What Kind of Problem is the ACA Rollout for Liberalism?

Oct 23, 2013Mike Konczal

“This massive IT launch sure came in on time, under budget, and without headaches” is a statement that nobody has ever said. But even controlling for that, Healthcare.gov looks to be having a disastrous launch.

People are naturally asking about the practical and political implications of this disaster. Is it a problem for the Affordable Care Act as a whole, with its mixture of individual mandates and risk-pooling? Is it a political disaster for President Obama and the Democrats? Does this show us major problems in the way that government procures its contractors?

These are important questions, but some are asking a bigger one: is this a problem for liberalism as a political governance project? Does this rollout failure discredit the core goals of a liberal project, including that of a mixed economy, a regulatory state, and social insurance?

Conservatives in particular think this website has broad implications for liberalism as a philosophical and political project. I think it does, but for the exact opposite reasons: it highlights the problems inherent in the move to a neoliberal form of governance and social insurance, while demonstrating the superiorities in the older, New Deal form of liberalism. This point is floating out there, and it turns out to be a major problem for conservatives as well, so let's make it clear and explicit here.

So what has gone wrong? People are still trying to figure this out. There are the general problems of doing too much with too little time and resources and rolling out a big final product rather than smaller incremental pieces. These are things that, while problematic, don’t particularly have a political story to tell.

However, four bigger problems jump out.

The first has to do with means-testing the program. The biggest front-end problem is that users, before they can register, must “cross a busy digital junction in which data are swapped among separate computer systems built or run by contractors.”

Why is that? It is because the government needs to determine how much of a coupon it’ll write each person to go and buy private insurance. Beyond the philosophical components of means-testing (what the philosopher Jonathan Wolff calls “shameful revelations), the actual process requires substantial coordination between multiple government agencies with very different infrastructures.

As the GAO notes, “the data hub is to verify an applicant’s Social Security number with the Social Security Administration (SSA), and to access the data from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) that are needed to assess the applicant’s income, citizenship, and immigration status. The data hub is also expected to access information from the Veterans Health Administration (VHA), Department of Defense (DOD), Office of Personnel Management (OPM), and Peace Corps to enable exchanges to determine if an applicant is eligible for insurance coverage from other federal programs that would make them ineligible for income-based financial subsidies.”

Rather than just being an example of bureaucratic infighting, each of these pieces of information is necessary to determine how aggressively the government should subsidize the private insurance individuals will buy, and the entire process will stall and fall apart if one of these checks isn’t completed quickly.

This by itself might not be a problem; however, the second issue is that the means-testing is necessary to link individuals up with individual private insurers. As the Washington Post notes, the back-end problems are in part the result of the site being “designed to draw from the offerings of private insurers, each with their own computer systems, rates and offerings.” And though this may be getting better, a serious concern has been inaccurate data being transmitted to the insurance companies. Which is to say that the emphasis on creating a digital marketplace where individuals get means-tested and can then pick and choose among insurers requires syncing on both ends, which is a difficult process.

So what? A third issue, and a major reason this is freaking people out, is that the first two problems could introduce adverse selection, as only the most needy will wait, and wait, to take advantage of the programs. As Yuval Levin has emphasized, the “danger of a rapid adverse selection spiral is much more serious than they believed possible this summer.”

And the fourth and final issue is that the federal government has had to pick up so much slack from rebelling states that didn’t want to implement health care. The state-level exchanges that were actually implemented appear to be doing okay, or at least significantly better. But the general problem is that “More than 30 states refused to set up their own exchanges, requiring the federal government to vastly expand its project in unexpected ways.”

So this tells a story. Let’s refer to these features of social insurance, which are also playing a major role in the rollout problems, as “Category A.” Now, what would the opposite of this look like? Let’s define the opposite of this as “Category B” social insurance. And let's take these two categories and chart them out:

What we often refer to as Category A can be viewed as a “neoliberal” approach to social insurance, heavy on private provisioning and means-testing. This term often obscures more than it helps, but think of it as a plan for reworking the entire logic of government to simply act as an enabler to market activities, with perhaps some coordinated charity to individuals most in need.

This contrasts with the Category B grouping, which we associate with the New Deal and the Great Society. This approach creates a universal floor so that individuals don’t experience basic welfare goods as commodities to buy and sell themselves. This is a continuum rather than a hard line, of course, but readers will note that Social Security and Medicare are more in Category B category rather than Category A. My man Franklin Delano Roosevelt may not have known about JavaScript and agile programming, but he knew a few things about the public provisioning of social insurance, and he realized the second category, while conceptually more work for the government, can eliminate a lot of unnecessary administrative problems.

Some of the more cartoony conservatives argue that this is a failure of liberalism because it is a failure of government planning, evidently confusing the concept of economic “central planning” with “the government makes a plan to do something.”

However, the smarter conservatives who are thinking several moves ahead (e.g. Ross Douthat) understand that this failed rollout is a significant problem for conservatives. Because if all the problems are driven by means-testing, state-level decisions and privatization of social insurance, the fact that the core conservative plan for social insurance is focused like a laser beam on means-testing, block-granting and privatization is a rather large problem. As Ezra Klein notes, “Paul Ryan's health-care plan -- and his Medicare plan -- would also require the government to run online insurance marketplaces.” Additionally, the Medicaid expansion is working well where it is being implemented, and the ACA is perhaps even bending the cost curve of Medicare, the two paths forward that conservatives don’t want to take.

I’ll be discussing this more, but the choice between Category A and B above will characterize much of the political debate in the next decade. It’s important we get more sophisticated analysis of what has gone wrong with the ACA rollout to better appreciate how utilizing “the market” can be far more cumbersome and inefficient than the government just doing things itself.

Follow or contact the Rortybomb blog:

  

 

“This massive IT launch sure came in on time, under budget, and without headaches” is a statement that nobody has ever said. But even controlling for that, Healthcare.gov looks to be having a disastrous launch.

People are naturally asking about the practical and political implications of this disaster. Is it a problem for the Affordable Care Act as a whole, with its mixture of individual mandates and risk-pooling? Is it a political disaster for President Obama and the Democrats? Does this show us major problems in the way that government procures its contractors?

These are important questions, but some are asking a bigger one: is this a problem for liberalism as a political governance project? Does this rollout failure discredit the core goals of a liberal project, including that of a mixed economy, a regulatory state, and social insurance?

Conservatives in particular think this website has broad implications for liberalism as a philosophical and political project. I think it does, but for the exact opposite reasons: it highlights the problems inherent in the move to a neoliberal form of governance and social insurance, while demonstrating the superiorities in the older, New Deal form of liberalism. This point is floating out there, and it turns out to be a major problem for conservatives as well, so let's make it clear and explicit here.

So what has gone wrong? People are still trying to figure this out. There are the general problems of doing too much with too little time and resources and rolling out a big final product rather than smaller incremental pieces. These are things that, while problematic, don’t particularly have a political story to tell.

However, four bigger problems jump out.

The first has to do with means-testing the program. The biggest front-end problem is that users, before they can register, must “cross a busy digital junction in which data are swapped among separate computer systems built or run by contractors.”

Why is that? It is because the government needs to determine how much of a coupon it’ll write each person to go and buy private insurance. Beyond the philosophical components of means-testing (what the philosopher Jonathan Wolff calls “shameful revelations), the actual process requires substantial coordination between multiple government agencies with very different infrastructures.

As the GAO notes, “the data hub is to verify an applicant’s Social Security number with the Social Security Administration (SSA), and to access the data from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) that are needed to assess the applicant’s income, citizenship, and immigration status. The data hub is also expected to access information from the Veterans Health Administration (VHA), Department of Defense (DOD), Office of Personnel Management (OPM), and Peace Corps to enable exchanges to determine if an applicant is eligible for insurance coverage from other federal programs that would make them ineligible for income-based financial subsidies.”

Rather than just being an example of bureaucratic infighting, each of these pieces of information is necessary to determine how aggressively the government should subsidize the private insurance individuals will buy, and the entire process will stall and fall apart if one of these checks isn’t completed quickly.

This by itself might not be a problem; however, the second issue is that the means-testing is necessary to link individuals up with individual private insurers. As the Washington Post notes, the back-end problems are in part the result of the site being “designed to draw from the offerings of private insurers, each with their own computer systems, rates and offerings.” And though this may be getting better, a serious concern has been inaccurate data being transmitted to the insurance companies. Which is to say that the emphasis on creating a digital marketplace where individuals get means-tested and can then pick and choose among insurers requires syncing on both ends, which is a difficult process.

So what? A third issue, and a major reason this is freaking people out, is that the first two problems could introduce adverse selection, as only the most needy will wait, and wait, to take advantage of the programs. As Yuval Levin has emphasized, the “danger of a rapid adverse selection spiral is much more serious than they believed possible this summer.”

And the fourth and final issue is that the federal government has had to pick up so much slack from rebelling states that didn’t want to implement health care. The state-level exchanges that were actually implemented appear to be doing okay, or at least significantly better. But the general problem is that “More than 30 states refused to set up their own exchanges, requiring the federal government to vastly expand its project in unexpected ways.”

So this tells a story. Let’s refer to these features of social insurance, which are also playing a major role in the rollout problems, as “Category A.” Now, what would the opposite of this look like? Let’s define the opposite of this as “Category B” social insurance. And let's take these two categories and chart them out:

What we often refer to as Category A can be viewed as a “neoliberal” approach to social insurance, heavy on private provisioning and means-testing. This term often obscures more than it helps, but think of it as a plan for reworking the entire logic of government to simply act as an enabler to market activities, with perhaps some coordinated charity to individuals most in need.

This contrasts with the Category B grouping, which we associate with the New Deal and the Great Society. This approach creates a universal floor so that individuals don’t experience basic welfare goods as commodities to buy and sell themselves. This is a continuum rather than a hard line, of course, but readers will note that Social Security and Medicare are more in Category B category rather than Category A. My man Franklin Delano Roosevelt may not have known about JavaScript and agile programming, but he knew a few things about the public provisioning of social insurance, and he realized the second category, while conceptually more work for the government, can eliminate a lot of unnecessary administrative problems.

Some of the more cartoony conservatives argue that this is a failure of liberalism because it is a failure of government planning, evidently confusing the concept of economic “central planning” with “the government makes a plan to do something.”

However, the smarter conservatives who are thinking several moves ahead (e.g. Ross Douthat) understand that this failed rollout is a significant problem for conservatives. Because if all the problems are driven by means-testing, state-level decisions and privatization of social insurance, the fact that the core conservative plan for social insurance is focused like a laser beam on means-testing, block-granting and privatization is a rather large problem. As Ezra Klein notes, “Paul Ryan's health-care plan -- and his Medicare plan -- would also require the government to run online insurance marketplaces.” Additionally, the Medicaid expansion is working well where it is being implemented, and the ACA is perhaps even bending the cost curve of Medicare, the two paths forward that conservatives don’t want to take.

I’ll be discussing this more, but the choice between Category A and B above will characterize much of the political debate in the next decade. It’s important we get more sophisticated analysis of what has gone wrong with the ACA rollout to better appreciate how utilizing “the market” can be far more cumbersome and inefficient than the government just doing things itself.

Follow or contact the Rortybomb blog:

  

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Block a Grand Bargain with Bold Progressive Solutions to Social Security and Medicare

Oct 21, 2013Richard Kirsch

Going into the post-shutdown budget discussions, progressives should take the offensive with proposals that would fix problems with Social Security and Medicare without any cuts.

Going into the post-shutdown budget discussions, progressives should take the offensive with proposals that would fix problems with Social Security and Medicare without any cuts.

Republicans may not have succeeded in defunding the nations’ newest social insurance program, ObamaCare, but they now are aiming at the foundational programs, Social Security and Medicare. And this time, they’ll have the President on their side. It would be a mistake for progressives to assume that a grand budget bargain will fall apart once again, even if that remains likely. Instead, we need to turn the debate from cutting social insurance to strengthening both the finances and benefits of both big retiree programs. The best way to do that is by championing simple, bold solutions.

In his post shutdown press conference, President Obama repeated his call for changes in Social Security and Medicare. His 2014 budget included cuts to benefits for both.  That aligns him with House Speaker John Boehner, who called for savings in Social Security and Medicare during the shutdown battle. Senators from both parties have shown their willingness to support benefit cuts as part of a big budget deal.

Yes, it is likely that the next attempt to reach an overall budget deal will also collapse, as the last ones have, particularly in the beginning of an election year. The biggest barrier to a bad deal up to now has been Democratic insistence, repeated on the same day as the President’s press conference by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, that tax hikes – with revenue coming from big corporations and the wealthy –be part of the deal. But if Republicans were willing to close some corporate tax loopholes – which some of their tea party members see correctly as examples of crony capitalism – Democrats would be under tremendous pressure from the President and others in their party to go along.

Progressives must rely on more than saying “hands off Social Security and Medicare,” although that should remain central to our message. We need a strong offense, to go with that potent defense. By putting forward simple, broadly popular, progressive proposals that actually enhance benefits and add money to Social Security and Medicare, we enable Democratic allies in Congress to set the agenda and counter claims that they are not taking action to address the real solvency problems. And we also help set the agenda for the inevitable future deal to address both programs’ financing.

Here are two simple, popular, powerful proposals. On Social Security, make the richest 5% people pay into Social Security on all their earnings, just like 95% of workers now do. Use the new revenue to both boost Social Security benefits – which are too low – and extend the solvency of the Social Security Trust fund. On Medicare, slash the cost of prescription drug prices just like the Veterans Administration and all our global competitors do, saving hundreds of billions of dollars in the next decade.

The Social Security proposal has been introduced in both houses of Congress, with legislation by Senator Tom Harkin of Iowa (S.567) and Rep. Linda Sanchez of California (H.R.3118), which would boost benefits in two ways: changing the way benefits are calculated (designed to particularly help low-and-moderate income seniors) and changing the inflation adjuster Social Security uses to the CPI-E, which more accurately captures what seniors pay. This is exactly the opposite of the chained CPI proposed by President Obama, which undercounts what seniors typically purchase. The legislation raises the money to pay for the benefits and extends the Trust Fund by gradually removing the cap on earnings taxed by Social Security, which is $113,700 in 2013. Doing so would extend the period during which the Trust Fund has enough money to pay all benefits from 2033 to 2049.

Progressives have long talked about Medicare using its enormous purchasing power to get the same kind of low drug prices paid by the Veterans Administration or every other country on the globe. While estimates of the savings vary, they clearly would be substantial, tens of billions each year, much more than the cuts to Medicare included in the President’s budget. There are two bills in Congress that aim to do this, one sponsored by Vermont Rep. Peter Welch and Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar and the other introduced by Illinois Rep. Jan Schakowsky and Senator Dick Durbin. While neither is designed to get the maximum savings – a combination of the approaches taken in each is needed – either would work to make the point that we can strengthen Medicare by stopping the drug companies from ripping off the country.

But having legislation is really window dressing to the strategy here: offering bold, popular solutions that deal with both sides of the problems facing Social Security and Medicare: benefits that are too small for the retirement security of seniors and the shortfalls in financing of both programs. While elites want to focus on the “entitlement crisis,” the public is well aware of the financial pressures most seniors now face and the looming retirement crisis, and is adamantly opposed to cuts in both programs.

It is up to progressives, inside and outside of Congress, to seize the moment. It’s a simple message: instead of making painful cuts to Social Security and Medicare we can boost benefits for seniors and make sure that the programs are there for the long term by having millionaires pay into Social Security like everyone else and stopping drug companies from ripping off Americans. 

Driving this message will turn the grand bargain debate on its head, and will start setting the terms for progressive solutions when Congress does take action on both programs in the next few years. 

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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Watch Live: The 2013 Four Freedoms Awards in New York City

Oct 16, 2013
Tonight, the Roosevelt Institute will honor five incredible laureates whose work has carried on the legacy of Franklin D. Roosevelt. Click here to watch the livestream beginning at 6 p.m.

Tonight, the Roosevelt Institute will honor five incredible laureates whose work has carried on the legacy of Franklin D. Roosevelt. Presented in alternating years in the U.S. and the Netherlands, the 2013 Four Freedoms Awards mark the U.S. ceremony's return to New York City after many years in Hyde Park, NY. This year's laureates include poet, novelist, farmer, and activist Wendell Berry (Freedom Medal); economist and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman (Freedom of Speech and Expression); NETWORK director Sister Simone Campbell (Freedom of Worship); the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (Freedom from Want); and Violence Interrupter Ameena Matthews (Freedom from Fear). 

The free public ceremony will take place at St. James' Episcopal Church on 71st Street and Madison Avenue. If you're in the area and want to join us in person, you can click here to RSVP. If not, you can click here to watch the livestream beginning at 6 p.m.

For more on the 2013 Four Freedoms Awards, check out Roosevelt Institute Senior Fellow Richard Kirsch's Q&A with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers and Campus Network Senior Fellow Jacqueline Van de Velde's what Sister Simone's work tells us about religious values and progressivism.

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Sister Simone Campbell Shows Us Freedom of Worship is a Bipartisan Value

Oct 10, 2013Jacqueline Van de Velde
On Wednesday, October 16, the Roosevelt Institute will present the 2013 Franklin D. Roosevelt Four Freedoms Awards, honoring individuals and organizations whose work exemplifies FDR's vision of democracy. Click here to RSVP for the free public ceremony.

On Wednesday, October 16, the Roosevelt Institute will present the 2013 Franklin D. Roosevelt Four Freedoms Awards, honoring individuals and organizations whose work exemplifies FDR's vision of democracy. Click here to RSVP for the free public ceremony. Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network Senior Fellow Jacqueline Van de Velde weighs in on the significance of awarding Sister Simone Campbell the Freedom of Worship Medal and why religious values are bipartisan.

On January 6, 1941, Franklin Delano Roosevelt delivered the annual State of the Union address to Congress, in which he presented an argument for American involvement in World War II. In assisting Britain, Roosevelt claimed, America was fighting to protect universal freedoms, shared by all global citizens. Roosevelt identified four freedoms that America would protect: the freedom of speech, the freedom from want, the freedom from fear, and the freedom of worship.

Today, the Roosevelt Institute recognizes these freedoms as the foundation of its own policy work through the Four Freedoms Center as well as the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network and Pipeline, but it also honors the important work being done by others with the Franklin D. Roosevelt Four Freedoms Awards. Among this year’s impressive group of laureates, the most compelling to me is Sister Simone Campbell, the recipient of the Freedom of Worship Medal.

Sister Campbell and her work with NETWORK and Nuns on the Bus remind us that the religious beliefs that individuals hold, and that influence their policy decisions and preferences, don’t belong to one side of the aisle. These values can be translated across the political spectrum. Sister Campbell’s Catholic faith motivated her decision to drive around the county to organize individuals around opposition to Paul Ryan’s budget and around support for immigration reform. She delivered remarks at the Democratic National Convention. She was interviewed multiple times on The Colbert Report. And, at the core of what she is doing, her Catholic faith informs her progressive beliefs.

Talking about “freedom of worship” in an explicitly progressive space can cause some to recoil. Many people associate religion with a more conservative agenda and assume that working to protect it is incongruous with progressive ideals. Others assume it’s an issue of the past, something our forefathers had to care about, but something that’s been long resolved. But I would argue that the freedom of – and from – belief is just as relevant today as it was when President Roosevelt identified it a freedom important enough for America to fight a terrible war to ensure its protection.

As teaching assistant for the Roosevelt Scholars class at the University of Georgia, I believe it’s important for my students to create policies that are founded on data. However, after they propose topics for research, we pause and take time to identify the values underlying their choices. The lesson that I want my students to learn is that no matter how much we attempt to separate ourselves from the policies that we are suggesting, the inherent beliefs that we hold in the core of our being will influence the kinds of policy change that we want to see in the world.

For many people, those core beliefs are influenced by their faith. In the United States, we have a Constitutional right to practice, or choose not to practice, religion as we see fit. Religion plays a huge role in American culture, politics, and society. According to a recent report by the Pew Research Forum’s Religion and Public Life Project, 83.1 percent of all American adults identify themselves as part of a religious tradition, while 16.1 percent identify themselves as unaffiliated with a specific religious tradition. According to the same study, Americans also exercise their freedom to explore religion; 28 percent of American adults have left the religion in which they were raised in favor of either another religious tradition or to no tradition at all. Thanks to the First Amendment, we are allowed to define for ourselves our core beliefs and values.

That right to define our own beliefs is also protected by international law. With assistance from Eleanor Roosevelt, religious freedom was first recognized as a fundamental human right in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948. Since then, it has been reaffirmed as a human right within the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, as well as within several other agreements and declarations. However, according to the Pew Forum, one-third of states restrict their citizens’ freedoms of religion to a high or very high degree. Seventy percent of the world’s population lives within the states with the highest restrictions on religious freedom. State restrictions on freedom of religion can range from apostasy laws to restrictions on missionaries to restrictions on worship, and individuals face punishments ranging from fines to imprisonment to even death for exploring their own beliefs. 

On the other hand, when states allow for religious freedom, they also tend to improve political liberty, prosperity, and economic development. According to Brian Grim and Roger Finke in The Price of Freedom Denied, “Wherever religious freedom is high, there tends to be fewer incidents of armed conflict, better health outcomes, higher levels of earned income, and better educational opportunities for women.” Improving freedom of religion means an improvement in the global economy, increased security, and better job prospects for women. And those are issues that I think everyone – regardless of which side of the aisle you sit on, regardless of whether you identify as progressive or conservative, or whether you identify as religious or not religious – can identify as important.

While the work that we do to address religious freedom abroad is construed as a protection of human rights, debates over religious freedom at home, from the construction of the Islamic Cultural Center near the World Trade Center to the requirement that religious employers provide birth control for their employees, should be viewed through the same lens. Religion and the values acquired through religion – or through a choice not to pursue religion – can inform either progressive or conservative policy.  Likewise, promoting freedom of worship should be a bipartisan issue, and it is gratifying to see an explicitly progressive organization like the Roosevelt Institute embrace that idea through the Freedom of Worship Medal.

Jacqueline Van de Velde is the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network's Senior Fellow for Defense and Diplomacy and a senior at the University of Georgia.

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McCutcheon v. FEC Could Give Rich Donors Even Greater Power Over Our Elections

Oct 7, 2013Jeffrey Raines

Cases like McCutcheon v. FEC aren't about free speech. They're about how much influence the wealthiest Americans should have over our elected officials.

Cases like McCutcheon v. FEC aren't about free speech. They're about how much influence the wealthiest Americans should have over our elected officials.

On Tuesday, October 8, the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments on McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission. This case is just the latest episode in the fight to define money as either part of the unassailable right to free speech or a corrupter of the electoral process, and its effects will determine how much money the richest of Americans can contribute to 2014 campaigns.

The case pits the Republican National Committee (RNC) and Shaun McCutcheon, CEO of Coalmont Electrical Development and treasurer for the Super PAC Conservative Action Fund, against the FEC. At question is whether the individual aggregate contribution limit established by the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act (a.k.a. McCain-Feingold) is unconstitutional under the First Amendment’s freedom of expression clause. This is not about how much an individual can give to one specific candidate, but how much an individual contributor can give in total during a two-year campaign cycle. Currently, an individual may give an aggregate biennial total of $123,200, with a $48,600 aggregate limit to candidates and a $74,600 limit to non-candidate PACs as well as national party committees.

McCutcheon wanted to give $25,000 to each of the three Republican national committees (which is under the $32,400 contribution limit to a national party) and $1,776 to 28 congressional candidates (also under the $2,600 contribution limit to a candidate). It almost seems trivial to contest this, because his total contributions to candidates would have only been $1,128 over the $48,600 aggregate limit and $400 over the political party limit. But that’s the point:  stepping just over the line creates a case where those opposed to campaign contribution limits can fight to weaken Buckley v. Valeo, the Supreme Court case that affirmed the need for those limits.

The whole reason aggregate limits were put in McCain-Feingold in the first place was to close a loophole left open by the Federal Election Campaign Act in 1971 after Buckley. The Burger Court decided in 1976 that contribution limits “are appropriate legislative weapons against the reality of appearance of improper influence stemming from the dependence of candidates on large campaign contribution.” Contribution limits exist to mitigate corruption as well as the appearance of corruption, the idea being that candidate feels a sense of indebtedness to donors who give them large contributions and will vote in ways favorable of those contributors. Going back to Buckley, a ceiling on contributions “serves the basic governmental interest in safeguarding the integrity of the electoral process without directly impinging upon the rights of individual citizens and candidates to engage in political debate and discussion.” Coating billboards, TVs, and websites with “support Mr. Smith” ads may get a message out to the general public, but it doesn’t help voters make a more informed decision or learn about the issues.

To quote the Brennan Center for Justice’s amicus brief on McCutcheon, “ [a] system of effectively unlimited contributions would permit a tiny class of donors to wield vastly disproportionate influence over our elected representative, encouraging the control of government by faction.” There are already enough problems with giant advocacy organizations, PACs, and the richest of our nation controlling and/or influencing elections: do we really need to encourage an increase in the amount of money they pour into our electoral process by banishing aggregate contribution limits?

Some believe that a removal of these aggregate limits will allow for more responsible contributions, by giving mega-donors like Sheldon Adelson (who gave $150 million in 2012 contributions) room to give more of his money to the more-highly regulated RNC rather than to Super PACs, but the removal of aggregate limits would not increase the annual $32,400 individual contribution limit a mega-donor could give to a national party committee. For those with nearly unlimited financial resources, it will just be a continuation of their already high giving patterns. Currently, McCutcheon could contribute the $2,600 maximum to 18 candidates without going over the aggregate limit; without it, he could give that amount to 50 or 100 different candidates.

We don’t know whether ending aggregate contribution limits will steer money away from Super PACs, but that’s not the question we should be asking. The question we do need to ask ourselves is how much money we want to allow a single person to put into our electoral system. And at what point do the millions of one person outweigh the votes of an entire constituency?

For further reference, see the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia’s opinion against McCutcheon, the amicus briefs (and arguments) submitted to the Supreme Court on McCutcheon, and information on how the Roberts Court has voted on First Amendment cases.

Jeff Raines is the Chair of the Student Board of Advisors for the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network.

 

Supreme Court banner image via Shutterstock.com

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Daily Digest - October 4: Shutdown Reasoning is All Talking Points

Oct 4, 2013Rachel Goldfarb

Click here to receive the Daily Digest via email.

The Values Divide (Other Words)

Roosevelt Institute Senior Fellow Richard Kirsch argues that today's partisan divide is based on differing concepts of responsibility and freedom. The right wants freedom from paying for anything that helps another person, while progressive responsibility is to others.

Click here to receive the Daily Digest via email.

The Values Divide (Other Words)

Roosevelt Institute Senior Fellow Richard Kirsch argues that today's partisan divide is based on differing concepts of responsibility and freedom. The right wants freedom from paying for anything that helps another person, while progressive responsibility is to others.

Boehner Tells Republicans He Won’t Let the Nation Default (NYT)

Ashley Parker and Annie Lowrey report that the Speaker has privately indicated that he will work with Democrats to ensure a debt ceiling increase. Since a default would be far more catastrophic than the shutdown, it's good to see at least a little bipartisanship.

Paul Caught on Hot Mic: 'We're gonna win this, I think' (Maddow Blog)

Steve Benen reports on a conversation between Senators Paul and McConnell, caught on mic yesterday. It proves that Republicans are so caught up in rhetoric and talking points that they've forgotten about the basics of governing.

Can Obama Disrupt the Shutdown Narrative? (MoJo)

David Corn asks what the President would need to do in order to shift the media narrative of shutdown from a joint inability to compromise to the Republicans harming veterans, children, and the sick because they oppose a law and can't get the votes to repeal it.

Republicans Are No Longer the Party of Business (Bloomberg Businessweek)

Joshua Green writes that the shutdown is causing some members of the business community to reconsider their support of the GOP. The party is taking actions that have a clear negative effect on the economy, and that disruption is bad for business.

Government Shutdown Hits Native Americans Hard (ThinkProgress)

Bryce Covert reports that since federal grants fund many programs to the tribes, Native Americans are being hit disproportionately hard by the shutdown. Of course, this is on top of the pain of sequestration, which already caused many cuts in services.

What Happens If We Approach the Debt Ceiling? Here's What Happened in 2011 (The Atlantic)

Derek Thompson remembers what happened when we last came dangerously close to the debt ceiling: markets dropped, interest rates rose, and the U.S. credit rating was downgraded, costing taxpayers $19 billion. All that can be avoided if Congress will just raise the debt ceiling.

Too Small to Survive: Inside One Bank's Struggle to Save Itself (The Guardian)

Jana Kasperkevic looks at the opposing side to "too big to fail," and finds that small local banks are hurting. One such bank, which focused on real estate loans to local businesses in Bridgeport, CT, was forced to close by the FDIC.

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Challenging the 'New Normal' of Violence in the U.S.

Oct 1, 2013Erik Lampmann

The United States's culture of violence is tightly tied to the marginalization of some social groups, but the progressive movement is already doing social justice work that is anti-violence, and could do even more.

If these past several weeks have taught us anything, it’s that we live within a culture of violence.

The United States's culture of violence is tightly tied to the marginalization of some social groups, but the progressive movement is already doing social justice work that is anti-violence, and could do even more.

If these past several weeks have taught us anything, it’s that we live within a culture of violence.

Two weeks ago, a shooting rampage through the Washington, DC Navy Yard led to the death of more than ten people. In that time, we also learned of the death of 24-year old Jonathan Ferrell. Seeking assistance after a car crash, Ferrell knocked on the door of a nearby home. A startled resident called the police who, suspecting malicious intent, ended up shooting Ferrell ten times. In the same week, President Obama’s credible threats of military intervention and intercontinental ballistic missile strikes were argued as the only way for our nation’s diplomats to engage in ‘constructive conversations’ about Syrian President Bashir al-Assad’s use of chemical weapons against opposition groups in his country’s on-going civil war.

No one can deny that the past several days have led to heart ache, distrust of others, and true fear. As we see endless media clips of armed responders, grieving family and friends, and panicked on-lookers, we feel destabilized and shaken.

At the same time, these traumatic episodes are but scenes in an ever-unfolding saga of American structural violence within which we are all embedded. This institutional violence is committed against marginalized social groups rendered ‘unworthy’ of the public’s concerns. Yet these groups are systematically harassed, over-policed, and beaten each day. I speak here of the thousands of undocumented immigrants incarcerated in privately-owned detention centers and subjected to dehumanization of the worst kind. I speak of the black and brown youth stopped, interrogated, and over-incarcerated arbitrarily by racially biased police forces. I speak of queer people trapped in the prisons of their closets, whose gender is policed on the street, and whose desires defy identity politics’ categorizations.

You see, the American style of violence is complicated. Over a lifetime or in the blink of an eye, these actions, policies, and institutions function to deprive individuals and social groups of their self-determination. Exercised through criminal justice policies and war, the use of violence as a display of authority and power is bent up in larger questions around American inclusion, exclusion, and exceptionalism.

It was therefore a breath of fresh air to see the President reflect an understanding of these interconnected systems of violence in his processing of the DC Navy Yard shootings. In his remarks last Sunday, President Obama observed, “Alongside the anguish of these American families, alongside the accumulated outrage so many of us feel, sometimes I fear there’s a creeping resignation. That these tragedies are just somehow the way it is. That this is somehow the new normal.” While it’s not clear whether President Obama will put these values to work through a robust policy agenda, it is heartening to see our chief executive strike out against widespread disengagement from nuanced efforts to understand and combat violence in American life.

This is not to say that many individuals, communities, and organizations are not already working on combating violence in all of its forms.  However, the progressive movement’s conceptualization of violence, the ways it manifests in communities, and its effects or results leaves much to be desired.

What the progressive movement must do is unite these issue-based voices under the umbrella of true anti-violence and peace building work. If we could unify these voices within one narrative of healthy, strong, and safe communities, we could leverage our collective voice more effectively at the national level, creating a groundswell of progressive energy. If we were to take, for instance, the dedication of the Immigrant Youth Movement to stopping deportations, GetEqual’s militancy on behalf of queer employment and housing nondiscrimination, and the Dream Defenders’ holistic critique of structural racialization in our criminal justice system, we would see that a variety of social justice efforts are, in fact, ‘anti-violence’ movements.

We need to acknowledge that violence rears its head every time discrimination manifests itself, every time someone fails to treat their fellow human being with dignity. Injecting an expansive understanding of violence into the debates on healing, safety, and security emerging after these crises is the only way we can hope to combat other targeted attacks in the future. In some cases, this poses the most immediate challenge: to process our own emotional duress in episodes of earth-shattering violence through the lens of our communities’ long-term vitality and connectedness.

From birth many of us have been taught that violence or coercion is the most efficient way of shoring up power and achieving our goals. From the playground bully to the patriarchal employer to the strategies of geopolitics, the primacy accorded to violence (or frequently, the threat of violence) has enormous caché.

As we watch our progressive family struggle to respond to instances of trauma, I empathize with those who wish to isolate these events as individual tears in the moral fabric of communities, states, and the nation. Yet it’s important to view any act of violence within its social, historical, and political context. By digging deep and organizing across interest groups, we have a chance to re-frame the conversation on American violence today. 

Erik Lampmann is the Senior Fellow for Equal Justice within the Roosevelt Institute Campus Network. He studies political theory and French at the University of Richmond. 

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"Inequality for All" is "The Progressive Economic Narrative: The Movie"

Sep 27, 2013Richard Kirsch

The new film starring Robert Reich delivers a powerful message about what's wrong with the economy, though it may leave viewers wondering what they can do about it.

With the release of the documentary Inequality for All today, the core progressive story about what is wrong with the economy is now on the silver screen. For those of us who have been working to articulate what we call a progressive economic narrative, it is a major milestone.

The new film starring Robert Reich delivers a powerful message about what's wrong with the economy, though it may leave viewers wondering what they can do about it.

With the release of the documentary Inequality for All today, the core progressive story about what is wrong with the economy is now on the silver screen. For those of us who have been working to articulate what we call a progressive economic narrative, it is a major milestone.

The right spent decades projecting their view that prosperity is created through limited government and free markets, concepts that still dominate most Americans’ thinking, even as the American dream is becoming a nightmare for more and more families. The new movie provides a powerful way to popularize a very different story.

Inequality for All is based around a big lecture course that Robert Reich gives at the University of California Berkeley. Reich and the film’s director, Jacob Kornbluth, mix facts, infographics, documentary footage, and profiles of families whose lives have been scarred by the new economy with the personal story of Reich’s lifelong work to push for a just economy, including his frustrations serving as Labor Secretary during President Clinton’s first term. Reich’s personality, his humor, feistiness, and passion, drive the film.

The progressive economic narrative can be encapsulated in four sentences:

  • Working families and the middle class are getting crushed while the super-rich game the system.
  • Working families and the middle class are the engines of the economy.
  • We build a strong middle class through decisions we make together.
  • It’s up to us to build an America that works for all of us.

Inequality for All tells the same story. In the movie, Reich ties the vast increase in income inequality to the loss of unionization, the diversion of economic growth from wages to CEO compensation and profits, the financialization of the economy, cutting taxes for the wealthy, and the failure of government to keep investing in education and infrastructure.

Reich shows how a virtuous cycle of higher wages and productivity, which put more money in consumers’ pockets, thus driving the economy forward and raising revenues for government investment, was replaced by a vicious cycle in which stagnant wages undercut consumer purchasing, leading to lower demand and more layoffs along with declining tax revenues and government spending.

While most Americans know that the rich are getting richer while everyone else is being squeezed, the crucial contribution the movie makes is explaining the two key economic concepts needed to discredit the conservative economic story.

The most powerful messenger for the first concept is not Reich, but Nick Hanauer, a Seattle billionaire, who made his fortune in both the old and new economy. Hanauer’s family business is one of the world’s largest pillow manufacturers, but his latest fortune is as an early Amazon investor. Hanauer tours his pillow-making factory, pointing out that “a person like me who earns 1,000 times as much as the typical American doesn’t buy 1,000 pillows a year. Even the richest person only sleeps on one or two pillows. The pillow business is quite tough, as it is for many, many industries, because fewer and fewer people can afford to buy the products we make.”

When consumers are able to afford a new item, many now go to places like Amazon, which Hanauer points out employs 60,000 employees to achieve the same volume of sales that mom and pop businesses would hire 600,000 for.

The second key concept, hammered home over and over again by Reich, is “We make the rules of the economy and we have the power to change those rules.” He says his first studies of economics, as a Rhodes Scholar, taught him that there was “no such thing as a perfectly free market anywhere. Government sets the rules by which the market functions… The real question is who do these rules benefit and who they hurt.”

The driving narrative behind Inequality for All, and the most important point for people to learn, is that the crushing of the middle class did not happen by accident; it happened because of decisions that were made by business and government. Reich’s message is that we can make different decisions to create an economy of shared prosperity.

The last third of the movie emphasizes that the biggest obstacle to change is the capturing of our democracy by big money. Reich, who is the chair of Common Cause, warns that because of the “threat to democracy” from the rising concentration of wealth, “we are seeing an entire society that is starting to pull apart.”

Reich concludes with a call for building a movement, telling a personal story of why he became an activist. Reich, who is less than five feet tall, was saved from bullying by an older schoolmate, Mickey Schwerner, who was murdered along with two other young civil rights volunteers in Philadelphia, Mississippi in 1964. That event, Reich says, changed his life.

His final charge to his students is a call to action: “You've got to mobilize, you've got to organize, you've got to energize other people. Politics is not out there. It starts here…. History is on the side of positive social change… You can be a leader.”

The biggest weakness of the film, which undercuts his hopeful conclusion, is that Reich does not propose any specific solutions. He says that “policy ideas are plentiful” but doesn’t provide them. As a result, the call for action may ring hollow. Action toward what? I know that one group of Millennials who saw a preview came away feeling both educated and discouraged. The movie would have benefited mightily from connecting to movements for change.

Reich and Inequality for All’s distributors are trying to make up for that through their website, which moviegoers will see as the film ends. The website links to actions people can take and organizations people can work with on six broad issues: raising the minimum wage; strengthening workers’ voices; investing in education; reforming Wall Street; fixing the tax system; and getting big money out of politics. Progressive groups are sponsoring showings of the film, and the website invites people to arrange for a showing at a theater in their communities. I hope many local progressive organizations will sponsor showings and engage the audience in a discussion afterward on how they can take action.

Still, Inequality for All is a powerful narrative vehicle for the progressive story about why income inequality is not just unfair, but the driving force behind the fading American dream and the fraying of our democracy. In his passionate final charge to his class, Reich offers one version of the core progressive idea, “we all do better when we all do better.” Hearing that message on the big screen, released by a Hollywood powerhouse like the Weinstein Group, is an affirmation that our history may indeed be moving toward positive social change.  

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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Inequality Broke the Economy. How Can We Fix It in New York City?

Sep 26, 2013Nell Abernathy

The Roosevelt Institute's Bernard L. Schwartz Rediscovering Government Initiative, Roosevelt Institute | Pipeline, and the Roosevelt House Public Policy Institute recently convened a panel of local policy experts to discuss inequality in New York and how the next mayor can address it. Watch the video below.

The Roosevelt Institute's Bernard L. Schwartz Rediscovering Government Initiative, Roosevelt Institute | Pipeline, and the Roosevelt House Public Policy Institute recently convened a panel of local policy experts to discuss inequality in New York and how the next mayor can address it. Watch the video below.

“The economy is broken and inequality broke it,” James Parrott, Chief Economist at the Fiscal Policy Institute, said Tuesday night at the Roosevelt Institute’s forum on Inequality in New York.

The divide between the rich and the poor in New York and across the nation is not an inevitable consequence of technology, globalization, or even human capital, each of the panelists reiterated. “This is the result of policy choices,” Parrott continued. Learn more about what the next mayor should do to tackle inequality and how he can pay for it by watching the video of the event below:

Maya Wiley, Founder and President of the Center for Social Inclusion, emphasized the role of government in creating opportunity. “Fundamentally what we’ve had is a narrative that government gets in the way, rather than recognizing that we created a middle class in this country beginning with the New Deal, continuing with the Fair Deal, based on a series of policies that brought it into being in the mid-20th century. By and large, the middle class as we know it today didn’t even exist until the middle of the 20th century. And we forget that. It wasn’t some natural occurrence.”

Tsedeye Gebreselassie, Staff Attorney at the National Employment Law Project, said a key driver of inequality in New York City has been the stagnation of wages for the working and middle class. New York’s current minimum wage of $7.25 an hour equates to an annual income of $15,000 a year. Our next mayor, she argued, should work with Albany and the City Council to increase the city’s minimum wage, following the example of other high-cost cities like San Francisco, which has a floor of $10.55 an hour.

“Depending on how high you raise that wage, you could impact nearly a million workers living in the city,” said Gebreselassie. “It’s a tremendous policy in terms of boosting the wage floor across the low-wage labor market and putting money in the hands of people who will spend it immediately at local business, giving a stimulative effect to our economy as a whole.”

Lawrence Aber, a professor of psychology and public policy at NYU, said the next mayor should focus public investment on poor children ages 0-5. “We now know that poverty literally gets under the skin and into the mind.” Under-nourishment during the first few years reduces human development and puts children at a lifelong disadvantage. Every dollar invested to beef up New York’s existing child health programs, he explained, goes much further than public money spent to correct developmental challenges further down the road.

When an audience member questioned panelists about how they planned to pay for their proposed programs, answers varied.

The next mayor could use budget policy to reshuffle priorities. For example, tax breaks for real estate development in New York grew 180 percent under Mayor Bloomberg’s administration, to a total of $3 billion a year, Wiley said. Given the booming nature of New York’s real estate market, that public money could be better spent. Aber said the next mayor could use the bully pulpit to advocate for a shift in national budget priorities.

While an increase in local revenue cannot fund all the panelists’ priorities, there is room to raise taxes on the city’s top income bracket, Parrott said. Critics of progressive policy often cite income tax data to emphasize the percentage of city taxes paid by the rich, but Parrott showed that when property taxes and sales taxes are included, the rich, in fact, pay only 25.2 percent of the city’s tax burden while taking home 33.8 percent of total income.

The breadth of the challenge can be daunting, but panel moderator David Jones, President and CEO of Community Service Society, sounded a message of optimism. "I don't know if a decade ago we could gather this many people together to talk about this as a critical issue," he told an audience that had filled both auditorium and overflow room. "This is obviously a pivotal moment where people are taking this seriously."

Join Jeff Madrick, Director of Rediscovering Government, at the Frances Perkins Center in Portland, ME on October 4 for "Rediscovering Government: Making People Matter." The Frances Perkins Center will present Ai-jen Poo with its Intelligence and Courage Award and Sally Greenberg with its Steadfast Award, and Madrick will moderate a panel discussion. More information here.

Nell Abernathy is the Program Manager for the Bernard L. Schwartz Rediscovering Government Initiative.

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Daily Digest - September 25: Listening to Shareholders on CEO Pay

Sep 25, 2013Rachel Goldfarb

Click here to receive the Daily Digest via email.

Can Say-on-Pay Curb Executive Compensation? (Roosevelt Institute)

Click here to receive the Daily Digest via email.

Can Say-on-Pay Curb Executive Compensation? (Roosevelt Institute)

In her new policy note, Roosevelt Institute Director of Research Susan Holmberg argues that Say-on-Pay, which allows shareholders to vote on executive pay packages, is working, because even when shareholders approve CEO pay, boards are paying attention to the dissenters.

How a Churchgoing Urban Planner Became Compton’s Millennial Mayor (Next City)

Roosevelt Institute | Pipeline Fellow Nona Willis Aronowitz profiles Aja Brown, the new mayor of Compton who is focusing her administration on growth. Her work on basic quality of life issues is increasing her popularity in the old guard of Compton politics.

Washington Dysfunction Threatens U.S. Economy (MSNBC)

Suzy Khimm looks at just how badly a government shutdown would hurt the economy, from federal workers to B&B owners near national parks. Experts say that a shutdown longer than a few days could wipe out an entire quarter's economic growth.

The Path to Dysfunction (NYT)

Jared Bernstein looks at what got us to the point where a government shutdown seems possible next week. There are plenty of reasons, but he's most concerned by the lack of facts in any of these debates, since each side of the aisle has its own set.

Why Obama Can’t Pay a Debt-Ceiling Ransom This Time (NY Mag)

Jonathan Chait thinks that Republicans need to realize that the President is serious when he says he won't negotiate on the debt ceiling this time around. The GOP seems convinced they can get concessions, but they're more likely to drive us into a default.

GOP Launches Race War to Boost the 1 Percent (Salon)

Brittney Cooper writes that Republicans are using racial stereotypes to stir up support for their food stamp cuts. By invoking the "welfare queen," they can get support for cuts that primarily effect poor whites in red states, while keeping those voters on their side.

Mortgages are Easier to Get These Days … Watch Out, it Could be a Trap! (The Guardian)

Heidi Moore thinks people should be cautious before celebrating the fact that banks are giving more mortgages to people with lower credit scores. These lowered standards could be an early red flag, since similar patterns led up to the housing crisis.

New on Next New Deal

War-Weary Millennials See Few Good Options in Syria

Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network Senior Fellow for Defense and Diplomacy Jacqueline Van de Velde argues that Millennials would be happiest with a diplomatic solution to Syria's chemical weapons, but she's not sure it's doable.

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