Beyond Black History Month: A Roosevelt Institute Reading and Viewing Guide

Feb 28, 2014Roosevelt Institute

Black History Month is coming to a close, but the need for discussion and reflection on the impact of race in American life continues. We’ve asked people from across the Roosevelt Institute to provide their suggestions on books, films, poems, and articles to keep the conversation going into March and beyond.

Felicia Wong, President & CEO, Roosevelt Institute

Black History Month is coming to a close, but the need for discussion and reflection on the impact of race in American life continues. We’ve asked people from across the Roosevelt Institute to provide their suggestions on books, films, poems, and articles to keep the conversation going into March and beyond.

Felicia Wong, President & CEO, Roosevelt Institute

Walking with the Wind: A Memoir of the Movement, A lyrical, personal, heartfelt memoir of the Civil Rights Movement's origins, tensions, and triumphs, from John Lewis, one of its greatest heroes and a Roosevelt Institute Freedom of Speech laureate (1999).

The Men We Reaped. A recent memoir by National Book Award-winning novelist Jesmyn Ward, The Men We Reaped tells Ward's own story, and the story of being young and black in the rural south, by recounting the lives and deaths of four young black men - Ward's brother, cousins, friends - in DeLisle, Mississippi. 

Etana Jacobi, Training Strategist, Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network

One Drop: My Father’s Hidden Life – A Story of Race and Family Secrets, an excellent read that explores passing, racial identity, and familial ties through a well-written and entertaining story of the author's discovery of her father's secret black roots in her white Connecticut world.

David Palmer, VP and National Director, Four Freedoms Center, Roosevelt Institute

Roots: The Saga of an American Family, by Alex Haley. This book gave me a deep -- and valuable -- sense that so many black people in America today carry an incredible family history of survival in the face of unimaginable hardship, and that slavery wasn't so long ago.

Malcolm X, A Life of Reinvention, by Manning Marable, for those who have read Haley’s The Autobiography of Malcolm X and want more.

Joelle Gamble, National Field Strategist, Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network

A Dream Deferred,” by Langston Hughes, and “On the Killing of Jordan Davis by Michael Dunn,” by Ta-Nehisi Coates.

In celebrating Black History Month, it is critical to not only celebrate our past struggles but also to reflect on them in the context of our current ones. Hughes comments on the difficult-to-obtain aspirations of oppressed people: aspirations of human dignity, fair treatment, genuine opportunity, and so on. Coates highlights poignantly in his piece just how far away from reality those aspirations still are. In U.S. society, there is still a gross undervaluation of black life.

Dante Barry, Engagement Editor, Roosevelt Institute

Obama Will Announce Initiative to Empower Young Black Men. This new initiative launched by the White House and President Obama critically looks at some of the social and economic systemic challenges affecting young men of color. The school to prison pipeline is a system in which contributes to the disproportionate rate of Blacks and Latinos incarcerated every year. This is an important new project but we must also recognize how the system also disproportionately affect women and trans* people of color.   

Freedom Summer: The Savage Season of 1964, by Bruce Watson. This is a thrilling story about a chapter in the 1960s civil rights movement where 700+ young people came to a segegrated Mississippi to register Black voters and educate Black children. On the very first night, three Freedom Summer volunteers disappeared and thought to have been murdered by the Ku Klux Klan. The Freedom Summer Project of 1964, organized by the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, still remains a defining moment in our history for the struggle against domination and oppression.

Winston Lofton, National Leadership Strategist, Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network

Eyes on the Prize. The Civil Rights Movement is a formative period in the Black Freedom Struggle in the United States and has a lot to teach all of us about what it takes to strengthen democracy. Eyes on the Prize is a compelling and comprehensive look at the movement, and is a perfect entry point for anyone interested in the Black American experience in the mid-20th Century.

Black Power Mixtape. Black Power Mixtape provides a rousing portrait of another interesting period in Black history, the early post-Civil Rights period of 1967-1975.  It's a really fascinating amalgamation of perspectives, from those of the Swedish journalists who first shot the footage to the Black leaders whose speeches and interviews are featured in the film in their own words, to the current-day Black leaders from Erykah Badu to Danny Glover who helped bring about and shaped the film. 

Rachelle Olden, National Director, Roosevelt Institute | Pipeline

The Mis-Education of the Negro“No man knows what he can do until he tries.” This book emphasizes the instruction, research and writing of Black History. Though published in 1933, it still has meaning and direct implications for today's consideration. 

Too Poor for Pop Culture. This article is a creative and real look into the lives of real people affected by poverty and broken systems. The story highlights how communities take care of each other and see passed each other hardships and flaws. Pop culture serves no purpose in their lives but is rather a privilege that others enjoy.

Taylor Jo Isenberg, Vice President of Networks, Roosevelt Institute

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Provides insightful and challenging perspectives on race in America from an "outsider" viewpoint along with a powerful and entertaining narrative on love, place, and identity. 

Blood Done Sign My Name by Timothy Tyson. A deeply stirring and troubling story about a small town in 1970s North Carolina that experienced a belated Civil Rights Movement forged by murder, upheaval, and a painful history. 

Rachel Goldfarb, Communications Associate, Roosevelt Institute

"Whitewashing Reproductive Rights: How Black Activists Get Erased." Renee Bracy Sherman’s article calls out the ways that black support of abortion has been erased over the years, pointing out how reproductive freedom and reproductive justice have been key elements of revolutionary politics from slavery to today. 

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In Campus Network’s Summer Academy, Students Learn What Good Work Really Looks Like

Feb 20, 2014Jeffrey RainesJoe Swanson

Jeff Raines and Joe Swanson participated in the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network’s Summer Academy program in DC in 2011 and NYC in 2012 respectively. They reflect on why they chose Summer Academy, and how it’s helped to shape their college experiences and career goals.

Jeff Raines and Joe Swanson participated in the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network’s Summer Academy program in DC in 2011 and NYC in 2012 respectively. They reflect on why they chose Summer Academy, and how it’s helped to shape their college experiences and career goals.

Jeff: I wanted to spend my first summer internship doing something meaningful. And going to school in DC, I knew there were a lot of options, but not as many real opportunities. After all the hype I heard from older members of the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network, I applied to the Summer Academy because I thought the program would give me more than coffee runs and copy machines all summer. And it did.

I worked in the DC office of the Roosevelt Institute in the summer of 2011 and spent my nine weeks doing work that directly contributed to the success of the organization’s efforts. I helped coordinate a 100+ leadership summit for Campus Network members and other progressive student leaders, ensuring that had a place to sleep, food to eat, and so on. Anyone familiar with conference planning knows this isn’t a walk in the park, but that’s the point. Whether interns were placed within the Roosevelt Institute or at another participating organization, there were always projects that required real work from the interns. Progressive organizations know that competency and ability don’t come with age. They give Summer Academy interns real responsibility because they want us to have something more solid to say about our experiences. They want us to be able to say we contributed: that we did something.

Jeff Raines, left, and Joe Swanson, right, at the Hyde Park Leadership Summit in August 2013And while there is nothing wrong with occasionally making a coffee run, I don’t think I was ever asked to do so. And I never did find out where that copy machine was. 

The Summer Academy was an environment for me to learn and shine, and the experience has taught me that I must continue to seek out comparable opportunities the rest of my college career. After Summer Academy, why would I accept anything less?

Joe: Like Jeff, I knew that I wanted to do good work and fight the good fight in my first summer internship. My imagination carried me to the inner hallways of the Capitol building, where I would be meeting with staffers and challenging senators. This dream quickly disappeared as I heard my friends recount their internship experiences of monotonous administrative tasks such as picking up phones and filing paperwork. I honestly believed that I would need to reel in my expectations – but then I heard about the Campus Network Summer Academy Fellowship. 

I was accepted to Roosevelt's program in New York City and succeeded Jeff's role in the Campus Network office. I had many of the same responsibilities in the office, including full ownership of the logistical coordination behind Roosevelt's national leadership summit. That was a crash-course in the necessary functions of non-profit organizations. However, the biggest impact the Summer Academy had on me was the day-to-day experiences I shared with other fellows and Roosevelt staff. 

Every Summer Academy Fellow was given the task of writing weekly op-eds and a final policy paper. That meant we spent all day talking about policy, and I was in an office environment that made the use of the word "office" seem wildly inaccurate. The place was basically Disneyland to me. I had to be told to "go home," because my brief question about our perception of citizenship would spark an electric conversation that would last until four in the morning. Roosevelt staff made me feel like a colleague rather than a bottom-rung employee and the Summer Academy Fellows felt like my brothers and sisters both in and out of the office. In the end, the Summer Academy changed my life. Not only do I keep in contact with the amazing people I met, but I have come to love the work we did together. The Fellowship set a foundation, which has fueled my desire to seek a permanent place among those who fight to build a more just world just as I did in New York.

The Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network is accepting applications for the 2014 Summer Academy Fellowship through Tuesday, February 25. For more information about the program and to apply, click here.

Jeff Raines is the Chair of the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network Student Board of Advisors and a senior at American University.

Joe Swanson is the Policy Coordinator for the Southern Region of the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network and a senior at Wake Forest University.

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Daily Digest - February 11: Raising Wages from Coast to Coast

Feb 11, 2014Rachel Goldfarb

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The Minimum Wage Fight: From San Francisco to de Blasio’s New York (Reuters)

Mayor de Blasio and others should learn from San Francisco's example when it comes to lifting standards for low-wage workers, write Ken Jacobs and Michael Reich.

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The Minimum Wage Fight: From San Francisco to de Blasio’s New York (Reuters)

Mayor de Blasio and others should learn from San Francisco's example when it comes to lifting standards for low-wage workers, write Ken Jacobs and Michael Reich.

Horrible Bosses (TAP)

Paul Waldman writes that some employers are blaming the President and his health care policies for benefit cuts and stagnant wages. But workers should know: their bosses are lying.

Labor Battle at Kellogg Plant in Memphis Drags On (NYT)

As the lockout approaches four months, Steven Greenhouse says these workers are determined not to accept a contract that could replace them all with "casuals," or lower-paid temps.

New York AG To Put Heat On Banks for Foreclosed Properties (WSJ)

Eric Schneiderman wants to require banks to take better care of so-called "zombie properties" they've foreclosed on, reports Andrew R. Johnson, and his proposed bill would reduce neighborhood blight.

Obama's Partly to Blame for the Postal Service's Backward Ways (TNR)

Progressive reform, including postal banking, is in reach for the USPS, says David Dayen, if only the president would step up and fill the five empty seats on its Board of Governors.

Support the Student Loan Borrower Bill of Rights (Blog of the Century)

Jill Silos-Rooney says Senator Warren's proposal bets that college grads who have fewer struggles with debt will be better for the economy than government profits on student loans.

House GOP Rolls Dice on Debt Limit (Politico)

Jake Sherman and Ginger Gibson report on the GOP's plan to pass a debt ceiling increase by tying it to fixing military benefit cuts. That probably won't sway Democrats from a clean bill.

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Daily Digest - February 10: When the Personal Becomes Political

Feb 10, 2014Rachel Goldfarb

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Turning Personal Tragedy Into Activism (Melissa Harris-Perry)

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Turning Personal Tragedy Into Activism (Melissa Harris-Perry)

Roosevelt Institute Fellow Dorian Warren discusses how tragedies like the deaths of Trayvon Martin and Jordan Davis have pushed so many to take part in activism. He uses the public pressure to cancel George Zimmerman's celebrity boxing match as a prime example.

Sex Workers' Rights are Just Workers Rights (WaPo)

Roosevelt Institute Fellow Mike Konczal considers the policy arguments on sex work presented in Melissa Gira Grant's new book, Playing the Whore. He sees the need to conceptualize sex work as labor as the most important takeaway, regardless of individual opinions on that labor.

Liberals Should Question Obama’s ‘Opportunity Agenda’ (AJAM)

Mike Konczal argues that shifting the discussion from inequality to opportunity could leave out key items on the progressive agenda. If opportunity isn't defined beyond legal equality of opportunity, or if acceptable policy outcomes aren't made clear, the progressive agenda won't advance.

The Case for a Higher Minimum Wage (NYT)

The New York Times editorial board calls for an increased minimum wage, emphasizing its purpose in reducing power imbalances between workers and employers. The accompanying interactive graphic from Jeremy Ashkenas and Bill Marsh shows the insufficiency of $7.25 per hour.

January Jobs Report: Hard to Read (MoJo)

Erika Eichelberger says that the jobs report released on Friday is hard to interpret. Unemployment is at its lowest point in five years, and the labor force participation rate increased slightly, but that could change without an extension of unemployment benefits from Congress.

The Spectacular Myth of Obama's Part-Time America—in 5 Graphs (The Atlantic)

Derek Thompson pulls data on part-time job growth, part-time workers as a share of the labor force, and part-time work for non-economic reasons to demonstrate just how wrong certain slices of the financial media are when they insist that the president is creating a part-time economy.

Obamacare: It's a Net Gain for the Economy (LA Times)

Jonathan Gruber writes that the Congressional Budget Office report shows that the Affordable Care Act in fact creates a more efficient job market in the U.S., by allowing people leave jobs when they want to and increasing job mobility.

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Daily Digest - February 7: Why America Keeps Falling Behind

Feb 7, 2014Rachel Goldfarb

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When It Comes To High-Speed Internet, U.S. 'Falling Way Behind' (Fresh Air)

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When It Comes To High-Speed Internet, U.S. 'Falling Way Behind' (Fresh Air)

Dave Davies interviews Roosevelt Institute Fellow Susan Crawford, who discusses why net neutrality is so important and how the FCC can preserve it. They also talk about the Internet infrastructure in the U.S., which needs improvements to compete globally.

Cities at Work: Progressive Local Policies to Rebuild the Middle Class (CAP)

Joel Rogers and Satya Rhodes-Conway introduce their new report on why local governments are best suited to strengthen the middle class. They point to cities' wealth, sustainability, and democratic values and organization as key reasons.

  • Roosevelt Take: Roosevelt Institute Associate Director of Networked Initiatives Alan Smith discusses the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network's "Rethinking Communities" initiative, which is similarly focused on local economic development.

Skating Close to the Edge, Again, on the Debt Ceiling (NYT)

Annie Lowrey writes about global fatigue over the U.S. debt ceiling stand-offs, with everyone from Democrats in Congress to international financial managers expressing exhaustion with the tactic. She says the damage to the country's financial reputation is done, no matter the outcome this time.

Obamacare Cures 'Job Lock' (USA Today)

Theda Skocpol and Katherine Swartz praise the end of 'job lock,' when workers are reluctant to leave jobs because they need the employer-sponsored health insurance. Freeing those workers is going to encourage innovation and entrepreneurship.

Senate Still at Odds Over Whether to Extend Unemployment Benefits for Long-Term Jobless (WaPo)

Paul Kane reports that Senate Democrats again failed to pass an extension of long-term unemployment benefits, falling just one vote shy of the supermajority needed to break a filibuster. Of course, he notes, House Republicans have shown no interest in taking up this issue anyway.

The Shame of America's Long-Term Unemployment Crisis (The Atlantic)

Derek Thompson says that Washington is failing on long-term unemployment, which is a serious crisis for the U.S. job market. There could be ways to incentivize hiring the long-term unemployed, but that would require the GOP to care about this problem.

New on Next New Deal

A CBO Report Shows How Obamacare Will Help the Working Poor

Roosevelt Institute Senior Fellow and Director of the Bernard L. Schwartz Rediscovering Government Initiative Jeff Madrick writes that the money that low-income families won't have to spend on health insurance, thanks to Medicaid expansion and insurance subsidies, will boost the economy when it's spent elsewhere.

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Obama and the GOP Present Two Very Different Paths to Opportunity for All

Feb 3, 2014Richard Kirsch

Both the 2014 State of the Union and the Republican response emphasized the need for an opportunity society, but only the president called for collective action.

Both the 2014 State of the Union and the Republican response emphasized the need for an opportunity society, but only the president called for collective action.

Midway through listening to Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers’ Republican response to the State of the Union address last week, a colleague of mine e-mailed, “they got & used the economic narrative talking points to write this.” My friend was referring to the progressive economic narrative (PEN), developed to provide progressives with a powerful, clear story about the economy and the role of people, government, and business.

In fact, there are powerful similarities in the story of the American Dream that both Obama and Republicans express, particularly as Republicans increasingly see that they must speak to Americans who are being pushed out of the middle class and struggling to stay out of poverty. That convergence is not by itself bad. It is an opportunity to draw attention to the huge chasm that exists between the two narratives, a Republican story based solely on the individual and a Democratic one that sees the individual in relation to collective action.

Perhaps this is the line by McMorris Rodgers that triggered my colleague’s ire: “Last month, more Americans stopped looking for a job than found one. Too many people are falling further and further behind.” After all, one line from PEN is “Too many Americans can’t find a job and too many jobs pay wages that don’t support a family.”

It is not a surprise that Republicans have been embracing part of the progressive story – that the middle class is getting crushed – because that is how most Americans are feeling, and pollsters for both parties are emphasizing that politicians must speak to where people are now to have any credibility.

The similarities go beyond just relating to economic insecurity. Both Obama and McMorris Rodgers have the same vision of the American Dream, an opportunity society in which people are, as McMorris Rodgers said, “not defined by our limits, but by our potential.” Or, as the president put it, “our success should depend on… the strength of our work ethic and the scope of our dreams.”

The heroes in both stories are hardworking Americans. Obama: “the notion that if you work hard and take responsibility you get ahead.” McMorris Rodgers: “They taught me to work hard, help others, and always, always, dream for more.”

A job is how our hero achieves his or her dream. McMorris Rodgers says, “a job is so much more than a paycheck – it gives us purpose, dignity…” The president asks that “we do more to make sure our economy honors the dignity of work…”

The underlying value in both stories is opportunity. McMorris Rodgers anticipates that Obama will focus his speech on inequality and tries to cut him off at the rhetorical pass: “The president talks a lot about income inequality. But the real gap we face today is one of opportunity inequality.”

But Obama was not, in fact, giving a speech about inequality. He too was focused on opportunity, as Benjamin Landy bemoaned. “Instead of inequality, the President talked about ‘opportunity,’ a poll-tested alternative Obama deployed 14 times during the 65 minute speech. ‘Inequality’ was mentioned three times.”

Saying that “opportunity for all” is “what unites the people of this nation,” Obama declared, “Opportunity is who we are. And the defining project of our generation is to restore that promise.”

It is on the question of how we achieve the quest for opportunity for all that the president and McMorris Rodgers profoundly differ, where opposite visions of how we achieve the American Dream are projected. And remember that McMorris Rodgers’s speech is entirely a representation of Republican messaging

According to McMorris Rodgers, you get there by yourself, with the help of your family. Her talk, as those of you who had the patience to listen through it will remember, was all about herself and her family: the work and savings ethics taught by her parents in a rural small town in Eastern Washington, her raising of her son born with Down syndrome.

And that, in her political narrative, is how we address the challenge facing the country, “one manufacturing job, nursing degree, and small business at a time.” Her talk barely bothers with policy directives, but those few that appear are based on the individual.

The most robust policy paragraph in her talk is, “We have plans to improve our education and training systems so you have the choice to determine where your kids go to college is affordable...and skills training is modernized.” When it comes to health care, “Republicans believe health care choices should be yours, not government. [emphasis added]”

As far as how to get Americans those jobs, Republicans have “plans that focus on jobs first, without more spending, government bailouts, and red tape.… We have solutions to help you take home more of your pay – through lower taxes, cheaper energy costs, and affordable health care.”

The villain is unmistakable in her story: “Government that decides for you.”

But while the president’s heroes are individual hard-working Americans, he makes it clear that we build the pathway to opportunity for all through collective action. The word “community” appears 13 times in Obama’s speech; not once in McMorris Rodgers. The president uses “us” referring to the nation, 17 times; McMorris Rodgers, four times.

The substance of Obama’s policy solutions are replete with concerted actions, and the entire premise that we do something together, through our government, is the exact opposite of the Republican story of getting the government out of the way.

The stories he tells unite the individual and the community. For example, a student who, “thanks to the support of great teachers and an innovative tutoring program, he led a march of his classmates – through a crowd of cheering parents and neighbors – from their high school to the post office, where they mailed off their college applications.”

Summing it all up – the heroes, the quest, the role of individual and the community, Obama says, “It’s the spirit of citizenship, the recognition that through hard work and responsibility, we can pursue our individual dreams, but still come together as one American family to make sure the next generation can pursue its dreams as well.”

The narratives in President Obama and McMorris Rodgers’ responses are more than just a minor part of the evening’s political theater. They speak to the fundamental ideological divide in the nation and frame the political choices before the country now and over the coming decade. In the starkest terms, it is a contrast between “you are on your own” and “we are all in this together.” We want to tell our story in those terms, for when we do, progressives absolutely win that debate.  

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.


Images via Thinkstock

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Daily Digest - January 31: Out of Economic Chaos Come Executive Orders

Jan 31, 2014Rachel Goldfarb

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The President and Inequality (All In with Chris Hayes)

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The President and Inequality (All In with Chris Hayes)

Roosevelt Institute Senior Fellow and Chief Economist Joseph Stiglitz discusses the place of inequality in this week's State of the Union address, and the deeper question of why we don't implement the economic policies that would absolutely make a difference.

A History of Executive Orders (All In with Chris Hayes)

Roosevelt Institute Fellow Dorian Warren talks about the similarities between President Obama's plans for executive orders, as announced in the State of the Union, and President Franklin D. Roosevelt's use of the executive order, which also pushed for progressive labor policy.

Obama’s Toughest Job (NYRB)

Roosevelt Institute Senior Fellow and Director of the Bernard L. Schwartz Rediscovering Government Initiative Jeff Madrick comments on the State of the Union, complimenting the president for making jobs a central focus despite the challenges of that issue.

The Post Office Should Just Become a Bank (TNR)

David Dayen argues that there's one policy the president could push through that would contribute to many of the goals he articulated in the State of the Union: postal banking, which would create jobs, help the poor, and could be accomplished through executive order.

Why Alt-Labor Groups Are Making Employers Mighty Nervous (TAP)

Lane Windham says that for all that anti-union groups want to tout low union membership numbers, labor isn't going anywhere. Alternative labor groups are growing and gaining power, as the growing discussion about raising the minimum wage makes clear.

GOTD: Inequality Is Not A Four Letter Word (Blog of the Century)

Benjamin Landy contrasts Tuesday's State of the Union with the president's December 4 speech at the Center for American Progress. His shift from "inequality" to "opportunity" is clearly a political one, since he still endorsed progressive policies, but why the centrist rhetoric?

New on Next New Deal

The Rise of 'Insourcing' Gives Internet Companies a New Way to Exploit Workers

Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network National Operations Strategist Lydia Bowers cautions that while Internet-based service companies like Uber and Taskrabbit may make life easy for their customers, they don't give their workers any real protections.

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Republican Alternative to Obamacare: Pay More, Get Less, Put the Insurance Companies Back in Charge

Jan 28, 2014Richard Kirsch

Now that Republicans have put out an alternative to the Affordable Care Act, Democrats should emphasize what a repeal would really mean for Americans' health.

Now that Republicans have put out an alternative to the Affordable Care Act, Democrats should emphasize what a repeal would really mean for Americans' health.

Boy, can Democrats have fun with the new Republican alternative to Obamacare. It puts the health insurance companies back in charge and raises costs for almost all Americans. In particular, it substantially raises costs and threatens to cut coverage for the half of all Americans who get health insurance at work. Seniors, the group that Republicans have scared witless about Obamacare, would lose the real benefits they receive under Obamacare. The proposal from three Republican senators is a golden opportunity for Democrats to contrast the specific benefits of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) with what a repeal and replace agenda would really mean for Americans’ lives and health.

When it comes to the politics of health care reform, my first adage is “the solution is the problem.” That is because once you get past vague generalities, like lowering cost and making coverage available, to proposing specifics, people will look to see how the proposals impact them personally. This is why health reform is such a political nightmare. Unlike most public policy issues, the impact is very understandable and real.

With the ACA as the law of the land, in analyzing the Republican proposal we must compare its impact to the law it would repeal. The pre-ACA model of health insurance is irrelevant. Here is how the Republican plan would impact people, compared with the ACA:

People who get health insurance at workbottom line: pay more for worse coverage.

Almost half of all Americans (48 percent), or 148 million people, obtain health insurance at work. The Republican plan would tax 35 percent of the average cost of health insurance benefits at work. This is a big tax increase on working people and is extraordinarily unpopular, as the Obama campaign used to devastating impact on John McCain. And while people would pay more, they would get less coverage, as the GOP plan would allow insurance companies to once again limit the amount of benefits they will pay out in one year and return to the day when employers could offer bare-bones plans.

While taxing health benefits would apply to all employer-provided coverage, the Republicans would give the 30 percent of people who work for businesses who employ fewer than 100 workers a tax credit. That might balance out the increased taxes for some people. However, doing so would create a huge set of economic distortions, as employers might seek to keep firm size under the 100-employee threshold.

Individuals who buy coverage on their own or who are uninsured – bottom line: insurance companies could again deny coverage for pre-existing conditions and offer bare-bones coverage, while the cost of decent coverage would go up for most people.

This is the group that the ACA is most aimed at helping, including the 5 percent of Americans who buy private health insurance and the 15 percent who are uninsured, totaling 64 million people. The ACA offers income-based subsidies to these people when they earn between 100 percent and 400 percent of the federal poverty level (FPL) and enrolls people under 133 percent of FPL in Medicaid, when states agree.

The Republican plan is toughest, in comparison with the ACA, on the lowest income people and on the higher-income middle-class, compared with Obamacare. But many families in between will do worse too.

The Republican plan would wipe out the expansion of Medicaid to people earning less than 133 percent of FPL, a provision the Supreme Court has made optional. It would cut back on Medicaid, ending the federal government’s offer to pay 90 percent of the cost of expanded coverage and replacing that with the federal government paying what it has paid historically, which is between half and three-quarters of the cost of Medicaid, with poorer states getting a bigger share. Crucially, the funding would only be for pregnant women, children and parents with dependent children who earn under the poverty level, as opposed to the ACAs funding of all adults up to 133% of FPL. That means many fewer people covered and states getting less Medicaid money. Republican governors may not complain, but you can bet hospitals will. Adults without dependent children would not be covered by federal Medicaid, which means millions will stay uninsured or lose coverage they now have, unless states pay for coverage without federal support.

For individuals not covered by Medicaid or employees of firms with fewer than 100 workers, the Republican plan would replace the ACA’s sliding-scale subsidies, which now go to 400 percent of FPL, with a subsidy that is the same for everyone of the same age who is under 200 percent of FPL and lowersubsidies for people from 200 percent to 300 percent. In addition, the subsidies would be higher for older people than younger. The Republican plan also would take away the requirements that insurance plans offer decent benefits and free preventive care and charge women the same prices as men for coverage, along with every other consumer protection, with the exception of keeping in place no lifetime caps for covered benefits.

Comparing the value of the Republican plan subsidies vs. the ACA subsidies for the people who would still qualify depends on income, age, and family size. Generally, it appears that the Republican subsidies are much less than the ACA for people under 150 percent of the FPL ($35,000 for a family of four) and much less than the ACA for younger people, but more for older people. However, insurance rates for younger people would go down some at the expense of older people, who insurance companies could charge a lot more than under ACA. And families with incomes above $70,000 for a family of four would lose subsidies entirely.

Seniors and the disabled on Medicare – bottom line: seniors would pay more for prescription drugs and preventive care.

By repealing the ACA, the Republican plan would take away its two concrete benefits for seniors. One is that preventive care services are now free under Medicare (as they are under all insurance). The other is that the ACA is lowering drug prices for seniors by slowly closing the “donut hole,” under which seniors must pay the full cost of prescription drugs even though they are paying premiums for drug coverage. In other words, the Republican plan is simply bad news for seniors, the constituency that they have scared the most about Obamacare groundlessly.


It is not surprising that Republicans have been reluctant to come up with a replacement for Obamacare. It’s much easier to throw darts – or bombs – at the ACA than to come up with a replacement that meets Republican ideological tenants of less regulation and less government. Any plan that meets the ideological test will be much worse for people in ways they can understand. It is our job to explain it to the public clearly: pay more, get less, put the insurance companies back in charge. This debate is not simply the political game Republicans want to make it. It is about our health and our lives. 

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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41 Years After Roe, Women's Rights Are Still at Risk

Jan 24, 2014Andrea Flynn

As we mark the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, we should acknowledge the right's battle to eliminate a woman's right to choose as well as the proactive measures coming from the pro-choice movement.

As we mark the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, we should acknowledge the right's battle to eliminate a woman's right to choose as well as the proactive measures coming from the pro-choice movement.

This week marks the 41st anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the landmark Supreme Court decision that established women have a constitutional right to an abortion. While the status of American women has, by many counts, improved greatly in the years since, our ability to make choices about our bodies – a fundamental condition of our overall physical, social, and economic well-being – has recently eroded. For many women in the United States today, access to a safe and legal abortion is as far out of reach as it was 41 years ago.

During the past three years, conservative lawmakers in many states have imposed transformative restrictions on access to reproductive health care generally, and on abortion specifically. As the Guttmacher Institute recently reported, 205 abortion restrictions were enacted in the past three years, while 189 were passed during the entire previous decade (2001–2010). In 2013 alone, 70 anti-choice measures took effect in 22 states.

North Dakota and Texas banned abortions after 20 weeks. South Dakota passed a law that mandates a 72-hour waiting period, exempting holidays and weekends, forcing some women to wait up to six days before receiving the procedure (the 72 hours, plus a three-day holiday weekend). Iowa now requires the governor to personally approve each payment to a hospital or clinic that provides an abortion to a Medicaid patient. Arizona passed a ban on abortions after 12 weeks (which was recently overturned by the Supreme Court). In a case currently being considered by the Supreme Court, clinics in Massachusetts risk losing their ability to institute buffer zones necessary to protect the safety of their patients.

As NARAL Pro-Choice America recently detailed, laws in other states have restricted funding for Planned Parenthood, prohibited abortion coverage in the Affordable Care Act’s health exchanges, imposed mandatory and medically unnecessary ultrasounds, and required physicians to jump through countless – and often impossible – hoops in order to perform the procedure. Some of these laws have been overturned, but many remain in place and effectively prevent women, particularly poor women, from accessing care.

Republicans lost the votes of single women by a decisive 36 points – and women overall by 12 points – in the last presidential election. Losing a key voting block by such a wide margin would be reason for some politicians to consider changing course. Not the GOP. In their post-election autopsy, Republican strategists themselves sounded an alarm and advised their ranks to change course – to lighten up on matters of choice and instead remind voters of the “Republican Party’s historical role in advancing the women’s rights movement.” Instead of listening to women, Republican lawmakers remain intent on punishing them.

As my colleague Tara Culp-Ressler of Think Progress wrote, Republicans have seized on abortion with a renewed zeal and will continue to advance their anti-choice platform in the months and years to come. At the RNC annual meeting this week – which conveniently overlapped with the annual anti-abortion March for Life – party leaders introduced a resolution encouraging lawmakers to push for a host of additional abortion restrictions, including parental notification laws, late-term abortion bans, and mandatory waiting periods. As Zoe Carpenter of The Nation pointed out, Republicans will use re-invigorated anti-choice messaging – delivered by female candidates – to excite their conservative base in the mid-term elections. They remain confident that further restrictions are palatable to voters and will use them, in addition to stale (and weak) arguments about taxpayer funding for abortion, to attempt to sway undecided voters.

State legislatures and local governments are thus seen as fertile ground for waging assaults on women’s health. But contrary to Republican expectations, this year those same sites could be promising frontiers for advancing policies that protect and advance women’s health and rights instead of restricting them.

Even as heartland states delivered setbacks for women in 2013, important victories emerged out of progressive states. California enacted a law, for example, that allows nurse practitioners, certified nurse-midwives, and physician assistants to provide early abortion services. Lawmakers in San Francisco, Austin, and Baltimore passed laws that hold Crisis Pregnancy Centers (CPCs) accountable for false and misleading practices and require them to clearly indicate the limited nature of their services. Portland, ME instituted a buffer zone policy around abortion providers, and Dane County, WI now requires all county contractors to provide comprehensive health care information, preventing CPCs from receiving funding if they mislead their patients. We must dedicate our energy and efforts to replicating these successes across the country.

Even as we celebrate gains in progressive states, we must continue to make our voices heard nationally. In November, a group of Democratic members of Congress introduced the Women’s Health Protection Act, which would, if passed, keep states from further restricting access to abortion and preventing physicians from acting in the best interests of their patients. While the bill has little chance of being passed in a Republican-controlled House, it provides an important model for national legislation that could protect a woman’s right to choose if partisan alignments shift.

On this anniversary of Roe v. Wade, most especially, let’s remember the heavy toll women pay when abortion is unsafe and illegal. Let’s remember that many women will lose that right all together unless we step forward and take action. We must strengthen alliances of pro-choice lawmakers across the nation, provide them with case studies of what has worked in other cities and states, and muster up more financial resources and political will to proactively protect women’s right to choose. 

Andrea Flynn is a Fellow at the Roosevelt Institute. She researches and writes about access to reproductive health care in the United States. You can follow her on Twitter @dreaflynn.

Photo via ThinkStock.

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The Right Takes Aim at Public Sector Unions in a New Supreme Court Case

Jan 23, 2014Richard Kirsch

A dispute over whether home care workers in Illinois can be required to pay union dues is part of a much larger strategy to undermine the progressive power base.

A dispute over whether home care workers in Illinois can be required to pay union dues is part of a much larger strategy to undermine the progressive power base.

You have to hand it to the right wing: it understands the importance of institutional power more than much of the liberal establishment. It took down ACORN, the organization that registered the most low-income voters of color in the nation, and Democrats in Congress and many big liberal foundations went along with it. Its relentless, decades-long campaign against the labor law that protects private sector organizing has slashed the share of unionized private sector workers to less than 7 percent, while a succession of Democrats in the White House and Congress have stood by.

Since 2010, the right has been focusing its attacks on public sector workers, one-fourth of whom are represented by unions with collective-bargaining rights. It has aimed to weaken bargaining rights in Midwestern states with long histories of union representation and has had (too) much success. This week, it brought that fight to the Supreme Court, in a case that could destroy the financial base of the biggest remaining source of support for government and vital domestic services.

The case is Harris v. Quinn, in which a group of home care workers in Illinois is challenging the state's requirement that the workers pay union dues. The workers are employed by individual patients but are funded by Medicaid. Having unions, in this case SEIU, represent home care workers is part of an admirable strategy of extending collective bargaining to workers who are publicly funded even if they do not work directly for the government. Since federal law does not provide collective bargaining rights to either public employees or domestic home care workers, using state law to organize these workers, who typically get low pay with no benefits, is vitally important to their own well-being and to building a middle-class driven economy.

However, the debate among the Supreme Court justices yesterday did not focus on the narrow question of whether Illinois Governor Rob Blagojevich had the power to categorize the home care workers as public employees. Instead, the justices debated whether, because issues of wages and benefits for public employees are inevitably and intrinsically matters of public policy, compelling workers to pay union dues would be an infringement on free speech and association.

The Illinois workers are represented by the National Right to Work Foundation, whose attorney, William Messenger, was eager to expand the case, which suggests it was developed as a political weapon, not a true complaint by a handful of workers about paying dues. Messenger argued, as Lyle Denniston explains at SCOTUSblog, that “anything a public employee union does is an attempt to shape matters of ‘public concern,’ and it should not be able to compel support — even for part of the monthly dues — from workers who oppose the union’s public policy ambitions.”

Just so nobody missed the ideological stakes at the heart of this legal argument, Justice Anthony Kennedy argued that workers who favor shrinking the size of government would have their First Amendment rights trampled if the union argued to expand the workforce. The same logic would apply to the union defending the current size of the workforce or how much workers get paid.

Logically, it is impossible for a public sector union to represent its members’ interest in keeping their jobs or in how much they get paid without affecting public policy. This point was made by SEIU’s attorney Paul Smith, who said, “Any outcome of a negotiation of a collective bargaining agreement involving public employees will involve the expenditure of public money in a variety of ways.”

Of course, public employee unions' interest in defending their members is why those unions support increased taxes and funding of government programs. The union positions are not always progressive. Unions sometimes support regressive tax increases. Sometimes AFSCME, which represents corrections officers, lobbies for stricter sentencing or against closing of prisons. But on the whole, in advocating for their members, public employee unions support maintaining and expanding public services, oppose privatization, and are a major source of organizing, funding, and lobbying for those policies and an absolutely vital part of the progressive infrastructure. Hence they are a big target for the right.

When these issues have been debated in the past, the Supreme Court has recognized the legitimacy of required union dues for public employees while insisting that political contributions be voluntary. As Adam Liptak explains in the New York Times, “In 1977, in Abood v. Detroit Board of Education, the Supreme Court said that teachers who declined to join a union could nevertheless be required to help pay for the union’s collective bargaining efforts to prevent freeloading and ensure ‘labor peace.’ But workers may not be forced to help pay for a union’s purely political activities, the court said.”

That argument may explain why Solicitor General Donald B. Verrilli Jr. agreed that advocating for increased Medicaid reimbursement would not be by itself a permissible union activity, but argued that the state’s interest in designating a union to maintain labor peace was the determining factor in supporting the mandatory dues. Verilli’s argument may be a good one before this Court, but it defies logic and avoids the real issue of the interwoven nature of public policy and public worker bargaining. The Court should recognize that the effective right of association in public employee unions depends on the unions engaging in public policy to improve their members’ working conditions.

The Supreme Court reporters whom I read all agreed that the Court is unlikely to overturn Abood and outlaw mandatory dues by public employees, with one pointing out that the Court affirmed that position in 2007 in an opinion written by Justice Scalia. There is some reason to think that Chief Justice Roberts could avoid the issue by narrowing the ruling to the question of whether Illinois can designate the home care workers as public employees.

However, a decision to overturn mandatory dues collection by public employees would be a body blow to Americans who believe in establishing collective responsibility for common goods by raising taxes and spending public dollars on government. 

Public employee unions, and unions that are working to develop new ways to represent workers in the private sector who are paid with public dollars, are a leading force for creating opportunity and security in an America that works for all of us. They will continue to be a target of the right. Progressives at every level must support them and work to expand, not restrict, their reach.

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.


Image via Thinkstock

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