Saturday, March 30, 2013

What ever Happened to Wall Street & Tax Reform?

All polls show that members of Congress are indeed voting on issues that are most favorable to their wealthiest campaigns contributors, and are ignoring most other opinions of the majority of their constituents, except for on the wedge issues.

The majority of Americans want campaign finance reform. Most Americans want Citizens United overturned. The majority of Americans also want the federal election laws changed. And they don't want limitations placed on voting rights (such as restricting the days and hours for voting). And they also want to stop the manipulation of congressional gerrymandering of state districts. And most Americans would like to change the way the electoral college decides our elections.

The majority of Americans want federally funded elections with limitations on campaign donations, so that politicians can be more beholden to the voters, rather than to special interests who contribute unlimited sums of money to SuperPACs. The majority of Americans want unrestricted and honest democracy, knowing that when they vote, their votes really will matter.

The majority of Americans want "wedge issues" (e.g. same-sex marriage, immigration reform, gun safety laws, etc.), just like every other important piece of congressional legislation, to be voted on separately, in "up-and-down" votes on the floors of the House and in the Senate, and not filibustered by one lone anonymous obstructionist, or amended to other important legislative bills that are pending in Congress. The voters have a right to witness what their elected representatives are voting on, either for or against, rather than have them hide behind legal and procedural gimmicks that members of Congress think might save their seat in the next election cycle. The American people want them all on the record. (The Senate recently passed a budget for the first time in four years that had more than 500 amendments.)

Americans also want Congressional reform. They want an end the "revolving door policy", where members of Congress who usually vote on issues that mostly favor the largest corporations and banks, can't later go work for those same corporations and banks after they leave public office. Most Americans want the lobbying on K Street to be very reformed, so that the people's opinions also matter.

But members of Congress (in both political parties) benefits from the current status quo, and so therefore, have steadfastly refused to make any of these changes that most Americans want. The only thing Congress has managed to reform was to put very slight restrictions on themselves for the insider trading of stocks (and that was only because of a public outcry, rather than because it was the right thing to do). How can the American people ever get the members of Congress (in both political parties) to reform themselves?

And the majority of Americans also want to reform our banking system and Wall Street. But for most members Congress, those places must seem so dark, so corrupt, and so evil --- that even our bravest elected representatives refuse to visit those places --- especially in broad daylight. They are all very well aware that these people, those with so much wealth and power, can also be very ruthless, and sometimes, even dangerous.

And too much money in the hands of the wrong person, such as an apathetic psychopath, can be utterly horrific, because items on the psychopath checklist include a grandiose sense of self worth and a lack of empathy -- characteristics that are, unfortunately, rewarded in our society. As to our population, a proportionate number of those who fall into this category can be found in the corporate boardrooms, on Wall Street, and on the floors of our Congress.

Rather than fully implementing and enforcing the Dodd–Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, the politicians in Congress have only been more willing to compromise on ideological wedge issues, more so than on the more serious economic matters, such as reforming the tax code, or creating jobs that pay a living wage, or compromising on raising the minimum wage --- issues that actually affect the vast majority of ordinary American lives on a daily basis.

And like Congress, the corporate mainstream media also seems perfectly willing to spend more time and energy on the wedge issues as well. Why haven't they and Congress been more focused on the major (and still ongoing) problems with jobs and the economy?

The attention that's been focused on same-sex marriage, immigration reform, and gun safety laws are all well and good, and these issues should be debated, and new laws should be passed, if that's what the majority of the Americans want. But why can't our Senators and Representatives chew gum and walk down the halls of Congress at the same time?

And lately, when members of Congress do listen to the public's opinion, and when they do compromise with each other in Congress, it's usually just on the wedge issues, on policies that don't have any affect at all on the financial industry, a corporation's bottom line, or the take-home-pay of a CEO after capital gains taxes are deducted.

A tidal wave of politicians from both sides of the aisle, who just a few years ago opposed same-sex marriage, are now coming around to support it. The latest ABC News/Washington Post poll finds support for marriage equality at the highest in the ten years, with 58 percent of Americans in favor.

A significant number of elected officials, who had once been against allowing undocumented immigrants to become American citizens, are now talking about "charting a path" for them. A new Pew survey finds that seven in 10 Americans (71 percent) say there should be a way for people in the United States illegally to remain in this country if they meet certain requirements. Recently a deal was announced, a temporary guest worker program that would grant up to 200,000 new visas every year for low-skilled workers (which, after reading the details, this blogger is against).

Even a few politicians, who are staunch gun advocates, are now sounding more reasonable about background checks. Polls show broad support for universal background checks, and for closing the gun-show loophole. (And why not? By law, we all have to register our cars, apply for a driver's license, and buy auto insurance --- even though we have a Constitutional right to access the highways and byways of the land, although sometimes there are certain restrictions and requirements.)

Most politicians seem to have a keen sense of the "tipping point" when it comes to public opinion, and many now support equal marriage rights, immigration reform and gun safety. The exception though is their stance on Wall Street reform and taxes, where public opinion never seems to matter.

Before January's fiscal cliff deal, at least 60 percent of Americans, in poll after poll, expressed strong support for raising taxes on incomes over $250,000. But the deal Congress had made raised that to $450,000. That was NOT the deal that the majority of Americans had wanted.

Only the CEOs of large corporations and banks earn that kind of money, but a great portion of their salaries are paid as stock-options and taxed at the much lower rate as capital gains. So raising that limit was mostly just a symbolic gesture. That was NOT the deal that the majority of Americans had wanted and voted for last November; they wanted something more similar to the Buffett Rule.

And most Americans weren't particularly concerned about the budget deficit to begin with. They've been far more concerned about jobs and wages. Yet maneuvers over the deficit have consistently trumped jobs and wages. That was NOT what the majority of Americans had voted for, or wanted, or expressed as their opinions in poll after poll after poll.

Recent polls show that Americans would rather reduce the deficit by raising taxes, NOT by cutting Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, education, and transportation. Yet Congress seems incapable of making that kind of deal. Instead, they've been busy with passing more anti-abortion laws, repealing ObamaCare© and placing more restrictions on voter's rights.

And 65 percent of Americans want to raise taxes on large corporations (such as having them pay the "statutory" tax rate of 35%, rather than an "effective" rate of only 8.1%) -- but both parties in Congress are heading against what the majority of Americans want.

Also, half of Americans favor a plan to break up Wall Street's twelve mega-banks, which currently controls 69 percent of the banking industry. But our elected representatives don't want to touch Wall Street. Even the White House believes that the banks are too big to fail and too big to prosecute. Most Americans want to see a few CEOs on Wall Street tried for their crimes against the American people.

Why are our politicians so sensitive to public opinion on wedge issues such as equal marriage rights, immigration, and guns -- and so tone deaf to what most Americans want on jobs, minimum wages, tax reform, Wall Street reform, and the entire economy as a whole?

Robert Reich thinks "it's perhaps because gay marriage, a path to amnesty and any form of gun control doesn't threaten big money in America. But any tinkering with taxes or financial regulations sets off alarm bells in our nation's finely-appointed dining rooms and board rooms --- alarm bells that, in turn, sets off promises of (or threats to withhold) large wads of campaign cash in the next election."

Our politicians seem to be remarkably impervious to public opinion concerning economic issues that might affect the fates of large fortunes, but seem to feign blindness, ignorance, incompetence, or weakness when approaching problems that the majority of the population wants addressed.

And as far as the media (cough-cough) we have David and Charles Koch trying to purchase the Chicago Tribune, the Baltimore Sun, and the Los Angeles Times -- and Rupert Murdoch, who not only has News Corp, also wanted to buy the Los Angeles Times. He once admitted that he would personally involve himself in the editorial process "if he had to". That's all we need, rich ultra-conservative billionaires controlling ALL our lame-stream news.

Robert Reich's post tells of two political scientists who had recently polled a group of Chicago multi-millionaires and found that their biggest concern was budget deficits and government spending (not unemployment). These wealthy individuals were also far less willing to curb deficits by raising taxes on high-income people, and more willing to cut Social Security and Medicare.

They also opposed initiatives to increase spending on schools and raising the minimum wage above the poverty level. They also had more and greater access to members of Congress because of generous political donations.

So who are these politicians really representing? We already know, and we've known for a very long time.

Members of Congress are indeed voting on issues that are most favorable to their wealthiest campaigns contributors, and are ignoring most other opinions of the majority of their constituents, except for on the wedge issues.

* This was also posted at the Daily Kos

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