Posts from Josh Israel

GOP congressman voted for tax cuts, now says America is too indebted to pay for appropriations bill

Josh Israel

Josh Israel Senior Investigative Reporter, Think Progress

Rep. Lloyd Smucker (R-PA) voted against a bill last week that would fund the Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education for the next year.

His reasoning? He says the measure included “support of taxpayer-funded abortions” — which it does not — and that he does not believe the nation can afford that, after tax cuts he voted for massively expanded the budget deficit.

Smucker is a longtime opponent of abortion rights. In his bi-weekly newsletter — delivered Sunday and tweeted out on Monday — the second-term congressman explained his objection in a section called “In Defense of the Unborn.”

“Last week, the House Democrats offered a spending package (H.R. 2740) that will spend billions more than our current budget caps allow—including in support of taxpayer-funded abortions,” he wrote.

“Our nation is more than $20 trillion in debt, and longstanding policy has been to separate abortion from healthcare funding. The bill would overturn these provisions and would also undermine other critical protections for the lives of the unborn. I couldn’t support these provisions and opposed the bill.”

Smucker included a link to a floor speech from Friday in which he railed against the provisions.

While the bill, which cleared the House, would continue limited funding for fetal tissue research and would lift a gag order by President Donald Trump for family planning providers who mention abortion, it does not actually provide any funding for abortions.

“Hyde Amendment” prohibitions also were included in the bill, which would make it harder for poor women and gender minorities to access abortions.

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Oops: Trump admitted he blew up the infrastructure deal, not Democrats

Josh Israel

Josh Israel Senior Investigative Reporter, Think Progress

President Donald Trump blew up talks with congressional Democratic leaders on Wednesday, vowing that he would not do anything to address America’s crumbling infrastructure — an issue he has repeatedly cited as a chance for bipartisan cooperation — until Congress stopped doing oversight of his administration.

Trump met with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) on Wednesday morning, ostensibly to discuss a path forward on legislation to rebuild roads and bridges. Last month, the trio had agreed to the outlines of a $2 trillion infrastructure spending plan. But with congressional Republicans and his own advisers reportedly objecting to the cost, it quickly became apparent that Trump had little intention to actually reach an agreement at this meeting.

Minutes after the meeting, Trump appeared in the White House Rose Garden and announced that he was angry that his campaign’s Russian ties and his repeated attempts to obstruct investigations are still being scrutinized even after he (falsely) declared himself totally exonerated by special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation.

He admitted at the podium he was the one to scuttle infrastructure talks before they even began.

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Republican congressman suggests GOP spent 8 years saving their health care plan for 2019

Josh Israel

Josh Israel Senior Investigative Reporter, Think Progress

Rep. Greg Walden (R-OH), who chaired the powerful House Committee on Energy and Commerce until the 2018 blue wave cost his party its control of Congress, went on Fox News Tuesday to denounce Medicare for All and other proposals to create a single-payer system for health care. Asked about his party’s lack of an alternative, he suggested that they would have had one had they kept their majority.

Walden has been in Congress for just over 20 years. His party held the majority for 16 of them. Since 2011, they spent much of their time pushing to “repeal and replace” the Affordable Care Act, although most of their more than 50 attempts to kill the bill (in whole or part) were more focused on the “repeal” and less on the “replace.” In May of 2017, Walden voted for the wildly unpopular Trumpcare proposal, which would have taken health insurance away from an estimated 14 million people.

Walden said on Tuesday that the single-payer proposals were a “complete government takeover” of the health care system and would turn the United States into Venezuela.  Citing a single example of a Canadian woman who had a long wait for a cancer diagnosis under that country’s system, he predicted “If you think it’s fun to wait in line at DMV, you’ll gonna love [Sen.] Bernie Sanders’ [(I-VT)] wait times for Medicare for All.”

But pressed by Fox News to explain what his party’s solution was, Walden claimed that they would have tamed the nation’s growing health care costs had they only kept control of the House.

“I want to go after costs of health care,” he said. “If I had remained as chairman, if Republicans had stayed in the majority, that was our focus: to get drug costs down, find out why hospital costs are so high, look at every part of this medical industrial complex.”

Walden did not indicate why he, his committee, and his party did not do this during their time in the majority.

Fox News is very mad that a union endorsed Biden

Josh Israel

Josh Israel Senior Investigative Reporter, Think Progress

The International Association of Fire Fighters, a labor union representing more than 300,000 firefighters and emergency medical service providers, endorsed Democrat Joe Biden’s 2020 presidential campaign on Monday. Fox and Friends host Brian Kilmeade apparently found this very concerning.

In a Monday morning interview with the union’s general president, Harold Schaitberger, Kilmeade repeatedly demanded to know why the mandatory union dues for the “many of those firefighters” who actually support President Donald Trump would be used to elect a candidate they oppose.

Schaitberger explained that the group’s voluntary political action committee donations, not its union dues, would be used for political spending — but Kilmeade would not relent.

“Are you using their dues for Joe Biden?” Kilmeade asked of the union’s Trump supporters.

“Our role is to represent all of them in their profession,” Schaitberger began to respond.

“Right. Are you using their money to support Joe Biden?” Kilmeade pressed.

“We are using the money that those that choose to contribute to our political PAC, we use on their behalf in the political arena. Those that choose to make those contributions,” he replied.

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Trump’s tax cuts for Betsy DeVos and the very rich are being paid for by education cuts

Josh Israel

Josh Israel Senior Investigative Reporter, Think Progress

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos will testify before Congress on Wednesday about her priorities for the department just weeks after she proposed billions of dollars in cuts for education spending in fiscal year 2020.

DeVos has labeled the cuts “tough choices,” but new analysis from the Center for American Progress Action Fund (CAPAF) shows DeVos’ personal savings from the 2017 GOP tax bill alone could have covered a significant chunk of them.

(ThinkProgress is an editorially independent news site housed within CAPAF.)

According to her 2018 personal financial disclosures, DeVos’ income was somewhere between $46.8 million and $109 million, mostly stemming from LLCs, limited partnerships, and distributive shares. CAPAF’s analysis estimates the Trump tax cuts likely saved her $10 million or more in the last year alone.

Seth Hanlon, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress who focuses on federal tax and budget policy, said DeVos was “illustrative of the windfall that extremely wealthy business owners were handed in 2017.”

“Because her family’s company, Amway, is — as we found out from a letter they sent to Congress — structured as an S-corporation,” he explained, DeVos’ holdings were eligible for a special new deduction created in the tax bill. The tax changes Trump and Republicans implemented in 2017 actually reduced the top rate for these types of holdings from 39.6% to 29.6% taxation.

“They sold this new deduction as a small business tax cut, but the kinds of businesses that really benefit are Amway, the Trump Organization, and their owners,” Hanlon said.

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Fox News tells Americans to stop complaining about their shrunken tax refunds

Josh Israel

Josh Israel Senior Investigative Reporter, Think Progress

As Americans begin to prepare their 2018 federal tax returns, many are facing the unpleasant surprise that their tax refunds will be smaller this year or that they may even owe money to the government. This comes despite — or perhaps because of — the tax bill passed by the Republican Congress in late 2017 and signed by President Donald Trump, which Trump falsely promised would give everyone a tax cut, but actually raised taxes on many middle class Americans.

On Wednesday, Fox & Friends attempted to spin the situation, blaming taxpayers who should have somehow known to have adjust their withholding a year ago and should have saved more.

Noting that the average tax refund has dropped 8.4 percent since last year, guest and Fox Business Network host Charles Payne claimed Americans should have used their “fatter paychecks” more wisely.

“Here’s the thing. For the most part, the IRS is telling everyone that they just simply did not make the proper adjustments on the withholding at the beginning of the year. So they have been making all of this money,” he said.

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Mulvaney says Trump may still force another shutdown despite adequate funding

Josh Israel

Josh Israel Senior Investigative Reporter, Think Progress

President Donald Trump’s acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney said Sunday that the administration “absolutely cannot” rule out another government shutdown — even though he also claimed that there is plenty of money already available for Trump to build his unpopular wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.

Bipartisan congressional negotiators are running out of time to reach an agreement on legislation to keep the government funded after the current three-week continuing resolution expires on February 15.

Trump ran for president in 2016 on a promise that he would build a wall along the entire southern border and that it would be funded entirely by Mexico. After Mexico refused, Trump has demanded $5.7 billion in U.S. taxpayer funding this year to begin construction on the project.

Earlier this year, he forced the longest partial government shutdown in the nation’s history in an unsuccessful attempt to get Congress to appropriate that money.  But Mulvaney said on Sunday that Trump can legally build the wall even if he does not get new appropriations.

On Fox News Sunday, Mulvaney vowed that Trump is going to build the wall, period. “We’ll take as much money as you can give us. And then we’ll go off and find the money someplace else — legally — in order to secure that southern barrier. But this is going to get built, with or without Congress.”

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House Republicans resort to wacky excuses to reject ending Trump’s shutdown

Josh Israel

Josh Israel Senior Investigative Reporter, Think Progress

House Republicans are offering a series of strange justifications for refusing to join their Democratic colleagues in supporting legislation that would end President Trump’s government shutdown, which is about to set a record as the longest ever.

Democrats passed a series of bills this week to reopen parts of the federal government that are currently closed due to the partial shutdown, with only a few Republican votes joining in support of the legislation.

While Trump has vowed to veto these bills unless Congress gives him billions of taxpayer dollars for a border wall he promised would be funded entirely by Mexico, lawmakers could override a presidential veto if two-thirds of the House and Senate backed the bills.

Instead, House Republicans have offered a litany of excuses for their opposition to bills, which were crafted to match bipartisan Senate spending bills endorsed by the body last year. While some played on the notion that the House should never give the Senate what it wants, many noted that their pet pork projects were not adequately funded — and thus, they preferred to let government agencies including Treasury, Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, Agriculture, and Interior continue to be shuttered with no funding whatsoever.

The gripes shared during the House debate included:

Dead House members wouldn’t like the process.

Rep. Robert Aderholt (R-AL) argued that even though the bills received overwhelming support from senators from both parties last year, they should be rejected because the House was not involved. “The other side wants to claim that these bills are bipartisan, but they are clearly not bicameral, and they have no input from the 435 House Members,” he said. “Some of the great House appropriators of our time on both sides of the aisle would probably be rolling over in their graves right now if they knew of such a move to take up Senate spending bills without any House input.”

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

Josh Israel

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

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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Union Matters

PRO Act Would Put Power Back in Workers’ Hands

By Kathleen Mackey
USW Intern

Between 1935 and 1965, union membership rose precipitously in the United States. Wages increased in tandem with productivity, benefits improved, the middle class blossomed and income inequality dwindled.

Those good times are over, however. After 1965, the rate of unionization steadily fell from the high of about 30 percent to 10.5 percent now. Wages stagnated after 1970, even as productivity increased. Income inequality rose to Gilded Age rates.

This was no accident. It was a result of a calculated campaign launched by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and financially fed by corporations and right wing billionaires. They secured appointment of conservative, anti-union judges who ruled against unions. They bankrolled right-wing political candidates who passed anti-union legislation. And they subsidized anti-union organizations that taught corporations how to skirt the law and twist workers’ arms to defeat union organization efforts at workplaces.

Now, however, Democrats in the U.S. House and U.S. Senate have introduced legislation intended to reverse the union slide by restoring workers’ rights. 

The Protecting the Right to Work (PRO) Act, introduced on May 2, would make it easier for workers to form unions and would more effectively punish employers that violate the rights of workers trying to organize.

The proposed law would facilitate unionization, which Democrats believe would raise workers’ wages and reduce income inequality. Union workers earn about 13 percent more than nonunion workers and receive better benefits and pensions.

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The Richest Fantasy

The Richest Fantasy