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Democrats' Agenda: Sorely needed legislation, which the Congress won't touch

By       Message Julian Edney     Permalink
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The newly elected have eight foot smiles, and with this many Congressional seats won, Democrats are thinking, new legislation will be easy, like picking low hanging fruit. In the next couple of weeks, dinner table conversations will get round to priorities, and people will talk about education, welfare, minimum wage, healthcare. The liberal media will carry arguments on immigration and poverty, and other thoroughly predictable points.

But the Republicans are not a spent force. For strategic reasons there are some national changes that we must have; they form the agenda below. But I predict that Congress will not touch them, and I explain the reasons. The following list is largely a domestic agenda. Most of the items involve the shifting of money, but some are ideological.

1. Corporations should pay taxes.
In 2004 the government (General Accounting Office) revealed that from 1996 to 2000, when the economy boomed and profits leaped, 60% of corporations paid no taxes. In 2003, corporate taxes were still only 7.4% of overall federal receipts [1]. Since corporations receive benefits from the government, this means that people who do pay their taxes average Americans are helping to foot the bill for corporate profits and if corporations paid their taxes, there would be more government money to spend on relief for natural disasters, education, and the like.
Why the new Congress won't legislate this change: Most of Congress believes corporations generate all the real wealth in the country and hire most of the workers. They still believe that the wealth trickles down, eventually to benefit all. They won't interfere.

2. Food stamps.
The United States exports more food than any other nation. The Department of Agriculture now admits 3.9% of the population, or 4.4 million American households, sometimes go hungry for lack of money. The statistics also show a 14.7% increase in hunger in one year as we enter another year of recovery from the recession [2]. The Department of Agriculture also administers the Food Stamp Program and as an index of the Government's concern, the allocation for Food Stamps is 0.0017 of the national budget. The average recipient gets $83 a month [3]. Why the new Congress won't legislate change: The first step in creating change is to admit there is a problem. The American hunger problem is almost universally denied. It would be almost unpatriotic. In this, the most technical, most advanced, most humane nation, unveiling this problem is tantamount to heresy.

3. Formal end to the occupation of Iraq.
This was a good idea years ago. Iraq should be made a United Nations colony or protectorate, since the UN is a good peacekeeper.
Why the new Congress won't hurry to legislate change: Like the foot dragging on the next item, lack of prompt action will puzzle us since the war was the prime reason Congress just changed hands. What it will reveal is that a lot of top Democrats in the Senate think like Republicans.

4. Repeal the Patriot Act.
This act, and the later act permitting anyone suspected of aiding the enemy to be incarcerated without habeas corpus, are the two most frightening pieces of legislation Congress has produced in decades.
Why the new Congress won't hurry to legislate change: Again, a lot of top Democrats in the Senate think like Republicans. And it would appear unseemly to enact a U-turn in official haste.

5. Progressive tax on luxury items.
While the superrich sometimes buy $48,000 Michel Perchin pens and $300,000 Breguet watches, other Americans have to choose between rent and food. One purpose of heavily taxing the very rich is to close the precipitous gap between rich and poor. Why would we want to do that? Because there is astonishing new scientific evidence that social inequality by itself is so stressful that it reduces life expectancies and creates a raft of social ills. (People in more egalitarian countries live longer, even if those countries are poorer.) [4] The United States is one of the most unequal nations. Its people are obsessed with their health, but this is one health threat that is never mentioned in the media.
Why the new Congress won't legislate change: Again, the first step in creating change is to admit there is a problem, and this evidence is very new. But even when it begins to circulate, it frontally contradicts trickle-down theory, which most people believe in, and the idea that whatever the superrich do is for the common good.

6. A 1% federal tax on all commercial advertising.
Currently there is no federal tax on advertising. Such a tax would be a good way to raise federal receipts, as close to a trillion dollars annually is spent on billboards, TV ads, magazine, newspaper and yellow pages ads. Advertisements promote everything from glossy SUVs to jewelry to expensive bottled water, but in a sense, collectively, commercial advertising promotes greed.
Why the new Congress won't legislate change: Consumer greed is good. This measure would be interpreted as trying to kill the economy, especially among Keynesian-oriented legislators.

7. Corporate three strikes law.
In a referendum some years ago, California voters re-affirmed their desire to throw repeat offenders in prison for life, and they got what they wanted. Why don't we apply the same to corporations? Many are so big, the ecological or exploitative damage they do vastly outruns damage done by individual offenders, but after litigation, the corporation gets fined, returns to commit the same crimes again and the fines are accounted as a cost of doing business [5, 6].
Why the new Congress won't legislate change: Again, most in Congress believe corporations generate all the real wealth in the country and hire the workers, and that corporate wealth trickles down, eventually to benefit all. They won't interfere.

8. More low income housing.
The separation between wages and housing costs is breathtaking. Despite the prodigious numbers of poor, housing for them is so scarce that of the 3,141 counties in the United States, in only 4 can a person making minimum wage afford to rent a one-bedroom apartment [7]. Rents have become exorbitant. If you turn the argument around it looks like this: rent is, arguably, a cause of poverty because rent is paid first of the month, and the working poor have to live on what is left over.
Why the new Congress won't legislate change: Rent is a huge but poorly understood piece of the economy. The idea of interfering with market forces in housing looks to most representatives like a textbook example of socialism. In addition, most members of Congress are property owners and some benefit from rents.

9. Universal health care.
This is the obvious one for liberals, and the funding would come from enacting #1 above. The economics argument is obvious: the better you take care of poor people's illnesses, the more quickly they can return to work and keep producing.
Why the new Congress won't legislate change: Pharmaceuticals, private insurance, and hospitals would suffer of course, and those industries have immensely powerful lobbies. This one is also ideological, since the term 'socialized medicine' triggers associations to socialism.

10. Usury laws.
The recent legislation, which makes it hard for individuals to escape their debts by declaring bankruptcy, will create seas of pain among the poor. Usually big personal debt starts with a divorce or medical expenses, and not because of gambling or drug addiction or frivolous shopping. Bankruptcy is hastened by the exorbitant interest rates on credit cards. Some lenders charge around 19% on late payments, which can snowball into unpayable debt. Older citizens may remember the days when interest rates over 10% were illegal; usury laws protected the consumer against predatory lenders. It emerges many usury laws have since been weakened or dismantled and the laws now vary state to state. Some states, like South Dakota, don't have any, which is why lenders are moving there, and from those locations are charging card holders what the market will bear. The new bankruptcy act should be repealed. But most important is to enact new, tight, Federal usury laws.
Why the new Congress won't legislate change: Usury laws sound like price control, which is anathema in the free market system. Anybody initiating this measure would be the target of such vitriol by lobbyists that they might rue the day they were elected.

The Democratic Party has been called the party with no ideas. That's not true. The real problem is, lefties are splintered into myriad special interest groups. They have an overabundance of agendas. The problem is to coordinate on an agreed focus for the common good. The power to move against conservative ideology in the coming years will require uncommon leadership. Without a fortified, single agenda, Democrats will look laughable as they have for many years: all dressed up and nowhere to go.

In the next two years, ideas will be needed to provide unity. Creating an ideological base for the Democratic party is going to be hard. And in the process, Democrats will find out who they really are. But that is the shape of odyssey.


Notes

[1] McKinnon, J.D. (2004) "Many companies avoided taxes even as profits soared in
boom." The Wall Street Journal 6 April 2004. P. 1.

[2] Nord, M., Andrews, M., Carlson, S. Household Food Security in the United
States, 2004. United States Department of Agriculture report ERS-ERR-11,
October 2005.

[3] U.S. Food assistance (domestic). The World Almanac and Book of Facts 2000.
Mawah, NJ. Primedia Reference Inc, 2000.

[4] An excellent and readable article is Sapolsy, R. (2005) "Sick of poverty."
Scientific American, 293, 92-99. (December 2005). For a summary online article
visit: http://www.counterpunch.org/edney04032006.html

[5] Bakan, J. (2004) The corporation. NY: Penguin Books.

[6] Drutman, L. (2003) "What about Three-Strikes-and-You're-Out for Corporate
Criminals?" Published by Common Dreams 7 Mar 2003 at:
http://www.commondreams.org/views03/0307-02.htm

[7] Those four counties are Wayne, Crawford and Lawrence Counties in Illinois,
and Washington County, Florida. In Piutcoff, W., Pelletiere, C., Trekson, M,
Dolbeare, C. Crowley, S. Out of Reach 2004. Washington DC: National Low
Income Housing Coalition, 2004.

 

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Author: Julian Edney can be contacted through his website, http://www.g-r-e-e-d.com/GREED.htm

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