Robert Reich

How corporations crush the working class

The most dramatic change in the system over the last half-century has been the emergence of corporate giants like Amazon and the shrinkage of labor unions.

The resulting power imbalance has spawned near-record inequalities of income and wealth, corruption of democracy by big money, and the abandonment of the working class.

Fifty years ago, General Motors was the largest employer in America. The typical GM worker earned $35 an hour in today's dollars and had a major say over working conditions.

Today's largest employers are Amazon and Walmart, each paying far less per hour and routinely exploiting their workers, who have little recourse.

The typical GM worker wasn't "worth" so much more than today's Amazon or Walmart worker and didn't have more valuable insights about working conditions.

The difference is those GM workers had a strong union. They were backed by the collective bargaining power of more than a third of the entire American workforce.

Today, most workers are on their own. Only 6.4% of America's private-sector workers are unionized, providing little collective pressure on Amazon, Walmart, or other major employers to treat their workers any better.

Fifty years ago, the labor movement had enough political clout to ensure labor laws were enforced and that the government pushed giant firms like GM to sustain the middle class.

Today, organized labor's political clout is minuscule by comparison.

The biggest political players are giant corporations like Amazon. They've used that political muscle to back "right-to-work" laws, whittle down federal labor protections, and keep the National Labor Relations Board understaffed and overburdened, allowing them to get away with egregious union-busting tactics.

They've also impelled government to lower their taxes; extorted states to provide them tax breaks as a condition for locating facilities there; bullied cities where they're headquartered; and wangled trade treaties allowing them to outsource so many jobs that blue-collar workers in America have little choice but to take low-paying, high-stress warehouse and delivery gigs.

Oh, and they've neutered antitrust laws, which in an earlier era would have had companies like Amazon in their crosshairs.

This decades-long power shift – the ascent of corporate leviathans and the demise of labor unions – has resulted in a massive upward redistribution of income and wealth. The richest 0.1% of Americans now have almost as much wealth as the bottom 90% put together.

The power shift can be reversed – but only with stronger labor laws resulting in more unions, tougher trade deals, and a renewed commitment to antitrust.

The Biden administration and congressional Democrats appear willing. The House has just passed the toughest labor reforms in more than a generation. Biden's new trade representative, promises trade deals will protect American workers rather than exporters. And Biden is putting trustbusters in critical positions at the Federal Trade Commission and in the White House.

And across the country, labor activism has surged – from the Amazon union effort, to frontline workers walking out and striking to demand better pay, benefits, and safety protections.

I'd like to think America is at a tipping point similar to where it was some 120 years ago, when the ravages and excesses of the Gilded Age precipitated what became known as the Progressive Era. Then, reformers reined in the unfettered greed and inequalities of the day and made the system work for the many rather than the few.

It's no exaggeration to say that we're now living in a Second Gilded Age. And today's progressive activists may be on the verge of ushering us into a Second Progressive Era. They need all the support we can give them.


How Corporations Crush the Working Class | Robert Reich www.youtube.com

The Faustian bargain Between corporate America and corporate politicians is alive and well

For four decades, the basic deal between big American corporations and politicians has been simple. Corporations provide campaign funds. Politicians reciprocate by lowering corporate taxes and doing whatever else corporations need to boost profits.

The deal has proven beneficial to both sides, although not to the American public. Campaign spending has soared while corporate taxes have shriveled.

In the 1950s, corporations accounted for about 40 percent of federal revenue. Today, they contribute a meager 7 percent. Last year, more than 50 of the largest U.S. companies paid no federal income taxes at all. Many haven't paid taxes for years.

Both parties have been in on this deal although the GOP has been the bigger player. Yet since Donald Trump issued his big lie about the fraudulence of the 2020 election, corporate America has had a few qualms about its deal with the GOP.

After the storming of the Capitol, dozens of giant corporations said they would no longer donate to the 147 Republican members of Congress who objected to the certification of Biden electors on the basis of the big lie.

Then came the GOP's recent wave of restrictive state voting laws, premised on the same big lie. Georgia's are among the most egregious. The chief executive of Coca Cola, headquartered in the peach tree state, calls those laws "wrong" and "a step backward." The CEO of Delta Airlines, Georgia's largest employer, says they're "unacceptable." Major League Baseball decided to relocate its annual All-Star Game away from the home of the Atlanta Braves.

These criticisms have unleashed a rare firestorm of anti-corporate Republican indignation. The senate minority leader, Mitch McConnell, warns corporations of unspecified "serious consequences" for speaking out. Republicans are moving to revoke Major League Baseball's antitrust status. Georgia Republicans threaten to punish Delta Airlines by repealing a state tax credit for jet fuel.

"Why are we still listening to these woke corporate hypocrites on taxes, regulations & antitrust?" asks Florida Senator Marco Rubio.

Why? For the same reason Willy Sutton gave when asked why he robbed banks: That's where the money is.

McConnell told reporters that corporations should "stay out of politics" but then qualified his remark: "I'm not talking about political contributions." Of course not. Republicans have long championed "corporate speech" when it comes in the form of campaign cash—just not as criticism.

Talk about hypocrisy. McConnell was the top recipient of corporate money in the 2020 election cycle and has a long history of battling attempts to limit it. In 2010, he hailed the Supreme Court's "Citizens United" ruling, which struck down limits on corporate political donations, on the dubious grounds that corporations are "people" under the First Amendment to the Constitution.

"For too long, some in this country have been deprived of full participation in the political process," McConnell said at the time. Hint: He wasn't referring to poor Black people.

It's hypocrisy squared. The growing tsunami of corporate campaign money suppresses votes indirectly by drowning out all other voices. Republicans are in the grotesque position of calling on corporations to continue bribing politicians as long as they don't criticize Republicans for suppressing votes directly.

The hypocrisy flows in the other direction as well. The Delta's CEO criticized GOP voter suppression but the company continues to bankroll Republicans. Its PAC contributed $1,725,956 in the 2020 election, more than $1 million of which went to federal candidates, mostly to Republicans. Oh, and Delta hasn't paid federal taxes for years.

Don't let the spat fool you. The basic deal between the GOP and corporate America is still very much alive.

Which is why, despite record-low corporate taxes, congressional Republicans are feigning outrage at Joe Biden's plan to have corporations pay for his $2 trillion infrastructure proposal. Biden isn't even seeking to raise the corporate tax rate as high as it was before the Trump tax cut, yet not a single Republicans will support it.

A few Democrats, such as West Virginia's Joe Manchin, don't want to raise corporate taxes as high as Biden does, either. Yet almost two-thirds of Americans support the idea.

The basic deal between American corporations and American politicians has been a terrible deal for America. Which is why a piece of legislation entitled the "For the People Act," passed by the House and co-sponsored in the Senate by every Democratic senator except Manchin, is so important. It would both stop states from suppressing votes and also move the country toward public financing of elections, thereby reducing politicians' dependence on corporate cash.

Corporations can and should bankroll much of what America needs. But they won't as long as corporations keep bankrolling American politicians.

The basic deal between corporate America and the GOP is alive and well

For four decades, the basic deal between big American corporations and politicians has been simple. Corporations provide campaign funds. Politicians reciprocate by lowering corporate taxes and doing whatever else corporations need to boost profits.

The deal has proven beneficial to both sides, although not to the American public. Campaign spending has soared while corporate taxes have shriveled.

In the 1950s, corporations accounted for about 40 percent of federal revenue. Today, they contribute a meager 7 percent. Last year, more than 50 of the largest U.S. companies paid no federal income taxes at all. Many haven't paid taxes for years.

Both parties have been in on this deal although the GOP has been the bigger player. Yet since Donald Trump issued his big lie about the fraudulence of the 2020 election, corporate America has had a few qualms about its deal with the GOP.

After the storming of the Capitol, dozens of giant corporations said they would no longer donate to the 147 Republican members of Congress who objected to the certification of Biden electors on the basis of the big lie.

Then came the GOP's recent wave of restrictive state voting laws, premised on the same big lie. Georgia's are among the most egregious. The chief executive of Coca Cola, headquartered in the peach tree state, calls those laws "wrong" and "a step backward." The CEO of Delta Airlines, Georgia's largest employer, says they're "unacceptable." Major League Baseball decided to relocate its annual All-Star Game away from the home of the Atlanta Braves.

These criticisms have unleashed a rare firestorm of anti-corporate Republican indignation. The senate minority leader, Mitch McConnell, warns corporations of unspecified "serious consequences" for speaking out. Republicans are moving to revoke Major League Baseball's antitrust status. Georgia Republicans threaten to punish Delta Airlines by repealing a state tax credit for jet fuel.

"Why are we still listening to these woke corporate hypocrites on taxes, regulations & antitrust?" asks Florida Senator Marco Rubio.

Why? For the same reason Willy Sutton gave when asked why he robbed banks: That's where the money is.

McConnell told reporters that corporations should "stay out of politics" but then qualified his remark: "I'm not talking about political contributions." Of course not. Republicans have long championed "corporate speech" when it comes in the form of campaign cash – just not as criticism.

Talk about hypocrisy. McConnell was the top recipient of corporate money in the 2020 election cycle and has a long history of battling attempts to limit it. In 2010, he hailed the Supreme Court's "Citizens United" ruling, which struck down limits on corporate political donations, on the dubious grounds that corporations are "people" under the First Amendment to the Constitution.

"For too long, some in this country have been deprived of full participation in the political process," McConnell said at the time. Hint: He wasn't referring to poor Black people.

It's hypocrisy squared. The growing tsunami of corporate campaign money suppresses votes indirectly by drowning out all other voices. Republicans are in the grotesque position of calling on corporations to continue bribing politicians as long as they don't criticize Republicans for suppressing votes directly.

The hypocrisy flows in the other direction as well. The Delta's CEO criticized GOP voter suppression but the company continues to bankroll Republicans. Its PAC contributed $1,725,956 in the 2020 election, more than $1 million of which went to federal candidates, mostly to Republicans. Oh, and Delta hasn't paid federal taxes for years.

Don't let the spat fool you. The basic deal between the GOP and corporate America is still very much alive.

Which is why, despite record-low corporate taxes, congressional Republicans are feigning outrage at Joe Biden's plan to have corporations pay for his $2 trillion infrastructure proposal. Biden isn't even seeking to raise the corporate tax rate as high as it was before the Trump tax cut, yet not a single Republicans will support it.

A few Democrats, such as West Virginia's Joe Manchin, don't want to raise corporate taxes as high as Biden does, either. Yet almost two-thirds of Americans support the idea.

The basic deal between American corporations and American politicians has been a terrible deal for America. Which is why a piece of legislation entitled the "For the People Act," passed by the House and co-sponsored in the Senate by every Democratic senator except Manchin, is so important. It would both stop states from suppressing votes and also move the country toward public financing of elections, thereby reducing politicians' dependence on corporate cash.

Corporations can and should bankroll much of what America needs. But they won't as long as corporations keep bankrolling American politicians.

How America has come to a tipping point in our Second Gilded Age

The most dramatic change in the system over the last half-century has been the emergence of corporate giants like Amazon and the shrinkage of labor unions.

The resulting power imbalance has spawned near-record inequalities of income and wealth, corruption of democracy by big money, and the abandonment of the working class.

Fifty years ago, General Motors was the largest employer in America. The typical GM worker earned $35 an hour in today's dollars and had a major say over working conditions.

Today's largest employers are Amazon and Walmart, each paying far less per hour and routinely exploiting their workers, who have little recourse.

The typical GM worker wasn't "worth" so much more than today's Amazon or Walmart worker and didn't have more valuable insights about working conditions.

The difference is those GM workers had a strong union. They were backed by the collective bargaining power of more than a third of the entire American workforce.

Today, most workers are on their own. Only 6.4% of America's private-sector workers are unionized, providing little collective pressure on Amazon, Walmart, or other major employers to treat their workers any better.

Fifty years ago, the labor movement had enough political clout to ensure labor laws were enforced and that the government pushed giant firms like GM to sustain the middle class.

Today, organized labor's political clout is minuscule by comparison.

The biggest political players are giant corporations like Amazon. They've used that political muscle to back "right-to-work" laws, whittle down federal labor protections, and keep the National Labor Relations Board understaffed and overburdened, allowing them to get away with egregious union-busting tactics.

They've also impelled government to lower their taxes; extorted states to provide them tax breaks as a condition for locating facilities there; bullied cities where they're headquartered; and wangled trade treaties allowing them to outsource so many jobs that blue-collar workers in America have little choice but to take low-paying, high-stress warehouse and delivery gigs.

Oh, and they've neutered antitrust laws, which in an earlier era would have had companies like Amazon in their crosshairs.

This decades-long power shift – the ascent of corporate leviathans and the demise of labor unions – has resulted in a massive upward redistribution of income and wealth. The richest 0.1% of Americans now have almost as much wealth as the bottom 90% put together.

The power shift can be reversed – but only with stronger labor laws resulting in more unions, tougher trade deals, and a renewed commitment to antitrust.

The Biden administration and congressional Democrats appear willing. The House has just passed the toughest labor reforms in more than a generation. Biden's new trade representative, promises trade deals will protect American workers rather than exporters. And Biden is putting trustbusters in critical positions at the Federal Trade Commission and in the White House.

And across the country, labor activism has surged – from the Amazon union effort, to frontline workers walking out and striking to demand better pay, benefits, and safety protections.

I'd like to think America is at a tipping point similar to where it was some 120 years ago, when the ravages and excesses of the Gilded Age precipitated what became known as the Progressive Era. Then, reformers reined in the unfettered greed and inequalities of the day and made the system work for the many rather than the few.

It's no exaggeration to say that we're now living in a Second Gilded Age. And today's progressive activists may be on the verge of ushering us into a Second Progressive Era. They need all the support we can give them.

Here's why Biden doesn't want to sound like Trump

Joe Biden is embarking on the biggest government initiative in more than a half century, "unlike anything we have seen or done since we built the interstate highway system and the space race decades go," he says.

But when it comes to details, it sounds as boring as fixing the plumbing.

"Under the American Jobs Plan, 100% of our nation's lead pipes and service lines will be replaced—so every child in America can turn on the faucet or fountain and drink clean water," the president tweeted.

Can you imagine Donald Trump tweeting about repairing lead pipes?

Biden is excited about rebuilding America's "infrastructure," a word he uses constantly although it could be the dullest term in all of public policy. "Infrastructure Week" became a punchline under Trump.

The old unwritten rule was that if a president wants to do something really big, he has to justify it as critical to national defense or else summon the nation's conscience.

Dwight Eisenhower's National Interstate and Defense Highway Act was designed to "permit quick evacuation of target areas" in case of nuclear attack and get munitions rapidly from city to city. Of course, in subsequent years it proved indispensable to America's economic growth.

America's huge investment in higher education in the late 1950s was spurred by the Soviets' Sputnik satellite. The official purpose of the National Defense Education Act, as it was named, was to "insure trained manpower of sufficient quality and quantity to meet the national defense needs of the United States."

John F. Kennedy launched the race to the moon in 1962 so that space wouldn't be "governed by a hostile flag of conquest."

Two years later, Lyndon Johnson's "unconditional war on poverty" drew on the conscience of America reeling from Kennedy's assassination.

But Joe Biden is not arousing the nation against a foreign power – not even China figures prominently as a foil – nor is he basing his plans on lofty appeals to national greatness or public morality.

"I got elected to solve problems," he says, simply. He's Mr. Fix-it.

The first of these problems was a pandemic that's killed hundreds of thousands of Americans – Biden carries a card in his pocket updating the exact number – and its ensuing economic hardship.

In response, Congress passed Biden's $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan – the most important parts of which aren't $1,400 checks now being mailed to millions of Americans but $3,600 checks a child paid to low-income families, which will cut child poverty by half.

Now comes his $2 trillion American Jobs Plan, which doesn't just fund roads and bridges but a vast number of things the nation has neglected for years: schools, affordable housing, in-home care, access to broadband, basic research, renewable energy, and the transition to a non-fossil economy.

Why isn't Biden trumpeting these initiatives for what they are – huge public investments in the environment, the working-class and poor – instead of rescue checks and road repairs? Why not stir America with a vision of what the nation can be if it exchanges fraudulent trickle-down economics for genuine bottom-up innovation and growth?

Even the official titles of his initiatives – Rescue Plan, Jobs Plan, and soon-to-be-unveiled Family Plan – are anodyne, like plumbing blueprints.

The reason is Biden wants Americans to feel confident he's taking care of the biggest problems but doesn't want to create much of a stir. The country is so bitterly and angrily divided that any stir is likely to stir up vitriol.

Talk too much about combatting climate change and lose everyone whose livelihood depends on fossil fuels or who doesn't regard climate change as an existential threat. Focus on cutting child poverty and lose everyone who thinks welfare causes dependency. Talk too much about critical technologies and lose those who don't believe government should be picking winners.

Rescue checks and road repairs may be boring but they're hugely popular. 61 percent of Americans support the American Rescue Plan, including 59 percent of Republicans. More than 80 percent support increased funding for highway construction, bridge repair and expanded access to broadband.

Biden has made it all so bland that congressional Republicans and their big business backers have nothing to criticize except his proposal to pay for the repairs by raising taxes on corporations, which most Americans support.

This is smart politics. Biden is embarking on a huge and long-overdue repair job on the physical and human underpinnings of the nation while managing to keep most of a bitterly divided country with him. It may not be seen as glamorous work, but when you're knee-deep in muck it's hard to argue with a plumber.

What would happen if we actually taxed the rich?

Income and wealth are now more concentrated at the top than at any time over the last 80 years, and our unjust tax system is a big reason why. The tax code is rigged for the rich, enabling a handful of wealthy individuals to exert undue influence over our economy and democracy.

Conservatives fret about budget deficits. Well, then, to pay for what the nation needs – ending poverty, universal health care, infrastructure, reversing climate change, investing in communities, and so much more – the super-wealthy have to pay their fair share.


7 Ways to Actually Tax the Rich | Robert Reich www.youtube.com



Here are seven necessary ways to tax the rich.

First: Repeal the Trump tax cuts.

It's no secret Trump's giant tax cut was a giant giveaway to the rich. 65 percent of its benefits go to the richest fifth, 83 percent to the richest 1 percent over a decade. In 2018, for the first time on record, the 400 richest Americans paid a lower effective tax rate than the bottom half. Repealing the Trump tax cut's benefits to the wealthy and big corporations, as Joe Biden has proposed, will raise an estimated $500 billion over a decade.

Second: Raise the tax rate on those at the top.

In the 1950s, the highest tax rate on the richest Americans was over 90 percent. Even after tax deductions and credits, they still paid over 40 percent. But since then, tax rates have dropped dramatically. Today, after Trump's tax cut, the richest Americans pay less than 26 percent, including deductions and credits. And this rate applies only to dollars earned in excess of $523,601. Raising the marginal tax rate by just one percent on the richest Americans would bring in an estimated $123 billion over 10 years.

Third: A wealth tax on the super-wealthy.

Wealth is even more unequal than income. The richest 0.1% of Americans have almost as much wealth as the bottom 90 percent put together. Just during the pandemic, America's billionaires added $1.3 trillion to their collective wealth. Elizabeth Warren's proposed wealth tax would charge 2 percent on wealth over $50 million and 3 percent on wealth over $1 billion. It would only apply to about 75,000 U.S. households, fewer than 0.1% of taxpayers. Under it, Jeff Bezos would owe $5.7 billion out of his $185 billion fortune – less than half what he made in one day last year. The wealth tax would raise $2.75 trillion over a decade, enough to pay for universal childcare and free public college with plenty left over.

Fourth: A transactions tax on trades of stock.

The richest 1 percent owns 50 percent of the stock market. A tiny 0.1 percent tax on financial transactions – just $1 per $1,000 traded – would raise $777 billion over a decade.That's enough to provide housing vouchers to all homeless people in America more than 12 times over.

Fifth: End the "stepped-up cost basis" loophole.

The heirs of the super-rich pay zero capital gains taxes on huge increases in the value of what they inherit because of a loophole called the stepped-up basis. At the time of death, the value of assets is "stepped up" to their current market value – so a stock that was originally valued at, say, one dollar when purchased but that's worth $1,000 when heirs receive it, escapes $999 of capital gains taxes. This loophole enables huge and growing concentrations of wealth to be passed from generation to generation without ever being taxed. Eliminating this loophole would raise $105 billion over a decade.

Six: Close other loopholes for the super-rich.

For example, one way the managers of real estate, venture capital, private equity and hedge funds reduce their taxes is the carried interest loophole, which allows them to treat their income as capital gains rather than ordinary wage income. That means they get taxed at the lower capital gains rate rather than the higher tax rate on incomes. Closing this loophole is estimated to raise $14 billion over a decade.

Seven: Increase the IRS's funding so it can audit rich taxpayers.

Because the IRS has been so underfunded, millionaires are far less likely to be audited than they used to be. As a result, the IRS fails to collect a huge amount of taxes from wealthy taxpayers. Collecting all unpaid federal income taxes from the richest 1 percent would generate at least $1.75 trillion over the decade. So fully fund the IRS.

Together, these 7 ways of taxing the rich would generate more than $6 trillion over 10 years – enough to tackle the great needs of the nation. As inequality has exploded, our unjust tax system has allowed the richest Americans to cheat their way out of paying their fair share.

It's not radical to rein in this irresponsibility. It's radical to let it continue.

Here's the real deficit problem that America is facing

America has a deficit problem. But the country's biggest deficit isn't the federal budget deficit. It's the deficit in public investment.

The public investment deficit is the gap between what we should be investing in our future — on infrastructure, education, and basic research — and the relatively little we are investing.

Increasing public investment needs to be a major goal of the Biden administration.

Public investment is similar to private investment in that we invest today because of the payoff in the future. The difference is public investment pays off for all of us, for America.

In the 1960s, we used to make a lot of public investments. But they've been steadily declining ever since.

That decline has been largely driven by so-called "deficit hawks" who argue against more federal spending. But as I've been saying for years, reducing the federal deficit just for the sake of reducing it makes no sense.

Any business person knows that you borrow money for the sake of investing in the future of your business. Those are wise borrowings. Because then you can pay those debts off when they get bigger.

A national economy works exactly the same way. It doesn't matter that we're borrowing money, if we're investing those monies that we borrowed from abroad — in education, training, infrastructure, factories — but we're not.

The public return on infrastructure investment, based on 2020 report taking into account the pandemic, averages $2.70 for every single public dollar invested — yet we haven't made those investments. Our infrastructure today is crumbling.

The return on early childhood education is between 10 and 16 percent — but only a handful of our children have access to early childhood education.

Public investment on clean energy has an annual return of over 27 percent. But federal tax breaks favor fossil fuels over renewables by about 7 to 1.

The public return on investments in basic research and development are huge. America's competitiveness depends on them, because no individual company has an incentive to make them. The lithium-ion battery that powers iPhones and electric cars was developed by federally sponsored materials science research, while the Internet itself was borne out of the Advanced Research Projects Administration.

And yet in recent years, public investment in basic research has declined as well.

Are you seeing a pattern yet? Federal investments in all these areas have shrunk — even though the payoffs from these investments are gigantic, and the costs of not making them are astronomical. American productivity is already suffering.

Now, some say we don't need to worry about this public investment deficit because private investments fill the gap. Baloney.

Corporations are focused on getting the best return for themselves, not for America. For most of the last four decades, they've made money by lowering their costs, at the expense of working people: capping wages, reducing taxes, and deregulating.

A common assumption is that when American corporations are profitable, Americans are better off. But that's false. Trickle-down economics is a sham. Tax cuts and subsidies to big corporations and the wealthy don't build the economy. Economies don't grow from the top down — they grow from the bottom up, through public investment.

So if private investment won't fill the gap, how do we fill it? Two ways: tax the wealthy and large corporations, and borrow.

Tax rates on the wealthy and on corporations have continued to drop over the past 40 years, just as the deficit in public investment has grown. In the 1950s, the highest tax rate on individuals was over 90 percent. Even after tax deductions and credits, it was still over 40 percent. But since then, tax rates have dropped dramatically. For the first time on record, the 400 richest Americans now pay a lower effective tax rate than people in the bottom half.
Revenue from corporate taxes has also plummeted.

If wealthy individuals and corporations want all the advantages that come with being American, they have to pay taxes so America can afford the public investments necessary for a high-wage, high-productivity society.

The other way to pay for public investment is through public borrowing. This kind of borrowing doesn't burden future generations, because it's used to build a better future for those future generations.

Remember: There's a difference between borrowing for the future and borrowing for today. You might not want to borrow to pay for a vacation, but it's perfectly rational to borrow to purchase a house, because a vacation doesn't have any future return, while a home does. Right now, the federal budget irrationally treats all government borrowing the same.

The government needs a public investment budget separate from the current spending budget to clarify what we're investing in and allow us to keep borrowing for investments as long as the returns justify it.

Public investment is the biggest and most important deficit you've never heard of.

Don't listen to people who claim we can't afford to invest in the American people. We can afford it. We can't afford not to. Joe Biden needs to recognize this, and make public investment a central part of his economic strategy.

Here's how the COVID relief bill can provide a roadmap for Democrats to grow political majorities

A quarter century ago, I and other members of Bill Clinton's cabinet urged him to reject the Republican's proposal to end welfare. It was too punitive, we said, subjecting poor Americans to deep and abiding poverty. But Clinton's political advisers warned that unless he went along, he jeopardized his reelection.

That was the end of welfare as we knew it. As Clinton boasted in his State of the Union address to Congress that year, "the era of big government is over."

Until last Thursday, that is, when Joe Biden signed into law the biggest expansion of government assistance since the 1960s—a guaranteed income for most families with children, raising the maximum benefit by up to 80 percent per child.

As Biden put it in his address to the nation, as if answering Clinton, "the government isn't some foreign force in a distant capital. No, it's us, all of us, we the people."

As a senator, Biden had supported Clinton's 1996 welfare restrictions as did most Americans. What happened between then and now? Three big things.

First, COVID. The pandemic has been a national wake-up call on the fragility of middle-class incomes. The deep COVID recession has revealed the harsh consequences of most Americans now living paycheck to paycheck.

For years, Republicans used welfare to drive a wedge between the white working middle class and the poor. Ronald Reagan portrayed black, inner-city mothers as freeloaders and con artists, repeatedly referring to "a woman in Chicago" as the "welfare queen."

Whites who were putting more hours into paid work than ever—women had streamed into the workforce in the 1970s in order to prop up family incomes decimated by the decline in male factory jobs—were particularly susceptible to the message. Why should "they" get help for not working when "we" get no help, and we work?

By the time Clinton campaigned for president, "ending welfare as we knew it" had become a talisman of so-called New Democrats, even though there was little or no evidence that welfare benefits discouraged the unemployed from taking jobs. (In Britain, enlarged child benefits actually increasedemployment among single mothers.)

Yet when COVID hit, public assistance was no longer necessary just for "them." It was needed by "us."

The second big thing was Donald Trump. He exploited racism, to be sure, but replaced economic Reaganism with narcissistic grievances, claims of voter fraud, and cultural paranoia stretching from Dr. Seuss to Mr. Potato Head.

Trump obliterated concerns about government giving away money. The CARES Act, which he signed into law at the end of March, gave most Americans checks of $1,200 (to which he calculatedly attached his name). When this proved enormously popular, he demanded the next round of stimulus checks be $2,000.

Part of the GOP's incapacity to respond to Biden's momentous redistribution was due to the Party's equally momentous distribution upward—its $1.9 trillion 2018 tax cut whose benefits went overwhelmingly to the top 20 percent. Despite promises of higher wages for everyone else, nothing trickled down.

Meanwhile, during the pandemic, America's 660 billionaires—major beneficiaries of the Trump tax cut—became $1.3 trillion wealthier, enough to give every American a $3,900 check and still be as rich as they were before the pandemic.

The third big thing is the breadth of Biden's plan. Under it, more than 93 percent of the nation's children—69 million—receive benefits. Americans in the lowest quintile increase their incomes by 20 percent; those in the second-lowest, 9 percent; those in the middle, 6 percent.

Rather than pit the working middle class against the poor, this unites them. Over 70 percent of Americans support the bill, including 63 percent of low-income Republicans (a quarter of all Republican voters). Younger conservatives are particularly supportive, presumably because people under 50 have felt the brunt of the four-decade slowdown in real wage growth.

Given all this, it's amazing that zero Republican members of Congress voted for it, while 278 voted for Trump's tax cut for corporations and the rich.

The political lesson is that today's Democrats—who enjoy popular vote majorities in presidential elections (having won seven of the past eight)—can gain political majorities by raising the wages of both middle class and poor voters, while fighting Republican efforts to suppress the votes of likely Democrats.

The economic lesson is that Reaganomics is officially dead. For years, conservative economists have argued that tax cuts for the rich create job-creating investments, while assistance to the poor creates dependency. Rubbish.

Bidenomics is exactly the reverse: Give cash to the bottom two-thirds and their purchasing power will drive growth for everyone. This is far more plausible. We'll learn how much in coming months.

Biden must get Manchin and Sinema to fall in line

America is at a turning point on voting rights – one that's almost as critical as the mid-1960s when the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts were passed.

The present choice is whether to expand voting rights and strengthen our democracy, or allow the GOP to enact even more restrictive voting laws and partisan gerrymandering — cementing themselves in minority rule for years to come.

Just as in the mid-1960s, presidential leadership will be a decisive factor.

Across the country, state Republicans have introduced over 250 bills restricting the right to vote. As a lawyer for the Arizona GOP recently admitted before the Supreme Court in seeking to defend the state's voting restrictions, if they're eliminated, "it puts us at a competitive disadvantage relative to Democrats."

Democrats in Congress are fighting back against this anti-democratic agenda with their For the People Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act.

These bills would automatically register new voters, outlaw gerrymandering, expand early voting, ban restrictions on mail-in ballots, reform campaign finance laws, and restore the 1965 Voting Rights Act.

Mitch McConnell calls it a "power grab." It is a power grab – grabbing power back for the people.

Yet although Democrats now possess a razor-thin majority in the Senate, these efforts don't stand a chance unless Democrats overcome two obstacles there.

The first is the filibuster, a rule requiring 60 votes to pass regular legislation. The filibuster is not in the Constitution and not even in law. It's just a Senate rule, which Democrats can and must end with their 51-vote bare majority.

The filibuster has historically been used against civil rights and voting rights. So it's appropriate that Democrats finally end it in order to protect and expand these rights in the face of state efforts to restrict them.

Which raises the second obstacle. Two Democratic senators – West Virginia's Joe Manchin and Arizona's Kyrsten Sinema – have said they won't vote to end the filibuster, presumably because they want to preserve their centrist image and appeal to Republican voters in their states.

Well, I'm sorry. The stakes are too high. We are talking about the future of civil and voting rights — critical to fighting racism and preserving American democracy. There is no excuse for two Democratic senators to allow Republicans to stomp on our democracy and entrench their minority rule for generations.

And there is no reason President Joe Biden should let them. It's time for him to assert the leadership that President Lyndon Baines Johnson asserted more than a half-century ago.

When someone tried to persuade LBJ not to waste his time on civil and voting rights, he replied, "Well, what the hell's the presidency for?" Johnson worked to break the southern filibuster – lobbying recalcitrant senators and pressuring their colleagues to do the same. As Senator Hubert Humphrey later described it, "the president grabbed me by my shoulder and damn near broke my arm."

Historians tell us that Johnson's efforts may have shifted the votes of close to a dozen senators, breaking the longest filibuster in Senate history and clearing the way for passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Voting Rights Act of 1965.

We are once again at a crucial juncture for civil rights and voting rights, one that will shape our nation for decades to come. Joe Biden must learn from LBJ, and wield the power of the presidency to make senators fall in line with the larger goals of the nation. Otherwise, as LBJ asked, "what the hell's the presidency for?"

There's only one way Democrats will ever get anything done: ex-Clinton official

Mitch McConnell may no longer be Senate Majority Leader, but Republicans can still block legislation supported by the vast majority. That's because of a Senate rule called the filibuster. If we have any hope of safeguarding our democracy and ushering in transformative change, Democrats must wield their power to get rid of the filibuster – and fast.

The filibuster is a Senate rule requiring a 60-vote supermajority to pass legislation. Which means a minority of senators can often block legislation that the vast majority of Americans want and need.

It's not in the Constitution. In fact, it's arguably unconstitutional. Alexander Hamilton regarded a supermajority rule as "a poison" that would lead to "contemptible compromises of the public good."

Even without the filibuster, Senate Republicans already have outsized influence. The 50 of them represent 41 and a half million fewer Americans than the 50 Senate Democrats. Wyoming, with 579,000 people gets two senators. California, with 40 million also gets two senators.

The Senate Rule Breaking Our Politics www.youtube.com

Meanwhile, Republican-controlled states are gearing up to pass even more restrictive voting laws along with additional partisan gerrymandering that could enable Republicans in Washington to maintain power for the next decade.

The best way to prevent this is with national election standards through the For the People Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Act – but these important bills are stymied as long as the filibuster remains in place.

The filibuster is rooted in racism. In the late 19th century, Southern senators crafted the "talking filibuster" – in which a member could delay the passage of a bill with a long-winded speech – in order to protect the pro-slavery Senate minority.

The current version of the filibuster, requiring 60 votes to end debate, was popularized in the Jim Crow era by Southern senators seeking to prevent passage of civil rights legislation. From the end of Reconstruction to 1964, the filibuster was used only to kill civil rights bills.

Senators can now use a process called "reconciliation" to pass legislation on budgetary matters, requiring a bare majority of 51 votes. But the filibuster can still stop bills on voting rights, the climate crisis, campaign finance reform, and other crucial legislation Americans need – and on which Joe Biden has based much of his presidency.

Getting rid of the filibuster is also good politics. As long as the filibuster is intact, Senate Republicans could keep the Senate in gridlock, and then run in the 2022 midterms on Democrats' failure to get anything done.

The good news is the filibuster is a Senate rule. As I said, it's not in the Constitution. It's not even in a law. Like any other Senate rule it can be changed by a simple majority of senators.

With Vice President Kamala Harris now serving as the tie-breaking vote, Senate Democrats can and must abolish the filibuster.

There are a few conservative Senate Democrats who don't like the idea, but Joe Biden and Chuck Schumer can get them to fall in line. That's what leadership is all about. They must end the filibuster and get America moving. Now.

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