Roger Hickey

Resistance Is Not Enough - Progressive Leaders Launch Campaign for Sustainable Prosperity to Counter GOP

The resistance movement could well be Donald Trump’s greatest legacy. Led by women and people of color, Americans have built a vibrant citizens’ movement in all parts of the country that is standing up to Trump and defending the people and democratic rights he has attacked. It is also exposing how Trump, in office, is now doing the work of the corporate, big money Republicans, and pursuing policies that abandon a good portion of those who voted for him. This resistance movement could help Democrats take back the House (and perhaps even the Senate) in 2018 and win the White House in 2020. But many in the movement know they need an agenda that goes beyond resistance. We are now pledging to build a movement to rebuild America.

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One In Eight Americans Burdened By Student Loan Debt, Including 700,000 Seniors

It will not be news to 41 million Americans that this nation is in the middle of a student debt crisis. That's the number of people burdened by student loan payments. But many people, including many student debt holders, may be surprised to learn that people can be pursued for student debt even into their elder years.

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Elizabeth Warren Receives 240,000 'Cancel All Student Debt' Petition Signatures

Last week Sen. Elizabeth Warren, the Senate’s foremost advocate for lowering student debt and lowering the cost of college, received a petition signed by more than 240,000 people.

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12 Steps to Realizing the U.S.'s New Populist Movement

A new progressive populist movement is rising up in the United States. Inspired by an expansive vision of greater economic opportunity for all Americans, this new movement is also fueled by anger over politicians' broken promises. After decades of recurring economic crisis, which now seems systemic and permanent, millions of Americans have come to realize that much of our democratic system is now owned by a moneyed elite that use their power to resist real change and to manipulate the economy for their own financial gain.

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Five Health Care Questions for the Democratic Candidates

The presidential candidates are feeling the pressure from voters to tackle the escalating health care crisis with bold and comprehensive solutions. So when the Center for American Progress and the Service Employees International Union invited all the candidates to Las Vegas this Saturday morning to debate health care, nearly all the Democratic candidates agreed to participate. (Alas, all the Republican candidates will be taking a pass.) 

You can view the debate and join a live blog and discussion.

At the onset of the debate, former Senator John Edwards is likely to be the center of attention, and not only because of the wrenching news of his wife’s recurrent cancer. Edwards has been driving the health care debate with a  very detailed plan to assure health coverage for everyone in America. Now the other candidates are determined to match him, though most have yet to offer specifics at this early stage of the race.

Of the other leading candidates, Illinois Sen. Barack Obama has rejected “tinkering and half-way measures.” He declared in January that he plans “in the next few months” to lay out a health care plan that will cover everyone “by the end of the next president’s term”—meaning his first term.  And Senator Hillary Clinton, who as head of Bill Clinton’s health care task force, tried and failed to move an ambitious health care program, is somewhat more cautious, saying she won't lay out a plan until she “listens to what the people want.” As reported by Bloomberg News, on January 28, she said, “This time, we're going to build a consensus first.'' 

Congressman Dennis Kucinich doesn’t have the poll numbers to be treated as a leading candidate, but he will come with a clear and detailed plan for health care for all. He is a co-sponsor of H.R. 676, a “single-payer” plan covering all Americans in a public system. Kucinich can be expected to be a provocative challenger to the other candidates– especially those who feel the need to subsidize, and try to regulate, the private health insurance companies to get them to go beyond “cherry picking” —insuring only healthier Americans who bring in more profit—with more subsidies to private insurance companies.

[We at Campaign for America’s Future are promoting an important new “benchmark” health care plan written by Yale professor Jacob Hacker. The Health Care for America plan would start with choice—allowing individuals and companies to continue with their current health care arrangements if they are happy with them. All employers would be required to provide their workers private insurance of good quality, or pay five percent of payroll to have their employees covered through a Medicare-style public plan. Hacker sees this approach as essential to providing guaranteed coverage while controlling costs in the entire health care system.]

As we watch the debate on Saturday, how will we tell if the other candidates are as committed as Edwards and Kucinich to fundamentally solving the health care crisis? And how will we tell if Edwards or Kucinich has the plan and presentation that can get the job done?

What follows are some questions for every candidate, to help judge whether each is really serious about health care for all:

1. Will the candidate’s plan really cover everyone —with a decent guaranteed level of coverage—at an affordable cost? Calling a plan “universal” is not enough. Massachusetts’ new ”universal” plan requires everyone to purchase health insurance, but the legislature has still not shown that it will devote the resources necessary (or exert the regulatory control over private insurance companies) to assure that everyone has a good health plans at an affordable premium.

2. Does the candidate offer a public plan, like Medicare, that has a predictable, guaranteed level of benefits that “cannot be taken away?” Or, will the candidate rely on private insurance companies, using a combination of subsidies and heavy regulations to get private companies to do what their business model does not now allow them to: provide good health insurance at a decent price for all Americans. Does it include people with pre-existing conditions, the poor, older Americans not yet eligible for Medicare, and people with dangerous occupations?

Note: Edwards tries to do both, mandating regional buying pools that would heavily regulate private insurers and offering a public plan, like Medicare, that, if enough people chose it, might become the dominant health care plan for the nation.

3. Has the candidate thought through how his or her plan will be financed? Edwards has bitten the bullet, calling for all employers to either provide health insurance to their employees or pay into a fund to finance his public plan. And he’s honest enough to know that additional progressive tax revenues will be necessary—he says forthrightly about $100 billion per year—which he would cover by rolling back the Bush tax cuts for the rich. It is true that after a successful health care reform, the whole country would end up paying less money for better and more comprehensive health care. But beware the candidate that tells you that there won’t be any up-front costs.

4. Will the candidate’s health plan control spiraling health care costs? We pay much more per person for health care than any other developed nation—and all those other nations guarantee health care for all. A big part of the problem is the private health insurance system, which spends billions on advertising, administration and gaming the system to avoid paying claims. As a result, doctors and hospitals have to spend fortunes on paperwork to satisfy the different billing arrangements of hundreds of different reimbursement systems. By comparison, Medicare is a model of efficiency with a much better record of controlling costs than the private insurance industry, even while covering an expensive elderly population.

Jacob Hacker, and other advocates of Medicare-style plans, emphasizes a system that can share risk through broad pooling arrangements and control costs over much of the health care economy. If a candidate doesn’t go in that direction—if he or she depends entirely on the private health insurance system—we need to know how they ever expect to get a handle on rapidly growing health care costs.

5. Is the candidate’s health plan simple and clear enough that they can explain it—and get us to describe it to someone else? Does anyone remember the 2004 John Kerry health care plan? It was a complicated system of subsidies and catastrophic insurance—best described with the boxes and arrows of complex flow charts—and completely incomprehensible to even a quite educated citizen. If a future president is going to overcome the rabid opposition of the special interests, he or she must offer a plan that is bold but simple, comprehensive yet understandable. And it had better resonate with important American values, including choice, fairness, compassion and efficiency.

We’re having a presidential debate about health care because the public demand for solutions is so strong. Leadership at the presidential level is crucial, but so is continued grassroots engagement. The Campaign for America’s Future will be working with national organizations and grassroots groups to stimulate a public debate led by citizens demanding straight talk about health care. With grassroots pressure, we can force all the candidate—for the House, the Senate and the White House—to respond in detail to the five questions posed here, as well as to the concerns and values of the new progressive majority that is putting health care on the agenda for 2008 and beyond.

A Battle Progressives Can Win

This article is reprinted from The American Prospect.

President Bush claims the 2004 election gave him a mandate to pursue his No. 1 second-term priority, the partial privatization of Social Security. But the voters don't think so. Only 35 percent of Americans think Bush has a mandate "to allow workers to invest some of their Social Security taxes in the stock market," while 51 percent say he has no such mandate, according to the NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll conducted just after Bush's re-election victory.

But Bush is gambling his winning streak on persuading a majority in Congress to vote to dismantle the most popular and successful social-insurance program in the nation's history. And, even though he and his allies are still debating crucial and very controversial details, Bush has pledged to get legislation through Congress this year (before the 2006 midterm election year begins).

For progressives, the battle for Social Security represents a rare opportunity to stop the newly re-elected president dead in his tracks, to demonstrate the bankruptcy of his extreme conservative agenda, and to point to a new politics of "shared security" around which we can build a new majority for change. Winning won't be easy, but a powerful combination of progressive forces – national organizations, political funders and philanthropists, policy experts, and grass-roots and online networks (including veterans of the 2004 elections) – are coming together.

In tackling Social Security, Bush has set a much more difficult goal than anything he attempted in his first four years. His tax cuts were heavily skewed to the rich and his Medicare prescription-drug plan gave a bonanza to the HMOs and drug industry, but any senator or representative who voted for them could tell voters, "I got you a tax cut," or "I got you a new drug benefit." A Bush plan that cuts Social Security benefits in order to finance risky speculation in the stock market – while adding $2 trillion to the national debt over 10 years – would require a much more tortured explanation by any senator or representative foolhardy enough to vote for it.

The whole effort to block Bush will stand or fall on massive public education. That's because the more people learn about privatization, the worse it looks. In Bush's first term, Republicans were solidly united behind their president while Democrats were divided. Now, congressional Republicans are worried and splintered, uncertain whether walking the privatization plank will violate their conservative principles or undermine their chances for re-election. And so far, Democrats are pretty unified.

For progressives, victory requires getting enough votes – either defeating the Bush plan outright in both houses or sustaining a filibuster in the Senate by getting at least 41 firm "no" votes. To date, not one of the 45 Democrats in the new Senate has defected to the privatizers (and their new leader, Harry Reid of Nevada, is working to keep it that way). By contrast, several of the 55 Republicans have expressed serious doubts about supporting the president on Social Security.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi hopes to keep her 203 House Democrats united and win over at least 15 Republicans. For every Democrat who defects (so far only one, Allen Boyd of Florida, has), anti-privatizers will need to win over another Republican. But this time, it's Republicans who are shaky. Tom Davis, chairman of the House Republican Campaign Committee, told The Wall Street Journal that "roughly 30 House Republicans, including himself, are already inclined to oppose Mr. Bush" on Social Security.

* * *

The president's strategy is familiar from the run-up to his invasion of Iraq: Manufacture a sense of crisis and then accuse critics of irresponsibly exposing Americans to danger, this time not weapons of mass destruction but the equally mythical claim that Social Security will soon "go bankrupt." Once the crisis atmosphere is established, doubters can be intimidated, and extreme measures, like cutting guaranteed benefits, can be justified because they can't be guaranteed any longer anyway.

Social Security crisis-mongering was the centerpiece of Bush's post-election economic conference. But the day before his White House conference, the Economic Policy Institute assembled a distinguished group of economists to brief more than 30 reporters about the fatal flaws in the president's arguments.

Two days later, Dec. 16, the Campaign for America's Future held a press conference in the middle of Bush's meeting. Leaders of major national membership organizations – AFL-CIO president John Sweeney, Kim Gandy of the National Organization for Women, Julian Bond of the NAACP, George Kourpias of the Alliance for Retired Americans, and Marty Ford of the Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities – pledged to activate their memberships to work, with hundreds of other groups, to stop the privatization of Social Security. They described a nationwide, grass-roots campaign, keeping opponents united – and then, when the very unpopular details of the Bush plan are finally made public, a targeted constituent-based effort to convince key swing Republicans that voting for privatization would either violate their conservative principles about fiscal responsibility or endanger their political future.

Statewide coalitions, many led by groups like USAction and the Economic Analysis and Research Network of state think tanks, are holding local Social Security forums and making visits to their congressional delegations. Online activism groups, like Working Assets and the Campaign for America's Future, have flooded Congress with more than 150,000 faxes and e-mails with a simple message: "Don't you dare privatize Social Security." Many internet bloggers have also joined the crusade, demanding to know where members of Congress stand on privatization. Now AARP, representing 36 million seniors, is backing up its opposition to privatization with real resources, launching a $5 million advertising campaign timed to coincide with the start of the new Congress – just the beginning of an effort "to block the creation of private accounts financed with payroll tax revenues." AARP is also joining with Rock the Vote to show young voters how they will be hurt most of all by privatization.

Many of the political donors who supported the independent organizing efforts of "527" organizations like America Coming Together have begun to pledge funds to achieve a double goal: to defeat Bush on his most important legislative priority while mobilizing the activist organizing infrastructure in key states and districts that they helped to build in 2004. Leaders of have indicated that they will work to engage in the campaign for Social Security their 2.8 million (mostly younger) members, most of whom are highly motivated to thwart Bush on his key legislative goal. And recent history has shown that when engaged on an issue, MoveOn activists can communicate massively with Congress, raise large amounts of money for creative and targeted advertising, and mobilize hundreds of informed constituents in key congressional districts to demand (and get) face-to-face meetings with their representatives.

In 1994, William Kristol's infamous memo united Republicans to kill Bill Clinton's health-care plan "in any form" because its passage would signal the rebirth of progressive government that solved real problems Americans face. Their opportunistic victory led to a period of conservative dominance of American politics. Now, progressives are uniting to stop George W. Bush's attempt to kill America's most important program of "shared security." If we win, we will not only set back the radical right-wing Bush agenda; we will be launching a new era of progressive resurgence.

Happy Holidays!