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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The Next Real Fight for Obamacare Will Be in 2014

Sep 23, 2013Richard Kirsch

Progressives must get out in front of the battle to preserve the biggest expansion of the social safety net in decades.

It's been 100 years since ideological conservatives joined with doctors and insurance companies to kill the first movement in the United States for what was then called "compulsory health care." Now, on the eve of their epic loss, those who deeply hate the idea that we have a collective responsibility to care for each other are desperately trying to stop history's clock.

Progressives must get out in front of the battle to preserve the biggest expansion of the social safety net in decades.

It's been 100 years since ideological conservatives joined with doctors and insurance companies to kill the first movement in the United States for what was then called "compulsory health care." Now, on the eve of their epic loss, those who deeply hate the idea that we have a collective responsibility to care for each other are desperately trying to stop history's clock.

Beneath the tested rhetoric from opponents like the Heritage Foundation and Texas Senator Ted Cruz about a government takeover or Obamacare killing jobs and the economy, we can find expressions of the driving force behind the right's obsession. One telling quote is from Missouri State Senator Rob Shaaf, who declared, “We can’t afford everything we do now, let alone provide free medical care to able-bodied adults.” Another is the proud statement from Steve Lonegan, the Republican candidate for U.S. Senate in New Jersey, who told me in a debate on Obamacare at the FDR Library, “I only care about me and my family.”

These celebrations of extreme individualism are bald expressions of the "47 percent of Americans are takers" ideology that has become the driving fixation of Republicans, with the latest example being the vote in the House to deny food stamps to 4 million people because they are unemployed.

The right most fears the establishment of another new program based on our common humanity. With her gift for sarcasm, New York Times columnist Gail Collins captured the irony of the Republican’s desperation to stop Obamacare before it starts: “The new health care law is going to be terrible, wreaking havoc on American families, ruining their lives. And they are going to love it so much they will never have the self-control necessary to give it up.”

If this is a defining moment for the right, it is also for the left. As Jonathan Chait wrote this week, in a great restrospective on Republican opposition to the ACA, “The transformative potential of Obamacare is not a conservative hallucination.”

For all its faults, the Affordable Care Act is the biggest expansion in half a century of the progressive belief that we all do better when we all do better. Almost 50 years ago, Medicare was greeted by Ronald Reagan – then a mouthpiece for the American Medical Association –  as a foot in the door to a totalitarian takeover. The right has long understood how high the American view of the role of government would be lifted if people came to rely on government for something as essential to a person's well-being as health care.

The battleground now shifts to how the public perceives the law's impact. I would like to believe that Ted Cruz was right about this, at least, when he told The Daily Caller, “President Obama wants to get as many Americans addicted to the subsidies because he knows that in modern times, no major entitlement has ever been implemented and then unwound.”

However, the lesson of the past three years is that the rhetoric has been more powerful than the reality. The most telling data is that the age group that has most definitively benefited from the Affordable Care Act, seniors, has the highest disapproval rating of the law. Thanks to the ACA, some six million seniors have received free preventive care under Medicare and 6.3 million people on Medicare saved over $6.1 billion on prescriptions. Still, the relentless attack messages aimed at seniors, starting with the death panel lies during the legislative debate on the law and accelerating in the 2010 election, have taken their toll.

On its face, opposing Obamacare should not be a winning electoral issue in 2014, if only because it will actually affect so few people. Several million people will get health coverage and very little else will change. But we can be certain that the right will continue to blame every established long-term trend in health care and the workforce – rising premiums, higher deductibles, fewer people getting health coverage at work – on the ACA.

The implementation of the ACA will also give its opponents new ammunition. Not just from the inevitable glitches in signing up people, made worse by Republican sabotage in many states, but from the law's biggest shortcoming: while millions will gain access to affordable coverage for the first time, others will be asked to pay more than they can afford or pay a fine.

Still, the fact that Obamacare will finally be doing what it was designed to do puts its defenders on higher ground, if we embrace the hard lessons of the past three years. Cementing the Affordable Care Act as a pillar of social security will require that Obamacare's champions aggressively respond to attacks and tell the stories of people whose lives have been transformed by the law. 

Until now, it has been almost impossible to explain to people how the Affordable Care Act will work. It has been a new, complicated concept rather than a real-life gate to getting health coverage. But the millions who will begin to benefit on January 1 will be able to tell a different story: the cancer survivor who can get coverage despite his preexisting condition; the budding entrepreneur who can leave her job to start a small business; the 60 year-old who lost her job but was still able to get health coverage.

With Obamacare a reality, not just a threat, their stories can be added to stories of a senior who is saving hundreds of dollars on Medicare prescriptions and the family whose finances were not wiped out when their 24-year-old son, still on his parents' health plan, was in an accident. 

The debate will be sharpest, and have the most impact, leading to the 2014 congressional elections. Republicans will be pushed by the right to make Obamacare a big issue, regardless of whether their pollsters advise that the failure of the world to implode after its implementation has taken some of the sting out. We can be sure that the Koch brothers will fund attack ads in swing districts and states. In 2010, the failure by Democrats to vigorously defend the law, particularly among seniors who vote most heavily in non-presidential elections, was a big factor in Republican success.

Progressives must engage in the fight now and prepare for 2014. It will not be enough to enroll people in Obamacare. We will need to organize new enrollees, their families, and their communities to be powerful spokespeople for the Affordable Care Act.

The ACA has proven to be the cat with nine lives, surviving near-death experiences during the legislative battle, the Supreme Court ruling, congressional and presidential elections, and the barrage of repeal votes, which are reaching their height now. The new day that the right has feared for a century will start in just three months. But the battle will not end then. The next big test will be November 2014. The stakes for people’s lives and livelihoods, and for the progressive expression of the American values of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, could not be higher. 

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.

 

Health care costs image via Shutterstock.com

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Why New York is Home to So Many of the Working Poor, in Graphs

Sep 16, 2013Nell Abernathy

The Bernard L. Schwartz Rediscovering Government Initiative is trying to understand how New York got so unequal. And we're looking for solutions.

The Bernard L. Schwartz Rediscovering Government Initiative is trying to understand how New York got so unequal. And we're looking for solutions.

So what is behind this big shift toward income inequality in New York? Income trends in the city represent an amplified version of our national problems: low-wage jobs without benefits are replacing middle-wage jobs that could support families. Nationwide, middle-wage jobs constituted 60 percent of the jobs lost during the Great Recession and only 22 percent of those regained during recovery, according to analysis from Roosevelt Institute’s Annette Bernhardt at NELP. Meanwhile, low-wage jobs made up only 21 percent of recession job losses and 58 percent of jobs gained since.

The national trend started well before the Great Recession.

And in New York, it’s been the same, but worse. A 2012 report from the Federal Reserve found that middle-income jobs comprised 67 percent of employment in downstate New York in the 1980s, but by 2010, that number fell to 55.8 percent.

Top that off with the fact that for the last decade, wages have risen for the top 5 percent and stagnated or fallen for middle- and low-income workers, and you begin to see the currents driving our inequality crisis.

Why is this happening? Technology? Wall Street? Policy? Education?

We’ll explore those questions and potential solutions at our upcoming panel, "Inequality in New York: The Next Mayor’s Challenge."

Nell Abernathy is the Program Manager for the Roosevelt Institute's Bernard L. Schwartz Rediscovering Government Initiative.

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The 2 Train Travels Between New York's "Two Cities"

Sep 13, 2013Nell Abernathy

New York City is as starkly divided along economic lines as it is connected by its famous subway lines.  The Roosevelt Institute is looking for solutions.

New York City is as starkly divided along economic lines as it is connected by its famous subway lines.  The Roosevelt Institute is looking for solutions.

Another fun/depressing/informative infographic on New York City’s stunning wealth divide: Back in April, before the election was heating up, the good people at The New Yorker plotted the diverging extremes in median income of New York neighborhoods along the subway lines. It turns out you can actually ride the 2 train from prosperity to poverty.

The neighborhood surrounding the 2 train Chambers Street stop in Tribeca  has a median income of $205,192 and is among the city's wealthiest.

Fourteen miles further north, around the East 180th Street stop in the Bronx, median income is $13,750. For those who think income is irrelevant as long as you can access the American dream, opportunities aren't so great up there, either.

 Come learn about solutions from the experts at our September 24 event, "Inequality in New York: the Next Mayor’s Challenge."

Nell Abernathy is the Program Manager for the Roosevelt Institute's Bernard L. Schwartz Rediscovering Government Initiative.

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