Behind the smoke screen of the news cycle, there are several genuinely excellent pieces of legislation that remain more or less entirely shrouded from public view. The bills described below are among the more progressive efforts underway in our 112th Congress, with sponsors and co-sponsors representing both sides of the aisle. And they warrant far greater attention than they're getting. So why aren't they getting it?
The Fairness in Taxation Act [H.R.1124]
Sponsored by Illinois Democrat Jan Schakowsky and co-sponsored by twenty other Democratic House members, the Fairness in Taxation Act [FTA] would create additional tax brackets at the top of the income ladder, starting with $1 million and ending at $1 billion. As things stand, the highest tax bracket is set at $373,000, meaning the top twenty hedge fund managers with an average annual income of over $1 billion pay the same marginal tax rate as those who make 2,500 times less than they do. Why is such an abomination ("Obamanation"?) allowed to persist?
If enacted, FTA would raise federal tax revenue by more than $78.9 billion in 2011 alone, according to Citizens for Tax Justice. That would more than enough to cover the $61 billion dollars in GOP-proposed cuts to Pell grants, community health centers, high speed rail, Head Start, NIH funding, housing cuts and Title X family planning. So why even contemplate the cutting of these valuable programs so as to provide additional tax cuts to billionaires?! And why isn't this issue being talked about in the mainstream media?
"This isn't about punishment or revenge. It's about fairness," Schakowsky said in a recent press release. "It's about avoiding budget cuts that harm middle class families and those who aspire to it. We can choose to cut education, job creation and health care, or we can choose to ask those who can contribute more to do so." And according to a March 2011 NBC/Wall Street Journal poll, the large majority of Americans agree with Schakowsky, choosing "a surtax on federal income taxes for people earning over one million dollars a year" as the most popular method of reducing the federal budget deficit.
The Shortening Hours and Retaining Employees (SHARE) Credit Act [H.R.4179]
Wouldn't it be nice to work fewer hours but still get paid the same salary? Some economists, like Paul Krugman and Dean Baker, are saying that it's not only possible, but that the country could create millions of jobs and add billions of dollars to the GDP by doing so.
Michigan Congressman John Conyers has taken up the initiative by sponsoring the SHARE Act, a job-creation program that offers a tax credit of up to $3,000 to employers who shorten workers' hours in the form of "paid sick days, paid family leave, shorter workweeks or longer vacations."
It works like this: Because workers' salaries would remain unchanged as a result of the paid time off, aggregate demand in the economy would also remain unchanged or even rise because of greater leisure time for consumer and recreational activities. Therefore employers will have to maintain productivity levels by hiring more workers to make up for lost labor input. Not only would workers reap the rewards of more leisure time without penalty, but potentially millions of unemployed individuals would be put to work at relatively low cost. (If the French and the Germans can create more jobs this way, so can we.)
The plan would cost the government roughly $26,000 per new job created, according to the Center for Economic and Policy Research. Notice that this is far less than the CBO-estimated average cost of as much as $200,000 per job created by the 2009 stimulus package. It's also far less than the average cost of more than $190,000 for every job created by subsidizing the fossil fuel industries.
In Germany, a similar tax credit in exchange for shortening work hours resulted in a steady unemployment rate of 7.6 percent throughout the recession, the same rate they had prior to the economic downturn. "Imagine if workers in the United States, like workers in Germany, were dealing with the recession by putting in four-day weeks (while getting paid for five) or getting an extra two weeks of paid vacation," writes Conyers. "This sure beats being unemployed."
Keeping the measure in place after the recession ends could very well turn out to be advantageous for the economy in the long run. "If the new arrangements prove better for workers and employers, then many employers will opt to keep them even after the tax credit has expired," says economist Dean Baker. "In this way, the tax credit may go far towards making benefits like paid family leave or paid sick days universal and moving the United States towards a shorter work year."
The 21st Century Civilian Conservation Corps Act [H.R.494]
Sponsored by Ohio Representative Marcy Kaptur, the 21st Century Civilian Conservation Corps Act (CCCA) is a job creation program that re-establishes a Civilian Conservation Corp that puts to work unemployed and underemployed civilians to advance useful public works projects aimed at safeguarding natural resources and developing new transportation and infrastructure.
The original Civilian Conservation Corp, created in 1933, lasted for nearly a decade and was the first and most popular program of the New Deal. The February 6, 1939 issue of Time magazine reported that "more continuously than any other New Deal experiment, CCC " had the respect of foes as well as friends of Franklin Roosevelt." After only five years, the newly-employed workers of the CCC had built thousands of bridges and dams, planted 1.5 million trees in public parks and forests, re-vegetated hundreds of thousands of acres of land, put out fires and completed a hundred thousand miles of trails and roads.
Kaptur told The Nation she believes that, like the original, the CCC for the 21st century would produce enormous returns to society on the investment required.