of this case is difficult to overstate as it gave limitless ability to mega-interest groups and corporations to spend money to convince voters to vote for or against a political candidate.

As Jeff Raines wrote for Next New Deal, the latest fights in the courts are less about individuals’ right to free speech and more heavily focused on how much monetary influence the wealthy have on our electoral processes. Even the McCutcheon v. FEC case, while concerning individual donor limits, is still centered in a debate around funding committees and other organized donor groups. While curbing the influence of Big Money on our democracy is a worthwhile fight, we sometimes lose the bigger question of how each voter shows up in said democracy in our attempts to talk about how voters as voting blocks and interest groups.

While we know that the level of power that big money gained as a result of Citizens United is poisonous to our democracy, passing meaningful national legislative changes has been an arduous yet worthwhile battle for organizers across the country. Outside of contributing our voices to national efforts to overturn Citizens United, what can those of us without direct access to Washington, D.C. do to strengthen the influence of everyday Americans in the act of governing?

The most immediate answer we come to is, of course, voting.  However, new innovations at the local level are creating fresh avenues for civic participation. Practices such as participatory budgeting and participatory zoning are just a few ways in which we can flex our civic muscle outside of the voting booth. Participatory budgeting, for example, allows community members to make decisions on how to spend a pre-allotted pool of funds from an agency or government’s budget. This approach balances efficiency of outcome, by only allowing participation in a small portion of the budget, while deepening investment and engagement amongst stakeholders.

The Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network values people-centric, policy work that engages young people in their own communities. As we articulated in our report, Government By and For Millennial America, how government engages citizens is foundational to its effectiveness as an institution. Voting and money in politics have a role to play in how much weight one individual has in government. But higher civic engagement at all levels is still important to ensuring that those elected produce results that the citizenry desires. After all, many of the nation’s local and state-level public financing laws have been implemented via legislative processes and grassroots organizing.

Thus, as we continue to hear arguments regarding who has real power under U.S. election law, core questions at play are: what does it mean to have policies and rules that are people-centric? And how can we develop a system that is outcome-oriented and empowering to as much of the population as possible? Most Americans agree that eliminating a system in which some people have a wholly distorted level of financial influence over others is a good start. But by engaging in civic processes in our local communities, we can take our political engagement one step further, and increase individual empowerment in our system.

Joelle Gamble is the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network National Field Strategist.

Share This

Daily Digest - January 21: Both Major Parties are a Work in Progress

Jan 21, 2014Rachel Goldfarb

Click here to receive the Daily Digest via email.

Independent Conservatives Growing (The Kudlow Report)

Roosevelt Institute Fellow Dorian Warren says the GOP must consider independents' views during the primary process. Otherwise, Tea Party primary challenges against moderate incumbents will result in general election candidates whom independents will never support.

Click here to receive the Daily Digest via email.

Independent Conservatives Growing (The Kudlow Report)

Roosevelt Institute Fellow Dorian Warren says the GOP must consider independents' views during the primary process. Otherwise, Tea Party primary challenges against moderate incumbents will result in general election candidates whom independents will never support.

Change in the Air (Harper's Magazine)

Roosevelt Institute Senior Fellow and Director of the Bernard L. Schwartz Rediscovering Government Initiative Jeff Madrick writes about the shift in Democratic politics that led to the election of progressives like New York City's new mayor, Bill de Blasio. He considers this proof that voters are paying attention to how long many elected officials have ignored rising inequality. This article is behind a paywall.

The Sunday Show with Philip Maldari (KPFA)

Jeff Madrick discusses the rise of inequality in the U.S., with a focus on the data. He touches on unemployment, individual and household wages, part-time work, increased productivity without increased wages, and more.

Back to the Digital Drawing Board (NYT)

Roosevelt Institute Fellow Susan Crawford argues that the circuit court ruling that eliminated the Federal Communications Commission's existing net neutrality rules offers an opportunity to declare the Internet a "common carrier," which would require equal service for all.

Class Divide on Campus: Adjunct Professors Fight for Better Pay, Benefits (NBC News)

Former Roosevelt Institute | Pipeline Fellow Nona Willis Aronowitz looks at the struggle of adjunct professors, who are paid poverty wages for jobs that require advanced degrees, and how their tenured peers have or have not been supportive of their push for changes.

Deficit Scolds Are Holding the Unemployed Hostage (NY Mag)

Jonathan Chait writes that by insisting that short-term stimulus, like extending unemployment insurance, absolutely must be offset by deficit reduction, the deficit scolds are doing far more to support gridlock than to create the political changes they want.

A Housing Relief Program with Policies That 'throw people into the grinder' (The Guardian)

David Dayen reports on the failure of one of the biggest housing relief programs in the country, Hardest-Hit, which was created in 2010 to provide foreclosure relief. The program's poor implementation has caused serious problems for homeowners seeking help.

Wall Street Group Aggressively Lobbied a Federal Agency to Thwart Eminent Domain Plans (The Nation)

Alexis Goldstein reports that Wall Street directly lobbied a key staffer at the Federal Housing Finance Agency, which has since threatened legal action against localities that attempt to use eminent domain to rescue underwater homeowners.

Share This

Story Wars: Why Personal Stories Are Shaping the Health Care Battleground

Nov 8, 2013Richard Kirsch

It's natural for negative stories about the Affordable Care Act to have the biggest impact, but media bias is obscuring the facts.

More than any other public policy issue, health care is very personal. So it is not surprising that personal stories are a central battleground for the public perception of the Affordable Care Act. And it is increasingly clear that this battle will be fought through the prisms of class and race.

It's natural for negative stories about the Affordable Care Act to have the biggest impact, but media bias is obscuring the facts.

More than any other public policy issue, health care is very personal. So it is not surprising that personal stories are a central battleground for the public perception of the Affordable Care Act. And it is increasingly clear that this battle will be fought through the prisms of class and race.

The Affordable Care Act (ACA) would not have become law if it were not for the willingness of survivors of the nation’s health care mess – people who had lost loved ones, fought to get care after an insurance company denial, faced crippling medical costs – to tell their stories to members of Congress and the press. Many members of Congress voted for the bill, despite the political risk, because they were moved by personal encounters with constituents with compelling stories. Many of the most effective spokespeople during the legislative battle over the law were people whose lives and livelihoods had been threatened by our defective health coverage system.

Now that the central part of the Affordable Care Act is finally being implemented, however painfully and slowly, personal stories are again becoming the focus of debate. The stories that the press has focused on recently have been mostly negative, largely because of three press biases. The first is that “if it bleeds, it leads.” Negative news gets people’s attention, raising people’s fears, a phenomenon with strong physiological and psychological roots that extends well beyond the news. Advocates for passage of the law used that to our advantage when we were chronicling insurance company abuses, but in the new terrain of the law’s implementation, it’s a handicap. Coverage of people successfully getting affordable coverage is not as compelling as that of someone who says she is being forced to pay higher premiums after being told she is losing her existing coverage.

The second press bias is to take people at their word and not actually investigate them, particularly when they make good news. We have seen a lot of this in the coverage of people who have received letters from insurance companies telling them they are being forced into higher-priced plans.

Take Deborah Cavallaro, a real-estate agent in suburban Los Angeles, who’s been on NBC Nightly News and Fox. Ms. Cavallaro is losing her current plan, which only covers two doctors visits a year and has a $5,000 deductible. She complained, “I’d be paying more for the exchange plans than I am currently paying,” after an insurance broker told her she would have to pay $478 a month compared to the $293 she now pays. But with a little research, Michael Hiltzik of the Los Angeles Times found that after her income-based subsidy, Cavallaro would pay only $33 a month more for a plan which covers all her doctors visits and has a $2,000 deductible.

Cavallaro is typical of many of the people represented in the negative stories being run, in that she is white, suburban, and has a middle-class job. Reporters like Jonathan Cohn in The New Republic have explored the shoddy media coverage of other stories whose subjects are similar to Cavallaro.

Which brings us to the third media bias, focusing on the white middle class. This is a general bias when it comes to the press, particularly when not reporting on government services or crime. In this case, it is a bias that will accentuate the problems with the Affordable Care Act and downplay its benefits to millions. As Cohn points out in another piece, there are some people who will pay more for comparable insurance plans under the new law. This is the small minority of people in the individual insurance market who, because they have been in good health and have enough income to buy insurance, have been able to find decent coverage at a price they can afford. Their good health has shielded them from big premium hikes or losing their coverage altogether, which will happen when they have a serious illness.

One of the few good news stories I found that focused on someone who will benefit from losing her coverage was about Gail Roach, an African-American woman from Pittsburgh. Ms. Roach is a retired school district employee who will save $500 a month after receiving her subsidy. A diabetes sufferer, she’s been forced to pay a big premium because of her health condition.

The ACA’s biggest beneficiaries are low- and moderate-income people, including poor people who have been denied Medicaid and people who work at low-wage jobs that don’t provide health coverage, who will now get big enough subsidies in the exchanges to afford coverage.  

In fact, the biggest group benefiting from enrolling in coverage under the Affordable Care Act are people who are eligible for Medicaid. In Washington State, for example, where the exchanges are working well, there have been 42,605 Medicaid enrollees, compared to 6,390 who have signed up for the exchanges.  A New York Times article on how navigators are helping people to enroll in Kentucky tells the story of several people thrilled to be enrolled in Medicaid.

The Times article also reveals the bias against people who are on public programs like Medicaid by recounting the story of one "well-dressed woman" in Kentucky:

She had learned that she would be eligible for Medicaid under the new law, but she was unwilling to enroll because of what she saw as a stigma attached to the program. A substitute teacher, she wanted to know whether she could afford full-priced private exchange plans. “I don’t want to be a freeloader,” said the woman, who asked to be identified only by her middle name, Kay, because she said she was embarrassed about qualifying for Medicaid. “I believe in paying our way in life.”

There may be a promising ending to Kay’s story. Kay did sign up for Medicaid, saying that she would pay for routine doctor visits herself but have Medicaid as a fall-back if she really got sick. Will the experience of finally getting health coverage change Kay’s views? Will she now be more secure, freed finally from the worries of huge medical debt if she gets seriously ill?

This gets us back to the personal politics of health care and how they will impact the political debate. Kay’s U.S. senator, Mitch McConnell, who is up for re-election, has already dismissed the success of Kentucky’s launch of the ACA by saying, “Well, 85 percent of the people who’ve signed up in Kentucky have signed up for Medicaid. That’s free health care.” Will Kay want to vote for a guy who will take away her newly found health security?

The next big political test for Obamacare will be whether it is a defining issue in the 2014 elections. That will depend both on the reality of people’s experiences and what people learn about the law from the media, which will largely be shaped by personal stories. Since the law will have no noticeable impact on the coverage of 85 percent of Americans, Obamacare should not be a big election issue. But we know that opponents will use every negative story to keep the issue alive.

The most important task for supporters of the law will be to make sure that it does realize its promise of better coverage for millions of people. The more people who get enrolled and find, like Kay, Gail Roach, and even Deborah Cavallaro, that it is good for their health and their pocketbook, the better. Then supporters must forcefully fight to tell the personal stories of their success, even if it is boring, good news, often about struggling working families. 

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.

Share This

A Cost-Benefit Analysis of Corporate Political Spending Disclosure

Oct 30, 2013

Download the paper (PDF) by Susan Holmberg

This report provides a generalized cost-benefit analysis of a potential rule promulgated by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) that would require public corporations to disclose corporate political spending.

Download the paper (PDF) by Susan Holmberg

This report provides a generalized cost-benefit analysis of a potential rule promulgated by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) that would require public corporations to disclose corporate political spending. Existing evidence on both the dynamics of corporate political spending and the costs and benefits of SEC mandatory disclosure in general, as well as the use of agency theory, an economic framework that highlights the asymmetric interests and knowledge between corporate managers and shareholders, indicate that the range of potential benefits of corporate political spending disclosure – to shareholders and the market – vastly outweigh the possible costs of compliance to public corporations. 

Key Findings: 

  • Shareholders are becoming increasingly concerned with corporate spending for political purposes. The lack of information available to the public about such spending puts shareholders and the public at enormous economic risk.
  • The costs of requiring the disclosure of corporate political spending would be nominal. For a politically active company to file accurate IRS returns, it must already keep track of its political spending. A new rule requiring disclosure would merely make this internal accounting of corporate political spending available for the investing public.
  • Research also suggests that corporate political spending is not proprietary information and that requiring disclosure will not be a larger burden for smaller firms.
  • The benefits of mandatory disclosure of corporate political spending would be substantial. It would diminish the monitoring costs for shareholders, create better economic incentives for corporate executives, and generate positive externalities for companies that are already in compliance, and provide potential investors with key information for making rational investment decisions.

Read "A Cost-Benefit Analysis of Corporate Political Spending Disclosure," by Roosevelt Institute Director of Research Susan Holmberg.

Share This

Pages