The media, quite obviously, is currently in a frenzy. Actually, two frenzies, since they've now got two wars to cover, one of which has provided shots of a grisly plane crash. This all meant that a lot of oxygen was sucked from the normal political news scene, meaning this week's column will be somewhat abbreviated. Both wars didn't really impact America all that much, so there's not a lot to add to the media cacophony on either one, to put this another way.
The biggest political event of the week (for Democrats, at any rate) was Nancy Pelosi and the House Democrats rolling out a new campaign agenda -- the "Middle Class Jumpstart" -- in the tradition of Newt Gingrich's "Contract With America." But we'll have much more on this later, as we're turning over the whole talking points portion of the program to this rollout.
In other Democratic campaign agenda news, Carl Gibson of the Huffington Post wrote a great article which starkly lays out the difference between two states that charted separate ideological budgetary paths during the recession: Kansas and California. In a nutshell, Kansas decided to massively cut taxes and California not-so-massively raised taxes on the wealthiest. The result? California's economy (and budget) is now almost fully recovered, and the Kansas economy is now in the toilet. Kansas saw its incoming revenues plummet, and their bond rating was downgraded as a result. This is one of the best evidence-based articles on the aftermath of the philosophical differences between Republicans and Democrats, and is well worth reading in full.
The annual liberal blogger/activist Netroots Nation conference is happening this week, but sadly we decided not to attend, so we have no news from Detroit for you (sorry about that).
The Senate effectively got within three votes of essentially overturning the Hobby Lobby Supreme Court decision. Senator Barbara Boxer wrote a wonderful piece on the issue this week, as well. The House -- astonishingly -- actually passed a much-needed bill to continue funding highway and infrastructure projects, even if it was nothing more than another short-term stopgap bill. Hey, a stopgap is better than stopping the government, right? This should be seen as a clear victory for the Establishment Republicans over the Tea Party, it's worth mentioning.
In funny candidate news, Republican Scott Brown verbally tripped over his carpetbag, once again. Hey Scott, it helps when running for office to remember what state you're actually in! Ask any rock star, they'll tell you the crowd does indeed notice when you blow this line. Heh.
In Arizona, a Republican congressional candidate was trying to fan the flames of the immigration issue, but instead wrongly identified a busload of Y.M.C.A. campers as Central American children. Whoops!
In Kentucky, voters have a fake Senate candidate to consider: Gil Fulbright. His ad his hilarious, and starts with:
Hi, I'm Gil Fulbright. The people who run my campaign, they've made this commercial -- and I'm in it. This campaign -- it's not about me, it's about crafting a version of me that will appeal to you. A version that visits random worksites with paid actors pointing at things. A version of me that doesn't find old people loathsome or pointless.
The people behind the effort are making a strong point about money in politics, and doing so in a very funny way, we have to say.
Not-as-fake (but still pretty laughable) candidate Thomas Ravenel is running for Senate down in South Carolina. He's not only been on reality television, but he's also been previously convicted of drug trafficking. I don't think Lindsey Graham's very worried, personally.
Speaking of politicians (well, "ex-politicians") and drugs, there are some highly amusing photos of Tom Tancredo joshing around with some legal marijuana in Colorado, if you haven't yet seen them.
Which brings us to the week's weed news. Sam Tracy has a great summary of the most-important legislative marijuana news of the week (which is worth checking out) up on Huffington Post, if you're interested in more detail. Washington, D.C. is still locked in a struggle with Congress over decriminalization, and the White House weighed in strongly on the local government's side. A unanimous decision was just announced by the U.S. Sentencing Commission that new sentencing standards for non-violent federal drug offenses will actually be applied retroactively -- which could give tens of thousands of prisoners shorter sentences to serve. And, finally, a research scientist at the University of Arizona was just fired -- coincidentally, right after she received federal approval to study marijuana's effect on P.T.S.D. in returning soldiers. She describes herself thus: "I am a lifelong Republican, and I am very conservative." But that hasn't stopped plenty of liberals from supporting her, by signing a petition to get her reinstated in her job. As of this writing, there are close to 32,000 signatures on the petition, so why not take a minute and add yours to the list?
Let's see, what else? The majority of the American public already thinks John Boehner's idea of suing the president is a gigantic waste of time (and the lawsuit hasn't even really begun, mind you). Oh, and just about anybody can automatically now become a political non-profit group, because the I.R.S. just totally threw in the towel and admitted that they weren't even going to screen all but the largest new tax-exempt organizations. So maybe we should form a "Friday Talking Points" non-profit, so we can get lotsa money that our donors can write off on their taxes. After all, there's nothing really stopping anyone from doing exactly that, now. Only in America!
Joe Biden deserves at least an Honorable Mention this week, for singlehandedly raising the profile of the annual Netroots Nation liberal conference. Because Biden's speech coincided with the Malaysian Airlines crash (Biden's was one of the first official statements on the crash), there were a whole lot of clips on the news with the "Netroots Nation" background.
Alan Grayson also deserves an Honorable Mention, for his efforts to force the House to vote on increasing the minimum wage for federal employees. Keep fighting the good fight, Alan!
We have two Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week awards to hand out this week, and the first goes to Shenna Bellows, the Democratic candidate for Senate in Maine. Now, Bellows is a longshot, since Susan Collins is one of the more reasonable Republicans in the Senate, and she is well-loved in her home state. So Bellows decided to stage a political stunt of sorts, but an impressive one nonetheless: she's going to personally walk the length of Maine, to meet the voters. The best line from the story: "She will reportedly be outfitted in Maine-made New Balance sneakers and an L.L. Bean raincoat." Nice. Now, this sort of small-town campaigning wouldn't work in a larger state, and her chances for victory in November are slim, but we have to say that it does show an astounding amount of personal dedication to walk over 300 miles in a bid to get elected. Even if she loses, she deserves a MIDOTW for her long walk.
The second MIDOTW goes to none other than House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. Pelosi is just about the only Democrat showing some optimism about their chances in House races this year, but then that's actually just part of her leadership job. But she really earned the award for rolling out a "Contract With America" sort of campaign platform for Democrats to support this year. It is called the "Middle Class Jumpstart" agenda, which is a pretty good name for what Democrats stand for in general. Pelosi unveiled the agenda with other House leaders in a press conference, which we're going to quote from in a moment.
Pelosi has a tough row to hoe in this year's midterms. The sixth year of any president is a tough one for his party in Congress, traditionally, but Pelosi is going to give it all she's got to try and pick up seats for Democrats this year. Whether she's ultimately successful or not, the fact that she's fighting hard is a lot better than if Democrats had just decided to roll over and give up.
So, for both her eternal optimism and for providing a ready-made platform for Democratic candidates this fall, Nancy Pelosi has earned herself another Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week.
[Shenna Bellows is a candidate for office, and it is our standing policy not to link to candidate web pages. Congratulate House Majority Leader Nancy Pelosi on her House contact page, to let her know you appreciate her efforts.]
We had no candidates this week for the Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week award, since no Democrat uttered a cringe-worthy line all week long. At least, that we are aware of -- if we've overlooked some disappointing behavior, please feel free to make nominations in the comments, as always.
Instead, we have an award in the technical category. We're not sure who's responsible, and it is likely some non-partisan technical official, but we have to create a "Back To The Drawing Board" award for whoever was responsible for the microphones in the White House press room. The press room was recently refurbished and upgraded, to the delight of the White House press corps. But, after watching this morning's press conference, we have to wonder who is responsible for the sound quality in the room. Because instead of hearing the president and the press interacting, what you instead mostly hear is: "CLICK! CLICK! CLICK! CLICK! CLICK!" The still photographers' cameras are the loudest I think I've ever heard, which is likely due to choosing omnidirectional microphones for the podium and the questioners' microphone. The annoying camera sounds were so loud that it was impossible to hear some of the questions, in fact.
This is after, mind you, spending a whole bunch of money upgrading the room. So, to whoever is responsible for the sound quality, please either get directional microphones or install a sound filter to dull the loudness of the camera clicking. And enjoy your "Back To The Drawing Board" award.
[Since we have no idea who is responsible for this sort of thing, we cannot provide any contact information, sorry.]
Volume 312 (7/18/14)
Political historians differ over the relative influence that Newt Gingrich's "Contract With America" actually had on the voting public. Some say not many people even knew what Newt was talking about, and some say it was the theme that won Republicans a big victory.
Historical quibbles aside, though, it is indeed a tactic well worth emulating. Political campaigns are supposed to be all about drawing contrasts between the political parties. Not very many people actually ever read the political parties' official platform documents, so highlighting a few specific legislative agenda items is worth attempting. It gets the message out in a concrete way: "this is what we will do if elected." In true Gingrichian fashion, Democrats are promising to achieve all of these things "in the first 100 days" of the new Congress, should they regain control of the House.
So the Democratic leadership held a press event, to announce their 2014 campaign agenda. Here is Representative Steve Israel, giving an overview of what this will include, by way of an introduction:
This is the "Middle Class Jumpstart." It is to jumpstart the middle class -- 100 days of action to put the middle class first, ahead of the special interests. Now, you couldn't have a more vivid contrast in priorities. They [Republicans] have passed maximum subsidies for the special interests. In the first 100 days, we [Democrats] will increase the minimum wage for America's workers -- first 100 days.
They have protected the profits of the big banks. In the first 100 days, we will allow every student in the middle class and working families to refinance their student loans. In their House majority, they have supported putting bosses in charge of women's health freedoms. In the first 100 days, we will require bosses to pay a woman the same as a man for equal work.
That's the difference between them and us: 100 days. Putting the middle class first. More jobs, not more subpoenas. More jobs for the middle class, not more jobs for partisan lawyers. Supporting women and families, supporting affordable and accessible education.
This quote (and all the talking points below) come from the transcript of this press event, which was held this week on the steps of the Capitol (again, matching Newt's rollout idea). This is a ready-made campaign platform for any Democratic House candidate to use this year, and it deserves more attention than it has so far received. Which is why we're turning the entire section over to the rollout event.
Nancy Pelosi herself came up with a few snappy lines that are even shorter than "talking points," being more in the "bumpersticker slogan" category. For instance, in touting a "Make It In America" idea, Pelosi came up with a simple refrain: " 'A' and 'B': American-made; Build it in America." This was probably the best she came up with, although she also contributed "Children learning, parents earning," which has a nice rhyming quality but is less overtly political upon first glance. And then there was one for the inside-the-Beltway types: "Republicans are about process, Democrats are about progress" (this, in reaction to "partisan lawsuits against the president" -- hey, I warned you it was wonky). She also led a call-and-response towards the end, which consisted of her prompting: "When the middle class succeeds... when families succeed... when women succeed" which was followed by rousing choruses of "America succeeds!" from her fellow Democrats.
But we're going to use seven longer excerpts from the event (longer than soundbites, in other words), so let's get on with it. Here are the best talking points from the rollout event, in the order they were delivered.
Draw a sharp contrast
Representative Xavier Becerra got things rolling, by drawing a clear and sharp contrast between the two parties.
[W]e are gathered here today to send a very clear message to America: you can either sue the President of the United States, or you can do your job here in the House of Representatives and pass laws that help the middle class and working families.
You can shut down the government, taking 800,000 workers and 24 billion taxpayer dollars with you; or you can enact the president's jobs agenda. You can vote more than 50 times to tear down America's new health security and patients' law, or you can make the law even better so every working family in America has a doctor and the peace of mind that comes with it.
You can pass stopgap measures that merely kick the can down the road on our nation's budget or on the construction and repair of our roads, rails, and bridges, or you can do it the right way and pass stable, long-term laws that give our businesses and employers the confidence to hire and grow. You can do nothing other than block a vote to fix a broken immigration system, or you can pass the bipartisan fix that the Senate voted out 384 days ago.
A Republican do-nothing and do-bad-things Congress
Minority Whip Steny Hoyer began introducing the specific pieces of legislation that make up the Middle Class Jumpstart plan. He also got in a real zinger, at the end.
The "Make It In America" plan is a broad agenda for jobs and competitiveness and is a central part of this "Middle Class Jumpstart." We want to provide tax incentives to encourage companies to bring jobs home, rather than send jobs overseas.
We want to invest in increased exports, improved infrastructures and skill-training programs that attract jobs and promote a strong manufacturing base. Democrats have a real plan to get things done. And if we have the majority in January, as I fully expect us to have, we will be introducing the "21st Century Make It In America Act."
Americans are tired of a Republican do-nothing and do-bad-things Congress focused simply on partisan divisions.
Representative Jim Clyburn wasn't as focused, but did introduce the Democratic infrastructure agenda item.
Republicans voted to give tax breaks to companies that ship jobs overseas. House Democrats will pass the "Build American Bonds Act" to boost job growth and modernize American infrastructures by building roads, bridges, broadband technology, and investing in clean energy. And we will pay for it by closing corporate tax loopholes.
Republicans have blocked legislation to make long-term investments in our nation's aging highway system and oppose creating clean energy jobs for the future. House Democrats will raise the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour and pass the "Tax Fairness Act" to deny CEOs the ability to claim tax deductions for pay over $1 million, unless they give their employees a raise.
Republicans refused to raise the minimum wage, but give massive tax giveaways to corporate special interests and the ultra-wealthy.
It's pretty simple. It's pretty fair.
Congressman Chris Van Hollen went next, and provided a bit more detail.
[T]wo things we're going to do in those first 100 days. The first is end the scandal that in America, you can work 40 hours a week all year long and still have to raise your family in poverty. That is simply wrong. We need to make sure we raise the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour and get that done once and for all.
But we cannot stop there. We need to make sure all of America has a shot at a wage. What we've seen over the last several decades is large increases in worker productivity. We have seen skyrocketing increases in CEO pay and bonuses. What we have not seen is increases in the employee pay. They have been left behind even though they are working to boost that productivity and boost those corporate profits.
So, we have a very simple proposition. We have a proposition called the "CEO-Employee Pay Fairness Act," and that is this: if you're a corporation, you cannot give your CEO and top executives -- you cannot take a deduction for their pay over $1 million unless you're going to give your employees a raise. It's pretty simple. It's pretty fair.
Whose side are you on?
Representative John Tierney introduced his bill to allow all students and former students to refinance their student loan debt.
What this bill does is provide existing student loan borrowers the opportunity to refinance their debt at a lower rate. Banks can do it. Businesses can do it. Families can do it with their home ownership. And students should be able to do it. It would save students and parents and graduates thousands of dollars on their loans. And that savings no doubt will get spent right back into the economy, giving it a boost. The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office says clearly that it would reduce the deficit by $22 billion in 10 years, so taxpayers also benefit from it.
Right now, the House Republicans are in there trying to find out how to sue the president. We're out here making sure that we're fighting for tens of millions of parents and students and graduates to make sure that they have an equal chance. This is all about: whose side are you on? And we're on the side of students and graduates and parents.
From Day One
Representative Joe Crowley went next, expanding on the education theme.
[E]ducation doesn't start at college. And we also know that our children only have one real shot -- one real shot at a quality education. And it's imperative that they get off to the right start, the right jumpstart. Decades of studies have found that quality pre-school not only leads to higher academic achievement and stronger job benefits, but it also lowers crime and delinquency levels -- and even more importantly, it reduces poverty, which really is the cause for the prior two issues.
So while House Republicans voted to limit access to early childhood education and essentially squashed the hopes and dreams of America's children, House Democrats will pass legislation to expand access to education and make the investments needed to set our children on a path of future success. Our legislation, the "Strong Start for America's Children Act"... is a bold, ten-year, federal/state partnership to expand and improve early learning opportunities for our children. This bill will expand access to pre-school for four-year-olds and make critical investments to improve the quality of child care for infants and toddlers. We want to jumpstart the middle class, and that must include jumpstarting our children's education -- not when they're going to college, but from Day One.
When Women Succeed, America Succeeds
Majority Leader Pelosi finished up the laundry list, with a measure targeted directly at women voters. This one has a snappier title than other agenda items, which could make it more memorable to the voters. Pelosi, in general, is a lot better at presenting complex legislative ideas as snappy soundbites.
But one of the best actions that we can take to increase and grow our economy is to increase the role of women in our economy. Our agenda for women and families is "When Women Succeed, America Succeeds." This is not just the title of our agenda; this is a statement of absolute fact. And our agenda presents a stark contrast to what the Republicans have done to roll back women's rights and limit women's opportunities.
You've heard our three categories: (1) Make It In America. (2) Affordable Education to Keep America Number One. This is all about our country. And (3) When Women Succeed, America Succeeds -- when Republicans have refused to ensure equal pay for equal work, reduced access to affordable child care and voted against paid sick leave for men and women.
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