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A Senator Should Care Deeply About the State

Mark Mackenzie at PNS RallyBy MARK S. MacKENZIE

As the clock winds down toward Election Day, the TV ads and phone calls will have reached a fevered pitch. Yet many Granite Staters couldn’t care less about the mass advertising being directed their way. What they have been looking for – and might still be looking for – are answers to some very basic questions: How will this candidate help me and my family weather tough times? How will this candidate help me and my neighbors find jobs? How will this candidate help ensure that the jobs we have pay enough to keep up with the rising cost of living?

For so many of us, it comes down to economic opportunity. Over the past 30 years, the richest 1 percent in this country has taken home nearly 50 percent of all income gains. Meanwhile, our roads and bridges are crumbling, taxes on the middle class have risen, and working people have struggled more and more to pay the bills. The economy is slowly recovering, but too many men and women in our state have yet to feel that things have gotten better.

The Senate race between Scott Brown and Jeanne Shaheen is one race where the contrast is clear. As a two-term governor who was elected to the Senate in 2008, Shaheen has a record of creating jobs, pooling resources to help our communities and small businesses, and working around the gridlock in Congress to deliver for New Hampshire working people.

As governor, she was a careful steward of taxpayer dollars and a strategic financial manager. She established a $1 million-a-year job-training fund that helped businesses upgrade the skills of their current employees and train new ones. She tripled New Hampshire’s rainy day fund and put together the state’s first economic plan.

As senator, Shaheen created jobs for hundreds of workers when she fought for a federal prison to be built in Berlin. She connected 1,200 Granite Staters to homeowners’ assistance in order to help them avoid foreclosure. She has worked across the aisle with U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte to fight furloughs at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard and reopen the government after it shut down in 2013.

Contrast that with Scott Brown, whose interests don’t go much further than Scott Brown. He set his sights on New Hampshire after losing his seat as a Massachusetts senator and only moved north after looking at several bids for public office in other states. During his tenure in Massachusetts, he held up crucial aid to unemployed workers and opposed tax cuts to middle-class Americans if they didn’t include huge tax breaks for the rich.

As a member of the board of directors of Kadant, an equipment supplier for the paper industry, he collected $270,000 after the company shipped American jobs overseas. Two months ago, the New Hampshire AFL-CIO and the State Employees Association of New Hampshire asked Scott Brown to resign from the board of directors. He has yet to honor that request.

Serving as senator is not about reaching for that next rung on the career ladder or making your next million; it is about helping the men and women who have trusted you to represent their best interests. Jeanne Shaheen understands New Hampshire – its unique culture, economy and political significance. For Scott Brown, however, it is little more than a consolation prize.

Election Day is days away, and we are facing a stark choice. Super PACs have been bombarding New Hampshire with ads for months, but when it comes down to it, this election is about people. Your family. Your co-workers. Your neighbors. It’s about the community we share here in the Granite State.

When making the decision to vote on Nov. 4, we should not only look at what candidates’ ads say or what their proxies say, but what their records say. Our next senator should care about this state as much as we do. Granite Staters deserve nothing less.

(Mark S. MacKenzie is president of the New Hampshire AFL-CIO.)

Also published in the Concord Monitor: Friday, October 31, 2014
http://www.concordmonitor.com/home/14135229-95/my-turn-a-senator-should-care-deeply-about-the-state

The Rules change that could end gridlock in the US House

Record dysfunction in Congress: it’s NOT just the Senate, and NOT just the filibuster.

Republican extremists in the House have also been using parliamentary tricks to block legislation – including bills that had bipartisan support and would have passed if our elected Representatives were actually allowed to vote.

“The use of ‘closed rules’ has excluded most House members from full participation in the legislative process,” Rep. Louise Slaughter, ranking Democrat on the House Rules Committee, wrote earlier this week.

“Under a closed rule, no amendments are allowed on the House floor. As a result, House Republicans are able to pursue a politically driven agenda without allowing commonsense amendments that could achieve bipartisan compromise.  This approach has also empowered the most extreme members of the House to pursue narrow policy goals at all costs.”

Like, say, the government shutdown.

“On Sept. 30 — the eve of the government shutdown — Republicans on the House Rules Committee changed the rule so only House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) could call up a Senate-passed clean funding bill — a bill that has the votes to pass the House and would end the shutdown, if it were given a vote.”

One man, standing in the way of a vote that impacts millions of Americans.  (Remind you of anything?  Such as: then-Senator Scott Brown single-handedly blocking an extension of unemployment benefits, back in 2010?  The Senate couldn’t vote until they added an extension of Bush-era tax cuts for the wealthy.)

This is what’s REALLY wrong with Congress:  our elected Representatives aren’t being allowed to vote on legislation that has bipartisan support.

GOP leadership is using the “closed rule” process to keep the House from passing legislation.  Last year was the most “closed” year in House history.  “In fact, the House GOP passed as many closed rules in a single week in October as during the entire last year of Rep. Nancy Pelosi’s (D-Calif.) speakership.”

The Senate is finally reforming the filibuster.

Isn’t it time for the House to reform the “closed rule” process?

“GOP VALUES” — How The GOP Shows Favoritism to Unearned Income over Hard Work

Something else I don’t understand about Republican dogma…

GOP rhetoric seems to idealize the virtues of hard work:  “Pull yourself up by your bootstraps.” “Just get a job.”  “Quit freeloading.” It’s like they actually believe the Horatio Alger myth.

But look at our federal tax structure, and the changes Republicans have forced through since Ronald Reagan.   There is no reward for hard work.  Instead, our current tax system is tilted strongly in favor of those who already have money.  Investment income — unearned income — is now taxed at about half the rate of wage income.

Flashback to the 2011 debt-ceiling crisis: “Even an architect of the Bush tax cuts, economist Glenn Hubbard, tells Rolling Stone that there should have been a ‘revenue contribution’ to the debt-ceiling deal, ‘structured to fall mainly on the well-to-do.’ Instead, the GOP strong-armed America into sacrificing $1 trillion in vital government services – including education, health care and defense – all to safeguard tax breaks for oil companies, yacht owners and hedge-fund managers. The party’s leaders were triumphant: Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell even bragged that America’s creditworthiness had been a ‘hostage that’s worth ransoming.’ ”

Now, let’s look at the impact that this VERY ODD tax preference has had on the US economy.

What happens, when our tax system rewards investment income, rather than actual work?

  1. Private equity “investors” use acquired corporations to borrow money – and then use that borrowed money to pay themselves dividends.  “Investment”?  Not hardly.  The acquired corporations go belly-up when they can’t pay pack the debt, leaving hundreds (or thousands) of workers unemployed.  Read “What Mitt Romney Taught Us about America’s Economy.”
  2. CEOs take more compensation as dividends, rather than wages.  Even accounting for inflation, top-tier taxpayers took home six times more dividends in 2009 than in 1992.  “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).”
  3. Some of those CEOs “invest” that money in politics.  And the cycle repeats itself.

“Pull yourself up by your bootstraps”??!? Bootstraps are getting very hard to find, these days.

(But please don’t shop for them at Walmart.  The corporation’s “Lowest Prices” policy has had a devastating effect on the US economy.  “Wal-Mart has the power to squeeze profit-killing concessions from vendors. To survive in the face of its pricing demands, makers of everything from bras to bicycles to blue jeans have had to lay off employees and close U.S. plants in favor of outsourcing products from overseas.”   Meanwhile, Walton family members – who receive about half of all dividends paid by Walmart – are doing just fine.)

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