Not just Hill interns: Public office pays so little, it’s the realm of the rich and retired

Josh Israel Senior Investigative Reporter, Think Progress

When Arnie Arnesen was elected to the New Hampshire state House of Representatives in 1984, she was 31 years old and pregnant. “I couldn’t afford infant daycare,” she remembers, “so I showed up and breastfed on the floor of the House.”

Her district was well northwest of the state capitol, so the combination of the commute and her legislative duties kept her more than a little busy: “How do you have a job where you’re traveling down to Concord — an hour and a half each way, three days a week — and think you could have a life? I took it as an opportunity even though it was a financial liability.”

For her hard work, Arnesen received a $100 salary from the state’s treasury — per year.

The state’s lawmakers have never gotten a pay raise. Since 1889, the New Hampshire constitution has set the salary for its state legislators at $200 per two-year term (about $5,500 in today’s money). “When they put the $200 in the constitution,” Arnesen said, “that was half the average wage of a New Hampshire worker. It reflected a reasonable salary, but that’s never changed. And the question is why not? They don’t want young people [or] diversity.” The result, she says, is that over her four terms in the House and in the decades since, the state legislature has been almost exclusively “made up of the rich, the retired, and the remunerated — because they don’t need the cash.”

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House Democrats have a plan to actually drain the swamp. Senate Republicans are going to hate it.

Josh Israel Senior Investigative Reporter, Think Progress

House Democrats gained at least 40 seats in the November 2018 midterm elections, in part based on their promise to fight the culture of corruption that festered under the GOP’s control. As they usher in the 116th Congress on Thursday, the new House Majority plans to hit the ground running with two packages to actually drain the swamp and take on the for-profit Trumpadministration. But with Republicans still controlling the Senate, one of those packages is likely going to run into the massive anti-reform roadblock that is Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY).

As promised, incoming Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and her new majority plan to kick off the new Congress with a major sweeping anti-corruption bill — designated as H.R. 1 — and a series of House rule changes (H. Res. 6) that will address weaknesses in the House’s own operating policies.

Alex Tausanovitch, associate director of the democracy and government reform team at the Center for American Progress, called the rules changes a “down-payment on their efforts to fight corruption” that “shows they’re serious about taking on this culture of corruption we’ve seen proliferate in the past few years.” [ThinkProgress is an editorially independent project of the Center for American Progress Action Fund].

Those changes include a prohibition on members of Congress — like indicted New York Rep. Chris Collins (R) — serving on corporate boards, mandatory annual ethics training for all members, an expanded ban on sexual relationships between members and staffers, a new ombudsman for whistleblowers, and a formal ban on non-disclosure agreements (which have been used to conceal sexual harassment).

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These companies claimed the GOP tax bill would ‘boost jobs.’ Now they’re laying off employees.

Josh Israel Senior Investigative Reporter, Think Progress

In the lead-up to the enactment of the Tax Cut and Jobs Act, Donald Trump’s massive tax cut that mostly benefited rich people and big corporations, a coalition of powerful business interests formed with one major priority in mind: slashing the corporate tax rate. The Reforming America’s Taxes Equitably (RATE) Coalition comprised dozens of companies and trade groups that all insisted lowering corporate taxes would mean more jobs.

A ThinkProgress review found that about half of RATE Coalition’s members have made layoffs since the law’s enactment. In other words, not only did the expensive tax cut not bring more jobs, it couldn’t even forestall significant job losses.

In 2017, the RATE Coalition’s website identified 32 companies and trade groups who had come together around the singular mission to “reform the tax code, making it fairer and simpler and improving the prospects of growth and jobs in the U.S. economy by reducing the corporate income tax rate to make it more competitive with our nation’s major trading partners.” Together, they constituted a 501(c)(4) tax-exempt organization (first launched in 2011) and promised that a corporate tax rate reduction would “boost job creation and economic growth.”

Their membership list was a who’s who of Big Business: Aetna Inc., AT&T, Altria Client Services, Association of American Railroads, Boeing, Brown-Forman, Capital One, Cox Enterprises, CVS Caremark, Edison Electric Institute, FedEx, Ford, General Dynamics, Home Depot, Intel, Kimberly-Clark, Liberty Media, Lockheed Martin, Macy’s, National Retail Federation, Nike, Northrop Grumman, Raytheon, Reynolds American, S&P Global, Southern Company, Synchrony Financial, T-Mobile, UPS, Verizon, Viacom, and Walmart.

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The GOP strategy to make the midterm elections about bigotry pretty much failed

Josh Israel Senior Investigative Reporter, Think Progress

After President Donald Trump won in 2016 on a platform of nativism, xenophobia, racism, and a false promise that Mexico would fund a giant wall along the U.S.’s southern border, he and his party apparently believed that appeals to bigotry and division were the way to win elections. But while the White House, GOP party committees, allied outside groups, and midterm candidates employed an array of dog-whistle and plainly racist attacks against Democratic candidates, it did not have the desired results in last week’s 2018 midterms.

There were certainly instances in which racist candidates and divisive tactics were successful. Former Rep. Ron DeSantis (R-FL) appears to havfe eked out a very narrow win against a black Democrat whom he compared to a monkey. Indicted Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA) won after smearing his Christian opponent, a Latino-Arab American, of secretly being a “radical Muslim” and a “security risk.” Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA) was victorious in a close race against an opponent he tied to a convicted cop-killer with race-baiting ads. Though it was much closer than his previous wins, white supremacist Rep. Steve King (R-IA) held onto his House seat.

But on a larger scale, the attacks mostly flopped.

Xenophobic attacks against Tom O’Halleran (AZ-1)

Republican challenger Wendy Rogers challenged first-term Rep. Tom O’Halleran (D-AZ) over his opposition to Trump’s anti-immigrant agenda. Her ad called Honduran refugees “invaders” and warned that if O’Halleran and Democrats won, the borders would be “opened” and “our America” would be “gone forever.” Voters didn’t buy it, and they re-elected him easily.

Anti-Asian attacks against Andy Kim (NJ-3)

Rep. Tom MacArthur (R) lost to Democrat Andy Kim, a national security expert whose parents immigrated from South Korea. The New Jersey GOP sent a racist mailer to voters in the district using images of a fish market juxtaposed next to Kim’s name written in a font similar to Chinese take-out restaurants, and a prominent GOP super PAC ad accused Kim of being “not one of us.” In a debate, MacArthur refused to denounce the attacks and suggested Kim was falsely crying racism to get sympathy.

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What you can do to protect your right to vote in hard times

Josh Israel Senior Investigative Reporter, Think Progress

Marc Solomon is a long-time political strategist who literally wrote the book on the campaign to bring marriage equality to America. So when he moved to New Jersey, registering to vote was an important priority for him. The state’s arcane law requires handwritten voter registration applications, and the registrar’s office in his county incorrectly read his last name as “Soloman.” Trouble ensued.

When he attempted to obtain a vote-by-mail ballot, his request was rejected because the registrar could not match his Social Security number with his (incorrectly spelled) name. While this administrative error was likely inadvertent and may be rectifiable before Election Day — unlike many of the obstacles American citizens can face in their effort to exercise their right to vote — Solomon is hardly alone in finding his participation in Election 2018 may take some extra effort.

And while the battle to make sure that no citizen is disenfranchised will play out now and in the future at the ballot box, in the courts, and in legislatures, Common Cause National Campaigns and Digital Director Jesse Littlewood told ThinkProgress, that there are several steps everyone can take to make sure their vote counts in the November 6 elections.

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After blowing up the deficit with tax cuts, these Republicans want credit for fiscal responsibility

Josh Israel Senior Investigative Reporter, Think Progress

“The federal fiscal burden threatens the security, liberty, and independence of our nation,” the 2016 Republican party platform warned. To get off “the path to
bankrupting the next generation,” they vowed to “fight for Congress to adopt, and for the states to ratify, a Balanced Budget Amendment.”

Now that the GOP controls Congress and the White House, however, the party has apparently abandoned these principles. Rather than move toward a balanced budget, the GOP majority and President Trump instead have massively increased the budget deficit they once decried, thanks in large part to the tax bill they passed. And yet that has not stopped Republicans from audaciously running on a balanced budget again in 2018.

A ThinkProgress review of House Republicans running for re-election in districts deemed competitive by the Cook Political Report found 18 of them explicitly call for a constitutional amendment to require a balanced budget on their current campaign re-election websites, yet also voted for massive Trump tax cuts for corporations and the wealthy. The plan is predicted cost the government more than $1 trillion in revenue, massively increasing the current budget deficit.

Thirteen of those lawmakers also voted for the 2018 omnibus spending bill, which cost another $1.3 trillion. Combined, these helped swell the annual federal budget deficit (which was $584 billion in Fiscal Year 2016) to an estimated $1 trillion starting next year.

The hypocrites include:

  1. Rep. French Hill (AR-2). Hill voted for both the tax cuts for the rich and the omnibus spenidng bill. Still, he complains on his campaign site that “Washington spending is out of control and bankrupting our country,” and boasts, “While in Congress, I have co-sponsored two versions of balanced budget amendments to the U.S. Constitution to bring our spending in line. We must take the necessary steps to ensure that all taxpayer dollars are being used wisely, and we can no longer kick the can down the road on mandatory spending. Our children and grandchildren depend on us to solve our debt problem and give them a brighter future.”
  2. Rep. David Schweikert (AZ-6). Schweikert voted for the tax cuts for the rich. Yet he warns that “Our national debt is out of control,” and says, “Throughout his term, David has also sponsored real reforms like a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution that would mandate that Congress balance the budget each year.”
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Trumpcare breaks every promise Trump made about health care

Josh Israel Senior Investigative Reporter, Think Progress

On the campaign trail, one of Donald Trump’s most oft-repeated promises was that he would repeal the Affordable Care Act, commonly known as Obamacare, and replace it with “something terrific.” This mythical, magical, secret plan was largely left to the imagination of voters, but he did make a few claims about what it would include.

Trump promised that his replacement would be “a lot less expensive” for consumers and for the government. “You know who makes the money with Obamacare? I don’t know if you know. The insurance companies,” he explained.

On 60 Minutes in September of 2015, Trump vowed that everyone would be covered if he won. “I am going to take care of everybody. I don’t care if it costs me votes or not. Everybody’s going to be taken care of much better than they’re taken care of now.”

Pressed for specifics, he explained that “people are going to be able to go out and negotiate great plans with lots of different competition with lots of competitors with great companies and they can have their doctors, they can have plans, they can have everything.”

Trump reiterated his pledge that every American would get coverage at a February 2016 MSNBC town hall. “We’re going to take care of them. We’re going to take care of them. We have to take care of them. Now, that’s not single payer. That’s not anything. That’s just human decency.”

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McConnell finally admits ending ‘war on coal’ might not bring back jobs

Josh Israel Senior Investigative Reporter, Think Progress

In 2013, then-Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) took to the Senate floor to excoriate the Obama administration’s environmental policy and its impact of coal jobs in eastern Kentucky.

Noting a recent listening session in Pikeville, Kentucky, McConnell sought “to put a human face on the suffering that is being felt in Appalachia due in large part to this administration’s war on coal.” He displayed a photo depicting two of “over 5,000 Kentuckians who have lost their jobs in the war on coal, two of the casualties from the president’s war on coal.” The longtime EPA critic drew a direct line between the agency’s emissions standards and the loss of jobs for his constituents.


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What Trump Promised America, Specifically

Josh Israel Senior Investigative Reporter, Think Progress

In his first speech as president-elect, Donald Trump pledged to “be president for all Americans” and to work with supporters and critics alike to “unify our great country.” Now that it is apparent that — likely without a plurality of the votes — the nation has selected him to lead the country, it will now be up to him to deliver on his promises to “make America great again.”

With GOP majorities in both houses of Congress for at least the next two years and what will likely be a friendly Supreme Court, Americans will now see what happens trying things his way.

Here is what the Trump administration must now deliver to keep his promises:

Bringing back jobs.

Trump’s acceptance speech promised “millions of new jobs.” He later put a number on this: as many as 25 million jobs over the next 10 years and better than 4 percent GDP growth. To do this, he proposed renegotiating or canceling trade deals, tax cuts, deregulation, and reducing our spending on defense of our allies. He said that he alone can fix the system rigged against American workers. He said his plan would be the most pro-growth policy “perhaps in the history of our country.” Americans should expect Trump to “fix the system so it works for all Americans” and spark massive job growth.

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Ted Cruz Vows To Make ‘Grave Mistake’ And Back Trump

Josh Israel Senior Investigative Reporter, Think Progress

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) thinks a Donald Trump presidency would be “a grave mistake.” But, he reaffirmed Sunday, he would support him as the GOP presidential nominee anyway.

On CNN’s State of the Union host Jake Tapper asked Cruz on Sunday about recent denunciations of Trump by Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) and other conservatives.

Cruz joined in on the attacks, blasting Trump for his historical support of Planned Parenthood and late-term abortion rights, his promise to “stay neutral between Israel and the Palestinians,” and his “longtime support of expanding Obamacare into Bernie Sanders-style socialized medicine, putting the government in charge of your health care, putting government bureaucrats into a position to ration your care, especially that of seniors.”

Noting that like Cruz has suggested Trump presidency would be “a grave mistake,” host Jake Tapper asked if he would still support his rival should he win the nomination.

“I will support the Republican nominee. Period. The end,” Cruz replied.

Watch the video:

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