Bill Scher

Both Parties Feeling The Fair Trade Mandate

David Sirota flags this Miami Herald story: …the Bush administration has told Peru and Colombia that their free-trade agreements with the United States will need ”substantive adjustments” to secure Congressional approval. Deputy U.S. Trade Representative John K. Veroneau told reporters Wednesday that the concessions were needed to assuage Democratic objections over labor rights.

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Bill Scher

Take Big Oil Off The Public Dole

Jerome Ringo, president of the Apollo Alliance, sent the following to supporters today: Tomorrow, the new House leaders will take on our Big Oil energy policy. They will take a long overdue first step toward real, sustainable energy independence. And the best part: it won’t cost us a dime. Instead, the House plans to pay for it by reversing the $14 billion handout that previous Congresses lavished on Big Oil. But taking on Big Oil won’t be easy. We need a massive vote in the House tomorrow to gain momentum going into the Senate. For that we need your help.

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Bill Scher

Dirty Wage Bill Gets A Little Cleaner

Senate Finance Committee Chair Max Baucus is still refusing to pass a “clean” minimum wage bill without business tax giveaways. But now he’s looking to make a slight improvement to his dirty bill: paying for the revenue loss of wider business loopholes, by closing different business loopholes. The Washington Post reports that the committee will “consider[] a proposal to sharply limit the earnings corporate executives and other highly paid employees can place tax-free into deferred compensation plans, one of the most popular executive benefits in corporate America.” According to CQ.com, that means executive pay over $1 million would be subject to the 35% income tax rate. CongressDaily says that’s the “most controversial” piece in Baucus’ new package.

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Bill Scher

Dubya Doublespeak on Halving Student Loan Rates

The House is expected to pass legislation today that will cut some student loan rates in half, saving the average student $4,420 without costing taxpayers a dime. This is a critical first step in making college affordable for all students and working families. As the Wall Street Journal reported on October 25th, paying for college has gotten harder under the Bush Administration: The College Board’s latest annual reports … find that over the past five years tuition at public four-year universities has soared by a record-breaking 35% when adjusted for inflation. Meanwhile, spending on Pell Grants — the biggest source of federal aid for low-income students — fell for the first time in six years.

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Robert Borosage

Passion or Positioning

Robin Toner has front page analysis in the New York Times today on how Dems are seeking the “middle on social issues.” Most of this is common sense. Dems will control agenda in House and use that to block votes on issues like gay marriage or partial birth abortion that force a conflict between their principles and the majority of Americans. They’ll focus – if they have any sense at all – on bread and butter, kitchen table issues, and take on entrenched corporate interests like Big Pharma for Americans. They’ll put their faith and values on display. Toner suggests that Democrats will try to avoid what they say was the downfall of Republicans – allowing their right-wing base to isolate them from majority opinion. There’s the rub. Politics is driven by passion – by people passionate about causes.

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Bill Scher

Health Care For America: Blog Roundup

Lots of blog discussion about the new Health Care for America plan announced last week by Jacob Hacker and the Economic Policy Institute. (Roger Hickey’s post summing up the plan is here.) Tapped’s Ezra Klein praises the simplicity: “…unlike the other [new] plans, Hacker’s took four sentences to explain. It’s a simple, elegant mechanism for coverage, requiring none of the complex market restructuring and odd coverage schemes of the plans that seek to preserve the private insurance market as a protected whole.” Matthew Yglesias is impressed with the political approach: “This, to me, is good. It compromises away from the ideal end-state, but does so in a smart way.

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Bill Scher

W. Post Crusade Against Fair Drug Prices Continues

Last Thursday, when the Washington Post ran two pieces attacking the Democratic plan to empower Medicare to negotiate drug prices, I asked, "Is the Washington Post actively trying to thwart the First 100 Hours goal to empower Medicare to negotiate for lower drug prices?"  On Saturday, the Post editorial board helped answer that question, formally coming out against the plan in an editorial.  To recap: that's one slanted news piece against the Dem plan, one oped from a Bush cabinet head against the plan, and one Post editorial against the plan.  Of note, GoozNews takes on the W. Post editorial here.

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Bill Scher

The Real Middle Ground

Senate Finance Chair Max Baucus is firmly establishing himself as the buzzkill of The First 100 Hours. After dirtying up a minimum wage bill with special interest tax breaks, now he’s undermining Dem efforts to pass a bill requiring Medicare to negotiate for lower drug prices. Instead, he wants a bill that merely allows it, but does not require it. This wouldn’t be that big a deal, if we could trust the Bush Administration to act in the best interest of the public. But Bush’s Health and Human Services secretary has made it clear he doesn’t believe in negotiation. If he isn’t required to negotiate, he won’t.

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Bill Scher

Maximizing The Minimum

Bill Scher blogs for Campaign for America’s Future. This blog originally appeared in The Huffington Post. Yesterday was a great day for the American worker and the American economy, as the House passed a long overdue raise in the minimum wage to $7.25 an hour. The bill is particularly strong because it’s “clean.” It rejects the notion that a wage hike automatically leads to job losses, and needs to be “offset” by tacking on special interest tax giveaways for business. But while Democrats are united on principle for a pay raise, they are tactically divided whether the bill should stay clean. Since several in the leadership are OK with dirtying it up, it will take a big grassroots push to keep it pristine.

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Roger Hickey

Health Care For America

The great debate over how to fundamentally fix our broken health care system just got a lot more interesting. Today, the Economic Policy Institute released the Health Care for America plan – a simple yet sophisticated approach crafted by Jacob Hacker, author of “The Great Risk Shift.” Health Care for America, which you can find at www.sharedprosperity.org, comprehensively tackles the major health care problems holding back our society and economy: the 46 million uninsured, the skyrocketing costs and the uneven quality. My organization, Campaign for America’s Future, will be launching a nationwide effort to discuss and debate how to get good healthcare coverage for all Americans while controlling spiraling health care costs. The best way to start that debate is to put a simple, clear and progressive health care plan on the table.

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Bill Scher

Media Bias Against Dem Drug Plan Continues

Is the Washington Post actively trying to thwart the First 100 Hours goal to empower Medicare to negotiate for lower drug prices? Today, the Post prints a one-two punch of misleading information. On the “news” side, we have particularly egregious piece broadly claiming that “experts” don’t believe the Democratic Medicare proposal will work like the Veterans Administration drug plan, because it does not create the kind of restrictive list of covered drugs that the VA does. And over on the oped page, the Post gives free ink to Bush’s Health and Human Services Secretary so he can make the same claims. But nowhere in the Post does it mention what the experts at Families USA say to debunk that claim: the VA list is not that restrictive, as vets can get drugs not on the list.

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Bill Scher

America Says No!

In response to President Bush’s stunning rejection of the people’s will, Campaign for America’s Future is joining our progressive allies today to form Americans Against Escalation in Iraq. Rallies are being held across the country today to oppose the continuation of Bush’s failed Iraq strategy, and you can find one near you at AmericaSaysNo.org. More about Bush’s address on TomPaine.com.

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Bill Scher

House Dems Split on Min Wage Next Steps

With the likelihood of competing minimum wage bills from the House and Senate, House Dems appear divided on how to proceed. CongressDaily AM reports: “…House Majority Leader [Steny] Hoyer said he would consider going with the Senate bill to avoid a conference committee. A senior aide to House Democrats said the increase could be enacted ‘fairly quickly’ after the Senate passes a bill. “But House Ways and Means Chairman [Charlie] Rangel said Wednesday that he opposes adding tax provisions and hinted he might put up barriers to House consideration of a Senate bill including them. ‘Last I heard, they couldn’t initiate taxes in the Senate,’ he said.” House members need to hear from you that the mandate for the First 100 Hours agenda did not include CEO giveaways.

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Bill Scher

Wage Update: House Approves, Senate Moves In Wrong Direction

Minutes ago, the House approved increasing the hourly minimum wage to $7.25, over two years. The vote was strong, 315 to 116. Democratic support was unanimous. The GOP caucus was split, with 82 supporting and 116 opposing. Over in the Senate, CQ reports that Sen. Max Baucus “unveiled four proposed breaks” for business to be added to a minimum wage bill. Further, Dem Sens. Maria Cantwell, Kent Conrad, John Kerry, Blanche Lincoln and Ken Salazar all signaled support for the tax breaks. This is not sitting well over at MyDD. Jonathan Singer writes: “There is no reason whatsoever for the Democrats to give in to the demands of the business lobby at this point.

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Bill Scher

CQ: Senate Minimum Wage Bill to Include Small-Business Sweeteners

It’s more than just Sen. Max Baucus looking to add business lobby favors to a minimum wage hike. According to Congressional Quarterly, Senate Dem leaders Richard Durbin and Chuck Schumer are opting to try to placate conservatives instead of standing up to them: “The House bill … includes no sweeteners for small businesses, which many Republicans back, and no amendments will be allowed on the floor. “That strategy won’t work in the Senate, so Democratic leaders are working with key Republicans in efforts to get the necessary 60 votes to advance the legislation in that chamber. “‘It is a little different world,’ said Majority Whip Richard J. Durbin, D-Ill., noting the 51-49 majority his party holds. ‘We anticipate that some proposal to help business is likely to pass.

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Bill Scher

Drug Battle Brewing in Senate

USA Today reports that the First 100 Hours battle for affordable prescription drugs may come down a few votes in the Senate: “While Democrats have the votes to pass the bill in the House, it faces a closer battle in the Senate. The Senate Finance Committee opens hearings on the issue Thursday. A weaker version that allowed but did not mandate government negotiations got 54 votes in the Senate last year, six short of the 60 required to overcome Republicans’ objections. Sens. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, and Ron Wyden, D-Ore., its sponsors, count 58 or 59 votes this year — still short of what’s needed.

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Bill Scher

Pearlstein: Business Complaints on Wage Hike “Nonsense”

Washington Post business columnist Steven Pearlstein takes the business lobby, and new Senate Finance Committee Chair Max Baucus, to task today, setting the record straight about a minimum wage hike’s impact on jobs. Pearlstein writes: …both economic theory and history suggest that small business will, in time, pass on its increased costs to its consumers … [It] will have a minimal impact on adult employment … But largely offsetting those effects will be the increased demand for goods and services by tens of millions of Americans who will finally be getting a raise. A higher minimum wage doesn’t lower economic activity so much as rearrange it slightly.

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Bill Scher

Blogger Call With Speaker Pelosi

Tuesday afternoon, Speaker Nancy Pelosi held a conference call with bloggers about Iraq and the First 100 Hours Agenda. I asked her if the final minimum wage bill would be “clean” without any special interest provisions tacked on, or would it include tax giveaways for the CEO lobby. As I blogged earlier, the House is expected to pass a clean bill on Wednesday, but what happens after that with the Senate and the eventual House-Senate conference is unclear. Speaker Pelosi’s comments were along the same lines: “We will bring to the table our clean bill, and our view that in order to give a 10-year overdue increase in the minimum wage to America’s workers that we shouldn’t have to [also] give a tax cut.

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Bill Scher

Good For Vets, Good For Medicare

We’re starting to see more slanted media coverage as the battle over prescription drugs heats up. Part of the First 100 Hours Agenda is to give our government the power to negotiate drug prices on behalf of Medicare recipients, using the collective bargaining power to drive costs down. Proponents have noted that our Veterans Administration (VA) already has that negotiating power on behalf of vets, and it works. Why not do the same for Medicare? Big Pharma — the fat cat pharmaceutical industry — can’t easily oppose cheaper prices, so it’s using flimsy arguments claiming that empowering Medicare can’t work. Ominously, in recent days we’ve seen pieces in the NY Times, LA Times and Washington Post echoing Big Pharma’s arguments. In particular, they charge that the Democratic proposal for Medicare won’t work like the VA system.

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Bill Scher

A Clean Bill of Wage?

This Wednesday, the House is expected pass a key piece of the First 100 Hours agenda — a painfully overdue raise in the minimum hourly wage from $5.15 to $7.25. President Bush and the CEO lobby realize its political suicide to oppose the hike — it’s backed by 80% of Americans. Instead, they’re claiming to support it, while insisting that tax giveaways for business must be part of the deal. Bush said last month that a pay raise should be paired with “targeted tax and regulatory relief to help these small businesses stay competitive and to help keep our economy growing,” subtly making the usual disingenuous right-wing complaint that higher wages lead to fewer jobs. Econ blogger Angry Bear shredded that argument yesterday: under Bill Clinton and LBJ, both wages and jobs were up.

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