Budget

Brinksmanship and the Return of Financial Crisis

A government shutdown once again loomed, and familiar deadlines and ultimatums flew around Washington. And Congress just used the threat to loosen the rules created in the wake of the financial crisis, a victory for Wall Street banks in their constant and well-funded campaign against reform. The rules they have targeted are designed to reduce the risk of another financial meltdown, like the one that drove us into the Great Recession and could have been much worse. Though the repeal has been styled by some as a technical amendment, nothing could be farther from the truth. Think about the best way to decide legislative policy in the devilishly complex and risk-laden area of derivatives. These are the financial contracts that brought down AIG, the event that triggered the crisis. You might imagine careful deliberation and debate, leading to a thoughtful vote in Congress in which elected representatives must stand up and be counted so that they could be held responsible for a difficult...

Will D.C.'s Pot Legalization Fall Prey to Meddling Congress?

Under the Capitol dome, Republicans have been blocking the will of District voters for years. Now there's a new target.

"Plantacja" by A7nubis - Own work. Licensed under GFDL via Wikimedia Commons
It’s not like Representative Andy Harris didn’t warn us. When District of Columbia voters last month overwhelmingly passed Initiative 71, the ballot measure to legalize marijuana in the District, the Maryland Republican threatened to use “all resources available to a member of Congress to stop this action.” And when it comes to preventing D.C. from exercising home rule, the arsenal of available resources is quite well stocked. Harris, the origin story of whose marijuana vendetta must be a Maureen Dowd–style special-brownie overindulgence that left him shattered, has for the past year made it his personal mission to prevent the people who didn’t vote for him from getting what they voted for. His latest nefarious plot is a rider, attached to the 1,600-page budget deal released Tuesday night, which prohibits D.C. from using its funds to enact the legalization of marijuana. The bill also continues the amendment that blocks D.C. from using its own locally raised taxes to fund abortions for...

Did Democrats Get Hosed on the Budget Bill?

Merry Christmas to me... (Flickr/Speaker John Boehner)
Once again, Democrats had to step in and save John Boehner from a humiliating defeat that would lead to a government shutdown (67 Republicans voted against the bill; the 57 Democrats who voted in favor pushed it past a majority). There were complicated coalitions facing off; on one side you had Boehner and the White House trying to pass it, while on the other you had liberal Democrats joining with conservative Republicans in opposition. The general conclusion in the press is well summed up by articles like this one , noting that while the liberals failed to stop the bill, this is nonetheless a potentially seminal moment, because they went against the White House, and vocally so. The question is whether this signals an important rift that will have real practical consequences in the next two years and beyond. That is important, but before we get there, there's a substantive matter we need to take note of. This budget bill was cobbled together in haste, but there was time to throw in...

How Badly Do Republicans Want Tax Reform? (Maybe Not That Badly)

(AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
(AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite) House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Representative Dave Camp, Republican of Michigan, speaks to reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, April 9, 2014. I f there's one major issue on which everyone in Washington seems to believe the White House and congressional Republicans might be able to agree to do something ambitious in the next two years, it's tax reform. A significant overhaul of the tax code hasn't happened in many years, and there are some areas of agreement between the two sides. Republicans supposedly want to show they can govern as the party in control of Congress, and President Barack Obama would like to obtain at least one significant legislative achievement in his second term. Big business, which has the ear of both parties, is eager for it. So is it going to happen? The answer depends, it would seem, on the tender emotions of Republicans, who are already complaining that tax reform might have to be scrapped if Obama is mean...

Red State, Blue State: Polarization and the American Situation

The country is stuck but it is not stationary. Some things are changing—just not at the federal level.

(Map: Angr/Wikimedia Commons; Flag: AP Photo/David J. Phillip)
(AP Photo/David J. Phillip) A racing fan waves an American flag as they wait for the Formula One U.S. Grand Prix auto race at the Circuit of the Americas, Sunday, November 2, 2014, in Austin, Texas. This article appears under the title "The American Situation" in the Fall 2014 issue of The American Prospect magazine. A merica, it seems, is stuck—unable to make significant progress on critical issues such as climate change, rising economic inequality, and immigration. To explain that inaction, people often point to political polarization. Democrats and Republicans, liberals and conservatives, are now so sharply opposed to each other that they are unable to find common ground. But while the country is stuck, it is not stationary. Some things are changing; it’s just not at the federal level that the changes are emerging. Polarization leads to stalemate only under certain circumstances—when the two sides in a conflict are closely balanced, and political institutions and procedures (such...

Tragedy, Privation and Hope: Joy Boothe's Inspiring Journey to Moral Monday

Horrifically orphaned and raised with prejudice, she built a house and a new life with her own hands. Now hers are among many building a movement for justice.

©Jenny Warburg
©Jenny Warburg Joy Boothe (in black pants) at a sit-in outside the office North Carolina Senate President Pro Tempore Phil Berger in June 2014, protesting Republican education cuts. W hen Joy Boothe showed up at last week’s Moral Monday rally in her hometown of Burnsville, North Carolina, she was fighting both sleep- and sun-deprivation. Boothe had just driven in from Asheville, 35 miles away, where her husband was recovering from a double knee replacement. “Despite my fears of leaving my husband’s hospital room for the first time in four days,” she told the small crowd gathered in the town square, “I’ve come to stand with you today. It’s that important. It’s that important. ” Boothe, a vice president of the local NAACP branch, was referring to the ongoing political upheaval in Raleigh, the state capital, four hours east of this small mountain town. There, an emboldened Republican legislative majority had cut unemployment benefits, turned away federal Medicaid funds, slashed education...

In Political System Disconnected From Society's Ills, Remedies Pushed to Fringes of Public Debate

(Kike Calvo via AP Images)
(Kike Calvo via AP Images) More than 100,000 people march through midtown Manhattan on Sunday, Sept. 21, 2014 as part of the People's Climate March, a worldwide mobilization calling on world leaders meeting at the UN to commit to urgent action on climate change. F or half a century beginning with Franklin Roosevelt, there was a direct connection between the problems that afflicted American society and the remedies on offer from our democratic system. High unemployment? The New Deal, the World War II mobilization, and the postwar boom took care of that. Stagnant wages? With unions, growing productivity, minimum wage laws, and other regulation of labor standards, American real wages tripled. Education? The G.I. bill, massive investment in public universities, community colleges, and later in public elementary and secondary education produced a better educated and more productive population. And until the 1980s, public higher education was practically free. The exclusion of blacks from...

The Politics of Pre-K: How A Program Known to Help Poor Mothers Could Doom Your Candidacy

When the emphasis is kept on how it's good for business, early-childhood education is popular. Just don't call it childcare. 

(AP Photo/The Monitor, Gabe Hernandez)
(AP Photo/The Monitor, Gabe Hernandez) I n Pennsylvania’s gubernatorial race, education has emerged as one of the most heated issues. A Quinnipiac University poll released this month found education ranked as the most important issue for voters, after jobs and the economy. Despite contentious politics surrounding reform of public education from kindergarten through twelfth grade, Republican incumbent Tom Corbett and Democratic challenger Tom Wolf have discovered that plugging expansion of pre-kindergarten programs wins them political points without treading into treacherous waters. That is, as long as they don't mention the mothers who will inevitably benefit, too. The governor’s record is haunted by his 2011 budget, from which he cut nearly $900 million in public education funds—a decrease of more than 10 percent. The severe cuts have garnered national attention , particularly for Philadelphia—the state’s largest school district—which wrestled with a $304 million cut this past school...

What Happens When the Person Taking Care of Your Mom Can’t Earn a Living Wage?

When the Supreme Court ruled that unions could not collect dues from the home-care workers they represent, the justices set workers and their clients on a course that could harm them both.

(AP Photo/Seth Perlman)
(AP Photo/Seth Perlman) Tanya Melin of Chicago, right, Service Employees International Union members, home care consumers, workers, and allies rally in support of home care funding at the Illinois State Capitol Tuesday, Feb. 28, 2012 in Springfield, Illinois. O n June 30, the Supreme Court ruled that a key strategy used by unions to raise the earnings and professionalism of home-care workers was illegal. Since the 1990s, the labor movement has worked with states and countries to get laws or executive orders to allow home-care workers to be treated as employees of public authorities rather than as individual contractors. The result has been to allow these workers to form unions and to bargain collectively with government for better wages and working standards. In the Harris v. Quinn case, however, the Court held that workers could still unionize, but that they were not true public employees. Unions thus could not collect dues from workers who choose to remain outside the bargaining...

Still Nader After All These Years

(AP Photo/George Ruhe, File)
(AP Photo/George Ruhe, File) In this April 27, 2008, file photo, Ralph Nader speaks to supporters as he campaigns for his 2008 independent presidential bid in Waterbury, Connecticut. F or many Democrats who came of age after 2000, Ralph Nader is a crank who cost Al Gore the presidency. But Nader deserves a more honored place in the progressive pantheon. Over the years, Nader has understood the stranglehold of corporate power on democracy as well as anyone, and throughout his career he has creatively organized counterweights. In the heyday of postwar reform, the 1960s and 1970s, Nader-inspired groups prodded and energized Congressional allies to enact one piece of pro-consumer legislation after another. As both a journalist and senior Senate staffer in that era, I can attest that nobody did it better than Nader. Since then, Nader has been a prophet, often without honor in his own coalition. I should add that I go back a long way with Ralph Nader. When I was in Washington, D.C., in the...

Expert: U.S. Police Training in Use of Deadly Force Woefully Inadequate

Connecticut state police recruits practice with their new .45-caliber Sig Sauer pistols during a "dry fire" exercise on Wednesday, Oct. 24, 2012, at the state police firing range in Simsbury, Conn. (AP Photo/Dave Collins)
(AP Photo/Dave Collins) M aria Haberfeld is a professor at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York. A veteran of the Israel Defense Forces who also served in the Israel National Police, she has conducted research on police forces in multiple countries, and has also written many books on terrorism and policing, including Critical Issues in Police Training . We spoke on Friday about the events in Ferguson, Missouri, and the shooting of Kajieme Powell by St. Louis police, which was caught on video . Powell, brandishing a steak knife, approached officers, saying “Shoot me!.” As reported by the Post-Dispatch , St. Louis Police Chief Sam Dotson said lethal force was permitted under department rules if a knife-wielding attacker is within 21 feet of police. Paul Waldman: Did you think what the officers did [in Powell's shooting] was appropriate? It seems pretty clear that that's standard operating procedure. Maria Haberfeld: Yes it is, absolutely. PW: Are those procedures...

How a Widely Beloved Tax Deduction Really Just Benefits the Well-Off and Exacerbates Inequality

National opinion polls show a majority of Americans support the mortgage interest deduction. Yet most U.S. homeowners receive very little benefit from it.

(AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
(AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar) This May 2, 2012, photo, shows a new home under construction in Bridgeville, Pennsylvania. A nyone who is concerned about the country’s growing inequality crisis should be pushing for reform of the feature of the U.S. tax code known as the mortgage interest deduction. Not only does this wasteful tax subsidy primarily benefit the richest Americans, it also costs the U.S. Treasury between $70 and $100 billion annually in revenue, making it the third largest deduction on the books. National opinion polls indicate that between 60 and 90 percent of Americans support the mortgage interest deduction (MID), which allows taxpayers to deduct interest on $1.1 million in mortgages on primary residences, vacation homes and even yachts. And yet because of the way this tax subsidy is structured most U.S. homeowners receive very little if any benefit from it. Indeed, in its current form, the MID’s biggest beneficiaries are the real estate industry and its wealthiest...

What Judges Know: The Fault for Underfunded Pensions Lies With Politicians, Not Workers

We can’t count on politicians to stick to their word. It’s promising that judges are forcing them to.

(AP Photo/Mel Evans)
(AP Photo/Mel Evans) Union members carry protest signs as they march outside the Mercer County Criminal Courthouse before arguments Wednesday, June 25, 2014, in Trenton, N.J., over New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie's plan to use pension payments to balance the budget. Public employee unions on Wednesday tell the court the current budget has unspent funds that could go toward pensions. A dvocates of gutting public pensions are running into the same wall over and over again. From California to Illinois to New Jersey and beyond, pension gutting efforts are being overturned by judges who recognize that breaking promises to workers isn’t just regrettable, it’s illegal. Pension opponents castigate the courts as the enemy while conveniently ignoring why legal protections exist in the first place—to protect public employees from politicians who spent years playing politics with their retirement savings. For decades, elected officials across the country skipped pension payments, often while...

Thirsty Detroiters Demand End to Water Shut-Offs

Surrounded by the Great Lakes, home to 20 percent of the world’s fresh water, Detroit faces a crisis that is not only paradoxical; it’s complicated.

AP Photo/Detroit News, David Coates
(AP Photo/Detroit News, David Coates) Protesters march over the controversial water shut-offs Friday, July 18, 2014, in Detroit, Michigan. UPDATE: On Thursday, August 7, Mayor Mike Duggan announced a ten-point plan to address the water department's much despised shut-off policy. I n Michigan’s largest city, a water crisis has been raging for months. Since spring, 17,000 city residents have had their water shut off by the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department (DWSD) for unpaid water bills. Now living in unsanitary conditions, citizens in homes without running water can’t even flush a toilet. Deemed by public health officials to be living in inadequate conditions, many parents in homes without water are sending their children to live with family or friends for fear of losing their sons and daughters to Child Protection Services . For the elderly and the ill, lack of home access to water can be fatal. Last week, after weeks of negative news coverage, Detroit Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr...

This Is What Happened When I Took the MTA Bus to Pick Up Food Stamps

A response to a much-chattered-about article by an upper-middle-class white woman who was appalled to find herself judged when she applied for food stamps.

5 Towns Jewish times
M r. Brown folded his large hands and gleamed at me with a placid smile. Then, suddenly, he said, “You have to work!“ His tone was that of a father scolding an errant teenager. “If we give you money, you have to work!” I managed the seething anger brought on by this exchange, and compounded by the hunger I felt after having waited a few hours for my turn at this encounter, not to mention the set of events that led up to me applying for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Plan (SNAP, a.k.a. food stamps) and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF). “I have a job,” I managed to say, “it’s part-time and I’m actively looking for a full time job.” I pointed to the printed e-mails of interview appointments, job applications and cover letters. He waved away my evidence and continued down his checklist. I could tell that he gave this speech regularly and had no interest in a rebuttal. I slumped down in the chair, defeated, feeling solidarity with the woman who was escorted out of the...

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