Daily Digest - May 15: The Politics of Embracing Piketty

May 15, 2014Rachel Goldfarb

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Why Democrats Are Paying Attention to Piketty's Book on Inequality (Real News Network)

Roosevelt Institute Senior Fellow Tom Ferguson suggests Democrats are using Capital in the 21st Century to strengthen their inequality narrative for the midterm elections.

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Why Democrats Are Paying Attention to Piketty's Book on Inequality (Real News Network)

Roosevelt Institute Senior Fellow Tom Ferguson suggests Democrats are using Capital in the 21st Century to strengthen their inequality narrative for the midterm elections.

  • Roosevelt Take: Roosevelt Institute President and CEO Felicia Wong says that Piketty and his peers are defining today's debate and opening new opportunities to push back on inequality.

Fast-Food Protests Spread Overseas (NYT)

Steven Greenhouse reports on today's fast food strikes in 150 U.S. cities, the largest yet, and why the organizers are working to build support and influence abroad as well.

The Merits of Participatory Budgeting (AJAM)

Bringing citizens into the decision-making process for local spending empowers them, says Hollie Russon Gilman, and builds their connection to politics more generally.

Paul Ryan's Approach To Poverty Is Straight Out Of The 19th Century (HuffPo)

Arthur Delaney looks at the anti-handout models of fighting poverty from the 1800s, which don't make sense given modern data, and finds strong similarities to Rep. Ryan's views.

The Neediest Americans Are Getting The Least Government Assistance (ThinkProgress)

Bryce Covert looks at forthcoming research that shows that since 1975, social safety net spending has shifted away from the poorest Americans to those who are more well off.

New on Next New Deal

Places for Hope in the Fight to Protect Women's Health and Rights

To push back against the constant barrage of bad news, Roosevelt Institute Fellow Andrea Flynn shines a light on states that are taking proactive, positive steps on women's health.

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To Stop Campus Sexual Assault, We Should Study the Men Responsible

May 13, 2014Andrea FlynnNataya Friedan

This post is the second in the Roosevelt Institute's National Women's Health Week series, which will address pressing issues affecting the health and economic security of women and families in the United States. Today, a suggestion for how the White House's Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault could use research to strengthen prevention efforts.

This post is the second in the Roosevelt Institute's National Women's Health Week series, which will address pressing issues affecting the health and economic security of women and families in the United States. Today, a suggestion for how the White House's Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault could use research to strengthen prevention efforts.

Finally, the national spotlight is focused on the issue of campus sexual assault. Not Alone, the White House’s first report on the topic, is a historic step in acknowledging violations that have long been ignored, mishandled, or silenced by universities and authorities. One in five women on U.S. campuses experiences sexual violence. Not Alone symbolizes President Obama and Vice President Biden’s commitment to reversing that tide.

Not Alone calls for increased prevention efforts, including the sharing of best practices and promoting the intervention of male bystanders. It urges schools to train the officials responsible for investigating and adjudicating assaults as victim advocates. But this isn't just a report: there's also a toolkit to help campuses conduct and evaluate “campus climate surveys” meant to illuminate the dimensions and scope of sexual violence.

Campus climate surveys ask students to anonymously report on topics ranging from their opinions on consent and the role of alcohol to their own encounters with sexual violence. The report calls on colleges and universities to voluntarily conduct the surveys next year, and the administration is exploring legislative or administrative options that would mandate the surveys in 2016.

These surveys are critically valuable and add to the important research done by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) on a broad range of sexually violent behaviors, including verbal sexual coercion/sexual pressure. That research – included in the report’s toolkit of resources – shows that between 25 and 60 percent of men report some form of sexual misconduct in their lifetime. It also shows that nearly 80 percent of women who experience rape do so before the age of 25. Campus climate surveys expand on this research and give schools the data they need to institute change.

All of this research is important for understanding the continuum of sexual misconduct and violence. But to truly prevent sexual assault, it seems imperative that we understand the behaviors, triggers, and environments that contribute to these crimes. For that, we need to talk to the men.

When it comes to understanding rape, there is research worth revisiting and repeating: psychologist David Lisak’s study of college men, which found that the majority of campus rapes (and attempted rapes) in the study were committed by a small group of serial offenders. The study – referenced in the White House’s original Call to Action – challenges the myth that campus rape is somehow less real or serious than rapes that occur in other settings. Lisak’s findings disrupt the notion that campus rape is an issue of drunken confusion, or naivety about consent, rather than a violent act of will and force.

Lisak’s study is distinct in that it suggests that a small group of individuals are responsible for the majority of sexual assaults on college campuses. His research was conducted over eight years with nearly 2,000 students at a university in Boston. Unlike other studies, it asked men about their actions, not just their opinions. Lisak’s surveys asked participants to (confidentially) report on a range of their own experiences with interpersonal violence and sexual behavior. 6.4 percent of the participants admitted to actions that legally constitute rape or attempted rape. This small group was responsible for 85 percent of the study’s reported acts of interpersonal violence. Two-thirds of that group admitted to being serial offenders who committed, on average, six rapes each and those offenders committed more than 90 percent of the study’s admitted rapes and attempted rapes.

The study concludes that the campus rape statistics match up with data on convicted rapists. The admitted rapists' answers to questions about their viewpoints on women, sex, and violence closely mirror those of convicted rapists as well. Campus rapists, it turns out, aren't very different from any other rapists.

The study had a small sample size, which makes it difficult to generalize its findings to the larger population. That's why repeating the research on a larger scale would be so valuable: confirming the patterns and indicators of sexual violence could enable administrators to create and implement more effective prevention programs. Not Alone falls just shy of calling for such research, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t use this moment as an opportunity to be more expansive in our thinking and questioning of this important issue. Not Alone clearly emphasizes that education is not the only form of prevention: proactive investigation is needed to disrupt patterns of violence. Incorporating more male-focused lines of questioning into the campus climate surveys or conducting separate surveys similar to Lisak’s would allow administrators to focus not only on the experiences of survivors but also on the men who perpetrate these crimes.

The White House – and the activists who have bravely spoken out – has changed the conversation from one that historically blames the victim to one that calls on men to actively participate in ending sexual violence. As the report correctly states: Not all men are perpetrators of sexual assault. But most perpetrators are men, and a deeper understanding of those perpetrators' behavior will help universities build systems of accountability. Right now, too many institutions are doing too little to prevent sexual violence. Given time, resources, and the right kind of research, we can change that.  

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

Nataya Friedan is the Program Manager for the Roosevelt Institute's Women Rising initiative.

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Daily Digest - May 6: Will the Robin Hood Tax Hit the Mark?

May 6, 2014Rachel Goldfarb

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The Most Popular Tax in History Has Real Momentum (The Nation)

Katrina vanden Heuvel, a member of the Roosevelt Institute's Board of Directors, says that if Europe's "Robin Hood" tax is successfully implemented, it could boost efforts to implement a financial transactions tax in the U.S.

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The Most Popular Tax in History Has Real Momentum (The Nation)

Katrina vanden Heuvel, a member of the Roosevelt Institute's Board of Directors, says that if Europe's "Robin Hood" tax is successfully implemented, it could boost efforts to implement a financial transactions tax in the U.S.

Which States Are Givers and Which Are Takers? (The Atlantic)

Maps depicting states' reliance on federal funding lead John Tierney to ask whether the framework of givers and takers is useful, or whether we should instead focus on how the government creates an American community.

Blackstone Unit Invitation Homes Sued Over Rental House's Condition (LA Times)

Amid concerns about investment firms' ability to properly maintain the thousands of rental homes they've acquired, Andrew Khouri reports on one family's lawsuit over a slum-like house.

Gallup: Uninsured Rate Is Lowest We've Ever Recorded (TNR)

Jonathan Cohn reports on a new poll from Gallup, which has been asking whether people have health insurance since 2008. He warns that this isn't proof that more are getting health care, but it's a good start.

Millennials Have Stopped Trusting the Government (Vox)

Andrew Prokop breaks down a new survey by Harvard's Institute of Politics, which shows Millennials' decreasing trust in government over the past few years. Their biggest concern is unsurprising: the economy.

  • Roosevelt Take: Roosevelt Institute Vice President of Networks Taylor Jo Isenberg introduces the Campus Network's 2014 10 Ideas series, featuring top policy proposals from students across the country who still see ways for government to create a better world.

Nutter to Sign Minimum Wage Executive Order (Philadelphia Inquirer)

The Philadelphia mayor is following President Obama's lead, reports Claudia Vargas, by requiring a higher minimum wage in city contracts and subcontracts.

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The Internet Responds to the Voluntarism Fantasy

Apr 8, 2014Mike Konczal

My recent Voluntarism Fantasy piece (pdf) for Democracy Journal has gotten a fair amount of coverage. So I'm going to use this post, which will be updated, to keep track of the links to other people engaging, if only so I can respond in the future.

The piece was also reprinted at The Altantic Monthly.

Reddit thread with comments.

In favor of the piece:

Michael Hiltzik covers the argument in the LA Times' opinion page and EJ Dionne in the Washington Post's opinion page.

Matt Bruenig notes that the way we discuss this reflects a deep status quo bias at The Week.

Elizabeth Stoker, channeling Niebuhr, makes the strong Christian case that charity and government social insurance go together at The Week.

Sally Steenland of Center for America Progress also addresses the fantasy in this article.

Erik Loomis makes an excellent point that in addition to the rest of the 19th century state, the "federally subsidized westward expansion was also part of this welfare state, as Republicans especially explicitly saw the frontier as a social safety net that would alleviate poverty without directly giving charity to people."

James Kwak agrees that there's "No Substitute for the Government" here.

Jordan Weissmann argues that "Charity Can’t Replace the Safety Net" over at Slate.

I discuss the piece on the Majority Report with Sam Seder (also in-studio video here).

Less in favor:

Marvin Olasky, author of the Tragedy of American Compassion (which is one focal point of the article), responds in World.

Philathrophy Daily ran two articles critical of the piece, both at the forefront of the voluntarism fantasy's worldview. The first is from Hans Zeiger and the second from Martin Morse Wooster, who breaks out the paralipsis "I could argue that Mike Konczal and the Roosevelt Institute has a hidden agenda: to force the U.S. to accept Soviet-style communism ... I won’t make that argument because I know it isn’t true."

Rich Tucker at Townhall says that I do "a better job than Barack Obama did explaining the president’s 'You didn’t build that' philosophy," which I'll take as a compliment.

Reihan Salam has a set of responses at The Agenda.

Howard Husock argues that  charitably-funded, non-governmental programs are better than government at helping help individuals thrive at Forbes.

Don Watkins at the Ayn Rand Institute has a five part (!) critical response; you can work backwards from the fifth part here.

Anarchist Kevin Carson sees "the welfare state nevertheless as an evil necessitated by the state-enforced model of capitalism, and ultimately destined to wither away along with economic privilege and exploitation" in his response.

I'll add any more as they happen. (Last updated April 11th.)

My recent Voluntarism Fantasy piece (pdf) for Democracy Journal has gotten a fair amount of coverage. So I'm going to use this post, which will be updated, to keep track of the links to other people engaging, if only so I can respond in the future.

The piece was also reprinted at The Altantic Monthly.

Reddit thread with comments.

In favor of the piece:

Michael Hiltzik covers the argument in the LA Times' opinion page and EJ Dionne in the Washington Post's opinion page.

Matt Bruenig notes that the way we discuss this reflects a deep status quo bias at The Week.

Elizabeth Stoker, channeling Niebuhr, makes the strong Christian case that charity and government social insurance go together at The Week.

Sally Steenland of Center for America Progress also addresses the fantasy in this article.

Erik Loomis makes an excellent point that in addition to the rest of the 19th century state, the "federally subsidized westward expansion was also part of this welfare state, as Republicans especially explicitly saw the frontier as a social safety net that would alleviate poverty without directly giving charity to people."

James Kwak agrees that there's "No Substitute for the Government" here.

Jordan Weissmann argues that "Charity Can’t Replace the Safety Net" over at Slate.

I discuss the piece on the Majority Report with Sam Seder (also in-studio video here).

Less in favor:

Marvin Olasky, author of the Tragedy of American Compassion (which is one focal point of the article), responds in World.

Philathrophy Daily ran two articles critical of the piece, both at the forefront of the voluntarism fantasy's worldview. The first is from Hans Zeiger and the second from Martin Morse Wooster, who breaks out the paralipsis "I could argue that Mike Konczal and the Roosevelt Institute has a hidden agenda: to force the U.S. to accept Soviet-style communism ... I won’t make that argument because I know it isn’t true."

Rich Tucker at Townhall says that I do "a better job than Barack Obama did explaining the president’s 'You didn’t build that' philosophy," which I'll take as a compliment.

Reihan Salam has a set of responses at The Agenda.

Howard Husock argues that  charitably-funded, non-governmental programs are better than government at helping help individuals thrive at Forbes.

Don Watkins at the Ayn Rand Institute has a five part (!) critical response; you can work backwards from the fifth part here.

Anarchist Kevin Carson sees "the welfare state nevertheless as an evil necessitated by the state-enforced model of capitalism, and ultimately destined to wither away along with economic privilege and exploitation" in his response.

I'll add any more as they happen. (Last updated April 11th.)

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Taking on Big Business Wage Theft

Apr 2, 2014Harmony Goldberg

Lawsuits show that the fight against wage theft is heating up, but workers shouldn't have to sue their employers to get paid what they're owed.

Lawsuits show that the fight against wage theft is heating up, but workers shouldn't have to sue their employers to get paid what they're owed.

Despite the extensive press coverage of the fight of fast-food workers for a $15 hourly wage, one recent development hasn’t gotten much attention: fast food workers around the country have started to win significant wage theft lawsuits against McDonald’s franchisees, to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars. These lawsuits raise an important question: How has McDonald’s been able to get away with stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars from low-wage workers? The answer is straightforward. Our system for enforcement has been so severely weakened that many employers are able to regularly violate workers’ basic rights. And the law itself is broken. Its structure allows corporations like McDonald’s to escape responsibility for the conditions in their workplaces.

In February, student guest workers won a lawsuit that charged a McDonald’s franchise in Pennsylvania with wage theft. They had been paid sub-minimum wages, denied overtime pay and charged exorbitant prices for company housing. The Department of Labor required the franchise to pay $205,977 to both guest workers and native-born workers at the franchise. This victory was rapidly followed by a wave of other lawsuits around the country.  

Last week, McDonald’s workers in three cities launched highly publicized cases charging the corporation with wage theft. These workers had experienced many types of wage theft. The workers in California claim that they were not paid for overtime work. In Michigan, workers are asserting that they were required to show up for work but were not allowed to clock in. Workers in New York allege that were not compensated for the time they spent cleaning their uniforms, required to do work off the clock and not paid overtime. The New York suit was almost immediately successful. Last week, seven franchises agreed to settle for almost $500,000.

McDonald’s workers are not alone. Wage theft has become a widespread problem in low-wage industries in the United States. An influential study found that more than two-thirds (68 percent) of workers had experienced some form of wage theft in their previous week of work: they were paid below the minimum wage, not paid for overtime, required to work off the clock or had their breaks limited. An organization of fast food workers in New York City surveyed workers and found that 84% of workers had experienced wage theft in the last year.

Addressing wage theft will take a two-pronged solution: rebuilding the enforcement system in the U.S., and cutting through the smokescreen of subcontracting and franchising to hold employers responsible for the wages and working conditions in their workplaces. 

The enforcement regime in the United States has been significantly weakened over the last several decades. There has been an overall downward trend in funding for the Department of Labor. The number of labor inspectors had plummeted for years. The Obama administration has added new inspectors, but not enough to make up for the long-term decline. Meanwhile, the number of workers who need protection has grown. This pattern has to be turned on its head. If rampant wage theft is to be stopped, we need to radically increase the number of labor inspectors on the ground.

But – as Annette Bernhard points out in a new paper – increased funding is not enough. The enforcement system that we have is not well structured to deal with our current economy. It must be transformed. The penalties for employers who violate workplace regulations must increase. Enforcement agencies should partner with organizations like unions and worker centers that are in daily contact with workers. These organizations can educate workers and employers about workplace regulations, and they can provide an ear to the ground to help identify violators.

Even a radical transformation of the enforcement regime will not be enough in today’s economy. We need to change the law to deal with changes in the structure of employment. Right now, McDonald’s is structured so that the franchise owners are technically considered to be the employers. They are held legally responsible for wage violations in their stores, leaving McDonalds itself off the hook. Both recent legal victories charged franchise owners rather than the McDonald’s corporation itself. McDonald’s is shielded from blame while it continues to reap the majority of the profits that come from mistreating workers.

We need a new definition of what it means to be an employer. The current definition makes it impossible for workers to hold their corporate employers – the ones who are setting the real terms of their work – responsible. The two remaining McDonald’s wage theft cases target both the franchise owners and the McDonald’s corporation itself. That challenges the narrow definition of employer, which limits responsibility to the franchise owner. The time has come for the law to be changed. All employers - from the front-line employers up to top of the employment chain – should be legally recognized as such so they can be held accountable for the conditions in their workplaces.

Wage theft that has become an endemic problem in today’s economy. Low-wage workers should not have to turn – again and again – to private lawsuits as a solution. They deserve the basic right to be paid for their labor. To get there, we need full funding and comprehensive reform of the enforcement system in the United States, and we need legal reforms that hold central employers responsible for the conditions in their workplaces. 

Harmony Goldberg is the Program Manager for the Roosevelt Institute's Future of Work Initiative.

Photo copyright Annette Bernhardt, via Creative Commons license.

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Reducing Flood Risks is Worth the Effort – and the Savings

Apr 1, 2014Melia Ungson

Programs aimed at cutting flood insurance premiums by reducing risk have their pluses and minuses, but the positives deserve strong consideration from local governments.

Programs aimed at cutting flood insurance premiums by reducing risk have their pluses and minuses, but the positives deserve strong consideration from local governments.

FEMA administers the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) to make flood insurance available to many communities, as most standard home and property insurance policies do not cover losses from floods. In 2012, Congress passed the Flood Insurance Reform Act of 2012, which called on FEMA to raise flood insurance rates so that they better reflect flood risk. This has spurred concerns about people’s ability to afford flood insurance and maintain property values.

One program that strives to help make flood insurance more affordable and encourage communities to reduce flood risk is the Community Rating System (CRS), which began in 1990. Communities that participate in CRS receive a discount on flood insurance premiums. The more a community does to reduce flood risk, the larger the premium reduction. According to FEMA, CRS has three main goals: to reduce flood damage to insurable property, to strengthen the insurance aspects of the NFIP, and to encourage a more comprehensive approach to floodplain management.

CRS is a points-based system, where 500 points is required for participation. A community can earn CRS points by taking on actions from an approved list. These activities are broken up into four main categories (public information, mapping and regulations, flood damage reduction, and flood preparedness), and include everything from disseminating brochures with flood hazard information to developing mapping information.

Based on the number of points accrued, communities are assigned to one of ten CRS classes. Class 10 is for those who are not participating or who have less than 500 points. Class 9 communities, with 500-999 points, receive a 5% reduction, and Class 1 communities, with 4,500 points or more, receive a 45% reduction. The increasing reductions create incentives for communities to expand flood protection activities.

Despite the benefits, CRS communities represent only about 5% of the communities in the NFIP. Most communities that participate in CRS fall between Class 5 and Class 9. In New England, most participating communities fall between Class 7 and Class 9. Improving class takes time and resources, but for a program that has been around for nearly 25 years, there are surprisingly few communities at the top classes. Roseville, California is the only Class 1 community, inspired to take on the CRS after devastating floods, and its 45% reduction saves residents an average of $792 per plan. Additionally, only three communities have achieved a Class 2 rating. Tulsa, Oklahoma, which has creeks that cause flooding, saves residents an average of $514 per plan. Unincorporated King County, Washington, which focused on preserving floodplain open space, saves residents an average of $586. And Pierce County, Washington, which focused on public information, saves residents an average of $550.

Beyond premium reductions, FEMA argues the program has other benefits. These include improving public safety and awareness, facilitating easier comparison and evaluation with a standardized classification system, providing technical assistance, and focusing on maintaining measures to reduce risk.

Indeed, CRS does have major benefits, not least of which is the reduced premium. With the incentive to reduce flood risk, the program balances recognizing the real risks and costs of living in areas with flooding dangers, and also trying to make those communities more prepared and resilient. Acquisition and relocation are incentivized through CRS with high point rewards, as is preserving hazardous flood areas as open space, though the bulk of the program’s actions focus on reducing risk in areas that will remain inhabited. Additionally, FEMA offers free training for local officials and makes emergency management specialists available to support CRS applications.

However, the very low number of NFIP communities that participate in CRS suggests that there are obstacles to applying for and maintaining CRS status. Despite Tulsa’s success in CRS, overall interest in the program has been declining in Oklahoma, as local officials weigh the benefits and costs of implementing CRS. A major issue is limited local capacity. Communities that are already struggling to stretch budgets and personnel may not be able to take on the additional work required by CRS to benefit residents living in flood zones. This may be particularly problematic in cases where the residents of flood zones are those who are struggling with the added costs of flood insurance and are most in need of the premium reduction. Since individual residents cannot take steps to gain points, the community must rely on local officials to prioritize CRS.

Furthermore, upgrading levels is difficult and takes time. King County, for instance, went from being Class 10 when the program started in 1990 to Class 9 in 1992. It then took 15 years to work up to Class 2. That long time horizon may be discouraging to getting communities to apply. A 5% discount may not seem like much in comparison to the time and work required for a class upgrade, so communities may postpone their participation until they accrue enough points for a larger reduction.

Lastly, the number of communities participating, and especially the number of communities in the top classes, suggests that there may be a gap between national standards and local capacity. Though the cost of implementing CRS varies, communities have reported costs ranging from $10,000 to $20,000 and above, largely for disseminating information and developing maps. Some communities may be hesitant to proceed too far along with CRS, as it poses restrictions on development, such as elevation requirements.

Despite the challenges, CRS is an important tool. While local communities may have limited capacity, FEMA, too, can only do so much to reduce risk in communities across the country. CRS empowers local officials to take action, while also putting money back into the hands of residents. The challenge is to make the case to local residents and officials that participation in CRS is worthwhile. It is a big commitment, with the application likely taking significant time and resources, and it is an ongoing commitment, as communities must demonstrate they are maintaining measures to reduce risk and inform the public. Yet many of those actions are valuable, and even doable with the resources offered by FEMA and other agencies. While CRS may fairly not be a top priority for many communities, it is worth serious consideration.

Melia Ungson is the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network Senior Fellow for Energy and Environment.

 

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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.

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Daily Digest - January 30: How Do We Make the Economy Work Again?

Jan 30, 2014Rachel Goldfarb

Click here to receive the Daily Digest via email.

Left Jab Radio (Sirius XM)

Click here to receive the Daily Digest via email.

Left Jab Radio (Sirius XM)

Jon Aberman and Mark Walsh speak with Roosevelt Institute Senior Fellow and Director of the Bernard L. Schwartz Rediscovering Government Initiative Jeff Madrick about technological innovation that doesn't lead to productivity increases, the jobs emergency, and how to make the U.S. economy more competitive.

Republicans Just Won the Food Stamp War (MoJo)

Erika Eichelberger writes that as the Senate plans to pass the current House version of the Farm Bill, which cuts $9 billion from SNAP, it's clear that the Democrats lost this fight. These cuts will mean that about a million families will receive $90 less per month.

Port Authority Demands Airlines Raise Worker Wages (NY Daily News)

Dan Friedman, Kenneth Lovett, and Rich Schapiro report that following a week-long campaign pushing for higher wages for airport workers, the executive director of the Port Authority has mandated a $9-per-hour wage for workers at LaGuardia and JFK airports.

Outsiders, Not Auto Plant, Battle U.A.W. in Tennessee (NYT)

Steven Greenhouse looks at the opposition to unionization efforts at the Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee. National groups like the Center for Worker Freedom are pouring vast amounts of money into this fight, even though some think Volkswagen is open to the union.

Fed Stays the Course on Stimulus Reduction (WaPo)

Ylan Q. Mui writes that the Federal Reserve will continue to scale back its bond-buying program by about $10 billion in February. She notes that this is despite some concerns about weak job growth, as the December jobs report showed the nation added only 74,000 jobs.

New on Next New Deal

Roosevelt Reacts: What Worked and What Didn't in the 2014 State of the Union

Roosevelt Institute Fellows and Network members respond to the State of the Union: what they liked, what was missing, and how the president should proceed from here.

State of the Union 2014: Obama Offers Action, Not Apologies

Roosevelt Institute Senior Fellow Jeff Madrick praises the president for focusing on the changes that can be made rather than the year's mistakes. He's also glad to see Obama taking Congress to task for making progress impossible due to gridlock.

The State of the Union Then and Now: Raising the Minimum Wage is Still a Good Idea

Roosevelt Institute Senior Fellow and Hyde Park Resident Historian David Woolner notes that the president's call for a higher minimum wage mirrors President Franklin D. Roosevelt's 1938 State of the Union, which used similar arguments to call for the creation of the minimum wage.

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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.

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Is Bridgegate Politics as Usual, or Beyond the Pale?

Jan 16, 2014Bo Cutter

A perspective on the Christie administration's behavior from someone who's seen firsthand how government operates.

A perspective on the Christie administration's behavior from someone who's seen firsthand how government operates.

For those who are not familiar with the story -- perhaps that same set of people who in questionnaires do not know where the Mississippi River or the Pacific Ocean is -- Governor Chris Christie's staff created a several-day monstrous traffic jam around the George Washington Bridge last September, apparently to get back at the Democratic mayor of Fort Lee, New Jersey for not supporting the governor for reelection. After denying for months that anything happened, the governor fired everyone he could find, held the world's longest and most lachrymose press conference, denied all knowledge, said he was "very sad," and seemed to conclude that he was the victim here. The poor jerks who sat in traffic for several hours apparently didn't count.

The best and funniest column on this by far was by Gail Collins in Saturday's New York Times; I can't come close to that, so I'll ask the deep questions.

1. What are the odds that Governor Christie is telling the truth when he says he knew nothing?

Zero, or bagel, as they say in the finance business. I suspect he didn't order the dirty deed, but this is exactly the kind of stunt political advisors pull when they're riding high and want to show how tough they are. There would have been lots of smirking around the governor -- remember, at the time they would have been quite proud of it -- and you would have had to be about as unaware as a tree not to notice. The governor is not known for being unaware.

2. Has there been any kind of pattern that might suggest this sort of behavior was part of the governor's genotype?

The only way you can say there was no pattern here is if you are a denier of combinatorial probabilities and a lot of introductory math. The Times has specified several incidents which sure look like revenge bullying. If I give the governor a 60 percent probability that each of these events was not part of a pattern (way above my gut feel), there's still a 92 percent chance that this is all part of a pattern. I'm going with a pattern.

3. Is it surprising that the governor threw everyone on his staff within reach under the bus and denied knowing David Wildstein, a senior staff member and a friend since high school?

Are you kidding me? This is pure "homo politicus" stuff. Take my word on this: there is essentially no one in big-time American politics who wouldn't gut his or her best friend in an instant for almost any temporary advantage. (The high school friend matter is almost too easy. No one in the known universe who graduated from an American high school believed any single word, including "a," "an," and " the," of this story.)

4. Is the actual behavior just life in the big leagues or a touch disturbing?

Certainly this traffic stunt was more inventive than anything I've heard before, and I've been close to this game since 1970. The other acts were nowhere near as clever but seem to be similar to the traffic stunt in two other big ways: they feel out of proportion, and they targeted civilians, not political pros. They imposed large arbitrary penalties on normal professional people who were simply doing their jobs. But I keep coming back to the folks caught in traffic. Let's say 500,000 people were caught in the traffic jams for, say, four additional hours each. That's 2 million traffic jam person-hours. If I value people's time at $20 per hour, that's a $40 million cost, all because someone got angry that a Democratic mayor didn't support a Republican governor who was already winning by a landslide and was simply trying to run up the score. Probably some of the commuters actually lost their jobs because of this.

So ask yourself, if you're just a citizen, and this guy becomes president with a lot more power and lots more reasons to get angry, how likely are you to be collateral damage in some scheme some other political "advisor" comes up with? I think you have to come down on the "disturbing behavior" side. I know "politics ain't bean bag," as Christie said, and if one pol wants to take a whack at another pol, I couldn't care less. But this crosses a lot of lines.

So back to the question in the title. There's no way this is normal behavior for normal human beings. Some of it is very normal for "homo politicus," and for athletes and hedge fund billionaires who feel particularly entitled. But the behavior at the core is way beyond the pale. Life is tough enough without leaders dedicated to getting even at your cost for the tiniest slight or the smallest act of dissent.

Roosevelt Institute Senior Fellow Bo Cutter is formerly a managing partner of Warburg Pincus, a major global private equity firm. Recently, he served as the leader of President Obama’s Office of Management and Budget (OMB) transition team. He has also served in senior roles in the White Houses of two Democratic Presidents.

Photo via ThinkStock.

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