Tag Archives: Joe Manchin

Time’s Up, Senator!

Picture by Hilary Stone Ginsberg

Open letter to Senator Joe Manchin,* Democrat of West Virginia:

You tried, Senator! You helped draft a compromise on voting rights — fashioning a bill not quite as good as the one the House passed earlier, but still good — and took it to Republicans. You told your colleagues in the Democratic senatorial caucus that you could get 10 Republican votes for the compromise. Well, you were wrong. The Republicans would not even allow a vote to come to the floor! So, now is the time to move boldly and reform the filibuster to pass legislation to protect the fundamental basis of a democratic government: The right to vote!

Because, senator, here’s the thing: Our democracy is at stake. If the federal government does not move to protect voting rights for all Americans in every state, then no election in the future truly will reflect the will of the people. Millions of Democratic-leaning voters — particularly young people and people of color — will be denied access to the ballot, tilting the field toward Republicans. And, even if Democrats manage to eke out victories, Republican legislators have given partisan state officials wide authority to overturn election results. And, the Supreme Court cannot be counted on to protect the electoral system, given how Republicans — led by Kentucky Senator Mitch McConnell — have stacked that body with politically motivated (though some justices publicly have denied this) conservatives.

If you, Senator Manchin, and your Democratic colleagues do not secure passage of S. 2747, the Freedom to Vote Act, then the game is up. Republicans now control the Supreme Court. Without federal guarantees of free and fair elections, Republicans easily will win a majority in the House in 2022 and probably the Senate. In 2024, candidate Donald Trump could well lose the presidential election by millions of votes and lose the Electoral College by an even greater margin than in 2020, but still be inaugurated as president on January 20, 2025. How? Easily, as Republican legislatures in such states as Texas, Arizona, Georgia, Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin, aided by compliant governors, certify Republican electors even though the Democrats secured a majority of the popular vote. They will do in the next presidential election what Trump tried to do in the last. 

Fanciful, you say? No, the road map from 2020 is in place. If this happens — and it is a very real possibility — then Democrats will never, at least not in our lifetimes and the lifetimes of our children — wield political power again. Imagine a world in which Republicans dominate all the levers of the federal government and many state governments, as well. You think we have problems now? Imagine what the tax code will look like. You think the United States suffers from income inequality today? Imagine the disparity in income and wealth under Republicans who have no fear of ever losing power again. 

I know you represent a coal-producing state, senator, but even West Virginians have to be concerned about climate change. Well, if you think it is getting warmer now, think again about how hot it might be 20 or 30 years from now if the federal government does not take steps — any steps — to control carbon emissions. Think about the levels of pollution in our water and in the air we breathe.

You are a conservative Democrat, Senator Manchin, but still a Democrat, if only for a bit longer. I would wager you care about some of the priorities in the huge budget reconciliation bill that President Joe Biden supports. Do you think any of the provisions you favor in that bill will ever become law if Republicans can do as they please? Or, stay as law if you manage to squeak legislation through this term?

All of this is why passing the Freedom to Vote Act is so important. Nothing gets done — or stays done — without it. You know this, which is why you worked with several of your Democratic colleagues on the legislation. If passed, this bill will override restrictive state laws that make voting more difficult. It will prevent Republican voting officials from purging voter rolls, and it will guarantee mail-in voting. The bill curbs gerrymandering, limits dark money, and prevents state officials from manipulating election results. As you well know, these are good things for a democracy, senator!

This bill is foundational. You know that, which is why you worked on it. You thought a compromise might attract Republican senators. Well, nice try! Wednesday, in the Senate, all 50 Republicans voted against permitting debate on the bill. They invoked the filibuster, preventing even consideration of this all-important legislation. As Senate Majority leader Chuck Schumer put it, “If there’s anything worthy of the Senate’s attention, if there’s any issue that merits debate on this floor, it’s protecting our democracy from the forces that are trying to unravel it from the inside out.”

The sentiments Schumer uttered should be obvious to all, but in the Senate of today, that is not the case. Republicans — who voted overwhelmingly for extensions to the Voting Rights law in the past, and most recently as 2006, without a dissenting vote — now are so afraid of Donald Trump and the power of his “Big Lie” that they are willing to overthrow American democracy in order to protect their pathetic political careers.

Do not let them get away with it! 

Get the Freedom to Vote Act passed, even if it means limiting or overturning the filibuster!

Sincerely,

A Concerned Voter

*Manchin is not the only Democratic senator clinging to the filibuster, but he has been most vocal about it, and he suggested he could deliver Republican votes.

Posted October 22, 2021

Donald Trump, Please Keep Talking

If we don’t solve the Presidential Election Fraud of 2020 (which we have thoroughly and conclusively documented), Republicans will not be voting in ‘22 or ‘24. It is the single most important thing for Republicans to do. — Statement by Donald Trump, the former president, October 13, 2021.

 

Picture by Hilary Stone Ginsberg

I think I speak for all progressives and a good smattering of moderates when I say: Go, Donnie, go! Whip up your supporters into a frenzy of not voting. The more they heed you, the better. 

After all, the non-voting strategy worked well in the two Georgia Senate runoff races in January 2021. In early December, two Trump allies, Lin Wood and Sidney Powell, urged Republicans not to vote for either Kelly Loeffler or Davide Perdue, the incumbent senators locked in a tight race against Democratic challengers. “Don’t be fooled twice,” Wood said. “This is Georgia, we ain’t dumb. We’re not going to go vote on January 5th on another machine made by China. You’re not going to fool Georgians again.” 

Yes, sir, that strategy worked well! Georgia Republicans apparently are not dumb(?) and, heeding Wood’s advice, were not fooled twice. According to an analysis of the election results by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, more than 750,000 Georgians who cast ballots in the November presidential election stayed home during the runoffs two months later. More than half of the no-shows were White and many lived in rural areas, demographic and geographic constituencies that lean heavily Republican. As one Georgian said, “What good would it have done to vote? They have votes that got changed.” 

The non-voting strategy worked so well that Democrats now control the Senate, albeit barely.

With Democrats divided among themselves over advancing President Joe Biden’s ambitious agenda and given the traditional bounce the party out of power gets in mid-term elections, Democrats may need oodles of Republicans to stay home in 2022 if they are to retain control of both the House and the Senate. The current Democratic razor-thin majorities in Congress would benefit greatly from great numbers of Republican no-shows around the country. 

Trump phrased his communication as a declarative statement, announcing that Republicans will not vote because of alleged fraud. But, like much of what Trump says to his followers, the above statement is likely to be interpreted by many in the Trump cult as a command not to vote, which probably was Trump’s intention. 

To the members of the Trump cult, it matters little that neither Trump nor his lawyers or sycophants have presented a shred of evidence of electoral fraud. If the Grand Poobah of Mar-a-Lago says he lost because of fraud, then it must be so for his ever loyal and unquestioning followers. And, presumably, millions of Republicans will heed his orders and not vote. 

So, here is one progressive’s dream-like scenario. With millions of Trump followers not voting in 2022, the Democrats win overwhelming majorities in the House and Senate. Democrats win over 300 seats in the House and dominate the Senate by a margin of 67-33. The House easily passes a raft of progressive legislation, and the paltry number of Republicans in the Senate are unable to filibuster the Biden agenda. Not only are Senate Republicans and naked-Emperor Mitch McConnell (see previous blog post) rendered impotent, but moderate Democrats — like West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin and Arizona Senator Kyrsten Sinema — are overwhelmed and can no longer derail progressive legislation.

In early 2023, Democrats enact measures (or expand on the incomplete legislation of 2021) guaranteeing free community college for all, child care for toddlers, child tax credits, expanded Medicare and Medicaid (perhaps even Medicare-for-All), the Green New Deal, paid parental leave, and much more. Immigration is reformed, giving millions of the undocumented a pathway to citizenship. And, voting rights are protected by a bill that enshrines early voting and mail-in balloting, makes Election Day a federal holiday, and rolls back all the Republican-passed state laws that suppress and nullify the vote and disempower state officials in their roles in the electoral process.

Trump and his followers wake up and realize that not voting is not a very good idea. But, since they conceded the 2022 election to Democrats, the 2024 presidential election will be free and fair. Even as Republicans flock to the polls again, their votes cannot change the outcome. Tens of millions of Americans are pleased with the Democratic legislation that has brought the United States into the modern world, guaranteeing a social safety net comparable to that of other industrialized democracies. And, all those pleased Americans can now vote freely and fairly, without the threat of Republicans suppressing and nullifying the votes of those who tend to vote Democratic. So, Joe Biden sweeps to a landslide re-election and the Democrats retain their large majorities in both the House and Senate. 

Go ahead, Donnie, please keep issuing statements. You may be the Democrats’ best friend yet!

Posted October 15, 2021

Creativity Required

Picture by Hilary Stone Ginsberg

Legislation is not like model car kits where mere assembly of parts suffices. Rather, legislation is like an erector set where creativity brings results. Democrats, it is time to be creative! 

Creativity will be needed to fashion an agreement on President Joe Biden’s ambitious agenda to expand America’s social safety net that satisfies all wings of the Democratic Party. The president remains optimistic. “I’m telling you we’re going to get this done,” he said. “It doesn’t matter when. It doesn’t matter whether it’s six minutes, six days, or six weeks. We’re going to get it done.” 

Centrist Democrats — particularly West Virginia’s Joe Manchin and Arizona’s Kyrsten Sinema — have balked at the $3.5 trillion price tag for the larger reconciliation package, the so-called soft infrastructure bill, which tackles climate change and funds free community college, child care, and other social policy initiatives. There is widespread recognition in the Democratic caucus that a compromise resulting in a lower dollar amount is needed, but the route by which Democrats get to an agreement remains unclear. 

Democrats have several options. One possible way to satisfy Sinema and Manchin and other moderates might be shortening the timeframe. The original package was for $3.5 trillion spent over a decade. Democrats could shorten the years funded for some or all of the programs contained in the bill. Two staunch progressives — Representative Ro Khanna of California and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York — indicated that a shorter funding period might be an option. “I think that one of the ideas that’s out there is fully fund what we can fully fund, but maybe instead of doing it for 10 years, you fully fund it for five years,” said Ocasio-Cortez. Khanna agreed: “We can front-load the benefits and have less years.”

Fully funding all the programs for fewer years amounts to a budgetary gimmick, but it would bring down the overall price tag, which might satisfy Democratic centrists. Progressives might buy into such an agreement on the theory that it is difficult to defund an existing program — such as free community college — that is popular with the public. 

Other options are available. The starting date for the various parts of the reconciliation package could be staggered, delaying funding for some programs while fully funding others immediately. Or, Democrats might agree to implement all the parts of the bill while providing less funding across all programs than initially proposed. Finally, Democrats might fully fund fewer programs. The latter seems less palatable as progressives insist on including such controversial parts of the bill as tackling climate change, a major sticking point with Manchin who comes from a major coal-producing state. 

Progressives are in a strong position: They have Biden on their side. The president made it clear last Friday when he traveled to Capitol Hill that he sees both bills — the hard and the soft infrastructure measures — as linked. Moderates in the House have pushed for passage of the smaller roads and bridges proposal before taking up the costlier bill, a timeline opposed by progressives who fear that if the hard infrastructure package passed, moderates would have no incentive to compromise on the larger reconciliation legislation. Moderates, like Representative Abigail Spanberger of Virginia say that “success begets success,” and a win on infrastructure would be a catalyst to act swiftly on other parts of Biden’s agenda.

The problem for Biden and congressional progressives is that Manchin and Sinema have different priorities. Manchin agrees with the Democratic left that funding for the social agenda should come, at least in part, from rolling back the Trump-era tax cuts, which were a boondoggle for the very wealthy. The West Virginian is on board with raising the top individual tax rate and the capital gains rate. Sinema appears to oppose raising tax rates for the very rich. Sinema has indicated that addressing climate change is a top priority for her, while Manchin remains committed to the fossil fuel industry. The presence of so many moving parts makes compromise difficult, but with creativity, not impossible. 

Various polls have shown public support for both infrastructure measures. Funding for roads and bridges is popular, with one poll indicating 83 percent support for hard infrastructure. The nation’s roads and bridges are in such disrepair and public approval for infrastructure improvements is so high that even some Republicans climbed on board and supported the hard infrastructure package in the Senate. Solid majorities of Americans favor many of the parts of the soft infrastructure proposal, with 67 percent supporting spending on preschool programs and 55 percent in favor of expanded child tax credits. Two-thirds of respondents agreed that raising taxes on the rich and corporations was the proper way to pay for these innovations. 

A great number Democrats seem to agree that a deal will be reached. Moderates now understand that the physical infrastructure bill and the broader social investment program are linked and that the hard infrastructure bill cannot be considered alone. Progressives realize that the overall spending amount has to come down to satisfy Manchin and Sinema. Now, the bargaining begins.

Creativity is needed to work out a deal. But, it appears now that all sides have at least an inkling of where the various factions stand. And, Spanberger is right: Success does beget success. Passage of the two infrastructure bills might pave the way for movement on other parts of the president’s agenda, including, most importantly, voting rights legislation aimed at preventing Republicans denying the franchise and stealing future elections. 

Be creative, Democrats! And, get it done!

Posted October 5, 2021

 

 

Quality, Not Quantity

Picture by Hilary Stone Ginsberg

Debates in America over major policy initiatives usually focus on cost. When the policies under scrutiny carry a price tag of 100s of billions — even trillions — of dollars, politicians in Washington and the public have good reasons to zoom in on money.

But, monetary quantity is not the sole criterion for judging whether Congress should enact legislation. Quality matters, too, and never more critically than in the debate about to begin on the massive $3.5 trillion proposal on so-called “soft” infrastructure such as universal preschool, paid family leave, expanded child tax credits, and other parts of the legislation that finally would bring the United States into line with other industrial democracies that provide such services and benefits for their citizens. 

Moderate Democrats in the Senate — Krysten Sinema from Arizona and Joe Manchin from West Virginia, among others — complain about the cost of President Joe Biden’s signature legislative proposal. Manchin, in particular, warns that he cannot support legislation that totals more than $1.5 trillion and suggests he would be happy if the final price tag is as low as $1 trillion. 

Manchin, Sinema, and their cohort of moderate Democrats are wrong to base their decisions solely on cost. For one thing, the money will be spent over a decade. For another, Democrats plan on raising taxes on the wealthy and enacting other measures to pay for the infrastructure plan. In no year would spending authorized under the infrastructure package exceed 3.45 percent of the nation’s gross domestic product. And, there is no compelling evidence suggesting that the measure would spike an inflationary spiral, as some have worried. 

America can afford the cost. So, the question is: Can America afford not to pass the infrastructure package? If enacted as proposed, the bill would guarantee prekindergarten and community college for every American. It would bolster America’s competitiveness globally and reassert the nation’s role in fighting climate change. The way to think about the massive proposal is to imagine President Franklin Roosevelt stuffing the entire New Deal into one piece of legislation.

The package has widespread public support, regardless of cost. A poll conducted for HuffPost reveals that voters support the infrastructure plan by a two-to-one margin if told it costs $3.5 trillion, $2.5 trillion, or $1.5 trillion! The cost of the package had no influence on the level of support. Obviously, most Americans find these numbers incomprehensible, so the importance of the difference among the price tags may have little relevance. Still, it may be that voters are focusing on what is really important in the package and finding the cost largely irrelevant if the money is spent on the right programs.

The respondents in the poll may intuitively grasp that money spent on early childcare provides benefits far exceeding cost. Studies show, for example, that generous tax credits to families in need reap great benefits in improved health, education, and future earnings. The temporary child tax credits, for example, in President Biden’s initial economic recovery act — passed last spring — have reduced childhood poverty dramatically.

Still, for those who say, yes the bill contains many important parts that deserve serious consideration, but the cost…the cost… for them, I have a modest proposal.

Bear with me. When President Biden spoke of the end of America’s military involvement in Afghanistan, he made the following comment: “$300 million a day for 20 years. What have we lost as a consequence in terms of opportunities?” That comes to over $2 trillion. Obviously, that money cannot be recouped, but America spent it without suffering any serious domestic repercussions. We did not go broke. We did not suffer serious inflationary pressures. And, I have not even mentioned the money spent in Iraq over the same period. Adding that to the Afghan expenditures gives a cost total roughly equal to the $3.5 trillion for the proposed infrastructure plan. Americans should consider the cost of past foreign and military adventures when considering future domestic spending. 

The United States spends $700 billion a year supporting a huge military with bases and responsibilities around the world. Do we really need to spend that much money on the military? When pulling troops out of Afghanistan, Biden suggested that America’s global responsibilities will shrink. If so, that leaves a large question unanswered: What to do with the immense global military machine? If the United States is no longer going to try to impose democratic norms throughout the world, do we really need the huge military we now have? 

I am not suggesting unilateral disarmament. The world in 2021 is still a dangerous place. Russia is a threat, though a much reduced threat from the Soviet era. Still, it is a nation with a huge stockpile of nuclear weapons. China is an even more serous geopolitical threat requiring vigilance on our part. And, international terrorism remains a danger demanding close surveillance and the resources, both personnel and materiel, to respond quickly.

Still, does the United States need to spend more on national defense than China, India, Russia, the United Kingdom, Saudi Arabia, Germany, France, Japan, South Korea, Italy, and Australia — combined? China spends $250 billion annually on its military, second to the United States. But that is little more than a third of U.S. spending.

Cutting 50 percent of military spending would mean the United States would still outspend China by $100 billion while saving $350 billion annually. Over ten years, that savings would amount to $3.5 trillion — the proposed cost of the current infrastructure plan to invest in the nation’s future. I ask again: Can America afford not to pass the infrastructure package? Think about it. The quality of life in the United States and the repercussions globally depend on the answer. 

Posted September 21, 2021

Indefensible

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Republican obstructionism is making it harder and harder to defend the filibuster.

Still, Democratic Senator Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona tried to do just that earlier this week in an opinion piece in The Washington Post. Sinema’s argument can be summed up simply: Democrats will not always have a majority in the Senate, so if we Democrats overturn the filibuster in pursuit of the “For the People Act” (which Sinema co-sponsors), what would stop a Republican-controlled Senate from rescinding the Democratic law to pass a GOP ban on mail-in voting and/or to impose a draconian GOP voter-ID law? Or worse?

Sinema wrote her piece before Republicans filibustered the sweeping voting rights bill. The vote was on a procedural proposal to start debating the measure, and it went down on a straight party vote of 50 to 50, failing to achieve the supermajority required to move legislation forward in the modern Senate. Sinema, and other Democratic defenders of the filibuster, argue the tool is needed to encourage bipartisanship, but if Republicans unanimously will not even allow discussion of the “For the People Act,” it is hard to understand how moderate Democrats hope to reach a bipartisan agreement. If your adversary will not even discuss the issue, what room is there for compromise?

It is, of course, true that Republicans could turn the tables on Democrats and ram an undemocratic voting bill through the Senate. But, it is not always easy for a subsequent Congress to undo what a previous Congress did. Republicans tried numerous times for 10 years to repeal the Affordable Care Act, failing to muster support for what became a very popular public health measure. A comparison between the ACA and the “For the People Act” may not be entirely apt, as the ACA provides millions with healthcare, while Republican attempts to restrict voting is less tangible to many Americans. Still, a bill to insure voting rights for often disenfranchised groups, in part by making voting easier and more accessible, is likely to enjoy widespread support, making it difficult for Republicans to repeal it. 

But, that is speculative. Now, the truth should be obvious to everyone who cares about democracy: If Democrats do not find a way around the filibuster, it does not matter what a subsequent Republican-dominated Senate might do because Republicans in states they control are imposing the very measures Sinema fears a Republican-controlled Congress might impose in the future. Republicans at the state level are undermining democracy by passing strict voter ID laws, restricting mail-in and early voting, replacing bipartisan local election officials with Republican loyalists and political operatives, and threatening to allow state legislatures to determine the outcome of future elections by overriding the will of the people. A potential voter denied the right to vote does not care if he or she is disenfranchised by the federal government or by his or her state. The voter simply cares that he or she has been disenfranchised, period! The sad reality in 2021 is that America cannot have both democracy and the filibuster.

Sinema has allies among Democrats who object to eliminating or revising the filibuster to pass a sweeping voting rights law. Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia has been outspoken in his defense of supermajorities. Not all moderate Democrats agree, however. Senator Jon Tester of Montana says, “I think the filibuster’s important, but I think [protecting democracy] is fundamental to our country and who we are. And so I would take another look at the filibuster, if that’s what we need to move forward on this.”

The ancient Senate of the Roman Republic was the first legislature to use the filibuster. It was the favorite tool of Cato the Younger, the leading voice of the optimates, derived from the Latin word for best and applied to Rome’s conservative elite. Its role in frustrating popular measures was not lost on the Framers, who did not put it in the Constitution. It is, instead, an artifact of Senate rules, and an erroneous one at that. It came into being in the early 19th century when Vice President Aaron Burr mistakenly applied it to a procedural motion. It languished for several decades until senators realized that they could actually delay a motion by filibustering. 

The Framers disapproved of minorities running roughshod over majorities (and their opposite, which is why they built minority protections into the structure of government). Alexander Hamilton wrote in Federalist 22, “If a pertinacious minority can control the opinion of a majority…. [Then the] situation must always savor of weakness, sometimes borders upon anarchy.” James Madison, always concerned about protecting minority rights, nevertheless wrote in Federalist 10, “If a faction consists of less than a majority, relief is supplied by the republican principle, which enables the majority to defeat its sinister views by regular vote.” Yes! “Regular vote!”

Madison would, no doubt, have argued that requiring supermajorities to pass most legislation violates “regular” voting. And, a majority of Americans agreed with that view for most of our history, as the filibuster was used sparingly, mostly by segregationists to prevent civil rights legislation. It once required senators to actually talk a bill to death. Today, a senator can indicate his or her intent to oppose a bill, causing its delay. In other words, just one senator, by his or her opposition, can sideline a bill.

As Senator Sinema would say, what one Senate does, a subsequent Senate can undo. The filibuster exists by a Senate rule; the Senate can vote it out of existence by a simple majority. And, it should do so. The right to vote is intrinsic to democracy, and a minority cannot, and ought not, to be able to use minority obstruction to deny millions of Americans the right to vote. Especially when that minority, the Republican Party in this case, would reap partisan benefit from its exercise of minority power.

Posted June 25, 2021

Time to Consider a Wealth Tax

Picture by Hilary Stone Ginsberg

A bipartisan group of senators has been discussing an infrastructure proposal to spend more than a trillion dollars to fix the nation’s bridges, highways, tunnels, and rail lines — without raising taxes. 

The possible deal has something for many Democrats and Republicans. It would spend a great deal to repair our crumbling infrastructure, and with the support of 11 Republicans, it would satisfy President Joe Biden’s (and West Virginia Democratic Senator Joe Manchin’s) quest for bipartisanship. The proposed agreement would not raise taxes, which appeals to Republicans who want to protect the 2017 tax cuts. Left out of the possible bipartisan plan would be other pieces of Biden’s original proposal on combatting climate change by emphasizing cleaner energy sources and funding for improving drinking water, retraining workers, and providing home care for older and disabled Americans.

Also left out is the wish of progressives to use funding for the more ambitious Biden infrastructure proposal as well as trillions more for tackling climate change and improving the social safety net as a way to recalibrate the nation’s tax system. A price tag of six trillion dollars or more has been placed on all of the ambitious Biden agenda. Democrats want to fund that spending by raising the corporate tax rate and raising income taxes on those making more than $400,000 a year. 

And, some progressive Democrats want to do more. The need to fix crumbling infrastructure coupled with improving the nation’s inadequate social services —  America trails the rest of the industrial world in providing universal healthcare, child care, college education, and family leave — offers an opportunity to address wealth inequality by introducing a wealth tax. The stock market has boomed in recent years, but until someone sells stock and has to pay capital gains, all that wealth is not taxed on an annual basis.  

During the 2020 Democratic primaries, Senators Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Bernie Sanders of Vermont flirted with a wealth tax. Both offered ambitious proposals to improve the quality of life through federally financed programs and both saw a wealth tax as a tool to close the rapidly growing disparity between the richest and poorest Americans. 

The gap between rich and poor has been well documented in recent years. According to the Federal Reserve, the top one percent of Americans holds one-third of U.S. household wealth, while the bottom 50 percent less than two percent. Other sources show even greater disparities, as in Thomas Piketty’s comprehensive work, Capital in the Twenty-First Century. And, the gap is fated to increase because wealth generates wealth — people make money off their wealth — by increasing stock prices and making advantageous purchases and getting good returns on other investments. Moreover, the racial wealth divide is even worse, with the typical White family holding nearly ten times the wealth of a typical Black family. 

The federal government taxes income (among other things), and local governments tax property. Wealth is not taxed, but many on the left are coming to understand that the best way to raise trillions of dollars to fund a just society and close the gap in financial resources between the rich and poor is to tax wealth, that is, to tax an individual’s or family’s net wealth — their assets minus their debts. This would be a tax on all assets, not just stocks.

A wealth tax polls well. A 2019 poll showed more than six in ten Americans supported a wealth tax of two percent on households worth over $50 million dollars. Such a tax received the backing of 77 percent of Democrats and, interestingly, 57 percent of Republicans. 

How much money would a wealth tax raise? That depends on whose proposal is considered. Sanders would tax people with wealth over $32 million, Warren would begin hers at $50 million. Sanders’ tax would affect about 180,000 taxpayers, Warren’s about 70,000. Sanders has eight brackets in his proposal, beginning with a one percent tax on wealth over $32 million and growing to eight percent on wealth over $10 billion. Warren has two brackets, two percent for people with $50 million in assets, going up to six percent on wealth over one billion dollars. The economists Emmanuel Saez and Gabriel Zucman estimate that the Sanders wealth tax would bring in $4.35 trillion over a decade, while Warren’s tax would raise about $2.75 trillion in the same time frame.

Some critics say a wealth tax would be unconstitutional.  Warren says she has consulted tax experts who claim it would be constitutional. No one knows how the courts would rule on such a proposal. A constitutional amendment was required to impose the income tax over a century ago, and another amendment might be needed now. A bigger problem is knowing precisely how much wealth there is in the country. The data are not perfect on wealth accumulation, and the IRS might find it difficult to determine the assets of individuals. As John Koskinen, a former commissioner of the IRS, told NPR, “The thing to remember is the really wealthy people don’t hold all their assets in easy-to-value areas like stocks and bonds. A lot of them have artwork that’s worth a lot of money. A lot of them have investments in privately held corporations or in investment vehicles that do not give regular valuations.”

A wealth tax is uncharted territory. But, it is a proposal worth considering for it would go far in reducing the terrible and growing gap between the rich and the poor. And, no matter where the levels of taxation are set, a wealth tax would buy a lot of well-paved roads and well-constructed bridges while reining in the national debt.

Posted June 22, 2021

Manchin Refuses to Yield

The right to vote is fundamental to our American democracy and protecting that right should not be about party or politics. Least of all, protecting this right, which is a value I share, should never be done in a partisan manner. — Democratic Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia, June 6, 2021, Charleston Gazette-Mail. 

Picture by Hilary Stone Ginsberg

Senator, you are absolutely, positively, 100 percent right. We must protect democracy by protecting the vote, which should never be a partisan issue.

But, here is the rub, senator: Republicans in states they control are undermining the right to vote and empowering state legislatures to overturn election results. They are passing these measures in a partisan manner. Unless there is federal legislation to protect the right to vote, Democratic-leaning constituencies in Red States may be disenfranchised, and Republican state legislatures may gain the power to overturn election results they do not like. Senator, you are faced with a conflict between your wish to protect American democracy and your desire for Congress to act in a bipartisan manner. Unfortunately, you cannot have both. So, senator, which do you value more: The right to vote or bipartisanship?

The answer should be obvious, even to Senator Manchin. 

But, in case it is not obvious, I would point to President Abraham Lincoln’s dilemma when confronted by the military need to execute a deserter while wishing to preserve civil liberties in the midst of the Civil War. “Must I shoot a simple-minded soldier boy who deserts,” Lincoln asked, rhetorically, “while I must not touch a hair of a wiley [sic] agitator who induces him to desert?”

We all wish that Congress could be transported back to the 1960s when Republican votes helped pass important civil rights legislation and Medicare, or we wish it were the 1980s and Republican President Ronald Reagan and Democratic Speaker Tip O’Neill were cutting deals. But, it is not. It is 2021, and Republicans are committed to the Big Lie about the November 2020 presidential election and to obstructing virtually every item on President Joe Biden’s agenda. The era of bipartisanship is long over.

Manchin represents a conservative state. As a Democrat, he is an outlier in West Virginia. But, he is a Democrat who refuses to recognize reality. He frequently points to negotiations between Biden and the other West Virginia senator, Republican Shelley Moore Capito, as proof that a bipartisan deal on infrastructure can be reached. Capito may be negotiating in good faith, but do not be surprised if in the end, no matter the contours of a deal, Republicans vote no on an infrastructure agreement. As Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said, blocking Biden’s agenda is his party’s goal. It is a goal Manchin is furthering. 

There is a precedent for Republicans stringing Democrats along with no intention of actually cooperating. Recently, House Republicans made numerous demands of Democrats on the makeup of a bipartisan commission to investigate the January 6 insurrection, only in the end to vote overwhelmingly against a compromise measure that conceded all the Republican requests.

I suppose an optimist might conclude that Manchin left the door open — in a television appearance on Fox News Sunday — to supporting parts of the For the People Act. “I think there are a lot of great things I agree [with] in that piece of legislation,” Manchin told Chris Wallace. It is possible that splitting up the bill into its components, and then introducing the parts Manchin does not like in a separate measure, might secure passage of at least some of the original bill. But, there are two problems with that approach. First, the parts of the voting rights bill Manchin does like would have to pass through budget reconciliation because there is zero chance of securing the support of the 10 Republicans necessary to overcome a filibuster. And the rest of the measure, lacking Manchin’s support, would not even get to 50 votes, making a filibuster unnecessary. In any event, Manchin, Sunday, reiterated his opposition to scrapping or amending the filibuster. 

There are precedents for splitting major pieces of legislation — so-called omnibus bills — into component parts. Perhaps, the most famous example of this was the mis-labeled Compromise of 1850, which was no compromise at all, but a series of laws passed by shifting congressional majorities aimed at disposing of the huge tract of land — would it be slave or free?— wrested from Mexico by war. California was admitted as a free state by the votes of northerners — both Whig and Democratic — and a few southern Whig votes; the onerous Fugitive Slave Law was enacted with the support of the South and a handful of Democratic Northerners. The same thing happened to other parts of the original bill. No one agreed to all of the “compromise.”

Still, 1850 provides an imperfect precedent because the dysfunction of that decade was sectional — slave states vs. free states — while the dysfunction of today is the product of two political parties unified against each other. In 1850, it was possible to cross party lines to provide essentially sectional votes for each part of the compromise. That is not possible with two evenly divided political parties where one is dedicated to obstruction. 

Manchin professes optimism about the chances for bipartisanship and denies he is blocking Biden’s agenda. “We’re looking every way we can to bring this country together and unite the country. That’s what I’m doing,” Manchin said on CBS Sunday. “And I think anybody, whether it be a Democrat or Republican, that’s sitting today in the Senate knows who I am. And I’ve always been about bipartisanship.” But, even he is getting frustrated at times by Republican obstruction. After Republicans squelched the January 6 commission, Manchin said he was “very disappointed” and “very frustrated that politics has trumped — literally and figuratively — the good of the country.” He called Republican votes against the commission “unconscionable.”

As long as Manchin continues to support the filibuster — which is simply a Senate rule enacted in error — he likely will be “frustrated.” As for the rest of the Democratic Party, it likely will be furious at the senator from West Virginia for his willingness to abet and enable Republican obstruction. Manchin earns their opprobrium because his opposition to the voting rights bill will allow Republicans in state houses they control free rein to roll back universal suffrage and because his stubborn adherence to the principle of the filibuster will result in partisan gridlock.

It is probably way too late, but Senator Manchin, please reconsider.

Posted June 8, 2021

Some Good News! But, Wait…

Picture by Hilary Stone Ginsberg

Buried under the avalanche of bad and scary news — such as Republican refusal to investigate the January 6 insurrection and Republican attacks on voting rights — some good news: The efforts to help people in crisis are working.

A study from the University of Michigan reveals that the COVID relief bill of late December 2020 and the American Rescue Plan of March 2021 — both of which put money in the hands of Americans — dramatically improved lives, particularly for those living in low-income households. Food insufficiency fell by over 40 percent, financial instability decreased by 45 percent, and reports of adverse mental health symptoms declined by 20 percent. In their summary of key findings, the study’s authors concluded that “the success of the federal government’s relief measures may be due to the speed, breadth, and flexibility of its broad-based approach, primarily relying on cash transfers.”

The December relief measure passed before President Joe Biden’s inauguration, but passage of the March relief package combined with the administration’s success in distributing and getting into peoples’ arms the coronavirus vaccine help explain the president’s remarkable favorability numbers in recent polls: Consistently over 50 percent and topping 60 percent from time to time. Clearly, people respond to the kinds of positive results reflected in the Michigan study. Biden’s numbers may even go up in coming months as the nation reopens over the summer and people start going to picnics, ballgames, and restaurants and doing all the things they took for granted before the pandemic.

But — and this is a big but — as robust as the recovery from both economic devastation and the pandemic has been, there are danger signs lurking. Republican intransigence and obstructionism, as I indicated earlier this week, remain an ongoing threat to the longevity of American democracy. The nation is afflicted by a major political party that refuses to investigate treason and is trying to steal elections. Make no mistake about it, contained in the voter suppression and nullification laws wending their way through Republican-controlled state legislatures is a plot to insure that a party with no ideology, a declining voter base, and a lack of commitment to constitutionalism can seize power by flagrantly denying the will of the majority. Republicans intend to deny Democrats electoral success by any and all means.

Republicans remain in thrall to their cult leader — the autocratically inclined former president, Donald Trump — despite signs that Trump’s popularity is declining. A NBC News poll taken in April — 100 days after Trump left the White House — showed his favorability rating at just 32 percent, down eight points from his rating on January 20. In another bit of good news and a sign that out-of-office leads to out-of-mind, a frustrated Trump this week removed himself entirely from the Internet. Still banned on Twitter and Facebook, Trump decided to shut down his month-old blog, “From the Desk of Donald J. Trump.” According to associates, the former president became angry when he learned the site attracted little traffic. Others reportedly told Trump the little-read blog made him look irrelevant. Last month, The Washington Post reported that Trump’s website attracted fewer visitors that the pet-adoption service “Petfinder” and the recipe site “Delish.”

Trump’s inability to dominate the news to the extent he could as president and his lack of an Internet presence suggest a growing irrelevancy. But, no one should underestimate his potential for mayhem. He remains popular among a sizable number of Republicans, and the 2024 Republican presidential nomination is his for the taking. A diminished Donald Trump is like a wounded wild animal — dangerous and lashing out at one and all.

While Trump is not a media presence as such, he still dominates public discourse. The right-wing media is full of stories about him, and even on centrist and progressive news outlets, discussion of Trump’s political future, his past failures, and his growing legal woes tends to crowd out coverage of the Biden administration. The successes of the new administration do not receive, perhaps, as much attention as they deserve, which is one reason why Biden and others in his administration have taken to the road to convince Americans of the efficacy of their policies. Biden would not be the first president to appeal directly to the public to convince a recalcitrant Congress to act.

As popular as Biden is, his policies are even more popular. But, the window of opportunity for Biden and Democrats is narrow. The Senate passed the stimulus package by using budget reconciliation to circumvent a Republican filibuster, but other major Biden initiatives are stalled in Congress. The infrastructure proposal, two measures to insure free and fair elections, and the American Family Act are subject to Republican obstruction through the filibuster in the Senate. The unwillingness of Republicans to even negotiate in good faith on these measures makes eliminating or, at least, amending the filibuster imperative.

I suspect Biden has a strategy aimed at convincing reluctant conservative Democratic senators — Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Krysten Sinema of Arizona — that nothing will get done as long as Republicans can wield the filibuster. Hence, Biden’s continuing discussions with West Virginia Republican Senator Shelley Moore Capito on infrastructure legislation. Biden probably suspects the negotiations will go nowhere, but he wants to play them out as long as possible so he can say, “See, I tried, but Republicans won’t even meet me halfway.” Infrastructure, after all, is the kind of legislation that used to attract bipartisan support. What lawmaker would not want to go home and tell voters, “I got you that new bridge?”

A failure to attract Republican support for infrastructure legislation combined with Republican defeat of the measure to investigate the January 6 insurrection — after Democrats yielded to every Republican demand on the makeup of the commission — might lead even reluctant Democrats to vote for the filibuster’s end. If not, Democrats will have little but their initial successes to run on in 2022 and 2024. Worse yet, the inability to secure federal legislation protecting free and fair elections will give Republicans a huge opportunity to prevent Democratic-leaning voters from exercising their franchise and allow Trump and his Republican cohorts to undermine further American democracy.

Despite the good news about vaccines and economic recovery, the situation is critical, and Democrats must not let up. It is time to end the filibuster and legislate in the interests of the American people.

Posted June 4, 2021

It’s All About 2024

Picture by Hilary Stone Ginsberg

Imagine this scenario: Joe Biden wins reelection in 2024 by 10-million votes and a significant margin in the Electoral College. Congress meets in the first week of January, 2025, to certify the electors. The House is controlled by Republicans because of gerrymandering and voter suppression laws passed after the previous presidential election (even though Democrats outpolled Republicans in the cumulative vote). The Senate is under Republican control due to the same voter suppression laws and the imbalance created by equal representation in the upper chamber (where small-population, ultra-red Wyoming has the same number of senators as large-population, very blue California). Both bodies throw out the electors from enough states to swing the election to Donald Trump.

Fanciful? Not really! Remember, 147 Republican members of Congress voted to decertify the electors from at least one state in the 2020 presidential election. None of them appeared troubled by the lack of evidence of fraud nor by the damage done to American democracy. And, the Republican Party four months later has made subscribing to the “Big Lie” a litmus test of fealty.

It may not even take decertification by Congress to overturn the results of a legitimate presidential election in the future. Some states are granting, or considering granting,  legislatures more power in overseeing elections, authority that would allow Republican-controlled legislatures to throw out the popular vote and appoint their own slate of presidential electors. Compliant Republicans in Congress would, no doubt, accept such bogus electors.

Or, as Lawrence Douglas posited in Will He Go? Trump and the Looming Election Meltdown in 2020, Republican-controlled state legislatures could refuse to accept absentee ballots and certify a presidential winner based only on same-day votes, while their Democratic governors accept the total-vote tally. The result? Some states send two slates of electors to Congress. Again, anti-democratic Republicans in Congress would not hesitate to certify the legislatively approved electors. 

All those committed to the Constitution and the rule of law should not be deceived. The Republican Party’s doubling down in its commitment to the “Big Lie” is an existential threat to democracy. Republican-controlled state legislatures are passing — or considering passing — laws that both suppress the vote and make it easier for state officials to nullify the votes of people whose votes Republicans do not want to count. This is alarming. The history of voting rights in America has — despite some periods of repression — been the continued expansion of the right to vote. Now, we are witnessing one of the two American political parties demonstrate a commitment to restrict the vote. 

Not only are Republicans attempting to insure that only the “right” people vote or only those people’s votes are counted, but the party is purging from its ranks those who will not go along with the “Big Lie.” Representative Liz Cheney of Wyoming will be ousted soon from her party leadership post in the House because she voted to impeach Donald Trump for his complicity in the January 6 insurrection at the Capitol and asserts the truth that Joe Biden is the rightful president of the United States. Cheney will be replaced by a compliant and, since the first Trump impeachment hearings, whole-hearted Trump supporting Elise Stefanik of New York.

The continual invocation of the “Big Lie” — as witnessed in the repetition of it by Trump and his sycophants as well as the absurd, scary, and dangerous shenanigans taking place in the secret recount of votes in Maricopa County, Arizona — is not about 2020, but 2024. The proto-fascists in the party — and there are many — are keeping alive the lie because it serves their purposes in undermining trust in elections and preparing the way for widespread acceptance of congressional and/or state legislative interference in future elections.

Republicans know their electoral future is bleak and that demographics and recent voting trends favor the Democrats. Biden won the popular vote in such formerly red states as Georgia and Arizona. Those states give every indication of turning purple in the future while Virginia is no longer purple but solidly blue. No Republican has won statewide election in Virginia since Bob McDonnell’s election as governor in 2009. Other states are likely to follow as Democrats continue to gain support in metropolitan and suburban areas.

Unable to win elections fairly, and unwilling either to challenge Trump’s outrageous lies and behavior or adopt genuinely popular policies, Republicans have decided to cheat and alter the playing field. Continued promulgation by Republicans of the “Big Lie” and the party’s willingness to engage in electoral cheating leave Democrats no choice but to pass the For the People Act of 2021 and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act. Enactment of both laws will insure the continuation of free and fair elections in America.

But, to accomplish this, Democrats must repeal the filibuster in the Senate. Moderate Democrats in the Senate like Joe Manchin of West Virginia who refuse to support overturning the filibuster guarantee Republican success at electoral cheating. Their stubbornness gives Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell a virtual veto over Democratic legislation, including laws to insure electoral security. 

Senator Manchin, Republicans tried to overturn the 2020 election. Already they are paving the way to succeed in their machinations in 2024. Senator, the fate of the filibuster may determine the fate of the next presidential election. It is, after all, all about 2024.

Posted May 11, 2021

“We the People”

The question of whether our democracy will long endure is both ancient and urgent, as old as our republic, still vital today? 

Our Constitution opens to the words, as trite as it sounds, “We the people.” It’s time we remembered that “We the people” are the government. You and I. Not some force in a distant capital. Not some powerful force that we have no control over. It’s us. It’s “We the people.”

President Joe Biden, address to a joint session of Congress, April 28, 2021*

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Picture by Hilary Stone Ginsberg

President Joe Biden struck two overarching and linked themes in his Wednesday night speech: Can democracy endure in the face of domestic and autocratic foreign foes? And, what is the nature of government in the 21st century?

The president condemned domestic terrorism forcefully and by name: “White supremacy is terrorism,” Biden said, promising that his administration — unlike that of his predecessor — will not ignore this danger to democracy. Foreign enemies, he noted, also pose a threat to the success of the American democratic experiment. “America’s adversaries, the autocrats of the world, are betting” against democracy. “They are wrong,” Biden forcefully stressed. “You know it, I know it. But we have to prove them wrong. We have to prove democracy still works, that our government still works, and we can deliver for our people.”

An activist government is the linchpin — the linkage — between Biden’s themes: Facing down the autocratic threat and proving that democracy still works. For Biden, “We the people” are the government in American democracy. “We the people” mean all the people. And, to demonstrate that he intends to govern in the interests of all the people, Biden took both a victory lap, touting the successes of his administration in its first 100 days and proposed a bold agenda for further action in the months ahead to haul the nation into the 21st century and keep it competitive with both America’s friends and foes.

“We’ve stared into the abyss of insurrection and autocracy, pandemic and pain, and ‘We the people’ did not flinch,” the president asserted. “America is on the move again,” he touted, citing his administration’s success in delivering over 220 million COVID-19 vaccine shots into people’s arms and passing the American Rescue Plan that delivered much-needed money to most Americans, aided struggling citizens with food and rent money, and created more than 1,300,000 new jobs. When Biden announced that the stimulus package contains provisions that will cut the rate of child poverty in half, the Republicans in the chamber sat on their hands. (Are they in favor of child poverty?)

Biden touted his previously unveiled infrastructure plan, claiming that most of its provisions — from repairing and building roads and bridges to combating climate change — are really job creation programs. And, he used Wednesday night’s speech to formally announce his American Families Plan, an ambitious proposal to expand publicly funded schooling by an additional four years. Two of the additional years would make universal preschool available for 3- and 4-year-olds, and the other two would provide free community college. The proposal also expands federal assistance for those who attend four-year colleges, and it calls for 12 weeks of paid family and medical leave. “We’re one of the few industrial countries in the world” that still forces people “to choose between a job and a paycheck or taking care of themselves or their loved ones,” Biden noted. 

The president’s proposals — including the stimulus and infrastructure plans and the just-announced American Families Plan — represent a bold expansion of the federal government. His agenda marks a departure from four decades of subservience to the Reaganite proposition — announced in President Ronald Reagan’s First Inaugural Address — that “government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem.” Subsequent administrations — Democratic and Republican — subscribed to this notion.

But, no more! President Biden is reviving the legacy of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, whom he cited, to promote an activist government that governs in the interests of “We the people.” None of this comes cheaply. Biden proposes paying for his multi-trillion dollar plans by taxing the rich — both individuals and corporations. “I will not impose any tax increase on people making less than $400,000,” he vowed.  

The Biden programs are costly — and will be hard to pass. Republicans theoretically might support parts of the infrastructure package — particularly money to build and repair roads and bridges — but no Republicans signed onto the American Rescue Plan and none are likely to vote for the American Families Plan. Republicans argue Biden’s agenda is too expensive, expands government too much, and raises taxes on the rich — which Republicans just cut and will never support.

Lacking Republican backing, Biden has to rely on a united Democratic Party. Moderates within the party are put off by the price tag for the American Families Plan. The 50-50 split in the Senate means that Democratic moderates — like Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia — hold sway over what eventually passes — if anything. Officials in the administration say Biden is “open to hearing” other ideas, Washington-speak for “let’s negotiate.”

Even if only a small part of the infrastructure plan passes and little or none of the American Families Plan gets through, Biden already has succeeded in changing the nation’s conversation. His approval ratings are high, and public support for his programs is even higher. One poll found more than two-thirds of Americans favor Biden’s infrastructure plan and his tax hikes on the rich. And, a CNN poll, conducted after Biden’s speech, showed that 73 percent said his agenda makes them feel optimistic that the nation is moving in the right direction.

In just over three months, President Biden has won wide support for a renewed activist government. Opposing a popular president whose agenda is even more popular may not be a winning ticket for obstructionist Republicans. And, Republican support for the foes of democracy — like Russia’s Vladimir Putin abroad and insurrectionists at home — may prove detrimental to the party’s prospects as an activist government provides an answer to Biden’s question about the future of democracy.

Yes, democracy is still vital today, because democracy is “We the people” governing actively in the interest of all Americans. On Wednesday night, President Biden affirmed his determination to make this so. 

Posted April 30, 2021

*All quotations from President Biden’s speech are from this transcript by The New York Times.