Eyeing 2020, Brown tests pro-worker theme in Iowa towns
By THOMAS BEAUMONT
Friday, February 1
CRESCO, Iowa (AP) — Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio sounded an awful lot at home Thursday in rural Howard County, Iowa, on his first stop in the politically influential state Friday.
“We chose here because we grew up in communities that so often get ignored,” Brown told about 30 Democratic activists in tiny Cresco. “Wall Street totally ignores communities like this and so too often does state and national government.”
Brown was opening his three-day trip to the state that hosts the first 2020 presidential caucuses in the one county in the nation both Democrat Barack Obama and Republican Donald Trump won by at least 20 percentage points.
Brown argued, taking a very public step in his consideration of a 2020 presidential campaign, that working-class voters who backed Trump have been betrayed, notably by the Republican-signed tax bill that benefited wealthy Americans more.
“It’s not just the middle class, it’s the broad spectrum of people who work hard and just simply don’t get a break these days,” Brown told the audience who turned out in sub-zero weather in the town of 3,800 where manufacturing jobs have sharply waned over the past decade.
Like Ohio, where Trump won in 2016 on the strength of working-class voters, Brown’s other stops on his three-day Iowa itinerary underscore his central argument as a potential 2020 presidential contender: That he understands economically challenged Midwestern voters who helped make Trump president.
In Cresco, fewer than 20 miles from the Minnesota state line, the largest employer is a non-union trailer manufacturer that shed a third of its workforce a decade ago.
“Blue collar voters and moderate Democrats haven’t had anyone to put their faith in lately,” said Howard County Democratic Party Chairwoman Laura Hupka, who attended Brown’s gathering at Cresco’s small welcome center office. “But Sherrod speaks to them. He speaks like a normal guy, unassuming, but thoughtful.”
Brown has said some Democrats wrongly divide the party into its liberal base and working-class voters, chiefly those non-college-educated white voters who lifted Trump not just in Ohio, but also in swing states Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.
During more than 25 years in Congress, Brown has championed worker-friendly trade and tax policies. He is also a close ally of labor unions, and has also supported liberal causes such as abortion rights, same-sex marriage and opposition to the Iraq war.
Brown attributes his re-election to a third Senate term last year to the resonance of a message to workers who feel left behind, while also embracing his party’s liberal base, including its growing racial and ethnic diversity.
Several of Brown’s planned Iowa stops are in counties carried by Obama in 2008 and Trump in 2016, and all of them in places that have shed thousands of manufacturing jobs in recent decades.
“He’s making a statement with where he’s going,” veteran Iowa Democratic strategist John Norris said of Brown’s plans. “It plays right to his strength — that rural, populist, labor thing — you can weave that together in all those towns.”
Brown will also visit Perry, where once-unionized meatpacking plants are now staffed largely by immigrant workers willing to accept lower wages.
He plans to bypass the well-worn path of presidential hopefuls through the metropolitan capital city of Des Moines, where would-be rivals and Senate colleagues Kirsten Gillibrand, Kamala Harris and Elizabeth Warren have held big events this month.
Instead, he will continue to northeastern Iowa cities Clinton, Dubuque and Waterloo, where John Deere remains an important union employer but has shrunk its local workforce by more than 10,000 jobs in the past 40 years.
Associated Press writer Elana Schor contributed from Washington.
Opinion: Want to Be President? Then Learn the Politics Trade
By Llewellyn King
Mark Twain once observed that no one would try to play a fiddle in public without some prior instruction in the instrument, but no one had such hesitation when it came to writing.
Clearly, many candidates these days think you can run for president without any political experience or with precious little. The unqualified and the marginally equipped seem to believe they are uniquely gifted to be president of the United States.
At the moment a large school of Democrats feel that because they empathize with the working poor, the struggling middle class and are appalled by the excesses of the plutocrats, they can, when elected, put it all right. They confuse empathy with policy and achievability.
Then there are those who subscribe to the belief in business as the incubator of all skills. These are the people who believe — and they could well line up for former Starbucks CEO Howard Shultz — that if you can run a business, you can get a handle on Washington. It is a myth that just won’t die. If one can make a lot of money, it proves just one thing: One has made a lot of money. Running based on commercial success and Washington failure doesn’t work. The two worlds are not subject to the same laws of nature, as it were.
In business, you can walk away from failure; in politics, it follows you. If a franchise deal fails in business, you abandon it. You can’t abandon Russia or China because you can’t get a deal. And you can’t abandon the poor because you think you can’t afford them.
Politics is, above all, learned, and it is learned in political places — school boards, community associations, unions and state legislatures. Anywhere where offices are elective.
If you want to succeed in reshaping Washington, the first thing to do is to understand it and respect it. Yes, respect it.
We are so inured to people running against Washington that we forget that it is the product of all the others who ran against it. Washington, like all complex systems, is the sum of its parts, from the lobbyists to the agencies, and the laws which Congress has passed.
Washington is a seething, dynamic system, not too complex to be reformed but way too complex to be a candidate for simple solutions. Look at the supreme political amateur Donald Trump and see how his plan to upend Washington and “drain the swamp” has fared. In engineering and science, if you want to change something, first understand it — know its parts and their functions before you start.
Rex Tillerson, the former CEO of ExxonMobil, failed to reform the State Department because he didn’t feel he needed to understand it. He failed in his own right, even without the difficulties Trump piled on him.
If politics is war by another means, then don’t show your hand. You don’t tell the enemy where you’ll dig in or what secret weapon you’ll bring to bear. To declare the rate of tax you favor (70 percent for the rich), how you are going to implement a national healthcare system (extend Medicare) and who you’ll not listen to (lobbyists are a great source of information), and what limits you are going to put on yourself (to draw attention to your rectitude) is neither the way to get elected nor to do the peoples’ business. Caring isn’t a plan.
Many successful presidents, from Washington to Clinton, have been bad businessmen. The best qualification for the office isn’t how well you’ve done at something else, but to have run something big and political like a charity, an advocacy group, a school, a city or a state. That way you learn the art of give a little, take a lot. Those who haven’t had this administrative experience need to study it over and over.
As Lloyd George, the British prime minister during World War I, wrote, “There is no greater mistake than to try to leap an abyss in two jumps.” Every day, I read someone is setting out to prove him wrong and run for president without regard to the geography of the politics.
ABOUT THE WRITER
Llewellyn King is executive producer and host of “White House Chronicle” on PBS, and he is a columnist with InsideSources.com.
Booker announces key staff hires in early-voting states
By MEG KINNARD
Monday, February 4
COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — Days after the official launch of his presidential bid, U.S. Sen. Cory Booker announced key staff hires in several early voting states on Monday, naming veteran political operatives to head up his campaign in some of the first critical battlegrounds of the 2020 voting calendar.
The hiring moves are the New Jersey Democrat’s push for strength in some of the places where presidential hopefuls must mark successes if they’re going to build crucial momentum leading into the primaries and caucuses.
Booker has named state directors in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina. In Iowa, Mike Frosolone served as caucus director for the state House Democrats, successfully recruiting dozens of Democrats to seek office there. Erin Turmelle is leading the campaign in New Hampshire, where she oversaw the state party’s 2018 midterm efforts. South Carolina’s Christale Spain worked in political outreach for Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders’ 2016 bid and has served as executive director of the state Democratic Party.
In each state, the campaign also named senior advisors, posts that will likely fill a variety of roles and serve to formulate overall strategy in the states, where Booker and other hopefuls have already begun to spend considerable time. Joe O’Hern, a former Obama campaign field organizer and Iowa caucus veteran, will fill the post there. Former Obama campaign deputy director Sean Downey will fill the post in New Hampshire. In South Carolina, the role goes to Clay Middleton, a longtime aide to House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn and Hillary Clinton’s 2016 state director.
Booker also named organizing and special projects directors in Iowa, as well as a communications team there, and a deputy state director in New Hampshire.
Booker plans to visit all three states in the next two weeks, starting with a trip to Iowa on Friday and Saturday. From there, he’ll go to South Carolina – overlapping with at least one other presidential hopeful, U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, who’s making her first trip to the state around that time. Booker plans to visit New Hampshire over Presidents’ Day weekend.
Booker campaign manager Addisu Demissie said in a statement to The Associated Press the hires were aimed at “growing a grassroots movement to unite Americans and make change happen.”
Meg Kinnard can be reached at http://twitter.com/MegKinnardAP
Democratic contenders hoping to run on soaking the rich
By NICHOLAS RICCARDI and ELANA SCHOR
Monday, February 4
WASHINGTON (AP) — The last Democrat to win a presidential election, Barack Obama, ran in 2012 on a platform of raising taxes for top earners to nearly 40 percent. Now a new crop of Democratic presidential hopefuls is signaling that they want to go even further.
Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren is floating a 2 percent tax on all assets of people with a net worth of more than $50 million — a moon-shot plan that could face legal challenges for hitting investments, homes and cars, not just income. Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders is pitching a steeply higher inheritance tax on large estates.
Others targeting higher income earners include California Sen. Kamala Harris, who has proposed rolling back the recent GOP tax cuts for wealthier families to pay for tax rebates for middle- and lower-income earners.
The eruption of high-end tax proposals is a shift for Democrats, who have traditionally not centered their presidential bids around tax hikes — particularly at this early stage of a campaign. It underscores the party’s march to the left and candidates’ desire to tap into the Wall Street-rattling energy of liberal voters.
“If you’re looking for a bumper sticker, ‘tax rich people’ is a pretty good bumper sticker,” said Howard Glickman of the centrist Tax Policy Center.
Beyond its messaging power, taxing the wealthy also gives Democratic contenders a way to propose paying for their sweeping progressive agendas.
Sanders put it simply last week: “We need additional revenue if we’re going to provide health care for all, rebuild our infrastructure, make public colleges and universities tuition-free.”
The rush to tax the rich has prompted criticism from others eyeing the White House — namely billionaires Michael Bloomberg, a former Republican who is considering running as a Democrat, and former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz, who is mulling an independent run for president.
Schultz says he was driven from the Democratic Party by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the rising star who’s issued her own call for a 70 percent income tax rate on people making more than $10 million. Democratic strategists worry Schultz could peel off a small but vital slice of affluent voters and help President Donald Trump get re-elected in a three-way race.
But to progressive Democratic contenders, the criticism from billionaires like Schultz proves their point.
“The billionaires are writing the rules around here. And guess what: all those rules favor the billionaires,” Warren said in an interview.
Republicans, meanwhile, are eager to cast the Democratic tax proposals as damaging to an economy that has steadily grown since Trump took office.
Texas Sen. John Cornyn, a senior GOP member of the tax-writing Finance Committee, described Warren and Sanders’ tax plans as playing off “the politics of personal envy.” He predicted economic blowback from reversing the current tax laws muscled through by Republicans in 2017.
The $2 trillion tax bill Trump signed into law was a boon for many wealthy Americans, with low-and middle-income Americans receiving smaller cuts.
While many Democrats have previously backed higher taxes for the wealthiest Americans, they’ve rarely made the issue such an early focal point of their campaigns. Obama shied away from tax increases during his first run for office, as did almost every Democratic nominee since Walter Mondale in 1984 pledged to raise voters’ taxes and lost to President Reagan in an historic landslide.
But polls now show that voters are happy to see higher-end taxes, to a point. In April 2018, Gallup found that about 6 in 10 Americans thought the wealthy didn’t pay their fair share of taxes. A Fox News poll last week found 7 in 10 Americans supported raising taxes on people making more than 10 million dollars a year and 65 percent on those making more than $1 million. But support plunges when family income drops, with only 44 percent backing higher taxes on those making more than $250,000.
“What’s happened sometimes in these debates is the ‘on the wealthy’ gets left out in some people’s minds,” said Democratic pollster Mark Mellman. “The question is to what extent you can control the interpretation” of tax increases.
Democrats seem to have learned that lesson, at least with the 70-percent rate from Ocasio-Cortez, a New York Democrat, and a Warren proposal that would only hit an estimated 75,000 households in the United States — the upper echelon of U.S. wealth.
“It’s clear that the people they’re targeting are the very, very, very well-off,” said Alan Viard of the conservative American Enterprise Institute.
But Viard and other critics warn that the higher Democrats go, the less revenue they may actually get. That’s because the wealthy can shift around assets to avoid new levies. And Warren’s proposal, because it taxes more than income, may not comply with the Constitution, which was amended to allow the federal government to tax income, not wealth.
Glickman said that Warren’s tax may be the most politically viable, because it targets such wealthy individuals. But it may be the toughest to implement. Several European countries have recently eliminated wealth taxes because they are so hard to administer, and the value of the mega-rich’s holdings so hard to pin down, Glickman said.
Economists advising Warren’s campaign project it will raise $2.75 trillion over 10 years, but Glickman was skeptical.
“When that much money is at stake, rich guys are going to go out and hire really smart tax lawyers,” he said.
While Warren has enthusiastically embraced her tax plan’s impact on the wealthy, Harris’ early messaging has focused more on boosting middle-income earners with a $500 a month refundable tax credit to households earning less than $100,000 a year.
Harris would pay for this partly by eliminating the Trump tax cuts for households earning more than $100,000. That could be politically risky because this group, while comfortable, is largely not the mega-rich.
Riccardi reported from Denver. AP polling writer Hannah Fingerhut contributed to this report.
Opinion: The Shutdown Made Inequality Worse
By Josh Hoxie
Anyone who has experienced joblessness or poverty can attest to the fear and anxiety associated with not having the money to cover the bills. During the government shutdown, stories flooded the media from struggling federal workers forced to stay home or work without pay.
But the shutdown didn’t occur in a vacuum. One unpleasant reality is that how these workers fared may have depended more on the color of their skin than you might think.
The Guardian newspaper recently profiled black federal workers struggling to get by. While black people make up just 12 percent of the U.S. population, they’re more than 18 percent of the federal workforce.
Many of these families don’t have savings or other wealth to fall back on, and their stories are gut wrenching.
“I don’t have cash reserves and I’m barely staying above water,” said Lora Williams, an African-American woman and 26-year-veteran of the National Parks Service. “My mother tells me — bless her heart — there’s a bed here if you need it,” Williams continued. “I’m 50. I’m not going back to my parents’ house.”
She resorted to opening a GoFundMe to try to make ends meet.
Wealth, the sum total of what you own minus what you owe, is the buffer families rely on when uncertainty strikes. It’s the difference between short-term unemployment being a time to simply “tighten the belt” versus homelessness and financial ruin.
Wealth is heavily skewed in the United States, largely along racial lines. My colleagues and I looked at that divide in a new report for the Institute for Policy Studies.
The median black family today owns $3,600 — just 2 percent of the $147,000 the median white family owns. In other words, the median white family has 41 times more wealth than the median black family (and 22 times more wealth than the median Latino family).
Put simply, it’s not surprising that black and Latino federal workers affected by the shutdown don’t have a wealth cushion to fall back on. And considering the high percentage of black federal workers, the government shutdown has made this only worse.
That isn’t to say white families are all flush with cash. Millions of white families struggle in poverty and are comparably low-wealth. Yet if you look at the numbers, you’ll see there is a gaping disparity along racial lines.
Our data stretches back three decades. Since 1983, median black family wealth has declined by more than half. Median white family wealth, on the other hand, has jumped by a third. So, the gap is getting bigger.
Of course, there are other historical trends at play here. For one thing, there have been massive gains in productivity and profit over the past three decades. Where did the money go? The short answer is: The fabulously wealthy became fabulously wealthier. And those fabulously wealthy households are overwhelmingly white.
Over the last 30 years, the number of households with $10 million or more skyrocketed by 856 percent, and the richest 0.1 percent have seen their wealth jump 133 percent. Meanwhile, the median American family saw their wealth drop 3 percent.
The deep and growing racial wealth divide was built on a history of intentional public policy — from slavery and Jim Crow to redlining, mass incarceration, unfair public-school funding formulas, and many other policies.
As many scholars have shown, it’s not the result of collective laziness or bad decision making by poor people. It’s systemic, and thus requires systemic solutions.
If there’s a silver lining to the recently concluded shutdown, it’s that it can shine a light on the deep wealth inequality in the United States. If the savings of long-tenured federal employees can’t cover a few missed paychecks, where does that leave the millions of families who can’t expect back pay or other relief?
Enacting policies that enable low-wealth families to buffer rainy days and build a nest egg for a brighter future should be a priority for the new Congress. In the wealthiest country in the world, and one whose founding documents claimed all people were created equal, no one should be one missed paycheck away from financial devastation.
ABOUT THE WRITER
Josh Hoxie directs the Project on Taxation and Opportunity at the Institute for Policy Studies. He wrote this for InsideSources.com.