Budget

The Latest Target of 'Religious Freedom' Advocates: Reproductive Rights in the Nation's Capital

A House committee has voted to overturn a local D.C. law that prevents discrimination based on employees' reproductive choices.

(Photo from House Oversight and Government Reform Committee)
Representative Jason Chaffetz of Utah is the chair of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, which voted late Tuesday night to disapprove the District's Reproductive Health Non-Discrimination Act. H ere’s a riddle for all you students of the American political system: You are an elected representative, and you would like to curry favor in your home district among right-wing conservatives. One way to do this is to pass a local law sanctioning discrimination against LGBT citizens and women who choose to use birth control, under the guise of “religious freedom.” But you’ve recently discovered that such a law can backfire pretty spectacularly. Just look at poor Mike Pence, Republican governor of Indiana, regarded as presidential material not long ago. What other tactic, besides sanctioning religion-based discrimination, could you use? Well, if you’re a member of Congress, you’ve got the people of the District of Columbia to whom you can teach a thing or two; they’re not...

Federal Contract Workers and the Fight For a Living Wage

How your tax dollars are creating millions of underpaid jobs—and how workers are fighting back. 

Tommy Wells/Flickr
Tommy Wells/Flickr Public employees at a 2013 Good Jobs Nation rally in Washington, D.C. T oday, workers in hundreds of cities across the United States will take to the streets to protest meager minimum wages that are keeping them in poverty. Fight For 15 organizers and activists are speaking out against low wages. McDonald’s, Walmart, and other mega-corporations employ a good number of those workers, but the biggest creator of low-wage jobs in the United States is none other than the federal government through federal contracting. In 2013, a coalition of labor groups started Good Jobs Nation (GJN) to fight to increase and recover wages for government contract employees. On April 9 of this year, GJN released a report, “ The Return of Federal Sweatshops? How America’s Broken Contract Wage Laws Fail Workers ,” which details how the federal government creates poverty-wage jobs and how workers on federal contract routinely don’t receive their fair amount of pay. Alongside the report, the...

Sharing the Wealth

Why can’t we broadly distribute the wealth produced from America’s common resource pool? Conservative Alaska manages to do it.

(AP Photo/The Juneau Empire, Klas Stolpe)
(AP Photo/The Juneau Empire, Klas Stolpe) Governor Sean Parnell announces the 2010 dividend check amount that all Alaskans receive through the state's popular Permanent Fund. Looking on is Department of Revenue Commissioner Pat Galvin, a trustee on the Alaska Permanent Fund Board. This book review appears in the Winter 2015 issue of The American Prospect magazine. Subscribe here . With Liberty and Dividends for All: How to Save Our Middle Class When Jobs Don’t Pay Enough By Peter Barnes 174 pp. Berrett-Koehler Publishers $19.95 I n the mid-17th century, Gerrard Winstanley led a series of protests in England against “enclosure,” the practice of landlords privatizing public lands. Nonviolent, with a utopian communist agenda, Winstanley’s followers, the Diggers, published pamphlets and, more quixotically, sang their hopes and fears. A stanza from one of their songs: “Your houses they pull down, stand up now, stand up now Your houses they pull down, stand up now. Your houses they pull...

Why Markets Can't Price the Priceless

It takes government planning to promote the rational conservation and use of water.

(AP Photo/Wichita Falls Times Record News, Torin Halsey)
(AP Photo/Wichita Falls Times Record News, Torin Halsey) A public works wastewater reuse project accounts for approximately half of the water used daily by Wichita Falls, Texas. This article appears as part of a special report, "What the Free Market Can't Do," in the Winter 2015 issue of The American Prospect magazine. Subscribe here . W ater sources for many Southwestern cities such as Las Vegas and Phoenix are drying up. Meanwhile, most Eastern cities have ample supplies but decaying infrastructure that can’t handle the more frequent and severe flooding brought on by climate change. The Cato Institute and Reason Foundation are part of a libertarian movement arguing that market pricing of water could solve both problems. But water, as a public good, can’t just be left to private markets, or we will have billionaires watering lush lawns while other citizens have dry taps. Privatizers are also notorious for underinvesting in the infrastructure needed both to supply fresh water and to...

A Talent for Storytelling

Rick Perlstein tells how Reagan imagined his way into the American psyche.

(AP Photo)
This book review is from the Fall 2014 issue of The American Prospect magazine. Subscribe here. Simon & Schuster The Invisible Bridge: The Fall of Nixon and the Rise of Reagan By Rick Perlstein 880 pp. Simon & Schuster $37.50 I n 1959, as the Cold War heated up and the economy cooled down, President Dwight Eisenhower received a letter from World War II veteran Robert J. Biggs. Tired of hearing the president explain the complexities of the modern world, Biggs begged Eisenhower to lead the nation with firm assertions rather than “hedging” and “uncertainty.” The former general responded that such guidance by authority was imperative in a military operation but fatal in a democracy. Self-government demanded that men reject easy answers and instead carefully weigh the often contradictory facts about great issues facing the nation. Just as Eisenhower did, Rick Perlstein’s new book, The Invisible Bridge: The Fall of Nixon and the Rise of Reagan , illuminates the deadly attraction of...

Did Koch Brothers Just Doom America to a Future of Crumbling Roads and Tunnels?

First, their minions called for Chris Christie to cancel a much-needed rail project, and he did. Now they've set their sights on Congress to do much the same.

A.M. Stan
It was never going to be easy for the Republican-controlled Congress to pass an increase to the federal gas tax—a tax that finances the Highway Trust Fund and pays for roads and bridges around the country. Last raised in 1993 to 18.4 cents per gallon, the tax has since lost much of its value , especially with the rise of fuel-efficient cars. With the Highway Trust Fund running huge annual deficits, plans for many infrastructure projects and repairs have been left hanging out to dry. But there were signs that raising the federal gas tax was possible, as when Republican Senators John Thune of South Dakota and chairman of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, said in early January that a gas tax increase couldn’t be ruled out , and Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma, who chairs the Environment and Public Works Committee, later agreed with him. Well, forget it. Because last week more than 50 conservative groups, a number of them funded through the Koch brothers’ network, sent a...

'Housing First' Policy for Addressing Homelessness Hamstrung By Funding Issues

The new approach may spring from good intentions, but is undermined by a lack of affordable housing stock.

(AP Photo/The El Paso Times, Mark Lambie)
(AP Photo/The El Paso Times, Mark Lambie) Andre Stokes, who is homeless, tries to stay warm in a shelter he built in downtown El Paso Tuesday, January 13, 2015. Temperatures were in the 30s, which is unusual for the El Paso area. I n an era of shrinking financial resources, policymakers, providers, and activists who work on homelessness prevention and care in the United States have been forced to develop new strategies. There was a time when officials at the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) saw it as their responsibility to provide both housing and supportive services for homeless individuals, but now HUD now is refocusing its budget predominately on rent and housing—with the hope that other local, state, and federal agencies will play a greater role in providing supportive care. However, whether other organizations will actually be able to pick up those costs and responsibilities remains unclear. The first major federal legislative response to homelessness was the...

How Bernie Sanders, In New Role, Could Make Wall Streeters Very, Very Unhappy

The iconoclast from Vermont plans to use his place as opposition leader on the Senate Budget Committee in a whole new way.

(Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call) (CQ Roll Call via AP Images)
(Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call) (CQ Roll Call via AP Images) Senate Budget Committee ranking member Senator Bernie Sanders, independent of Vermont, holds a news conference on the budget on Friday, January 16, 2015. B ig banks now have to contend with an old enemy in a new position of power. Bernie Sanders, the United States senator from Vermont, plans on using his new position as ranking member of the Senate Budget Committee to take on too-big-to-fail financial institutions by advocating for their dissolution. Though a registered independent, Sanders caucuses with the Democrats, allowing him to assume the ranking member role representing the minority party. While normally the domain of the Senate Banking Committee, the oversight of Wall Street, Sanders and his staff believe, is a critical budgetary issue. Democrats need to directly challenge Wall Street’s power, they assert, by boldly reframing the argument against the consolidation of financial institutions in terms of its cost to...

Labor at a Crossroads: The Case for Union Organizing

The labor movement has been growing while shrinking—growing through organizing.

(AP Photo/Seth Perlman)
T he union movement is 3.5 million members smaller than 40 years ago, and the forces that brought that about are as energetically engaged and powerful as they have ever been. From that undeniable fact, it has been wrongly concluded: Union organizing is impossible, futile, or a thing of the past The labor movement is dead, or dying The best hope for workers is through something different from trade unions and collective bargaining. These conclusions are very disconcerting to this organizer. I am upset that there’s so little acknowledgement of the millions of workers who have risked much to try to unionize. Thousands are doing it today. And so little acknowledgement of those who have done it and succeeded. They number a million and a half. How do I know that? I know it from my own experience; it’s the work with which I have been immersed for those 40 years. And I know it by virtue of simple arithmetic. The 3.5 million members by which labor has shrunk is net. I simply added the net...

Chris Christie Counts on Public Amnesia

With his newfound support for expanding New Jersey's rail capacity, the governor hopes no one remembers that he killed an earlier federally subsidized project that would have done exactly that.

(AP Photo/Julio Cortez)
(AP Photo/Julio Cortez) New Jersey Governor Chris Christie endorsed a plan to expand his state's rail capacity with a federally subsidized project when he ran for office, and then opposed it when he took office. Now he's endorsed a rail-expansion plan once again. Here, Christie delivers his State of the State address on January 13, 2015. I n 2010, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie took over $3 billion in revenue earmarked for a new rail tunnel under the Hudson River and used it to plug a hole in his budget—leaving the people of his state and the region with no tunnel, and no money left for one in the future. Now Christie has endorsed a new report that includes a recommendation for expanding rail capacity between New Jersey and New York, as if no one would remember that he killed an earlier federally subsidized project that would have accomplished that purpose. In the Winter 2015 issue of The American Prospect , I report the story of Christie’s 2010 decision and its disastrous...

Obama's State of the Union Preview Serves Up Pretty Weak Brew

whitehouse.gov/video screenshot
whitehouse.gov screenshot President Obama delivers remarks about his new community college proposal at Pellissippi State Community College in Knoxville, Tennessee, January 9, 2015. "Make no little plans; they have no magic to stir men's blood and probably themselves will not be realized." —Daniel Burnham I recently got an email invitation from a Democratic congressional office to come to a "watch party" to view President Obama's State of the Union address. His "fourth-quarter priorities," according to the White House-inspired talking points of the message, are "home ownership, free community college, and high-paying jobs." That sounds pretty good. But if you unpack the specifics, the president is offering pretty weak tea. Free community college sounds terrific. Community college is the great American institution of the second chance. Obama proposes to have the federal government cover 75 percent of the cost, if states will participate. This could save students an average of over $3,...

The True Cost of Teach For America's Impact on Urban Schools

Why are school districts paying millions in "finder's fees" to an organization that places people without education degrees to teach in urban schools—even where applications from veteran teachers abound?

(AP Photo/Andy King)
(AP Photo/Andy King) In a February 4, 2011 photo, Erin Gavin, a Teach for America teacher, listens to students during a group discussion with seventh-graders at a Brooklyn Center School in Brooklyn Center, Minnesota. In 2013, Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton vetoed a line item that would have granted $1.5 million to TFA. In debates over education policy in urban school districts, few topics are more contentious than the role played by Teach For America, the national organization that recruits elite college graduates to teach in low-income urban and rural schools for two years. It is not uncommon to hear veteran teachers, who majored in education and often have advanced degrees, complain that their profession is diminished by what they see as a preference for TFA recruits who did not study education. Parents are heard to question the qualifications and commitment of TFA’s novice educators, given the assumption that their sign-up for a two-year stint suggests only a fleeting interest in...

Intrigue: Doth Chuck Schumer Protest Too Much When Called 'Enabler' of Bad Budget Deal?

(AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)
(AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta) Sen. Chuck Schumer, Democrat of New York, talks on a phone as he walks from the Senate subway on Capitol in Washington, Friday, December 12, 2014. This article originally appeared at The Huffington Post . L ast week, I wrote a piece lamenting the fact that so many Democrats had voted for a budget package that gutted a key provision of the Dodd-Frank Act. The so called swaps push-out provision, now repealed, required banks to separate their speculative business in derivatives from depository banking covered by government insurance and further protected by the Federal Reserve. The broader budget deal, technically a continuing resolution to keep the government funded through next September, also cut a lot of needed public spending and added several odious riders, including one that raises the ceiling on individual campaign contributions to party committees about tenfold. Had Democrats resolutely opposed the deal, I argued, it would have revealed Republicans...

The Great Budget Sellout of 2014: Do We Even Have a Second Party?

The Democrats not only lost this vote on issues they allegedly care about; they lost their role as a credible opposition.

(AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
(AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite) For in the great budget sellout of December 2014, fully 57 House Democrats voted with the Republicans to narrowly pass this deal. Key Senate Democrats close to Wall Street, such as Chuck Schumer of New York, shown here, were its enablers. This article originally appeared at The Huffington Post . I n principle, Saturday's vote to keep the government open should be the perfect curtain-raiser for the political debates between now and the 2016 election. As their price for averting a government shutdown, Republicans demanded and got a gutting of one of the most important provisions of the Dodd-Frank Act, preventing banks from speculating with government insured money. Agencies hated by Republicans such as the Environmental Protection Agency took big cuts, and a rider was inserted permitting "mountaintop removal" coal mining once again. Another extraneous provision demanded by conservatives permits massive increase in individual campaign contributions. The IRS...

Progressives Just Lost a Fight On the Budget. So Why Are They So Happy?

(AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
O ver the weekend, the "Cromnibus" budget was passed by a coalition that included the GOP leadership and the Obama White House. Neither conservative Republicans nor liberal Democrats were happy with what was in it. So why is it that the conservatives are feeling bitter and betrayed, while the liberals seem positively elated, despite the fact that they both lost? We don't need to work too hard to understand the conservatives' reaction. The budget doesn't stop President Barack Obama's executive actions on immigration, and Republican leaders decided not to force another government shutdown in a vain attempt to do so. As usual, the conservatives are convinced that John Boehner and Mitch McConnell are wimps who do nothing more than bide their time between capitulations. But what explains the liberal reaction? For the first time in this presidency, liberal Democrats feel as though something like a coherent bloc, outside of and sometimes in opposition to the White House, is beginning to form...

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