Members of Progressives United have some big questions for key legislators -- and they've been demanding answers.
Right after the election on November 6, Congress will come together in a lame-duck session to decide the fate of a series of consequential issues that could affect the lives of millions of Americans: Will Congress gut benefits from Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security? Will they allow millionaires and billionaires to continue paying lower tax rates than their secretaries?
Members of Congress tend to be least accountable right after an election. That's why progressives in target states have been calling their representatives and senators now, before November 6, to get them on the record about the looming decisions they will make regarding crucial benefits and tax fairness.
Our plan worked: progressives have put two current senators on the spot with these tough questions.
Senator Scott Brown (R-MA)
Bernard got through to a staffer at Sen. Scott Brown's office and got a (sort of) clear answer:
A male staffer said that Sen. Brown was opposed to raising taxes on anybody, that he favored keeping Medicare as is, and that there was no "updated" statement on Social Security so he did not know Brown's position.
Another caller got some straightforward answers, especially on benefit cuts:
Staffer…said that Senator Brown does not support Medicare vouchers, or privatization of either Medicare or Social Security. I had asked about and pressed on cuts. Sen. Brown does want to take $500 billion from Medicare. I rejoined that it was $716 billion. The staffer's prompt sheet said $500 billion. Staffer indicated that Medicare and Social Security were financially shaky - I forget his precise words. I told him that Social Security was solvent. Senator Brown does believe in repealing the objectionable (not specified) parts of the Affordable Care Act.
Senator Dean Heller (R-NV)
Sen. Heller seems to prefer not answering tough questions like these in his office. His staff told both of the callers who left comments that they will receive a letter response -- one that is likely to arrive after the election.
Here's what Janice told Sen. Heller's office:
Heller will send me a letter addressing my issues. I told them that while I am not on Medicaid there is an abundance of folks needing Medicaid. I told him that my husband and I are retired with social security and a small retirement income. If he votes to reduce social security or Medicare it would be a disaster for us. I told him I need to know before I vote.
And Thomas cut to the chase with Sen. Heller's staffer:
I spoke to the woman on the phone and asked her if the senator was going to cut funds or lessen support for [M]edicare, [S]ocial [S]ecurity and [M]edicaid - also commenting that I knew his mother in grammar and high- school and she very much depends on these programs - the person on line agreed. I also mentioned that the idea of cutting taxes, when they have never been so low for millionaires, seems totally irresponsible, given the debt, we are in. She asked for my address and said I would receive a letter in the mail.
This is the power of progressives when we come together and unite: We hold our legislators accountable -- because their jobs depend on their constituents. It's safe to say these two senators will want to think twice before betraying the expectations of the folks back home when they return -- in victory or defeat -- to the Senate in the lame-duck session.
President Obama sat down with Brian Williams of NBC Nightly News between campaign stops yesterday, and he made a forceful rebuke of the explosion of money in this election and its proximate cause, the Supreme Court's lawless decision in Citizens United:
I think that the amount of money that is being spent in my campaign and Mr. Romney's campaign, and the super PACs that are out there, is ridiculous. And as you will recall, when the Citizens United decision came out, I took a fairly unusual step of saying this was bad for our democracy, in a State of the Union speech. I continue to believe that…
I believe we can interpret the Constitution in a way that allows for some commonsense restrictions on the amount of money spent and the manner in which it's spent, because for us to have folks writing 10 million dollar checks undisclosed, having huge sway in this election, and just the sheer amount of waste that could be used more profitably in other areas, doesn’t make much sense.
So this is an issue that, in a second term, I'll raise.
We can be sure that if President Obama is reelected, we'll have someone in the White House who understands the corrupting impact that money has had on our elections and government, and will use his office to fix the broken system.
Don't look for any such assurances from the president's opponent, Mitt Romney, who has called for letting "people make whatever contributions they want" to campaigns.
Romney has certainly been a beneficiary of unlimited money this year. The largest donor to the so-called "independent" super PAC supporting Romney, Sheldon Adelson, has pledged upwards of $100 million to bolster the GOP ticket. In return, Romney has let Adelson enjoy nearly unfettered access to the Republican nominee. The billionaire has said he's spoken personally with Romney "many, many, many times," and even accompanied the former Massachusetts governor on a swing through Israel this summer.
We need a president who stands up for hardworking Americans -- not just the wealthy few who let money work for them.
This year's campaign season has been awash in cash from corporations working furiously to buy the electoral outcomes they desire. But corporate influence has not only been rampant on the airwaves in favor of preferred candidates. A broad spectrum of workers has also been subject to intimidation and coercion from their bosses.
As Roll Call's Eliza Newlin Carney wrote in her column today, corporations have been freed to launch full-on campaigns within the confines of their businesses -- sometimes forcing the hands of their powerless employees:
Some employers appear to have jumped right in. Recent news reports have detailed emails to employees from CEOs at companies including Koch Industries’ Georgia-Pacific, Westgate Resorts, Lacks Enterprises and ASG Software Solutions warning that a vote against GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney would, essentially, lead to layoffs.
Just today, new reports of employee intimidation in Milwaukee have surfaced. The head of a major manufacturing firm sent an email to his employees this week alleging that their pensions could be in danger if President Obama were reelected, a tactic clearly designed to scare workers into voting for the candidate chosen by their CEO.
Mike White, the chairman and owner of Rite-Hite, a major Milwaukee manufacturer of industrial equipment, told employees in an email this week that all employees "should understand the personal consequences to them of having our tax rates increase dramatically if President Obama is re-elected, forcing taxpayers to fund President Obama's future deficits and social programs (including Obamacare), which require bigger government."…
As a result [of supposedly higher corporate taxes under an Obama administration], White said the company's profits would not be reinvested. Instead, he wrote, "the money will be sent into the abyss that is Washington, D.C. So, on top of the burden of having your personal taxes increase dramatically, which they will, your RSP contributions and healthy retirement are also at risk, all for the sake of maintaining an over-sized government that borrows 42% of every dollar it spends."
No employee should be subject to this kind of brazen power play. Nor, as Carney pointed out, is Mr. White the only perpetrator. Just a couple of weeks ago, David Siegel, CEO of timeshare company Westgate Resorts, sent an email to his staff of several thousand, saying, "If any new taxes are levied on me, or my company, as our current President plans, I will have no choice but to reduce the size of this company…This means fewer jobs, less benefits and certainly less opportunity for everyone."
This is corporate meddling in elections at its worst. But protections against such treatment also have a rich history. As Carney noted in her column, workplace safeguards against political coercion have been in place for centuries, even before the United States became a country. "As early as the 1700s, laws in several colonies and states barred any 'attempt to overawe, affright, or force, any person qualified to vote, against his inclination or conscience,'" she wrote.
The freedom to think and act without fear or coercion is fundamental to the success of our democracy. But there's one candidate running for president who is all in favor of such employee intimidation: Republican nominee Mitt Romney. Governor Romney has actively encouraged this brand of bullying (from Roll Call):
Romney appeared to encourage such talk when he addressed business owners on a conference call with the National Federation of Independent Business. “I hope you make it very clear to your employees what you believe is in the best interest of your enterprise and therefore their job and their future in the upcoming elections,” he said.
So, would Romney stand behind the tactics a number of CEOs have used to scare their employees into voting for him? According to his goading statements, he'd like such intimidation to be the norm.
Governor Romney’s disdainful characterization of half our nation, as unveiled in a video of his remarks to a fundraiser held earlier this year in Boca Rotan, is receiving well-deserved attention. The comments were devastatingly revealing of his dismissiveview of his fellow citizens, half of whom he sees as lazy government-funded freeloaders. In his column today, conservative columnist David Brooks rightly asks, “Who are these freeloaders? Is it the Iraq war veteran who goes to the V.A.? Is it the student getting a loan to go to college? Is it the retiree on Social Security or Medicare?” Brooks calls Romney’s characterization of America his “country club fantasy,” adding that it is what “self-satisfied millionaires say to each other.”
What has not received adequate attention thus far is the almost universal muteness from other Republican candidates on Romney’s now infamous remarks, in particular Republican candidates for the House and Senate. Other than the Republican Senate candidate from Connecticut, Linda McMahon, the prospective legislators who would be called upon to implement Romney’s vision should he be elected president have remained deafeningly silent.
Political journalists ought to be asking Wisconsin Senate candidate Tommy Thompson, for example, whether he shares Governor Romney’s view of our nation, whether he views Iraq veterans getting help from the V.A. or retirees getting Social Security or Medicare as worthless freeloaders. If Senate candidate Thompson and other Republican candidates respond that they don’t share that view, then journalists might follow-up by asking whether they would, if elected, actively oppose implementation of policies that reflect such a divisive stance.
In the absence of political journalists actually doing their job, voters must rely on the famous legal maxim -- qui tacet consentit -- roughly “silence gives consent.” It surely applies in this instance, and through their reticence, Republican candidates have been roaring their consent for the Romney vision.