A Pledge To 1% of America
It's almost a shame that Americans are paying very little attention to the GOP's "Pledge To America." But maybe that's because most of it has nothing to do with them. What is not mentioned in the document makes it clear that it doesn't speak to the urgent challenges Americans are facing. It doesn't "pledge" to address the mass suffering inflicted on millions of America by the current crisis, or what failing to do so will mean for generations of Americans, because it's not a pledge to most Americans. It's a pledge to 1 percent (or even less) of America.
The point is a valid one that needs to be made. But the real color the "pledge" is concerned with is green, and those who have the most of it are its primary beneficiaries.
Recent statistics tell the story of what the rest of America is facing right now:
- 14.9 million Americans are unemployed.
- 6.2 million Americans are now counted as long-term unemployed.
- There are currently 5 job seekers per job opening.
- 3.8 million Americans joined the ranks of the poor last year for a total of 43.6 Americans living in poverty.
- 1.9 million Americans will face foreclosure this year.
- The gap between the richest and poorest is wider than ever, with the top earning 20% receiving more than 49% of the income generated last year.
This leaves out older, even more depressing statistics. It's just a snapshot of the reality millions of Americans are facing today. Not only does the "pledge" not address that reality, it fails to solve the problems behind those statistics. In fact, it barely mentions them.
In this political climate, who isn't in favor or jobs? Who in their right mind could be "against" jobs? (I said who in their rightmind.) With nearly 15 million Americans unemployed, jobs have become part of the refrain on the left and the right. The mantra on the left has been "Jobs, Jobs, Jobs," while the right has been fond of chanting "Where are the jobs?"
The difference between the two couldn't be any clearer. Democrats and progressives can point to stimulus programs that have created jobs in the midst of recession — some in the home districts of the very same Republicans who voted against the stimulus in the first place — even though the stimulus was smaller needed, after being whittled down to satisfy the demands of Republicans (and Blue Dogs). Republicans, for all their chanting of "Where are the jobs?," conveniently forget the ones the stimulus created in their own back yards, and the 240,000 jobs the GOP killed so recently that the corpses are still warm.
What does the "pledge" say about jobs? Not much. The word appears in the "pledge," but the GOP's plan for job creation amounts to little more than the "cut taxes and hope for the best" approach that not only didn't work before but left us ill-prepared for the current crisis.
After virtually eight years of Republican control of government, here's what we know about their tax cuts for the wealthy:
- The Bush tax cuts for the wealthy only benefited the very wealthy.
- The average tax rate for the wealthiest 1% fell to its lowest level in eight years.
- From 2000 to 2007, two thirds of income growth went to the top-earning 1% (pdf), whose income grew 10.1% annually compared to 2.7% for the rest of us.
- Two thirds of U.S. corporations avoided paying taxes from 1998 to 2005, placing a greater burden on working families.
- The wealthy don't spend their tax cuts.
- Tax cuts for the wealthy, thus, don't stimulate the economy.
- By the end of the decade, the jobless rate was at at 26-year high.
- By the end of the decade, there were 6.5 job seekers for every job.
- Republican rule and Republican-backed tax cuts for the wealthy resulted in 10 years of zero job creation.
Not only are Republicans fighting to extend the same tax cuts for the wealthy that proved disastrous for America's economy, its middle class and working class, but they are holding hostage tax cuts for middle and working class Americans in order to preserve tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans.
For eight years, the Republican answer to every problem was "tax cut," to the point that it was almost comical. Then, at least. It's a lot less funny now, given the seriousness of the challenges facing America, and the GOP's "pledge" doesn't begin to offer real solutions to the problems fueling the joblessness crisis. In fact, those issues barely get a mention.
The word "trade" appears in the "pledge" just twice, and then only preceded by the words "cap and." Yet, America has long been saddled with a huge and growing trade deficit, that saps economic growth here at home by sending consumer dollars over seas, and leads to the outsourcing of American jobs. In fact, the trade deficit costs jobs in every congressional district.
Americans, by and large, "get it. Not only do a majority of Americans say that the trade deficit has hurt the U.S. economy and cost American jobs, but 65% of union members and 61% of Tea Party sympathizers agree. Research and statistics back up what a majority of Americans know in their guts. A study published on the Alliance for American Manufacturing site earlier this year showed thatthe trade deficit with China cost 2.4 million American jobs between 2001 and 2008.
Yet the "pledge" doesn't mention trade or the trade deficit. At all. ("Trade" appears twice, and "deficit" four times, but "trade deficit" not at all.) The GOP didn't do anything about the trade deficit when the last time they held power in both Congress and the White House, and they don't "pledge" to do anything about it if they take over Congress next year.
However flawed the Democrats anti-outsourcing bill might have been, even the attempt at legislation indicates the party is at least listening to the concerns of a majority of Americans — a majority of tea baggers, even — on this issue. Republican, on the other hand, filibustered and blocked the bill, which attempted to address an issue of major concern to Americans and major importance to the U.S. economy — an issue the GOP's "Pledge to America" doesn't even deign to mention.
Tied to the trade deficit and outsourcing of U.S. jobs, is the decline of manufacturing. After a decade of the GOP's virtual lock on government, not only did the jobless rate reach a 26-year high, but manufacturing reached a 26-year low.
It's no surprise, considering that the 2.4 million jobs lost between 2001 and 2008 are just part of the six million U.S. factory jobs lost in the past dozen years, due to the fact that 40,000 U.S. manufacturing plants closed their doors between 2001 and 2008.
The loss of those jobs effectively removed what was for many American the first rung on the economic ladder to middle-class stability — good jobs, as Mary Kay Henry wrote, the "jobs you can raise a family on," jobs that let you afford to educate your kids, and give them a chance to clime those next few rungs with the boost you've given them.
In the past 30 year, those jobs have become harder to find.
The Center for Economic and Policy Research defines a "good job" as one with health insurance, a pension plan and earnings of at least $17 per hour. That works out to about $34,000 a year, the inflation-adjusted median income for men in 1979, when U.S. manufacturing jobs numbered 19.6 million, an all-time high.
Since then, however, the economy has lost nearly 6 million manufacturing jobs — 52,000 in February alone. Among them were many of the 3.5 million "good jobs" lost from 2000 to 2006, according to John Schmitt, a senior economist at CEPR.
As those jobs disappeared, many blue-collar workers were forced to take jobs with far less pay and benefit security.
...Helping fuel the loss of good jobs has been a decline in union membership, industry deregulation, increased outsourcing of state and government services and economic policies that focus more on containing inflation than on maintaining full employment, Schmitt said.
Earlier this year, Democrats rolled out a Making It In America initiative aimed at helping restore American manufacturing, and the jobs lost with its decline. Whatever the particulars of the plan, acknowledges the what the decline of manufacturing has meant for America's economy and American workers, and tries to offer a solution to what most Americans agree is ap problem.
By contrast, the "pledge" barely mentions manufacturing, save one caption in a chart bemoaning how few Americans work in manufacturing as opposed to government, without ever once asking or answering a simple but critical question: Why?
Perhaps because the answer would point to their own policies and politics.
That the term "inequality" doesn't get so much as a mention in the "pledge" doesn't come as a shock. That the term "equality" or even the phrase "equality of opportunity." which made numerous appearances in the Cantor/Ryan/McCarthy propaganda piece Young Guns, suggests the GOP is ignoring not only the growth of economic inequality, but its destructive impact on "equality of opportunity" for generations to come.
The most recent period of Republican dominance in government was a "lost decade" for American workers. Not so for America's most wealthy. It was a boom for top 1% and a bust for the rest of us. The gains that boosted the income of the top 1%, never trickled down into the paychecks of American workers.
• Real wages have been stagnant for many workers in the 2000s. After rising quickly in the second half of the 1990s, most workers real wages have been stagnant in the 2000s, especially since 2003. This result holds for a wide variety of wage and compensation measurements, including those that add the value of fringe benefits.
• The productivity/wage gap has grown. The gap between productivity growth and workers wages, especially those of middle- and low-wage workers, is at a historically high level.
• Wage growth has been unequal. Wage growth in the 2000s followed a highly unequal pattern, and higher-wage workers gained the most ground.
• Despite low unemployment, workers' bargaining power has diminished. Though the unemployment rate has been low in historical terms, it does not capture the erosion of employment relative to the population caused by weak growth in (or withdrawal from) the labor force over the past few years. The bottom line is that many workers still lack the bargaining power to claim their fair share of the productivity growth they themselves are helping to create. This is partly due to weak job creation over the course of this recovery.
• More downward pressure on wage growth is likely. The recent slowing of productivity growth and rising unemployment are likely to place further pressure on most workers' real wages in the near to medium terms.
It is just one point in a long-term trend that has seen the concentration of wealth return to pre-Great Depression levels.
Consider: in 1928 the richest 1 percent of Americans received 23.9 percent of the nation's total income. After that, the share going to the richest 1 percent steadily declined. New Deal reforms, followed by World War II, the GI Bill and the Great Society expanded the circle of prosperity. By the late 1970s the top 1 percent raked in only 8 to 9 percent of America's total annual income. But after that, inequality began to widen again, and income reconcentrated at the top. By 2007 the richest 1 percent were back to where they were in 1928—with 23.5 percent of the total.
Each of America's two biggest economic crashes occurred in the year immediately following these twin peaks—in 1929 and 2008. This is no mere coincidence. When most of the gains from economic growth go to a small sliver of Americans at the top, the rest don't have enough purchasing power to buy what the economy is capable of producing. America's median wage, adjusted for inflation, has barely budged for decades. Between 2000 and 2007 it actually dropped. Under these circumstances the only way the middle class can boost its purchasing power is to borrow, as it did with gusto. As housing prices rose, Americans turned their homes into ATMs. But such borrowing has its limits. When the debt bubble finally burst, vast numbers of people couldn't pay their bills, and banks couldn't collect.
The trend continues through the current recession brought to us by the same recycled policies of the "pledge." New Census data shows that the gap between the richest and poorest Americans is wider than ever.
Newly released Census data shows the income gap between the richest and poorest Americans grew last year to its widest amount on record. The top earning 20 percent of Americans received more than 49 percent of all income generated in the country in 2009. The income gap has nearly doubled since 1968. The US has the greatest income disparity among Western industrialized nations. Despite the growing income gap, Senate Democrats last week put off a vote on whether to repeal President Bush’s tax cuts for the wealthy until after the midterm election. A recent Associated Press poll found that 54 percent of Americans support raising taxes on the highest US earners.
Yet, despite all of the above, the "pledge" doesn't mention the growth or consequences of economic inequality. It makes no mention of what the cycle of the wage stagnation has done to American workers or the economy. There is no apparent awareness of or concern about economic inequality, let alone any "pledge" to do something about it.
Instead, the Republican message seems to be that the answer is for more Americans to earn less. The GOP's latest attack on the minimum wage ignores that the majority of Americans support raising the minimum wage. But is may serve to drown out the rest of the message: that minimum wage earners aren't the only ones conservatives are targeting for a pay cut. Minimum wage is just a starting point, for cutting American wages across the board.
The bottom line message is essentially this: America has economic problems because too many Americans have had it too good for too long. The economy will be better off when more of them are worse off. The recession, in this sense, amounts to a correction that will return things to a more or less ideal state. But we're not there yet.
That's the pledge to 99% of America. But what about the rest?
Wall Street & Lobbying
In the midst of an economic crises resulting from meltdown that has Wall Street's finger prints all over it, that the "pledge" doesn't even mention Wall Street is surprising, until taking into consideration Wall Street's full-on embrace of the GOP — a party that has promised never to help them out of a jam again.
It's also probably helpful not to draw a lot of attention to the amount of lobbying money flowing through the office of would-be speaker John Boehner.
Mr. Boehner is the minority leader in the House and would most likely become speaker if the Republicans win control in next month’s elections. He has stopped funneling corporate money to his colleagues on the House floor. (It is now illegal.) But nothing else has changed, except that his already outsized influence-peddling has grown. The amount of democracy-destroying money that manages to make its way into the sleazy environs of what is now known as Boehner Land has increased to a staggering degree.
The Times’s Eric Lipton, in an article last month, noted that Mr. Boehner “maintains especially tight ties with a circle of lobbyists and former aides representing some of the nation’s biggest businesses, including Goldman Sachs, Google, Citigroup, R.J. Reynolds, MillerCoors and UPS.
“They have contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars to his campaigns, provided him with rides on their corporate jets, socialized with him at luxury golf resorts and waterfront bashes and are now leading fund-raising efforts for his Boehner for Speaker campaign, which is soliciting checks of up to $37,800 each, the maximum allowed.”
The hack who once handed out checks on the House floor is now a coddled, gilded flunky of the nation’s big-time corporate elite.
Just as the pledge says nothing about the detrimental influence of money in politics, and the devastating consequences for democracy, the GOP and its pledge are silent on dealing with lobbyists.
With good reason.
A Pledge To Which America?
At every turn in the past 20 months, Wall Street, health insurers, big oil and other corporate interests have spent billions lobbying against the reforms that millions of Americans voted for in 2008 when they elected President Obama and a Democratic Congress to halt the disaster of the previous decade and begin to repair the damage. It was just another chapter in the 30-year-trend of the super-rich using their wealth to buy political influenceand block policies and changes that might have improved the lives and circumstances of the rest of the country.
The "Pledge to America" will do nothing to reverse that trend, because it is not a pledge to the vast majority of Americans. It was never intended to be. The GOP didn't listen to America before writing its "pledge." Instead, they outsourced it to be written by corporate America.
The Republican Party's 21-page blueprint, "Pledge to America," was put together with oversight by a House staffer who, up till April 2010, served as a lobbyist for some of the nation's most powerful oil, pharmaceutical, and insurance companies.
In a draft version of The Pledge that was being passed around to reporters before the official release, the document properties list "Wild, Brian" as the "Author." A GOP source said that Wild -- who is on House Minority Leader John Boehner's payroll -- did help author the governing platform that the party is unveiling on Thursday. Another aide said that as the executive director of the Republican leadership group American Speaking Out, Wild's tasks were more on the administrative side of the operations.
Until early this year, Wild was a fairly active lobbyist on behalf of the firm the Nickles Group, the lobbying shop set up by the former Republican Senator from Oklahoma, Don Nickles. During his five years at the firm, Wild, among others, was paid $740,000 in lobbying contracts from AIG, the former insurance company at the heart of the financial collapse; $800,000 from energy giant Andarko Petroleum; more than $1.1 million from Comcast, more than $1.3 million from Exxon Mobil; and $625,000 from the pharmaceutical company Pfizer Inc.
The "Pledge to America" is, in truth, a pledge to continue the same policies that brought us the current economic crisis. It is a pledge to increase the pain of the poor, working, and middle classes and increase the wealth of the wealthiest handful of Americans.
It is not a pledge to the 14.9 million unemployed.
It is not a pledge to the 6.2 million long-term unemployed.
It is not a pledge to the 44 million Americans living in poverty.
It is not a pledge to the 1.9 million Americans facing foreclosure.
It is a pledge to the America to which the party that produced it pledges its allegiance.
It is a pledge to 1 percent of America, at best.
To the rest of us, it makes no promises we want fulfilled.