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NH AFL-CIO Calls on Ayotte to Do Her Job and Prevent Government Shutdown

NH AFL-CIO LogoThe New Hampshire AFL-CIO called today on Senator Kelly Ayotte to reverse course and reject Republican plans to continue to tie the repeal of the Affordable Care Act to any continuing resolution to prevent a government shutdown. NH AFL-CIO President Mark S. MacKenzie expressed concern that such a strategy was yet another political gimmick that would hurt New Hampshire workers and residents.

“The Republican leadership has been playing with the future of the American people for too long,” said MacKenzie. “From holding food stamps and Social Security hostage in budget negotiations and planning to force the U.S. to default on its loans, it’s clear that Senator Ayotte and her Republican colleagues care more about catering to Tea Party extremists than serving the people. Tying the implementation of the Affordable Care Act to the funding needed to keep our country running is just another desperate move to push through a radical political agenda at any cost. We need Senator Ayotte to stand up for her constituents and not bow to Tea Party pressure.”

“Congress should be focusing on creating jobs, not making everyone’s lives harder,” MacKenzie continued. “80,000 workers are facing weeks and possibly months of unpaid furloughs thanks to the irresponsible and extreme positions of Republican leaders.  Yet it is the people of our state and across the country who will pay the highest price when so many workers are kept from doing their jobs. We ask that Senator Ayotte reject this fiscally irresponsible and dangerous path and do the job she was elected to do, serve all of the people of New Hampshire.”

NH AFL-CIO Calls on Ayotte to Do Her Job and Prevent Government Shutdown

NH AFL-CIO LogoThe New Hampshire AFL-CIO called today on Senator Kelly Ayotte to reverse course and reject Republican plans to continue to tie the repeal of the Affordable Care Act to any continuing resolution to prevent a government shutdown. NH AFL-CIO President Mark S. MacKenzie expressed concern that such a strategy was yet another political gimmick that would hurt New Hampshire workers and residents.

“The Republican leadership has been playing with the future of the American people for too long,” said MacKenzie. “From holding food stamps and Social Security hostage in budget negotiations and planning to force the U.S. to default on its loans, it’s clear that Senator Ayotte and her Republican colleagues care more about catering to Tea Party extremists than serving the people. Tying the implementation of the Affordable Care Act to the funding needed to keep our country running is just another desperate move to push through a radical political agenda at any cost. We need Senator Ayotte to stand up for her constituents and not bow to Tea Party pressure.”

“Congress should be focusing on creating jobs, not making everyone’s lives harder,” MacKenzie continued. “80,000 workers are facing weeks and possibly months of unpaid furloughs thanks to the irresponsible and extreme positions of Republican leaders.  Yet it is the people of our state and across the country who will pay the highest price when so many workers are kept from doing their jobs. We ask that Senator Ayotte reject this fiscally irresponsible and dangerous path and do the job she was elected to do, serve all of the people of New Hampshire.”

NH AFL-CIO Calls on Ayotte to Do Her Job and Prevent Government Shutdown

NH AFL-CIO LogoThe New Hampshire AFL-CIO called today on Senator Kelly Ayotte to reverse course and reject Republican plans to continue to tie the repeal of the Affordable Care Act to any continuing resolution to prevent a government shutdown. NH AFL-CIO President Mark S. MacKenzie expressed concern that such a strategy was yet another political gimmick that would hurt New Hampshire workers and residents.

“The Republican leadership has been playing with the future of the American people for too long,” said MacKenzie. “From holding food stamps and Social Security hostage in budget negotiations and planning to force the U.S. to default on its loans, it’s clear that Senator Ayotte and her Republican colleagues care more about catering to Tea Party extremists than serving the people. Tying the implementation of the Affordable Care Act to the funding needed to keep our country running is just another desperate move to push through a radical political agenda at any cost. We need Senator Ayotte to stand up for her constituents and not bow to Tea Party pressure.”

“Congress should be focusing on creating jobs, not making everyone’s lives harder,” MacKenzie continued. “80,000 workers are facing weeks and possibly months of unpaid furloughs thanks to the irresponsible and extreme positions of Republican leaders.  Yet it is the people of our state and across the country who will pay the highest price when so many workers are kept from doing their jobs. We ask that Senator Ayotte reject this fiscally irresponsible and dangerous path and do the job she was elected to do, serve all of the people of New Hampshire.”

AFT President Wiengarten Says; Republicans’ Irresponsible Actions That Could Lead to a Shutdown

Weingarten: “What they are threatening to do puts at risk the futures and the dreams of kids all over this country. We need to ensure the welfare of the nation’s neediest kids and reclaim the promise of public education for all children.”

WASHINGTON—Statement of AFT President Randi Weingarten on the Republican congressional actions that could lead to a government shutdown:

“Some extremists who have the ear of the House Republican leadership are making a mockery of our democracy, and in so doing, may cause our economy to spin out into another recession. As a former civics teacher, I find this appalling. What they are threatening to do puts at risk the futures and the dreams of kids all over this country.

“We need to ensure the welfare of the nation’s neediest kids and reclaim the promise of public education for all children. A government shutdown, for example, could immediately cut an estimated 19,000 Head Start and Early Head Start spots across 10 states. The effects of the shutdown would compound the billions of dollars in sequestration cuts that affected programs for students with disabilities and disadvantaged students and early childhood education services for low-income children. We need to spend less time talking about a needless shut down and more time figuring out how to end sequestration in 2014 in its entirety.

“The far right wing’s craven political brinkmanship is reckless and irresponsible. A shutdown would be terrible for our fragile economy. A brief shutdown would put about a million federal employees out of work; that is enough to undo the last six months of job growth in the private sector. A shutdown of up to a month would reduce real GDP by an estimated 1.4 percentage points in the fourth quarter, while a two-month shutdown would put the economy back into recession. The last recession drove 2.7 million children into poverty.”

All Signs Point To A Government Shutdown

There is little doubt in my mind that a government shutdown is eminent.  This means anyone who gets a paycheck from the federal government will be either forced to work without pay or forced into furlough status (stay home and not get paid).

Including the military the government employs 4.4 million workers (OPM).  Every one of those people will not be getting paid for work on beginning on Tuesday.

Obviously not all jobs are able to just close up shop.  These are called essential employees.  They could be FBI investigators, Air Traffic Controllers from the Department of Transportation, Secret Service, US Marshalls, some of the people from the Social Security Administrations, and our US Military.   All of these people must go to work, do their normal jobs, but will not get paid for their time.

All of them except the military.   This is another reason that people are really thinking that the GOP is going to push us over the edge.  Late during the night on Friday night the US House passed the “Pay Our Military Act” by a unanimous 423-0.  There is no doubt that the military is special.  They are spread out around the world and they cannot just stay home if the government shuts down.  Not to mention that over 5000 military families receive SNAP (food stamps) from the government on top of their pay.  The SNAP program was recently gutted during the Farm Bill debate.

Many people agree we should be paying the military in the event of a shutdown but what about the other essential government employees.  Those employees who still have to go to work but will not get paid.   What about their families? Why is it ok to continue to pay the military personnel, but not the essential employees?  Better yet, pay everyone and don’t shut the government down.

“I think they’re showing their hand, and it’s unfortunate, because it’s not just our military personnel who will be hurt by the government shutdown,” said Democratic Caucus Chairman Xavier Becerra, D-Calif., at a news conference after the meeting’s conclusion. “The shameful part of it is that Republicans are essentially telegraphing that they intend to shut down the government, and the only folks they are going to worry about, with the government shutdown, are the military personnel.”

Once again the House passed another Continuing Resolution to keep the government funded, with a short list of demands.  Not only did they pass a delay (or repeal) of the Affordable Care Act (43rd time) they added in some other stuff they know they would have no other chance to get passed.

Congresswoman Carol Shea-Porter stated in a recent press release;

House Republicans have voted 43 times to obstruct a law that was passed by Congress, signed by the President, upheld by the Supreme Court, and reaffirmed by the 2012 election. It doesn’t matter what party or state you represent, holding vital government functions hostage in order to wage an ideological crusade is irresponsible and unacceptable.  These Tea Party tactics hurt our recovering economy and harm working families, seniors, and veterans.”

The GOP in the house who are debating how they are going to fund the government, are proposing that the ‘Medical Device Tax’ be removed.  You got it, they are saying,  ‘we cannot pay our bills so lets stop bringing in revenue as well.’

Of course that is not all.  The House GOP is also pushing their anti-women ideology in this Continuing Resolution.

Roll Call reports, “House leaders made the bill even more unpalatable to Senate Democrats by including a “conscience clause” allowing employers and insurers to opt out of providing coverage for contraception if they have moral or religious objections.”

Seriously I cannot make this stuff up.  The House is pushing to roll back women’s health in a government funding bill.  Talk about earmarks!

Both sides are saying they do not want a shutdown. NH Congresswoman Annie Kuster’s released this statement:

“By refusing to vote on the Senate-passed bill to keep the government open, House Republicans are choosing to shut down the government — plain and simple. This is not what responsible governing looks like. With a costly shutdown just two days away, we don’t have time for more pointless political theater. We need to pass a responsible bill that will keep our government running, our economy growing, and our families and businesses secure. My colleagues across the aisle need to stop putting ideology ahead of common sense and focus on having a rational debate about how to responsibly reduce the deficit, create jobs, and strengthen the middle class. The last thing our economy can afford right now is another manufactured crisis from Washington.”

Congresswoman Carol Shea-Porter also had a few other things to say about the Continuing resolution:

“Today, House Speaker John Boehner took one big step toward total surrender to the Tea Party and one giant leap toward shutting down the government.  It’s time for Speaker Boehner to reject the most extreme flank of the Republican Party and work across the aisle to keep the government running.”

“I am willing to work with anyone to improve the Affordable Care Act, but changes to the health care law should be debated through an open legislative process, not through a hostage-taking stunt.”

It is strange that the only option that the GOP is offering in reference to the ACA is a repeal/defunding.  Not one of them has offered any suggestions as to how to fix any of the problems they have found.  Not one of them has attempted to make changes to the law to improve it only destroy it.   Jon Favreau, former chief speechwriter for President Obama wrote this in the Daily Beast.

“If Republicans are so confident Obamacare will end badly, why not just shut up about it? It’s not like they have the votes to repeal the law—a math problem they still haven’t solved after 37 different tries. Their appeal to the Supreme Court ended in defeat at the hands of a conservative chief justice. And now the bulk of the plan will begin to take effect in just a few months.

At this point, why not sit back and wait for this crazy experiment to self-destruct? Why not let President Obama and the Democrats reckon with the millions of angry Americans who will undoubtedly hate their new insurance or their new insurance protections?

Because Republicans are terrified that Obamacare could actually work.”

Favreau is right.  If the program is so bad, then stop trying to block it.  The GOP should be encouraging its implementation, just to watch it self-destruct.

Only 24 hours till the potential government shutdown.  And only two weeks until we reach the ‘debt ceiling’.  That is going to be much worse and more dangerous than a government shutdown.

Senator Cruz Is Not The Only One Who Wants To Shut Down The Government Over The ACA

There are a lot of people talking about the upcoming showdown over the Affordable Care Act and the Continuing Resolution to keep the government running.  Without a budget or a Continuing Resolution the government will be forced to close up shop due to lack of funds.

This has been the subject of many previous debates in the last few years.  It seems that every three to six months Congress is threatening to shut down the government if they do not make significant changes.   Obviously this debate goes both ways.

Right now the debate over the Continuing Resolution (CR) has turned to healthcare, specifically the Affordable Care Act.  The debate over the ACA rages on every day.  Even after the house voted for the 41st time to repeal the ACA it should be obvious that the House is not going to get their way.  That is not stopping them; it is just making them more inventive in their repeal efforts.

The House passed a CR that would keep the government running, except they took out all the funding for the ACA.  They essentially are attempting to defund the ACA and are holding the government hostage to do it.

After they passed the bill it was quickly moved to the Senate.  Then a few Senators took that and ran with it.  Senator Ted Cruz has been all over the news talking about his position to shut the government down if they do not defund the ACA.  Cruz even got up and wasted 21 hours in a pretend filibuster. It was a pretend filibuster because the 21 hours of talking could not have any effect on whether or not a vote is going to be held.  His marathon talking session ended with a unanimous vote (100-0) to end debate and move toward voting on the actual bill.  We should be calling a 21 hour debate speech, because it is by definition not a filibuster.

The irony is that GOP leaders in the House were quick to distance themselves from this scenario.

Rep Peter King (potential GOP candidate for President) said, “He’s not standing on principle, I don’t know what he’s standing on,” King said. “But he’s standing for a strategy that can’t work. It’s going to personally help him as far as his political status, but it’s going to be bad for the county, bad for the Republican Party.”

Wait a second; are they really trying to blame Senator Cruz for holding the country hostage and threatening a government shutdown over the ACA?  Didn’t the bill that Senator Cruz is promoting came from the US House?  That’s right, it did.  Every one of those Reps who voted to repeal the ACA by defunding it, are doing the same thing.  Defund the ACA or we will not pass a CR, which is what you all voted on.

The House was even happy after the passage of the defunding-CR.

The Huffington Post reports, “Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.) also took to twitter to vent. “House Republicans are turning words into action to defund #Obamacare. Ball will be in the Senate’s court,” he wrote.”

Yet now they want to distance themselves from shutting the government down because the public is adamantly against a shutdown.   The House GOP cannot get away from the fact that they voted to do what Senator Cruz is advocating for.  The House GOP cannot wiggle their way out of this.

Here is the full list of the Representative who would rather shut the government down if the President does not defund his signature bill.   Don’t let them forget it!

house votes CR 2014 Crop

 

It’s Baaack! GOP puts US economy at risk (again) over the Keystone Pipeline

Trans Canada Keystone Oil Pipeline by Shannon Patrick via FlikrJust like an unwanted dinner guest that you can’t convince to leave, the Keystone Pipeline project is still on the GOP’s legislative agenda.  Actually, it’s now at the top of the GOP’s legislative agenda.

Read the news stories: Republican leaders have apparently given up on efforts to rein in their Tea Party legislators.  Last Friday, the House voted – for the 42nd time – in their futile attempt to repeal Obamacare.  Next Monday, the federal government is probably going to close down – because Congress can’t bring itself to pass annual Appropriations bills.  Jobs bills – and legislation to repair long-neglected roads and bridges – are gathering dust on Representatives’ shelves.  Immigration reform isn’t going anywhere.  Common-sense gun reform?  Yeah, right.  (About 8,400 Americans have been killed in the nine months since Newtown.  Crisis?  How many people have to die before Congress considers it a crisis?)

But no matter what else they’ve given up on, Republican leaders are still determined to force through TransCanada’s pipeline project.  Sometime in the next month or so, Republicans plan to use debt-ceiling legislation to bypass the administrative review process and authorize construction of the pipeline by Congressional fiat.

No, it’s not the first time the GOP has used fiscal emergencies to try to push the Keystone project through.  Back in December 2011, the Republicans traded about $30 billion in federal debt for an expedited review process (which resulted in the project being rejected).  Since then, House Republicans have inserted Keystone into four other pieces of legislation, including the federal budget.

But why does Congress even care about Keystone?  TransCanada’s pipeline is nothing more or less than a construction project built by and benefitting a private corporation.  Sort of like… if Walmart wanted to build another gazillion-square-foot distribution center.  (Except that a new Walmart distribution center would probably create more than 35 permanent jobs.  Yep, that’s the number of permanent jobs that Keystone is expected to create: just 35.)  So why is Congress getting so involved in the project permitting?

One more time: Keystone is a construction project of a privately-owned corporation.   (Wondering exactly who owns that corporation?  According to Morningstar’s shareholder records, it looks like a whole lot of TransCanada stock is owned by foreign banks.)

One more time: WHY are the Republicans insisting that TransCanada be allowed to build this pipeline?

And whatever happened to “fiscal responsibility”?  Do Republicans really want our government to default on its bills?  That’s the scenario they’re setting up, by tying the debt-limit increase to construction of this private pipeline.

—–

You can read (experience?) the GOP’s latest press release about Keystone here.

Read NHLN’s “Why Is the House GOP Obsessed with the Keystone Pipeline” here.

Latest GOP efforts to repeal Obamacare: Texas Senator proposes to shut down Government – and Bully O’Brien equates O’care to slavery

Written  by Matt Murray and Liz Iacobucci

Is anyone keeping track anymore?

These days, it seems that House Republicans vote to delay or repeal the Affordable Care Act – more commonly known as “Obamacare” – on a weekly basis.   I think it’s been 37 times, so far, but I may have missed one or two.

These votes aren’t just an exercise in political theater – they are a waste of taxpayer dollars.  Estimates of exactly how much all these votes have cost taxpayers vary, from $1.45 million to $1.75 million per vote.  But multiply either number by 37 or 38… and gosh, it starts adding up.  (Can’t you think of a few other ways the federal government could spend $50+ million?)

Meanwhile, all around America, “Health Insurers Threaten To Increase Premiums, Even As Profits Soar.” In the coming years though, we can hopefully look forward to the Affordable Care Act making health coverage more affordable. Insurance companies’ overhead is estimated to account for 30 cents of every dollar spent on healthcare.  (Obamacare, you may remember, includes provisions that limit insurance companies’ profits.)

And if Obamacare is repealed, everyone will expect workers to foot the cost of rising insurance premiums – and do you remember how fast those premiums were rising, before Obamacare was passed?

But as of today, it looks like the Crusade to Repeal Obamacare is moving into the Senate.  Today, Texas Tea Party Senator Ted Cruz started making headlines.

Cruz is positioning himself for a possible run for President, and he wants to rally his base by taking an extreme stand on Obamacare.  His plan is to either repeal Obamacare or shut down the government.

“The Texan’s strategy is simple enough. Congress needs to pass a so-called continuing resolution to keep the government running by Sept. 30. Republicans, Cruz argues, should refuse to vote for the measure unless it prohibits spending any federal money on the President’s signature legislative accomplishment. If the stance sparks a shutdown, so be it.”

You heard that right: Senator Cruz is willing to play chicken with the entire country’s economy (and credit rating) in a futile attempt to repeal a law that is already helping millions of Americans – even before it is fully implemented.

This is eerily similar to what happened in August 2011, when House Republicans held the entire country hostage over the debt ceiling.  They almost closed the government and caused the United States to loose our perfect credit rating.

“If we can actually get Republicans to stand up and fight,” Cruz told reporters over Chick-Fil-A sandwiches at a briefing sponsored by the conservative Heritage Foundation, “I believe we can win this fight.”

One bright spot: many Senate Republicans – who have more experience than Sen. Cruz – are standing up to question his plan.

  • Sen. John McCain called him a ‘Wacko Bird’ for suggesting it.

Does Senator Cruz care at all about the American public he has sworn to represent?

Shutting the government down in a temper tantrum over Obamacare will not help the real problems facing Americans right now.  This type of obstructionism is exactly why Congress has the worst approval rating in history.

Why can’t Sen. Cruz take a stand about something that will help Americans like raising the minimum wage, or stopping the cuts to Social Security?

Why can’t House Republicans quit wasting time – and taxpayers’ money – taking their weekly symbolic vote?

Is there something in the water down there in DC, that Republicans keep getting more and more radicalized – and further and further away from the voters they are supposed to represent?

—-

Speaking of “radicalized”… were you looking for another reason to oppose Bill O’Brien’s candidacy for Congress?

Just watch him compare the Affordable Care Act with the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850:

(Video courtesy of Granite State Progress read their release)

Like the Republicans already serving in the House, former Speaker O’Brien seems to be thoroughly fixated on repealing Obamacare.

Wonder how many millions of taxpayer dollars he would be willing to waste on symbolic, “unrealistic”, “Wacko Bird” votes in Congress?

—–

And yes, looks like Rep. O’Brien’s unfortunate comparison needs to be added to our growing list of legislators’ statements that have embarrassed New Hampshire in the national press.

Read about Sen. Andy Sanborn’s “plane crash” comment and other “If I offended anyone, I am sorry” remarks here.

And remember that

Gov. Maggie Hassan said the state stands to lose about $1 million in federal funds per day for every day past January 1, 2014, that Medicaid expansion is delayed. “Accepting the $2.5 billion in federal funds available for Medicaid expansion is critical for boosting our economy, transforming our health-care system and providing needed health coverage for tens of thousands of New Hampshire working families,” Hassan said.

 

Congress Adds Insult To Injury! Pay Freeze Continues As Sequester Sets In

Smashed Piggy Bank RetirementLet me start by saying the last thing I want to see is a full government shutdown.  However once again Congress as a whole takes more from the piggy bank they call federal workers’ pay.

“Congress on Thursday agreed on a measure to keep the government running through the end of the fiscal year. The bill, which also extends the pay freeze on federal employees, now heads to President Obama.”  (GovExec.com)

What is becoming a normal situation for Congress, they are continuing to take more from the federal workers.  The first pay raise they would have seen in three years was killed by Congress.  This is on top of the fact that almost every government employee is facing a mandatory furlough of 11-22 days.

Furloughs are not vacation days as some people are saying.  These are days when workers are forced off from work and are not paid.  For those people who are being forced to take a 22 day furlough, that is a 12% reduction in pay, or in more simple terms, a loss of one month of pay (over the next six months).

This continuing resolution does absolutely nothing to stop the sequester cuts.

“I remain deeply dissatisfied that sequestration is not addressed and will slash the very priorities I believe all of us came here to fulfill,” said House Appropriations Committee Ranking Member Nita Lowey, D-N.Y. (GovExec.com)

As I said before, a full government shutdown is the worst possible thing for federal employees and the entire United States.  The fact that we almost shut down in 2011, cost us in our national credit rating.

The sequester cuts have already started to have an impact on business.  According to the Huffington Post and the AP, workers are being laid off already.

  • On Monday, 250 workers at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation in Washington state received pink slips, while another 2,500 others found out they’re facing furloughs. Approximately 9,000 people work at the nation’s most contaminated nuclear site, and the Associated Press reports that “cleanup is likely to be slowed” because of the budget cuts.
  • Continental Maritime, a contractor that repairs U.S. Navy ships, expects to lay off 185 employeeseffective April 12. Other contractors have issued conditional layoff notices — meaning that jobs are safe if Congress restores some funding to the Defense Department — to thousands of employees.
  • Four-hundred eighteen contract workers tied to the Tobyhanna Army Depot in Pennsylvania are losing their jobs due to sequestration. Two-hundred sixteen people will be dismissed on April 15 and 107 on April 30, the Morning Call of Allentown, Pa., reports. The paper noted that the Tobyhanna Army Depot is losing 35 percent — $309 million — of its government funding through the end of the fiscal year, and that more than 5,100 of the people who work there are being forced to take 22 furlough days.
  • At least eight municipal employees in Monterey County, Calif., are losing their jobs as a result of a decrease in the number of military contracts.
  • In early March, 23 people who work with the parks and recreation and maintenance departments in Tooele County, Utah, were laid off in order to grapple with the federal budget cuts. “I have four kids. This is my livelihood,” said Scott Chance, a 12-year employee. “It pays my health insurance. It gives me my house.”
  • Engineering Services Network is an engineering and technology company and one of the top Latino-owned companies in Virginia. President and CEO Raymond Lopez Jr. told NBC Latino that he has “lost about 20 employees through sequestration.”
  • The Red River Army Depot in Texarkana, Texas, announced in February that it was cutting 414 jobs — about 10 percent of its workforce. “I don’t know how we’re going to make it,” Raymond Wyrick, whose last day was scheduled to be March 9, told CNN Money.

Someone please tell me: how is preserving these sequester cuts in the continuing resolution going to help our economy?  How is cutting services, cutting personnel, and cutting families’ income helping our economy? Federal workers are already at the mercy of Congress. On top of sequestration, this continuing resolution that keeps the 0.5% raise off the table is just another slap in the face to federal workers.

Federal workers are not a piggy bank that Congress can turn to, every time it wants help balancing the federal budget.

There are other options.  Ending special corporate tax breaks would pay for the sequester cuts twice over.   Ending tax breaks on unearned income would pay for the sequester cutsplus everything the House GOP wants to cut from next year’s federal budget.

Hungry like a (baby) wolfRemember, too, that maintaining the sequester cuts means that 600,000 young children from low-income families are losing the free food they had been receiving through a U.S. government nutrition program.

Smack down federal employees (again) and take food away from hungry children.  Is this the best six-month budget that our Congress can come up with?   

Another stalemate?
Or a chance to save the economy?

The days are ticking by, as our federal government heads toward sequestration (March 1st) and a possible shutdown (March 27th).

House Republicans have drawn the same line in the sand that they drew – and tried to maintain – at the end of last year. They have pledged allegiance to Grover Norquist: “No new taxes.” They would rather cut food stamps than cut military spending – but they would also rather cut the military than increase taxes. Read today’s NY Times story here.

Now’s a good time to step away from the right-wing rhetoric and take a closer look at some actual facts.

Each year since 1992, the IRS has published “information from the Top 400 individual tax returns.” The latest “Top 400” publication covers the years 1992 through 2009. (Remember 2009? According to economists, the 2007 recession ended in June 2009. Even though most of us are still dealing with the effects of that “longest and most painful downturn since the Great Depression.”)

Top400 AGIThe “Top 400” statistics clearly show what’s happening at the top of the economic scale. And despite the recession, and after accounting for inflation, those at the top are doing just fine: in 2009, the top 400 had income almost three times higher than in 1992.

(Yes, in 2009, the Top 400 taxpayers had an average income of more than $123 million. Wouldn’t it be nice if everyone’s income was three times higher than it was in 1992?)

Top400 Tax RateThe US has traditionally had a “progressive” income tax structure: those with more income pay taxes at a higher rate. But that’s not what has been happening.

(In 1992, the Top 400 paid taxes at an average rate of 26.4%. By 2009, the Top 400 average tax rate was only 19.9%. What happened over those 17 years? More money, lower tax rate for the Top 400. While the country’s economy came to a screeching halt.)

Top400 Dividend IncomeOne of the most revealing statistics from that IRS report is the amount of income the Top 400 takes as dividends rather than salaries. Since 1992, even accounting for inflation, the amount of dividend income has increased by 600%. In 2009, as the recession was bottoming out, the Top 400 took home an average of $16 million each in dividend income.

What’s the big deal about that? Unfortunately, the IRS doesn’t release statistics about how much dividend income the Top 400 receive from the same companies they control. But…

Remember what Mitt Romney taught us about America’s economy? How – rather than reinvesting corporate profits in new hires or capital improvements – many executives and investors have been wringing dividends out of their companies? (And often, like Sheldon Adelson, spending money on political influence?)

Remember that FedEx paid an estimated $8.5 million in dividends to CEO Fred Smith last year? Wonder how else that $$ could have been spent? (Read “FedEx and the Real Reason Why There’s No Jobs” in Forbes here.)

Yes, the fiscal cliff negotiations increased the tax rate on dividends from 15% to 20% – but that’s still significantly less than the tax rate on salaries. Which means CEOs are still going to prefer taking home compensation through dividends, rather than salaries.

But each dollar paid to the CEO in dividends costs the company (and the economy) a whole lot of money that could have been reinvested. Going back to Fred Smith as an example, his 15 million shares in the company represent only a fraction of the outstanding stock. For Mr. Smith to receive $8.5 million in dividends, personally, the company has to pay out well over $100 million in total dividends – money that could have been invested in new hires, or new planes, or new facilities (or improved employee benefits).

The low tax rate for dividends is a perverse economic incentive. It discourages hiring. It discourages reinvestment and long-term corporate planning. It discourages growth. It encourages concentration of wealth at the top of the economic scale.

Someone once said “don’t ever let a good crisis go to waste.”

As we head toward (and through) sequestration and shutdown threats, maybe we can hope. Maybe these latest Congress-created crises can have a happy ending.

Maybe whatever political “compromise” is eventually reached will include more changes in dividend taxation.

Maybe the country can end this vicious cycle of wringing profits out of the economy. Maybe the country can go back to growing our entire economy, not just the personal incomes of the top 400.

It’s going to be an interesting couple of months. Fasten your seatbelts for another bumpy ride.

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