Bill Scher

Min Wage (With Business Tax Breaks) Clears Senate

Late today, the Senate passed its version of a minimum wage increase 94-3. Unlike the House bill, the Senate version includes tax giveaways to business, and it’s unclear what happens next. (Who are the three winners of the Deepest Hatred of Workers Award? Bob Geiger reports: Sens. Jon Kyl, Tom Coburn and Jim DeMint.) Both Congressional Quarterly and CongressDaily AM reported today that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid will not send the bill to the House right away, because it would get blocked procedurely by members insisting on a clean bill. Instead, Reid will informally discuss the next steps with Speaker Nancy Pelosi and try to work out an agreement.

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Bill Scher

Laws, Shmaws

To insist on integrity in American business we passed tough reforms, and we are holding corporate criminals to account. Some might call this a good record. I call it a good start. — President George W. Bush, State of the Union 2003 President Bush cautioned against overregulation of corporate behavior, likely fueling efforts by business to scale back post-Enron rules. — Wall Street Journal’s Washington Wire, 1/31/07 Surprise, surprise, when the public attention has shifted elsewhere, Dubya goes back on his word. But how can he change the laws to favor irresponsible corporations, now that conservatives no longer control Congress? Laws, shmaws! Bush said today: “We don’t need to change the law.

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Bill Scher

Big Pharma Lobbies Up

When it comes to health care, will the new Congress, unlike the previous conservative Congress, side with the public interest over the special interest? The pharmaceutical giants are worried the answer is yes. So they’re hooking up with Democratic lobbyists in hopes of keeping Congress in their corner. Bloomberg has the story: Pharmaceutical companies … are among the companies scrambling to hire lobbyists with Democratic ties as they prepare for congressional investigative hearings next week. Pfizer Inc., the world’s biggest drugmaker, has hired the Glover Park Group, whose partners include Joe Lockhart, a former spokesman for President Bill Clinton, and Howard Wolfson, a spokesman for Senator Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign.

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Bill Scher

Blogger Call with Sen. Harry Reid

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid held a conference call with bloggers earlier this afternoon. I asked him where the minimum wage bill will go after this week’s expected approval of a version including business tax breaks. Yesterday’s NY Times said that the Senate bill either will go to a House-Senate conference, where it can be reconciled with the House bill, clean of tax favors. Or, the House can arbitrarily strip out the tax favors and send a clean bill back to the Senate. Reid reiterated what his spokesperson said to the NY Times: that he believes he can’t get a clean bill past a conservative filibuster, and would prefer a House-Senate conference. He also conceded that the House has the power to “blue slip” and block the Senate bill, on the grounds that tax measures can’t originate in the Senate.

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Bill Scher

Crippling Our Civil Service

Bill Scher blogs for Campaign for America’s Future. Today’s NY Times reports that Bush issued a new executive order intended to undermine our civil service: …each [government] agency must have a regulatory policy office run by a political appointee, to supervise the development of rules and documents providing guidance to regulated industries. The White House will thus have a gatekeeper in each agency to analyze the costs and the benefits of new rules and to make sure the agencies carry out the president’s priorities. This strengthens the hand of the White House in shaping rules that have, in the past, often been generated by civil servants and scientific experts. It suggests that the administration still has ways to exert its power after the takeover of Congress by the Democrats.

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Bill Scher

Crippling Our Civil Service

Today’s NY Times reports that Bush issued a new executive order intended to undermine our civil service: …each [government] agency must have a regulatory policy office run by a political appointee, to supervise the development of rules and documents providing guidance to regulated industries. The White House will thus have a gatekeeper in each agency to analyze the costs and the benefits of new rules and to make sure the agencies carry out the president’s priorities. This strengthens the hand of the White House in shaping rules that have, in the past, often been generated by civil servants and scientific experts. It suggests that the administration still has ways to exert its power after the takeover of Congress by the Democrats.

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Bill Scher

Step Towards a Global Warming Plan

Congressional committee appointments are certainly inside baseball (come to think of it, the term “inside baseball” is inside baseball) but Speaker Pelosi’s move to create a Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming is a big deal. You might think that it would be easy for Democrats to coalesce around a single plan to combat global warming, but there will likely be a myriad of plans — with varying degrees of boldness and timidity. And it’s going to take leadership, along with grassroots pressure, to get Congress to put one strong plan on the president’s desk. One obstacle may be Rep. John Dingell, who chairs the Energy and Commerce Committee, who is close to Michigan’s automakers and not interested in quick, aggressive action.

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Bill Scher

Spines Stiffening?

Today, the NY Times checks in on the minimum wage battle, and we may be seeing a little movement towards a push for a clean bill without business tax giveaways. The piece notes that after the Senate passes its bill with such tax favors, two different procedural things could happen: “the Senate could hold on to the bill, leaving it to leaders from both chambers to work out the differences. Or, it could send the bill to the House, where the House could strip out the tax breaks and send it back to the Senate for a new vote.” In theory, the tax provisions could be stripped in either scenario, but in the latter, the House is forcing the matter. As noted here previously, NYT says House Dems remain split how to proceed, but indicates that the overriding sentiment is for a clean bill. Aides to some House leaders say they would be willing to allow some of the tax breaks.

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Bill Scher

Blogger Shock At Min Wage Repeal Attempt (But Where’s the Media?)

Yesterday, Bob Geiger and the AFL-CIO Blog broke the story that 28 conservative Senators tried to outright eliminate the federal minimum wage. Immediately, the blogosphere reacted in shock, at both the raw cruelty and the political inanity. TomPaine.com labelled the whole lot, “The Senate Anti-Worker Caucus,” fundamentally out of touch with the electorate, since “Voters in November had a simple request: They wanted an increase in the federal minimum wage.” Mahablog argues this just means the decades-long, right-wing “War on Workers” refuses to quit and must be forcefully challenged. MyDD named some key names: “Does [Sen. John] Cornyn think that he is invincible in Texas in 2008, despite his 44% approval rating? Does [Sen. John] Sununu even plan on running for re-election in New Hampshire? Does anyone still think [Sen.

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Bill Scher

28 Senators Want Fed Minimum Wage Set At Zero

The contempt some Senate conservatives have for America’s workers runs pretty deep. Filibustering a raise in the minimum wage wasn’t enough for 28 Senators. Today, they tried to finish the job and completely abolish the federal minimum wage. Bob Geiger and the AFL-CIO Weblog have the details. Most cowardly, they weren’t even honest with America’s workers about what they were up to, masking their agenda with calls for “state flexibility.” At least, conservative pundit hero George Will proudly says the federal minimum wage should be zero. Of course, no worker gets a vote on whether George Will stays in his job.

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Bill Scher

Health Care Looms Large in Prez Primaries

The growing grassroots demand for affordable, accessible health care is sure to drive the presidential primaries. But it remains to be seen if candidates will respond with workable, comprehensive plans to match their urgent rhetoric. Rep. Dennis Kucinich is the only candidate so far with an announced plan: “Enhanced Medicare For Everyone.” But he will joined by others. Earlier this month, John Edwards said achieving universal coverage was a higher short-term priority for him than balancing the budget. But no specific plan as of yet. Last night, Sen. Hillary Clinton told the NY Times she’ll announce a plan shortly. And today, Sen. Barack Obama gave his first health care address since announcing his intention to be a candidate. No plan yet, but a demand that universal health care be achieved by the end of the next president’s term in 2012.

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Bill Scher

Show Them The Way

Yesterday, 43 Senate conservatives did the bidding of the business lobby and filibustered the House minimum wage bill. Why? Because they want to attach irresponsible business tax breaks to the bill. They want to further the phony notion that even the tiniest raise in the minimum wage is a job killer that must be offset by special interest handouts — never mind the hundreds of billions of tax breaks business owners have already received while inflation has degraded the value of the minimum wage. So, what should the response to the right-wing be? Stand on principle, face down conservatives, and insist on a “clean” bill free of business giveaways? Or accommodate, and compromise on a “dirty” bill? As of now, the Senate leadership plans to accommodate. Last week, the Senate Finance committee approved a bill loaded with tax breaks.

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Robert Borosage

The President’s Delusions

Last night’s State of the Union address revealed that the state of this president is still delusional. He can’t level with the American people because he can’t or won’t recognize the reality that we face. The best part of the speech wasn’t anything the president said. It was House Speaker Nancy Pelosi sitting over his shoulder, signaling the change that Americans voted for. The president also got a lift from the “ordinary heroes” that he recognized at the end of the speech. But when it got to substance, the president seemed bored with his own words as he trotted out his pledge for more of the same. For this president, the economy is great and we need to stay the course.

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Bill Scher

Cheaper Health Care! Cleaner Energy! Just Another Bush SOTU

The White House has been previewing tonight’s State of the Union address, leaking that Bush will offer plans for affordable health care and energy independence. Are these bold new initiatives? A change in policy course? A response to the public will? Not exactly. This is literally old news. In the last four State of the Union addresses, Bush has promised affordable health care for all Americans.

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Robert Borosage

State Of The Union: Deteriorating

Tomorrow night, President Bush will tell Americans that the state of our union is strong. He’ll celebrate a growing economy, enjoying rising productivity, rising profits, more jobs and record home ownership. He’ll stand as commander in chief of the most powerful military ever. He’ll lay out areas–energy, immigration, health care–where he envisions progress through bipartisan cooperation. What he won’t do is level with Americans. In reality, America’s condition is deteriorating rapidly. We’re like a world-class athlete who has let himself go in middle age. Muscle is turning to flab; arteries are clogged, reflexes slowed. The body is not only more vulnerable to garden-variety ailments, it is susceptible to what might be crippling strokes.

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Bill Scher

First 100 Hours Finishes 58 Hours Early

Today, the House passed the CLEAN Energy Act, 264-163, with 36 Republicans crossing party lines to support the bill, and only 4 Dems voting against. And yesterday, the College Student Relief Act passed 356-71, with 124 Republicans crossing over. That completes the House Dems’ First 100 Hours agenda, with 58 legislative working hours left to spare. More work has been done for people in 100 hours than the previous conservative Congress did in two years. However, as has become obvious, the Republican minority has the numbers to kill popular legislation in the Senate, and Democrats may respond to that by cutting weak deals. But Dem Senators should take heed of the House vote totals. Every bill commands wide public support, and attracted significant GOP votes. Senate Dems have the clear upper hand, and should stand firm with the House and the people.

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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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