SHORT TAKES: Public Loves Unions; 50K College Debt Relief Would Help 36 Million; The IRS Is Missing $1 Trillion;
|Jonathan Tasini||Apr 14|
Another teachable moment, folks. Inside the elite bubbles of Washington politics—which extends beyond the actual physical confines of The Beltway to the editorial pages of the august The New York Times and similar think-tank, navel-gazing well-paid wonky types—there is much hand-wringing about the definition being used by the Biden Administration for “infrastructure”.
Meaning, god forbid, the proposed American Jobs Plan bill includes stuff that elites don’t see as meeting the definition of “infrastructure”. The elites consider “infrastructure” as roughly concrete, steel and pipes, generically speaking—partly because that’s how politicians fill their campaign coffers, by bringing home the “pork” which has traditionally meant projects that big corporations and their lobbyists like because those projects mean profits.
I’m a critic of a lot of the philosophical perspectives Biden represents—hiking the corporate tax rate to just 28 percent is very weak, as I told The Hill this week—but give credit where credit is due, as I told The Hill as well in the same article: the folks putting the American Jobs Plan together (and the previous relief bill) shaped the plan with a far more expansive view of what “infrastructure” means by infusing it with much broader PEOPLE-CENTERED priorities, including PAID LEAVE, CHILD CARE, CARE GIVING AND PUBLIC SCHOOLS. A lot of this stuff corporations are opposing, along with elites, because while it might help people, it doesn’t help corporate profits—which equals higher share prices which, then, equals a lot more money for a CEO who gets a big honking part of his outlandish compensation through stock options.
In a way, this is the silver lining of the pandemic: a bunch more people out there have a clearer understanding, or at least the glimmers of a new understanding, of what a properly functioning country looks like. And that kind of country doesn’t exist today in the United States.
If you don’t have nationally-paid-for paid leave, people can’t stay home when they get sick (with COVID-19 or any other malady) because they fear losing income to pay the bills.
If you don’t have nationally-paid-for child care, when a pandemic shuts down schools, parents who could potentially work, especially women, are forced to stay home—with a hit to the household bank account.
If you don’t have care-giving, especially for older folks, then, those who have no other option end up either deep in debt or knocked out of the workforce.
If you don’t have schools that aren’t falling apart, kids are not going to get the best education possible if they are forced into impossibly over-crowded classrooms.
And, you know, what? A majority of the people strongly or somewhat agree, at least based on this poll from Politico/Morning Consult:
To what extent do you agree or disagree that each of the following can be consideredpart of America’s ’infrastructure’? Paid leave
Strongly agree 21%
Somewhat agree 26%
Somewhat disagree 18%
Strongly disagree 19%
Don’t know / No opinion 17%
To what extent do you agree or disagree that each of the following can be consideredpart of America’s ’infrastructure’? Child care
Strongly agree 25%
Somewhat agree 28%
Somewhat disagree 17%
Strongly disagree 15%
Don’t know / No opinion 16%
To what extent do you agree or disagree that each of the following can be consideredpart of America’s ’infrastructure’? Caregiving
Strongly agree 24%
Somewhat agree 30%
Somewhat disagree 16%
Strongly disagree 15%
Don’t know / No opinion 15%
To what extent do you agree or disagree that each of the following can be consideredpart of America’s ’infrastructure’? Public schools
Strongly agree 41%
Somewhat agree 29%
Somewhat disagree 11%
Strongly disagree 9%
Don’t know / No opinion 10%
And the public also agrees overwhelmingly higher taxes on corporations should pay for the plan to help the people:
As you may know, President Biden is seeking to fund the $2 trillion infrastructureplan through 15 years of higher taxes on corporations. Do you support or opposeusing corporate tax increases to fund the infrastructure plan?
Strongly support 38%
Somewhat support 24%
Now, to be sure, there’s more that could be done, and the American Jobs Plan is not a full progressive wish list.
But, it is EXPANDING the conversation about what government should be doing—and that’s a conversation that progressives can use as entry points, not just inside the hallways of power but, more important, talking to voters. If you’ve got almost two-thirds of the people saying corporations should pay higher taxes to fund big ideas, then, take that and run with it—praise what has been done and point out how much more could be done with real tax rates on corporations and wealthy people.
As I was writing this, into my inbox came a message from Bernie Sanders on this very point. Worth excerpting a bit of the (overly long) message:
But, in my view, there is a second type of infrastructure crisis that we must address, one that goes beyond bricks and mortar and that has been ignored for too many years. And that is our crumbling and inadequate human infrastructure…
Infrastructure means making certain that low-income and working families have the safe and affordable housing that they need. That means building and retrofitting millions of units of housing.
Infrastructure means that when mom and dad go to work, their children have high quality child care at a cost working families can afford. That means moving toward universal pre-K education.
Infrastructure means that in a competitive global economy we need to have the best educated workforce in the world and that all of our young people, regardless of their income, have the right to a higher education. That means making public colleges and universities tuition-free and ending student debt.
Infrastructure means that in the United States, when you get sick, you have the right to go to a doctor and get the prescription drugs you need. We cannot continue having up to 68,000 people a year die needlessly because they can't afford health care and, in the richest country on earth, rank 39th in life expectancy. That means understanding that health care is a human right, not a privilege, and moving to universal health care.
Infrastructure means that we can no longer be the only major country on earth not to have paid family and medical leave. It is inconceivable that in the aftermath of a pandemic we would still insist that people go to work sick, and not have the ability to take care of their families when they become seriously ill.
Infrastructure means respecting our seniors, the generation that raised us. It is unacceptable that many millions of older Americans today have teeth in their mouths that are rotting, and cannot adequately see or hear. That is why we must expand Medicare to cover dental care, hearing aids and eyeglasses and lower the age of Medicare eligibility to 55.
There were a lot of really bad takes in the wake of the loss in the union organizing effort at Amazon’s warehouse in Bessemer, Alabama. It never gets old to make this point: this loss was primarily a direct result of the millions the company spent to break the organizing drive. And this is true in virtually every union organizing drive—there is a multi-billion anti-union industry, housed in every major law firm in the country, dedicated to destroying unions, and the country’s labor laws do almost nothing to create a level playing field.
It has almost nothing to do with actual workers’ feelings about unions. How do I know this? Virtually every poll done for decades shows strong public support for collective bargaining and unions. Including in that same Politico/Morning Consult poll:
Q: Generally speaking, do you support or oppose employees’ right to bargain collectively for workplace conditions such as pay, health care, and time off?
Strongly support 40%; Somewhat support 33% Total: 73%
Q: Generally speaking, do you support or oppose labor unions?
Strongly support 24%; Somewhat support 30% Total: 54%
The gap between the general principle of support for collective bargaining versus the support for unions is entirely understandable: when the traditional media takes virtually every opportunity to hold up CEOs as some paragon of success, when union leaders are referred to regularly as “union bosses” (as opposed to people elected to office) and when generally speaking there’s a “both sides” reporting about union organizing drives—it’s still amazing to see unions as institutions get MAJORITY support if not the higher support for the principle of collective bargaining.
Here’s a pretty bracing number: cancelling up to $50,000 in student debt would relieve—get this—more than 36 million people of crushing debt. That’s data provided by the Education Department in response to questions submitted by Senator Elizabeth Warren who has been pushing Joe Biden to, in fact, use his executive authority to cancel up to $50,000 in student debt. Why this is taking time is beyond me: think of the economic benefits of freeing 36 million people from these huge debts, who could use the money to save or just invest in their daily lives.
I write a lot about taxes and especially the way in which big corporations dodge taxes (aided and abetted by their bought-for politicians who write tax laws allowing legal dodging) and the deeply rigged tax code because who pays taxes and how we use tax money is a key parameter for judging a moral and equal society. Yet, this number was bracing—in testimony this week in Congress, IRS Commissioner Charles Rettig told Congress that missing tax receipts—meaning, the gap between what the IRS takes in compared to what it believes should be collected—totalled ONE TRILLION DOLLARS. This is a huge leap from the last time the IRS reported this “gap” for years 2011-2013, when it found that, “The average gross tax gap was estimated at $441 billion per year based on data from those three years.”
Where is the money? Some of it is now being hidden in cryptocurrencies. But, a lot of it is socked away in the ways we know have existed for too long: rich people hiding money overseas and money corporations make overseas but keep overseas to avoid paying U.S. taxes.
This just underscore one of my mantras: this country has no lack of resources, no lack of money, to pay for robust programs and good government ideas. The problem is partly a REVENUE issue—the people and corporations that refuse to pay a fair share. Jail them.