Common Dreams

This 3-minute video explains how a top Democrat turned paid family leave into an industry giveaway

In just over three minutes, People's Policy Project founder Matt Bruenig on Tuesday explained in a video posted to social media how a paid leave proposal put forward in the U.S. House would be a "disaster" for working families—and a boon for the private insurance industry.

Produced by the outlet More Perfect Union, the video describes how House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal (D-Mass.)—who counts the insurance industry as his top contributor since taking office more than three decades ago—put forward a plan to replace President Joe Biden's straightforward proposal to offer 12 weeks of paid leave to new parents through the Social Security Administration (SSA).

The Democrat Gutting Biden's Paid Family Leave Plan www.youtube.com


Under Biden's plan, the SSA would provide new parents with cash benefits to cover a portion of their wages for 12 weeks after the birth or adoption of a child—a modest proposal considering the amount of paid time off parents have in other wealthy countries. Ten countries—including Estonia, Japan, Lithuania, and Norway—offer more than a year of paid leave.

Neal's proposal, released by the House Ways and Means Committee last month, suggests that the 16-term congressman believes even 12 weeks of partial pay is too generous for workers in the United States.

Under Neal's plan, Bruenig explains, the federal government would distribute cash benefits not directly to new parents but to employers, which would then pay insurance companies to provide paid leave to workers—if they meet certain criteria.

The proposal, Bruenig wrote in a blog post last month, "is a complicated mess riddled with design problems that could be easily fixed."

As Bruenig explains in the video, Neal's plan contains three major flaws:

  • It excludes parents who haven't worked in the three to six months prior to adoption or childbirth, allowing insurers to discriminate against new parents who recently finished school or job training, those with work-limiting disabilities or pregnancies that kept them from working, or who faced unemployment;
  • It includes no minimum benefit level, allowing workers to receive benefits equal to or less than 85% of what they earned, so "low-paid workers who cannot afford to give up 15% of their pay would not be able to access the program"; and
  • It provides 12 weeks of paid leave per parent, so two-parent households are eligible for twice as much leave as one-parent families, and single parents would be left with higher child care bills.

The proposal "needlessly [turns] Biden's paid leave ambitions into a private insurance giveaway," said Bruenig, by allowing insurance companies to reject an estimated one in three new mothers, based on the first provision, and limit the benefits offered to new parents.

"It would also be a disaster for the federal budget, because businesses that take a below average amount of paid leave would be able to extract money out of the system for their own profit," Bruenig explained in the video.

Bruenig noted that Neal's plan has won endorsements from the insurance industry, including Prudential, which praised the proposal as a "partnership between employers, employees, and benefits providers," and Sun Life, one of the nation's largest insurers.

As The American Prospect reported last month, "the American Council of Life Insurers (ACLI), a trade group that lobbied Neal to include private business, praised the final product... thanking Neal for 'the opportunity to partner and for continued dialogue.'"

Passing Neal's proposal instead of Biden's straightforward paid family leave plan—like other proposals put forth by right-wing corporate Democrats as lawmakers debate the president's Build Back Better agenda—is likely to harm the Democratic Party in upcoming elections, Bruenig said, as well as failing to help working families who have been demanding paid leave for years.

"Passing a poorly designed paid leave proposal is a dangerous political game for Democrats," said Bruenig. "Voters would rightly blame them for the difficult and inefficient program they've now been forced to deal with, wiping away what should have been a political winner."

"When we make voters feel that government can't deliver," he added, "it hurts the entirety of the progressive agenda."

'A toxic presence': Ocasio-Cortez joins calls for NY Democratic Party chair to resign

U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez on Tuesday joined progressive colleagues and activists in calling for the resignation or removal of New York Democratic Party Chair Jay Jacobs after he compared India Walton—a Black woman running for mayor of Buffalo—to former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke.

"India Walton is the Democratic nominee for mayor of Buffalo. No amount of racist misogyny from the old boys' club is going to change that," Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) tweeted.

"This is just his latest incident," she added. "Jacobs is a toxic presence in the party and his continued post as chair is shameful."

Jacobs had sparked outrage Monday after offering a perplexing explanation of why he has not endorsed Walton, a democratic socialist and community activist.

"Let's take a scenario, very different, where David Duke—you remember him, the grand wizard of the KKK—he moves to New York, he becomes a Democrat, he runs for mayor in the city of Rochester, which is a low primary turnout, and he wins the Democratic line," he said. "I have to endorse David Duke? I don't think so."

Although Jacobs later apologized for the comparison and acknowledged that Walton and Duke were "not in the same category," condemnation was swift and strong.

U.S. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) called Jacobs' analogy "outrageous and beyond absurd," while U.S. Reps. Jamaal Bowman and Mondaire Jones—both New York Democrats—joined progressive activists in demanding his ouster, with Jones lambasting his continued chairmanship a "shame to the party."

Rana Abdelhamid, a democratic socialist running for the 12th Congressional District seat currently held by Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.), said in a statement Monday that "from repeatedly attacking young women of color running for office, to protecting disgraced former [Democratic] Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Jay Jacobs is part of the problem."

"It's clear," added Abdelhamid, "that Jacobs has no respect for the will of the voters, and that he does not speak for New York Democrats."

Press freedom coalition says DOJ must drop Assange case after CIA plot revealed

A coalition of more than two dozen press freedom groups on Monday intensified an earlier call demanding the U.S. Department of Justice drop its charges against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, saying the demand is now even more urgent due to recent reports that the CIA plotted to kidnap—and possibly kill—the journalist.

In a letter sent Friday to Attorney General Merrick Garland, groups including the Knight First Amendment Institute, Committee to Protect Journalists, Freedom of the Press Foundation, and Reporters Without Borders said the prosecution of Assange by the U.S. government is "a threat to press freedom around the globe."

"We appreciate that the government has a legitimate interest in protecting bona fide national security interests, but the proceedings against Mr. Assange jeopardize journalism that is crucial to democracy," wrote the organizations. "In our view, a precedent created by prosecuting Assange could be used against publishers and journalists alike, chilling their work and undermining freedom of the press."

As Common Dreams reported last month, under former President Donald Trump, the CIA reportedly discussed kidnapping or assassinating Assange, who is currently imprisoned in London's maximum-security Belmarsh prison.

Yahoo News first reported the revelations that officials at the "highest levels" of the agency considered attacking Assange, as well as "extensive spying on WikiLeaks associates, sowing discord among the group's members, and stealing their electronic devices."

"In February, members of this coalition wrote to the Acting Attorney General, urging that the criminal charges against Mr. Assange be dropped," the groups said. "We now renew that request with even greater urgency, in light of a recent story in Yahoo News describing alarming discussions within the CIA and Trump administration."

The letter comes two months after the Biden administration won an appeal at the United Kingdom's High Court in its case seeking to extradite Assange. Earlier this year, Judge Vanessa Baraitser of the Westminster Magistrates' Court ruled that extradition would "be oppressive by reason of Assange's mental health" and would pose a risk to the WikiLeaks' founder's life due to conditions in U.S. prisons.

Assange is charged in the United States with violating the 1917 Espionage Act and the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act for publishing classified U.S. military documents that revealed U.S. war crimes.

After news outlets around the workd published countless reports based on the information provided by Assange and WikiLeaks,the coalition wrote Monday that "journalists routinely engage in much of the conduct described in the indictment: speaking with sources, asking for clarification or more documentation, and receiving and publishing official secrets."

"News organizations frequently and necessarily publish classified information in order to inform the public of matters of profound public significance," the advocates wrote.

As former intelligence consultant and press freedom advocate Edward Snowden tweeted Monday, the case against Assange "criminalizes the sort of journalism you read every week in the newspaper."

The Freedom of the Press Foundation noted Monday that last year, it identified the U.S. government's prosecution of Assange as "the most dangerous press freedom issue."

"The actions laid out in the indictment are virtually indistinguishable from common practices in newspapers around the country. It's exactly why both The New York Times and The Washington Post—themselves no fans of Assange—have denounced the charges against him in the strongest terms," wrote Parker Higgins, advocacy director for the group.

"And it's why everyone who cherishes our press freedom rights should too," he added.

Joe Manchin is using the spiteful politics of scapegoating to mask his own corruption

The legislative battle between progressives and moderates over the "Build Back Better" spending bill became increasingly personal this week. A West Virginia newspaper published an op-ed by Bernie Sanders in a not so veiled attack on Senator Joe Manchin's refusal to support the plan, declaring that its passage would "finally address the long-neglected crises facing working families and demand that the wealthiest people and largest corporations in the country start paying their fair share of taxes."In response, Manching put out a public statement proclaiming that "this isn't the first time an out-of-stater has tried to tell West Virginians what is best for them despite having no relationship to our state"

It is not surprising that this struggle over the "soul" of the Democratic Party would follow its Senators home. Ultimately, even if mostly fought in the rarified air of Washington DC, a main concern for any lawmaker is ensuring that they are re-elected by their local constituents. Yet what was troubling was the language Manchin used in his counter-attack. The false conservative talking points about the bill are to be expected by a Centre-right Wall Street Democrat but Manchin went further, implying that the desire for a basic social safety net, economic justice, and environmental protection was non-native to West Virginia and merely the views of "outside" progressive agitators.

In making these absurd claims, Manchin was resorting to the same Far-Right populism of Trump. It shows his dangerous ignorance of West Virginia's important radical history of social and economic struggles up to the present. Just as significantly, it reveals the extremist lengths moderates will go to prevent progressive reform.

The Rise of Democratic Nativism

The last decade has witnessed the resurgence of nativism around the world. Far-Right populist regimes from Brazil to the Philippines have channeled popular anger against corporate globalization into a similar virulent politics of ethnonationalism. At the heart of this politics, is the simultaneous belief that there exists a "real people" and a blaming of all social and economic ill on various "outsiders."

In the US, Trump exemplified this nativist threat as a populist demagogue who promised to "Make America Great Again" in the name of real "Americans" who allegedly only he cared about and could protect against. Riding to victory on a wave of white resentment, the enemy were urban professionals, non-whites, and Liberals among other "undesirables" who wanted to destroy a supposedly sacred American way of life. Underpinning this appeal to the proverbial "everyman" is a deeper commitment to maintaining existing racial and class privilege.

The Democrats, and other "Centrist" political parties, are often viewed as the strongest force for defending democracy and the values of liberal tolerance and multiculturalism. Scratching only slightly beneath the surface, though, it becomes evident that they too can fall prey to blaming the threatening "other" when it is in their political interests (and the economic interests of the corporate status quo that they primarily serve). In the wake of almost losing congressional seats during the 2020 election, moderate Democrats immediately pointed the finger at "radical" progressives and their "dangerous" ideas like "defunding the police." Reflected is the more subtle rise of reactionary Democratic nativism.

The Inside Con

The charges by Manchin that somehow Sanders and other progressives who support greater spending on "human infrastructure" are foreign intruders to "real" West Virginian values is just another example of Democrats borrowing liberally from the Far-Right populist playbook. Not surprisingly, his objection to these policies has nothing to do with upholding mythical "West Virginian" values and everything to do with preserving the power of his corporate donors including from the Energy Industry. In a desperate effort to hide his actual elite allegiances, he has localized a national discourse of blame and hate to a state level.

This strategy is especially jarring given how actually popular these measures are even in supposedly deep red states like West Virginia. All Manchin has left to fall back on is a nativist appeal that contains within it the worst types of racism and prejudice.

Indeed, whether intending to or not, by targeting Bernie Sanders he continued in a vile far-Right history of antisemitism linking leftist politics to a global Jewish conspiracy.

What is also truly tragic is that Manchin is sadly reinforcing harmful stereotypes of West Virginians as intolerant and conservative. This is the state that broke away from Virginia rather than join the Confederacy and which was the site of some of the most important and radical labor struggles in the nation's history. Most recently, it was in West Virginia that the "red state revolt" by teachers largely began and was at its most militant.

This points to a core of truth though in Manchin's hateful strategy—he is scared of outsiders as he should be. He fears perhaps above all else that workers and citizens in other states showing solidarity to those in West Virginia who would most benefit from these urgently required progressive policies. His outdated defense of "liberal spending" and preserving "coal jobs" is increasingly stale in the face of a state suffering from growing inequality, poverty, and environmental devastation.

He knows such investment has nothing to do with inflation and will only help problems of chronic unemployment. The real danger though is to the donations to his political war chest and special perks to his family from pharmaceutical companies responsible for the opioid crisis that has ravaged the state and coal companies that are a dying industry contributing to a dying world. Manchin can only hope to distract from the real "enemy"—corporations and political elites who have profited off the suffering of West Virginians for decades while exploiting their natural resources.

What Manchin represents is nothing more than a spiteful politics of scapegoating to mask his own corruption. He pretends that his Wall Street values are those of West Virginia. We can only hope that his latest native con falls flat for the fate of his state, the nation, and the world.

Peter Bloom is a Professor at the University of Essex in the UK who books include "Authoritarian Capitalism in the Age of Globalization" (2016), "The CEO Society", and most recently "Guerrilla Democracy: Mobile Power and Revolution in the 21st Century."

'Indefensible': US billionaires became $2.1 trillion richer in 19 months of pandemic

American billionaires grew in number and expanded their collective fortunes by $2.1 trillion since Covid-19 sparked a worldwide pandemic nineteen months ago, according to a new analysis unveiled Monday.

An overall 70% surge of wealth among the nation's richest individuals since March of 2020 has resulted in approximately 130 new billionaires, found the new report released by Americans for Tax Fairness (ATF) and the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS). In a statement, the groups noted that there are now 745 people with "10-figure bank accounts" compared to the 614 that existed when the pandemic first hit.

In total, those 745 billionaires now hold $5 trillion in collective wealth, which the groups note is "two-thirds more than the $3 trillion in wealth held by the bottom 50% of U.S. households."

While ATF and IPS have been tracking the explosive growth of the uber-wealthy throughout the pandemic, the latest figures come as Democrats in Congress continue to negotiate with themselves over the cost and scope of President Joe Biden's 'Build Back Better' agenda which aims to provide expanded Medicare, paid family leave, universal childcare and pre-K, bold climate action, and an expanded childhood tax credit to alleviate childhood poverty and provide a more robust economic foundation for millions of working American families.

According to IPS/ATF:

The great good fortune of these billionaires over the past 19 months is all the more stark when contrasted with the devastating impact of coronavirus on working people. Almost 89 million Americans have lost jobs, over 44.9 million have been sickened by the virus, and over 724,000 have died from it.
To put this extraordinary wealth growth in perspective, the $2.1 trillion gain over 19 months by U.S. billionaires is equal to:
  • 60% of the $3.5 trillion ten-year cost of President Biden's Build Back Better plan.
  • The entire $2.1 trillion in new revenues over ten years approved by the House Ways and Means Committee to help pay for President Biden's Build Back Better (BBB) investment plan.

At the heart of their latest analysis, said ATF executive director Frank Clemente, is the failure to adequately tax these outrageous and growing fortunes.

"This growth of billionaire wealth is unfathomable, immoral, and indefensible in good times let alone during a pandemic when so many have struggled with unemployment, illness, and death," said Clemente. "For practical and moral reasons, Congress must start effectively taxing the outsized gains of billionaires."

Like other advocates, IPS and ATF are calling for much higher and stricter taxation on the windfall profits of the billionaire class—especially in light of the social needs that the pandemic has made so apparent.

Currently under consideration in Congress is the Billionaires Income Tax (BIT) bill, spearheaded by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Oreg.), chairman of the Finance Committee, which Clemente and Chuck Collins, director of IPS' Program on Inequality and the Common Good, say is the best piece of legislation to target the wealth of the super-rich. As the new analysis notes:

Most of these huge billionaires' gains will go untaxed under current rules and will disappear entirely for tax purposes when they're passed onto the next generation. Under Wyden's BIT, billionaires will start paying taxes on their increased wealth each year just like workers pay taxes on their paychecks each year.
The tax will apply only to taxpayers whose wealth exceeds $1 billion: about 700 households. It will be assessed annually on tradable assets, such as stocks, where the value of the asset is known at the beginning and end of the year. For non-tradable assets, such as ownership in a business or real estate holdings, taxes will be deferred until the asset is sold.

"Billionaires are undertaxed and playing hide-and-seek with their substantial wealth," said Collins. "Targeted tax increases on billionaires, including the proposed Billionaire Income Tax, would rebalance the tax code and reduce these glaring abuses in who pays for the services we all depend on."

In a statement last month following the release of a White House report on the average income tax rate of U.S. billionaires, Wyden said that it's shameful for the nation's wealthiest to pay lower tax rates than most working Americans.

"Billionaires are paying a mere 8 percent tax rate, lower than millions of working Americans," said Wyden.

"It's time for a Billionaire's Income Tax that ensures billionaires pay taxes just like the nurses and firefighters," he added. "Nurses treating Covid-19 patients pay their taxes with every paycheck, and they know it's fundamentally unfair that billionaires and their heirs may never pay tax on billions in stock gains. Instituting a Billionaire's Income Tax would go a long way toward creating one fair tax code, rather than one that's mandatory for working people and another that's optional for the fortunate few."

Head of Koch-tied group urges Sinema to 'stay strong' as she opposes tax hikes on rich

The head of a right-wing organization with ties to the Koch network offered words of encouragement to Democratic Sen. Kyrsten Sinema on Thursday amid reports that she's holding up her party's budget reconciliation package over its proposed tax hikes on the rich and big businesses.

Citing two unnamed Senate Democratic aides, Insider reported Thursday that "a major holdup" on ongoing talks over Democrats' Build Back Better Act "is Sinema's opposition to any tax increases for individuals and large corporations."

"Her position threatens to deprive the package of over $700 billion in revenue to finance the bulk of President Joe Biden's agenda," Insider noted. "Biden has repeatedly promised his plan will be paid for and won't add to the federal deficit."

In response to Insider's story, which confirms earlier reporting from the New York Times, American Commitment president Phil Kerpen urged Sinema to "stay strong," a sentiment that several Senate Republicans have echoed in recent days.

Kerpen "has been affiliated with a number of organizations founded by or with close links to the Kochs, including Americans for Prosperity, the Cato Institute, and the Club for Growth," according to SourceWatch, a project of the Center for Media and Democracy.

"Between 2011 and 2012, American Commitment received grants totaling $11.3 million from three organizations with close ties to the Koch brothers: Freedom Partners, the Center to Protect Patient Rights, and Americans for Responsible Leadership, SourceWatch notes.

The Koch network is part of the massive lobbying blitz that corporate America has launched in an effort to tank the reconciliation package.

As Rolling Stone reported last month, "Koch-aligned groups are together spending millions of dollars on advertising, targeting moderate Democratic lawmakers, and pushing their influence in the halls of Congress to whittle down or outright kill the sweeping policy package, which would represent the largest expansion of the social safety net in the past 50 years and the biggest step toward addressing climate change in U.S. history."

Sinema's opposition to the popular reconciliation bill—a centerpiece of Biden's domestic policy agenda—is imperiling its chances of passing the narrowly divided Congress, prompting growing concerns that Democrats are on the verge of missing an opportunity to make historic investments in green energy, child care, Medicare expansion, and other priorities.

"It's wrong that she is helping profitable big corporations avoid taxes," the Green New Deal Network, an environmental coalition, said of Sinema. "There's no policy argument for it and no political justification."

A recent survey conducted by the progressive polling firm Data for Progress found that two-thirds of Arizona voters support raising the corporate tax rate as a way to fund the reconciliation package. An even larger majority—75%—supports higher taxes on wealthy individuals.

Under House Democrats' reconciliation plan, the corporate tax rate would rise to 26.5%—a partial reversal of the GOP's 2017 tax law—while the top marginal rate for individuals would rise to 39.6%, the level that prevailed before former President Donald Trump took office.

Given the enormous stakes of the reconciliation fight, congressional Democrats are reportedly "getting impatient with President Biden's kid-glove approach to negotiating" with Sinema and Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), another major obstacle to the passage of the Build Back Better Act.

Steve Jarding, a Democratic strategist and former Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee aide, told The Hill that he believes the inability to get Sinema, Manchin, and other right-wing Democratic holdouts on board is "a failure on the part of the Biden administration."

"You're the president of the United States, you've got all the leverage in the world," said Jarding. "We need this stuff. America needs it and [Manchin and Sinema] are playing politics with it."

Manchin threatening key climate provision

Advocates for bold action to slash planet-heating emissions expressed concern Friday and Saturday following reports that a key climate program in the still-evolving reconciliation package may be neutered or taken out completely.

Resistance to the program's inclusion is coming from Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, who, along with fellow rightwing Democrat Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, has been a major obstacle to Democrats securing the 50 votes needed for Senate passage of the Build Back Better package.

The new reporting centers on the Clean Electricity Performance Program (CEPP), which Rep. Sean Casten (D-Ill.) described in a Saturday tweet as "the most impactful part of the Build Back Better Act from a climate perspective" and "puts our electric sector on a path to zero emissions."

"To take it out," he said, "is to decide that climate change isn't a problem."

Author and climate activist Bill McKibben also expressed concern about CEPP potentially being cut out.

"This is high on the list of most consequential actions ever taken by an individual senator," McKibben tweeted. "You'll be able to see the impact of this vain man in the geologic record."

CNN reported on the development Saturday, citing three congressional sources:

"[Manchin] is not there on the CEPP period. We've been trying," one Democratic aide with knowledge of the negotiations told CNN. The aide told CNN that Democrats are trying to find ways to restructure the program to fit Manchin's concerns while still reducing greenhouse gas emissions."
"Whatever comes through will not be called the CEPP, but we're strongly hoping and thinking there will be ways to meet what he wants," the aide said, adding, "If there's a deal to be struck in the next few days, I don't think there's anything resembling CEPP in there."
The New York Times first reported the measure would likely be cut.

Reporting out Saturday by the Washington Post, meanwhile, suggests CEPP could remain but be weakened.

According to the Post:

One of the ideas under consideration would establish a scaled-back, voluntary emissions trading system among aluminum, steel, concrete and chemicals manufacturers that would provide federal funding to help companies curb pollution, according to two people close to the negotiations.

In a statement Saturday in response to the Times' report, the Sierra Club stressed a need to keep CEPP intact—and for the Biden administration to commit to further actions to slash emissions as well, including ending all fossil fuel subsidies.

"Ultimately," the environmental group said, "any final deal must meet the climate test of cutting climate pollution in half by 2030. Right now, that means including the CEPP, and that is why environmental advocates have fought for it as an important priority alongside the clean energy tax incentives and so many of the other policies and climate investments that are in this bill."

"If the CEPP were to be abandoned," the group said, "President Biden and congressional Democrats must deliver bold NEW investments in other climate priorities to close the emissions gap and meet the president's international climate goals in the coming days and weeks as the U.N climate negotiations near."

Joe Manchin fumes after Bernie Sanders op-wd in West Virginia paper calls out obstruction of Biden agenda

Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia lashed out Friday after a major newspaper in his home state published an op-ed by Sen. Bernie Sanders that called out Manchin's obstruction of his own party's Build Back Better reconciliation package.

"Congress should proceed with caution on any additional spending and I will not vote for a reckless expansion of government programs," Manchin said in a statement shared on social media.

"No op-ed from a self-declared Independent socialist is going to change that," he added.

At issue is an op-ed by Vermont Sen. Sanders—an Independent who caucuses with the Democrats—published in the Charleston Gazette-Mail in which he calls the proposed reconciliation bill "an unprecedented effort to finally address the long-neglected crises facing working families and demand that the wealthiest people and largest corporations in the country start paying their fair share of taxes."

Sanders details how the proposal would take action to tackle the climate emergency and make sweeping investments in Americans' wellbeing including through lowering prescription drug prices, expanding Medicare, continuing cash payments to working class parents, and making community college tuition-free.

"Poll after poll shows overwhelming support for this legislation," wrote Sanders. "Yet," he continued, "the political problem we face is that in a 50-50 Senate we need every Democratic senator to vote 'yes.' We now have only 48. Two Democratic senators remain in opposition, including Sen. Joe Manchin." The other is Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona.

"This is a pivotal moment in modern American history," Sanders continued. "We now have a historic opportunity to support the working families of West Virginia, Vermont, and the entire country and create policy which works for all, not just the few."

The op-ed was published the same day the New York Times and CNN reported that Manchin's opposition to the Clean Electricity Performance Program—dubbed "the most impactful climate investment under consideration in Congress"—would likely mean it's left out of the budget package.

New study reveals the group that was crucial to toppling Trump in 2020

Calling into question widespread perceptions of lower-income Americans and their level of political engagement, a new study released Friday detailed the high turnout among poor voters in the November 2020 elections—particularly in battleground states which helped deliver victories for President Joe Biden and Democrats in the Senate and House—following a concerted effort by campaigners to engage with low-income communities regarding the issues that mattered to them in the election.

Released by the Poor People's Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival (PPC:NCMR); the Kairos Center for Religions, Rights, and Social Justice; and Repairers of the Breach, the study shows that of the 168 million Americans who cast ballots last year, 59 million, or 35%, had an estimated annual household income of less than $50,000, classifying them as poor or low-income.

According to the report, titled "Waking the Sleeping Giant: Low-Income Voters and the 2020 Elections" and written by Kairos Center policy director Shailly Gupta Barnes, those voters were among the Americans that the Poor People's Campaign reached out to last year when it held a non-partisan voter outreach drive across 16 states including Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Wisconsin.

The organization reached over 2.1 million voters, with campaigners speaking with them about "an agenda that includes living wages, healthcare, strong anti-poverty programs, voting rights, and policies that fully address injustices of systemic racism, poverty, ecological devastation, and the war economy," according to the report.

The Poor People's Campaign found "that the reason poor and low-income voters participate in elections at lower rates is not because they have no interest in politics, but because politics is not interested in them."

"They do not hear their needs and demands from candidates or feel that their votes matter," wrote Rev. Dr. William Barber II and Rev. Dr. Liz Theoharis, co-chairs of the Poor People's Campaign, in the foreward to the report. "They are less likely to vote because of illness, disability, or transportation issues, not to mention the rise of voter suppression laws—all systemic barriers rather than individual failures."

"Intentional efforts to engage these voter" in the leadup to the 2020 election,contact the groups found, were key to turning out low-income voters in states where Biden's margin of victory was near or less than 3%, including:

  • Arizona, where low-income people represented 39.96% of voters;
  • Georgia (37.84%);
  • Michigan (37.81%);
  • Nevada (35.78%); and
  • Wisconsin (39.8%)

"While the data cannot be used to claim that being contacted by PPC:NCMR was the only factor that drove them to vote, we can say that our efforts to directly reach out to low-income, infrequent voters improved their turnout rates in these states," the report reads.

The groups highlighted the case of Georgia, which was carried by Biden—marking the first Democratic presidential victory in the southern state since 1992. Outreach by the Poor People's Campaign helped encourage more than 39,000 Georgians who didn't vote in 2016 to cast ballots last year—"accounting for more than three times the final margin of victory for the presidential contest in the state."

The racial demographics of low-income voters in Georgia were fairly evenly split between Black and white low-income voters, with 1.9 million low-income white voters casting ballots last year and 1.6 million Black Georgians going to the polls. Another 164,000 low-income voters were classified as Hispanic.

In other states carried by Biden, white people made up a larger share of eligible lower-income voters reached by the PPCNCMR, including in Michigan, where 2.95 million out of 3.8 million poor voters were white; Pennsylvania, where three million of the state's 3.95 million eligible low-income voters were white; and Wisconsin, where 1.8 million out of 2.1 million low-income voters were white.

The statistics present "a challenge to the media-driven narrative that emerged out of 2016 and before, i.e., that white low-income voters are the de facto base of the Republican Party and delivered Donald Trump into the White House," wrote Gupta Barnes.

"While the narrative that white low-income voters are voting not only against their own interests, but also the interests of other racial segments of low-income voters, persisted through the 2020 elections, our analysis suggests something significantly different," the author added. "The findings suggest that, rather than writing white low-income voters off, it is possible to build coalitions of low-income voters across race around a political agenda that centers the issues they have in common."

Though the Poor People's Campaign made an intentional effort in 2020 to reach low-income voters, listen to their concerns, and urge them to turn out in the elections, the report notes that legislative action must be taken to turn last year's high turnout among poor Americans into a long-term reality.

"To realize the potential of the low-income electorate, our voting infrastructure must be expanded to encourage these voters to both register and vote," the report reads.

As Common Dreams has reported this year, the PPCNCMR has campaigned extensively to urge the passage of the For the People Act, which would outlaw partisan gerrymandering, expand early voting, establish a national automatic voter registration system, and take other steps to strengthen the country's election system.

"While mechanisms to increase registration are important for low-income voters, there is an even greater need for policies and legislation that increase their ability to cast a ballot and actually vote," wrote Gupta Barnes.

Additionally, the report says, Democrats must identify—and pass—"an agenda that appeals to important concerns of low-income voters across race, that is, issues like raising hourly wages, stimulus payments, paid leave, housing, and healthcare."

"According to exit polls, 72% of Americans said they would prefer a government-run healthcare plan and more than 70% supported raising the minimum wage, including 62% of Republicans," the report reads. "In Florida, the $15/hour minimum wage referendum got more votes than either of the two presidential candidates."

The report comes as progressives in Congress are pushing back against corporate Democrats' claims that the Build Back Better Act—the spending package which would invest $3.5 trillion in climate action, child care, affordable housing, and other measures to help lower- and middle-income people—is unaffordable.

As Common Dreams reported on Tuesday, the Poor People's Campaign held a press conference on Capitol Hill this week to demand the legislation's passage.

The report, wrote Gupta Barnes, "underscores why the needs and concerns of low-income voters must be brought more fully into our political discourse, platforms, and campaigns—and why candidates who are elected on these platforms must live up to their campaign promises."

Why progressives are outraged about the advice from Biden's Supreme Court panel

Progressive lawmakers and advocacy groups on Friday urged President Joe Biden to disregard the advice of a bipartisan panel he convened earlier this year and embrace Democratic legislation that would add four justices to the U.S. Supreme Court, an effort aimed at combating the right-wing takeover of the nation's judicial system.

On Thursday, the White House released draft materials compiled thus far by the Presidential Commission on the Supreme Court of the United States, an advisory body composed of conservative and liberal constitutional experts. The panel is scheduled to meet Friday to begin assembling a final report for Biden, who on the campaign trail said he was "not a fan" of expanding the Supreme Court.

While an analysis by one of the panel's subcommittees concluded that "we do not believe there is a formal legal obstacle to expansion of the Supreme Court," the report claimed that "the risks of court expansion are considerable," including that it could harm the court's "long-term legitimacy or otherwise undermine its role in our legal system."

But progressives countered that Republican senators have thoroughly tarnished the legitimacy of the Supreme Court in recent years by obstructing former President Barack Obama's effort to fill a vacancy and then proceeding to pack the court with three more far-right justices. The then Republican-controlled Senate confirmed conservative Justice Amy Coney Barrett just over a week before the 2020 presidential election—after tens of millions of people had already cast their ballots.

"The GOP's rigged bench is contorting our laws," Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), the lead sponsor of Democrats' Supreme Court expansion bill in the Senate, said Friday. "Voting rights, abortion rights, immigration rights, LGBTQ+ rights, and women's rights are all at stake. We need more than the White House Commission's report. We need to pass legislation to expand the Supreme Court."

Brian Fallon, executive director of the advocacy group Demand Justice, echoed that message, arguing in a statement that the purpose of the White House commission "was not to meaningfully confront the partisan capture of the Supreme Court, but rather to buy time for the Biden administration while it fights other legislative battles."

"This issue can't be put on the backburner anymore," said Fallon. "In the year since President Biden announced he would appoint this commission, the Republican-appointed justices have just made it clearer that court expansion is the only way to halt their attack on our democracy."

The Judiciary Act of 2021, introduced in April by a handful of House and Senate Democrats, would increase the number of justices on the Supreme Court from nine to 13. The legislation has 36 co-sponsors in the House—the most recent being Rep. Chellie Pingree (D-Maine)—but has failed to gain any traction in the Senate.

In a statement announcing her decision to sign on to the bill, Pingree said that "last month, these justices failed to act and allowed a near-half-century precedent to be discarded without a second thought," referring to the Supreme Court's decision to allow Texas' near-total abortion ban to take effect.

"In over a century, we have not had a more partisan Supreme Court than the one we have today," said Pingree. "It's common sense for the Supreme Court to once again have the same number of justices as we have U.S. appellate courts. To protect our settled constitutional rights and restore balance to the nation's highest court, Congress must act and pass the Judiciary Act."

The Washington Post reported late Thursday that while Biden's Supreme Court panel warned against the supposed "risks" of expansion, it offered a favorable view of term limits, a proposal the body said "appear[s] to enjoy the most widespread and bipartisan support."

"It said a term of 18 years seemed most popular with those who presented testimony," the Post noted. "But there is a big obstacle: Many of those who testified believe the Constitution must be amended to make such a change, a difficult undertaking."

Brett Edkins, managing director of policy and political affairs at Stand Up America, said in a statement that the materials released so far show that "Biden's commission is waffling in the muddy middle of nowhere."

"The commission wrote 200 hundred pages on legal history and competing proposals to improve the Supreme Court, but failed to make the one recommendation they actually needed to make: Expand the court," said Edkins. "Americans witnessed the dangerous impact of the right-wing takeover of the Supreme Court during the Trump administration, and now the Supreme Court's approval rating is the lowest it has been in modern history."

"Regardless of what the White House commission concludes in its final report to President Biden next month, Democrats must move swiftly to pass the Judiciary Act to add four seats to the court before it's too late," he added. "In the next year, this radical Supreme Court could gut Roe v. Wade, eradicate commonsense gun control measures, and further erode our fundamental freedom to vote. Restoring balance to our nation's highest court is needed now."

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