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OpEdge: Two Agendas for America’s Future

Marc Jampole
May 18, 2015

by Marc Jampole

Elizabeth WarrenWE’VE SEEN two agendas for America’s future released within a 24-hour period: the new Contract for America by New York City Mayor Bill De Blasio and Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren (in order of size of population represented), which they presented in Washington, D.C., and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s plan to grow the economy and raise incomes, which he sketched in a Wall Street Journal opinion piece.

These two plans could not be more different in tone, underlying assumptions, recommendations, or targeted constituencies. They also differ in terms of the underlying factual basis of their proposals.

In Christie’s case, there is almost no factual basis to believe what he wants to do will kick-start economic growth and raise incomes. Basically he advocates more of what has choked the country for thirty-five years. Christie wants to reduce taxes on the wealthy and on corporations, simplify taxes in a revenue-neutral way (which is Republican-speak for wanting to continue to starve the government of needed funds), reduce government regulation, and base our national energy policy on exploration of fossil fuels.

Christie must have a super-tiny, itsy-bitsy, skinny-as-a-rail attention span, because what he’s proposing is the basic playbook that has led to the greatest transfer of wealth and income in world history: the flow of money from the poor and middle class to the wealthy in the United States since 1980.

Christie proffers the reality-defying idea that with lower taxes, businesses will invest more in growth and conduct more research and development. It hasn’t happened yet, and once more, it never happens. When government programs take money from the middle class and the poor and give it to the wealthy, all that happens is that the wealthy get richer and the overall economy weakens. That’s what has happened during the past three decades and it’s what happened during the Gilded Age in 19th century America, in the 17th century French ancien regime, and in 16th century Spain under Phillip II.

Christie does have one half of a good idea, which is to eliminate the payroll tax for employees under 21 and over 62, to encourage employers to hire new workers and those near retirement to keep working. I call it half a good idea, because payroll taxes include both Social Security and Medicare. I would propose eliminating only the Social Security portion of the payroll tax for these age groups and only eliminating the employee’s side for those over 62, so the employer would keep paying for the experienced worker. Furthermore, to fund the loss of revenues to the Social Security Trust Fund, I would remove the cap on income assessed by the Social Security tax.

Other than this one pint-sized, skinny idea, Christie’s proposals help but one constituency, the ultra-wealthy, whose bank accounts are already bulging from federal and state government actions of the past three decades.

I WOULD LOVE to write that, unlike Good King Christie of Crony Capitalism, Warren and De Blasio are true patriots whose recommendations are based on facts and who don’t deal in the devious obfuscation like Christie and the other factotums of the ultrawealthy do. But I can’t say for sure, since not one news media outlet — not one — printed the entire thirteen points of De Blasio and Warren’s “Progressive Agenda,” preferring to focus on the absurdly irrelevant question: Is it appropriate for the Mayor to be traveling around the country instead of working at his job? (A question never asked of the globe-trotting Michael Bloomberg.)

Unfortunately, as of this writing, no progressive organization has yet put the plan online either, so we can’t completely blame the news media for not being able to find all thirteen points. If De Blasio, Warren, and other progressive are serious about pushing their program, they are going to have to reach out directly to people and not depend on a rightward looking mainstream media that prefers to reduce issues to personalities, faux pas, and horse races. I’ll keep looking for a formal thirteen-point proposal and present an analysis if and when I find it.

What we do know about the “Progressive Agenda” sounds like it’s exactly what the doctor ordered for the U.S. economy:

  • Close the “carried interest” loophole in the tax code that enables hedge fund managers to avoid paying taxes on most of their income.
  • The “Buffett Rule,” named after America’s favorite billionaire, which would assess a minimum of 30 percent in federal income taxes on anyone who makes at least a million a year, about .3 percent of tax payers.
  • Increasing the minimum wage to $15 an hour and indexing it to inflation.
  • Instituting universal pre-kindergarten.
  • Requiring employers to provide mandatory paid sick leave.

Taken as a whole, these plans take money from the wealthy and give it to the poor and the middle class, which reverses the trend since 1980. Let’s hope that the other eight proposals fronted by De Blasio and Warren also redistribute income downward, because that’s what this country needs.

I admire the political savvy exercised by De Blasio, Warren, and Bernie Sanders to aggressively push the progressive agenda at this time. The earlier they get started, the more leftward they will be able to move Hillary Clinton. Just as important, moving her left early will keep the Democratic primaries from becoming a divisive blood bath.

Marc Jampole, a member of our editorial board, is a poet and writer who runs Jampole Communications, a public relations and communications firm in Pittsburgh. He blogs several times a week at OpEdge.