Big debate starting in Congress over the nuclear pact negotiated between the U.S., Iran and the world’s nuclear powers, including China and Russia.
The conservatives don’t like it, but have proven hard pressed to figure out just why – they don’t trust the Iranians, or they don’t want them to get the money that will come with lifting sanctions, or the Israelis are upset, or the Saudis might try to get a bomb themselves. The central idea that Iran is not now able to make a bomb does not seem to be the issue.
Obama immediately vowed to veto any Congressional act that tried to undo the deal. It looks like he probably will hold enough votes to prevent an override. Watch the Congressional action turn to something that does not undo the deal, but lets them look like they are sticking a pencil in the President’s eye – something about what happens if the deal is broken, or what happens in ten years.
This debate will be all the rage in your nation’s Capital for the next few weeks, but it’s a big win for the President.
Farce Turns to Tragedy
The agon is the portion of the Greek Tragedy where the heroes and heroines confront their fate. It is the origin of our word agony. The Greek agony came last week when they submitted to austerity imposed largely at the insistence of the Germans in return for a bail out of their economy. Since there is no capacity to stimulate growth and no money to invest in the economy, this plan simply will not work.
The International Monetary Fund and the French seem to understand that it will not work and are trying to find another way, but German Chancellor Angela Merkel is ailing from the austerity bug and apparently is intent on punishing the Greeks by inflicting the symptoms of this disease on them.
The Greeks actually are showing heroism in the face of some rough treatment by the rest of Europe – they have tried not to desert the European community.
Remember the old saw comparing the legislative process to sausage making? Well we have a great example going now in the Congress over the need to put money in the Highway Trust Fund.
Last week we reported about a bad plan being offered by Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY). Democrats have been reluctant to criticize this give away to the multi-national corporations because they are anxious to produce the largest possible amount of funding for the Trust and thus the maximum amount of economic stimulus. Schumer’s most important ally is Representative Paul Ryan (R-WI) over in the House. Ryan wants to link infrastructure funding to the largest possible tax deal.
Nevertheless, these plans may not even be considered if Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is successful in pushing a short-term fix for the infrastructure program. Since he doesn’t want to do the sensible thing and raise the gas tax, McConnell is scratching around for a way to pay for the program for a couple of years. How about using unspent mortgage relief money, or cutting federal employee retirement benefits, or by making it easier to deny Social Security benefits? No, we did not make any of these up, they are actually offered by various Republican sources.
Meanwhile, over in the House they cobbled together some more phony money deals and passed an extension of the fund until December. The Democrats had suggested that long term funding could come from closing corporate tax loopholes, but their plan was voted down.
We will know in a week or so whether the bad short-term McConnell plan will get through the Senate. If it doesn’t, watch out for the bad long-term Schumer plan to become the framework for a debate that could last until Christmas.
Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker finally announced his candidacy for the Presidency. We have been breathless with expectation. He joins Governors Bobby Jindal and Chris Christie as examples of politicians who have adopted the austerity ideology and have driven their state’s economies into the ditch – all the while bragging about their records. Walker’s announcement prompted a series of stories about how poorly the state’s economy is doing compared to neighboring Minnesota.
Walker cut funding for education, attacked collective bargaining and civil service, and refused to expand Medicaid – among other things on the Koch Brother’s austerity agenda.
Wisconsin is rated thirty-fourth among the states in terms of job growth.
Meanwhile, next door in Minnesota where the Democrats increased taxes, expanded Medicaid and made investments in education, they are experiencing an economic boom, ranking fifth in the nation in economic growth.
It looks as though Alaska will join the growing group of Medicaid expansion states. After the Alaska Legislature failed to enact Independent Governor Bill Walker’s expansion proposal, he announced that he was going to go ahead and do it anyway.
Trumped Up Charges
In the last Daley Weekly we asked whether or not Trump had peaked. Lest you did not believe this to be a possibility, you might speculate about how Trump’s ridiculous attack on Senator John McCain (R-AZ) will be seen by his base. Late in the week Trump gave all the R candidates something to react to when he claimed that Senator John McCain was not a war hero because he had been captured. Trump’s ego and mouth just got him in real trouble even with those who admire his racist remarks about Mexicans. If spending six years in a prison camp doesn’t pretty much give you a corner on the hero thing I don’t know what does. It will be interesting to see how Ted Cruz (R-TX), who has been kissing The Donald’s backside, deals with this one.
Let’s hope that the polls change enough to get Senator Lindsay Graham (R-SC) into the Republican Presidential Debate set for month’s end. He had the sense to go on national TV and denounce Donald Trump’s comments about Mexicans. Graham even went so far as to declare that if the Republicans did not reject this stuff they would lose both the election and the moral authority to govern the nation. I think that Graham’s war mongering has and would get us into more foreign sewers than we can possibly clean, but someone needs to be on the stage to speak against The Donald’s racist fulminations.
Apparently enrollments in the SHOP exchanges, which started last year, are dangerously low – a mere 10,700 employers have bought in, which equates to about 85,000 lives nationwide. Shops have experienced technology problems and a lack of competition. Employers complain about complications and cost. Small business tax credits are available to far too few businesses due to size limitations. Small businesses had looked to these markets as a way to expand health insurance coverage for their employees.
What’s in a Name?
“A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” Well maybe, maybe not. Some Republicans introduced a bill in the House called the “Working Families Flexibility Act.” The idea behind this act is to prevent employers from having to pay overtime for work beyond the forty-hour week. You could choose paid leave or comp time, but no overtime pay.
Remember how sacred the forty-hour week was a couple of months back when they were trying to change the ACA requirement that benefits go to employees who worked up to thirty hours? Anyway, this “flexibility” is an absolute crock and it is intended to cost you money and give the corporations another break.
Sorry to get all flowery here but it isn’t my fault. After all, it is Shakespeare who dreams up these metaphors. Here’s another one: “Lilies that fester smell far worse than weeds.”
Paid Sick Leave
Oregon joined California, Connecticut and Massachusetts in requiring employers to provide paid sick leave for their employees.
Low Income Tax Credits
As the Republican Congress goes through its machinations over how to make the rich even richer, it is critical that the Minority Party use its power to make sure that the Earned Income Tax Credit and the Child Tax Credit be made a part of the legislation. And merely renewing them won’t be enough. The hole in the EITC that excludes childless adults should be eliminated. The CTC should be indexed to inflation. When you discuss this whole matter with your friends and Members of Congress, you might want to school yourselves with some excellent information and framing supplied via a webinar given last week on these credits by the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities and the Coalition on Human Needs.
President Obama seems to be doubling down on efforts to reduce criminalization. He commuted the sentences of 46 low-level drug offenders and visited a federal pen. He is asking Congress to join with him to overhaul the criminal justice system and reduce the national prison population. He argues that this is an aspect of national life that is “particularly skewed by race and by wealth.”
Karl Marx wrote that religion is the opiate of the people. I think he got it bassackwards. It turns out that opiates are the religion of the people. Hence the failure of the so-called war on drugs. The drugs won. And now we are going to have to figure out how to free the POWs.
Remember Hobby Lobby? This was the name of a case in which the Supreme Court threw a spear into the provisions of the Affordable Care Act that attempted to guarantee women access to cost-free contraception through health insurance. It looked as though the idea was pretty much meaningless for millions of women. The Administration has been trying to do what they call inside the D.C. Beltway “thread the needle” with an accommodation for religious institutions. They may have done it. The Little Sisters of the Poor were not happy and sued. They lost when a federal appeals court ruled that the plan does not impose a substantial burden on the nuns’ practice of their religion.
Congress is pretty much in continuous session through the first week in August when they break for a month. August might be a good time to see if you can catch your local Congress member back home and to ask them whether or not they will work to break the Sequester that is strangling domestic spending and pressing a brake on an economy that needs to be stimulated.
Bill Daley, National Legislative Director
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