The latest Gallup Poll indicated that Americans have two fundamental concerns: Iraq and the economy. We know that most Congressional Democrats believe we should bring our troops home from Iraq this year, but what do they think about our economy? Are the leaders of the 110th Congress prepared to tackle class warfare?
For the past six years, the ultra-conservative Bush Administration waged war on America's working families. Monday's New York Times provided fresh evidence of this:
Tax Cuts Offer Most For Very Rich reported what most of us already knew: "Families earning more than $1 million a year saw their federal tax rates drop more sharply than any group in the country as a result of President Bush's tax cuts." Op-Ed columnist Bob Herbert noted that in 2006, "the top five Wall Street firms (Bear Stearns, Goldman Sachs, Lehman Brothers, Merrill Lynch and Morgan Stanley) were expected to award an estimated $36 billion to $44 billion worth of bonuses to their 173,000 employees." Herbert reported these bonuses - for one year - overwhelmingly exceeded the pay increases received by America's 93 million production and nonsupervisory workers for the last six years. The rich have benefited from the policies and ethics of the Bush Administration; everyone else has gotten the shaft.
Samuel Coleridge's Ancient Mariner famously lamented: "Water, water everywhere, nor any drop to drink." America's workers are in a comparable situation: all around them are indications of prosperity, yet it's not available to them. For twenty-five years, conservatives promised that a market stimulated by Federal tax-cuts would take care of America's problems: "A rising tide would lift all boats." Yet, the conservative tide lifted only the yachts of the rich.
Economic columnist Holly Sklar observed that "U.S. corporate profits increased 21 percent in the past year" but inflation-adjusted median household income has fallen. "Almost all the benefits from productivity improvements are flowing to the owners of capital rather than to workers." New York Times columnist Paul Krugman cited Wal-Mart as a prime example of an American company that "Has a well-deserved reputation for paying low wages and offering few benefits to its employees." Krugman observed, "the rich are getting richer, but most working Americans are losing ground."
What does the Democrat-controlled 110th Congress plan to do about class warfare? What actions do Dems propose to reverse conservative policies? Their initial response is very modest: raise the minimum wage. However, The Center For American Progress suggested two common-sense items that Democrats might support during their first six months in power: The first is an expansion of the Child Tax Credit and Earned Income Tax Credit: "Currently, the amount of the Child Tax Credit that families can receive is limited if they have low incomes, and hence low federal income tax liabilities; however, many low income families still have significant payroll tax liabilities... Congress should make the Child Tax Credit available to more low-income families by making the credit refundable to all families with payroll tax liability. Congress should also improve the Earned Income Tax Credit by reducing the marriage penalty." The second proposal would strengthen the power of Unions: "Congress should enact legislation requiring employers to bargain with unions who have demonstrated majority support on the basis of 'card-check recognition'." Strengthening Unions makes sense: where workers are unionized, they earn better wages and benefits.
Of course, there are many other economic problems that Congressional Democrats need to address: One is healthcare, where Congressman John Conyers has a straightforward proposal Medicare For All. Another is tax fairness: the reality that the Bush Administration has shifted the tax burden from the rich and powerful onto the backs of America's middle class. An obvious solution would be to roll back the Bush Administration tax cuts for the very rich to ensure that they pay their fair share. (In a similar vein, Jonathan Tasini proposed a tax on securities' transactions, The Wall Street Fairness Tax: "0.25 percent of the value of a trade.") What remains to be specified is a comprehensive jobs program with worker retraining and support services.
Where should Dems begin their attack on class warfare? Social critic Chuck Collins suggests that Congressional Democrats hold a series of hearings on: "Poverty and the Plight of Low-Wage Workers," "Excessive CEO Compensation," Solutions to Growing Wealth Inequality," "Anti-Trust Enforcement," and "Expanding Healthcare Coverage." Legislation could result from these hearings.
The most recent Gallup Polls indicated that sixty-nine percent of Americans are dissatisfied with the direction America is headed in, a trajectory away from the promise of a fair society, where everyone has the means to participate in our democracy. Most working Americans recognized they've been the victims of class warfare: a deliberate conservative plan to bias the distribution of rewards from the American economy for the exclusive benefit of the rich and powerful. Congressional Democrats must address this class warfare and make economic justice the cornerstone of their domestic platform.