Pushing Obama from the Left

Mike Lillis writes in The Hill about the challenge President Obama faces as he attempts to play to the center while appeasing ever-rowdier and more extremist Republicans. As he gets ready to unveil his deficit reduction proposal, he risks alienating his base, who if uninspired, may not contribute to his re-election campaign and even stay home in November 2012.

While early reports indicate that Obama may include some good things in his proposal, such as ending some of the tax breaks for the wealthy and reducing military spending as part of his deficit reduction plan, other questions still remain. How strong will those proposals be? And will he include deep Medicare and Medicaid cuts?

...As Obama prepares Wednesday to outline his deficit reduction strategy, liberals worry he’ll embrace Medicare and Medicaid cuts as an olive branch to Republicans in advance of larger fights over the nation’s debt...

..Liberal lawmakers already were irked with Obama’s decision to support upper-income tax cuts he campaigned against and to launch military operations in the Middle East without congressional approval.

Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) this week said Obama should start acting like a Democrat, while two left-wing grassroots groups warned their members could withhold funds from the president’s reelection campaign... The criticisms highlight the problem facing Obama, who is trying to lead from the center without alienating his political base. The White House strategy could help the president with independents, but risks leaving liberals at home in the fall of 2012.

In addition to harsh criticisms coming from the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC), the Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC) released it's own budget, "The People's Budget," to place a flag in the ground to the Left of Obama's centrist position.

The People's Budget includes smart tax proposals: enacting a progressive estate tax, closing corporate tax loopholes, enacting a new set of income tax rates for incomes over a million dollars, and taxing capital gains the same as ordinary income. The plan also includes rolling back military spending and focusing limited federal dollars on job creation programs here at home and upgrading our nation's aging infrastructure.

In addition to the new and stronger push-back coming from progressive in Congress, including the CBC and the CPC, outside organizing is underway to hold Obama accountable to his political base before it's too late.

But the real question is, how hard will progressives push Obama from the Left? Are we willing to push as hard from the Left on Obama as the Tea Party and freshman Republicans are pushing on Rep. Boehner from the Right? In the end, as FDR said after his election and President Obama himself paraphrased, we must "make [him] do it."

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It's Time to Tax Wealth Like Work

When it comes to taxes, not all income is created—or taxed—equal. Despite the time-honored value of rewarding hard work, our tax code gives preferential treatment to income derived from pre-existing wealth instead of income earned from work. 

Take the Tax Fairness Pledge now!

Here are other things you can do:

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INTERVIEW: Income Inequality & Social Justice in America

In the US, the gap is widening fast between fewer and fewer rich people and everyone else. Do Americans care? 

Columbia professor and Responsible Wealth member Eric Schoenberg joined Warren Olney, host of KCRW Los Angeles' "To the Point," for a conversation about why wealthy and upper-income members of Responsible Wealth support raising taxes on themselves.

Other guests include:

  • Mark Bittman: New York Times 
  • Michael Norton: Harvard Business School 
  • Jason Rink: Foundation for a Free Society 
  • Tom Donlan: Barron's National Business and Financial Weekly 

Download the interview (forward to 18:44 to hear from RW member Eric Schoenberg)

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Proposals to Tax Wealth Like Work

Our current tax system rewards wealth over work by taxing capital gains and dividend income at a much lower rate than salaries and wages. UFE is calling for the restoration of the tax rates on capital gains and dividends to the same rate applied to income earned from work. Various proposals have been put forth to move in that direction.

1. President Obama's proposal to roll back the Bush income tax cuts for the wealthiest households. His proposal would restore the top income tax rates and the capital gains rate to their pre-Bush levels for those earning over $250,000. If the Obama plan were law, the top rate on regular income would be returned to 39.6 percent, while the top rates for dividends and capital gains would be 20 percent. This is a step in the right direction, but it only partially restores capital gains and dividends to the same tax rate as wages. First, capital gains and dividend income below the $250,000 threshold would still be taxed at a rate much lower than income earned from work. For income over that threshold, capital gains and dividends would still be taxed at nearly half the rate on income from work (20 percent vs. 39.6 percent).

2. Rep. Jan Schakowsky's Fairness in Taxation Act (H.R. 1124). This bill would create a new set of income tax brackets of 45% through 49 percent for income in excess of $1 million. The top rate of 49 percent would apply only to the very exclusive group of Americans with income over $1 billion a year. Capital gains and dividend income under the $1 million threshold would still benefit from the preferential rate, but similar income over that threshold would be taxed at full parity with wage and salary income. The Fairness in Taxation Act, including both the income tax rates and the capital gains and dividend rates, would raise $78 billion.

3. The Congressional Progressive Caucus' “People’s Budget.” This plan includes, among other provisions, taxing capital gains and dividends as ordinary income. The bipartisan Deficit Commission included the exact same measure in its December 2010 recommendations.

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VIDEO: What is a Loophole?

What is a loophole? Can you hold one? And if you remove them from state budgets, what could we we actually pay for? Here's a radically moderate perspective on loopholes via video, courtesy of the Washington Bus, an organization that empowers young people through hands-on democracy.

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Fair Taxation Means More Brackets Up Top

Originally published by OtherWords.

So many governors are hammering their budgets with a “we’re broke” message these days that it’s amazing our country hasn’t shattered into a thousand separate islands. More and more, however, rational voices are correctly asserting that we’re not broke.

The problem isn’t that the United States is out of money. It’s that a tiny sliver of households are under-taxed. The richest 10 percent of Americans own almost three-fourths of the country’s total wealth. Astoundingly, the most affluent 1 percent of Americans own more than one-third of our total wealth.

Tax the RichThankfully, the message that our country isn't broke is making its way closer to the center of the tax and deficit debates. It can’t get there soon enough.

Many Republican lawmakers, along with governors like Wisconsin's Scott Walker and Ohio's John Kasich, bizarrely think that they can erase deficits with tens of billions of dollars in budget cuts and tax breaks for corporations and wealthy people who don’t need them. They’re ignoring the greatest economic returns available, which are provided by public investments, federal aid to states, and even unemployment benefits. Instead of helping save the middle class, they're propelling us toward a busted, plutocratic disaster.

The GOP's deficit obsession isn't just misguided. It turns a blind eye on the struggles of low- and middle-income Americans. In contrast, Rep. Jan Schakowsky’s sensible Fairness in Taxation Act would raise taxes on millionaires and billionaires, which better serves the American majority.

Currently, families earning $374,000 pay the exact same federal income tax rates as families with multi-million-dollar incomes, or even the handful who earn a billion bucks every year, such as the heirs of Walmart's founder. The lifestyles of the ultra-wealthy wouldn’t change in the least if they had to pay moderately higher income taxes. And it would boost our national economy.

The Fairness in Taxation Act calls for establishing five new tax brackets for incomes between $1 million and $1 billion, with rates ranging from 45 percent to 49 percent.

The Illinois Democrat's bill would also address an absurd aspect of our tax system, which wrongly favors wealth over work. Today, money earned through working nine-to-five or the graveyard shift is taxed at a higher rate than money obtained through windfalls. Capital gains, dividends, and other investment income derived from pre-existing wealth shouldn't be taxed at rates lower than income earned through work.

Three-quarters of all stocks and mutual funds owned by U.S. taxpayers belong to the richest 10 percent of American households. Therefore, some of the most affluent Americans actually pay lower effective tax rates than many middle-class Americans.

Take, for example, a weasel like Lloyd Blankfein, CEO of Goldman Sachs. He raked in just over $13 million in 2010 (excluding his bonus of some $12 million worth of shares in his company). Of that $13 million, only his base salary of $600,000 will be taxed according to the federal income tax rates. The remaining $12.4 million will be taxed at a top rate of 15 percent. Unfortunately, Blankfein is just one example of the kind of gross inequity that exists in the current tax system.

A century ago, tax policies adopted during President Teddy Roosevelt's administration were guided by sound principles that stand in direct contrast to those of today’s Republicans.

“No man should receive a dollar unless that dollar has been fairly earned,” explained Roosevelt in a 1910 speech. “Every dollar received should represent a dollar's worth of service rendered--not gambling in stocks…I believe in a graduated income tax on big fortunes."

The Fairness in Taxation Act takes aim at the same inequities Teddy Roosevelt--a Republican--identified long ago. If it were enacted this year, it would generate $78 billion that could fund jobs and social programs that Americans need now more than ever.

Repeat after me: we're not broke. It’s time to mandate that the wealthiest members of our communities share in the sacrifice of the economic recovery and pay their fair share. The Fairness in Taxation Act offers a clear path in that direction.

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Corporate Responsibility

When corporations acquire too much power and influence, it threatens the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the health of our democracy. Amid the rising power and political muscle of major corporations in recent decades, the need to counter greedy and harmful corporate practices has grown exponentially.

The Rise of CEO Pay
Executives of corporations receive financial compensation often as a mixture of salary, bonuses, shares of the company stock, etc. Over the past 60 years, executive pay has increased astronomically. In fact, CEO pay in 2009 had more than doubled the CEO pay average for the decade of the 1990s, more than quadrupled the CEO pay average for the 1980s, and ran approximately eight times the CEO average for all the decades of the mid-20th century.  (link: Institute for Policy Studies)

The contrast between executive pay and average worker pay is stunning.  In 2009, CEOs of major US companies averaged 263 times the pay of typical American workers. Back in the 1970s, CEOs made 30 times average worker pay.  To make matters even more galling, taxpayers subsidize these outlandish executive salaries to the tune of more than $20 billion a year through tax and accounting loopholes.

In 2010, Congress passed major health care and financial reform bills, both of which contained small executive compensation related policies. The health care reform bill capped the tax deductibility of health insurance executive pay, and the financial reform bill required that all firms report CEO-worker pay ratios. Much more needs to be done and there’s no shortage of good ideas to reign in outsized executive compensation.

Shareholder Activism
One of the key tools for speaking out against rising CEO pay and harmful corporate practices is shareholder activism. In addition to legislation, it is one of the most powerful tools for advancing corporate reforms.

Corporations are owned by shareholders, who can be individuals or institutions (such as mutual funds). If certain legal and regulatory requirements are met, shareholders are permitted to offer resolutions that get voted on at a corporation’s annual meeting. Shareholder resolution issues can be financial – e.g., executive compensation, predatory lending practices – or non-financial – e.g., board diversity, divestment from particular countries.

Shareholder resolutions are only advisory, meaning that even if a resolution passes, it is not required to be implemented by the corporation. However, resolutions often put unwanted public attention and pressure on corporate leaders and, thus, are used as leverage to win shareholder demands. Read more about shareholder activism here.

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Fairness in Taxation Act Arrives!

Call Congress Today!Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) has introduced a bill that would ensure millionaires and billionaires contribute their fair share toward rebuilding and stabilizing our economy. Now, we need your support to move the bill forward. Please call your Representative and urge him/her to support the Fairness in Taxation Act! (Click here to find your Rep's contact info.)

Income inequality in the U.S. has reached levels not seen since the Great Depression. The policies that made that possible have also created unprecedented disparities of wealth. Today, the top 10 percent of households owns three-fourths of the country's total wealth, and the top one percent alone owns 34 percent!

The Fairness in Taxation Act would generate significant revenue to fund vital public services and infrastructure, while also reducing economic inequality.

Currently, the top tax bracket begins with incomes of $373,000 or more. In essence, households with incomes of several hundred thousand dollars are paying the same rates as those with multi-million or multi-billion dollar incomes.

The Fairness in Taxation Act would add new tax brackets for income starting at $1 million and ends with a $1 billion bracket. The new brackets would be:

  • $1 - $10 million: 45%
  • $10 - $20 million: 46%
  • $20 - $100 million: 47%
  • $100 million - $1 billion: 48%
  • $1 billion and over: 49%

The bill would also tax capital gains and dividend income as ordinary income for those taxpayers with income over $1 million. If enacted in 2011, the Fairness in Taxation Act would raise more than $78 billion.

This bill makes perfect sense. It's a fair and sensible solution to our budget hardships, as it affects only those who can contribute more toward the greater good of our country without sacrificing their livelihoods. That's precisely why it has garnered the support of many wealthy taxpayers, including members of UFE's Responsible Wealth project.

Here's what some high-wealth supporters of the bill had to say:

I think very wealthy people like me should pay substantially higher taxes, since we have done exceedingly well in the last few decades. Our taxpayer-funded government contributed to my success.
– Katharine Myers, Responsible Wealth member, in a March 16, 2011 press conference with Rep. Schakowsky et al.
I strongly support the Fairness in Taxation Act...While I certainly wish to pass on to my children some of the wealth that I have been fortunate to accumulate, I also want my children to live in a country which avoids the political polarization that may develop as the wealth gap increases.
– James E. Mann, Co-owner of New Hampshire Business Development Corp. & Partner in MerchantBanc
[M]y husband and I are huge beneficiaries of government support. Every step of our careers was made possible with taxpayer dollars. We strongly feel the debt we owe our society... [R]aising our taxes would not affect our standard of living...I  heartily support Rep. Jan Schakowsky’s Fairness in Taxation Act.
– Dr. Alice Chenault, Responsible Wealth member
I support the Fairness in Taxation Act...because rich people can afford to pay higher taxes. About 90 percent of my income comes from investments, which currently are taxed at the lower capital gains or dividend rate of 15 percent. I would pay much higher taxes under this bill. That's fine with me, because our government helped contribute to my wealth by protecting the patents I used to start a company.
– Steve Kirsch, CEO of Propel Software Corp.


This bill has been introduced at a time when conservative officials across the country are calling for drastic cuts to education, health care and myriad other programs that will further affect our social and economic integrity.

American workers have suffered enough. We need the wealthiest members of our communities to share in the sacrifice of the economic recovery. The Fairness in Taxation Act offers a superior alternative to more painful budget cuts.

It's imperative that we speak out, together and as loudly as possible, in support of this bill and other progressive tax initiatives. With your support and the support of others like you, tax justice will always stand a fighting chance.

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Unions and Democracy

Unions do far more than negotiate benefits for its own workers. Unions have fought to strengthen public policies that benefit all Americans, both unionized and non-unionized. And as corporate power and influence has skyrocketed in recent years, unions have provided a powerful mechanism for voter turnout that keeps our democracy strong. 

Historically, unions have fought to strengthen public policies that benefit all Americans, both unionized and non-unionized. Unions have fought to strengthen minimum wage laws, worker safety protections, and public safety nets. We have unions to thank for the two-day weekend and the 40-hour workweek. More recently, unions have fought to strengthen minimum wage laws, worker safety protections, and public safety nets.

Decline of Union Power
Since the 1980s, the presence and power of organized labor in the U.S. has sharply declined. Today, union members account for roughly 12 percent of the workforce, down from 20 percent in 1983. In the public sector, the unionization rate is significantly higher at 36 percent. Over half of all unionized workers today are public sector employees.

Unions Keep Democracy Strong
As the number of unionized workers in the U.S. decreased, the number of corporate lobbyists has skyrocketed. Beginning in the 1970s, well-heeled corporations began to organize and work to undo these earlier labor victories. In 1968, only 100 corporations had public affairs offices in Washington. By 1982, the number of registered lobbyists in D.C. reached 2,500. That’s a whopping 2,400 percent increase in just under 30 years.

This decline in union power over the past 30 years has hurt all Americans. Historically, unions have helped to provide a powerful mechanism for voter turnout that keeps our democracy strong. Unions represent one of the few organized forces that provide a counterbalance to the influence of corporate money and power in our democracy.

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Resources & Tools

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Class, Race & the Attacks on Public Employees

Originally posted on Classism Exposed, March 11, 2011

The Wisconsin uprising has become as loud a wake-up call as there has ever been that working America is under attack. Moves by Governor Scott Walker and the Republican majority to steal away the collective bargaining rights of public sector workers – as a false premise for the state’s budgetary hardships – has triggered a national uproar by labor rights supporters.

In spite of all the good organized labor has brought to all American workers – union and non-union alike – union membership in the U.S. has endured constant erosion by the corporate sledge over the past several decades.

SoD 2011 - Chart 2

The result has been an economic gulf, separating the rich from everyone else.

SoD 2011 - Chart 3

The top 10 percent of U.S. households own nearly three-fourths of the country’s total wealth; 34 percent is held by the top one percent alone. Some among this very wealthy elite have a profit-lust so insatiable that it’s causing the American middle class to fade from existence, as income stagnates and the unemployment crisis continues.

If Governor Walker succeeds in his anti-union crusade, we could face a system-wide shift that would further obscure the voices of average workers. Attacks on collective bargaining are, in essence, attacks on democracy. To dilute the power of unions is to actively support plutocracy, or rule by the wealthy.

Who Stands to Lose the Most?

What too many of us don’t know is who has the most to lose from attacks on organized labor. Unfortunately, the answer shouldn’t come as a surprise.

When it comes to organized labor, the public sector has served as a far more reliable foothold than the private sector. The more stringent equal opportunity and civil service protections of the public sector offer more agreeable circumstances for historically disenfranchised workers than private sector jobs. For example, the public sector has offered more opportunities for women and workers of color to achieve income parity with white men.

SoD 2011 - Chart 19

Initiatives such as that of Wisconsin’s Governor to break down public unions will be especially harmful to those who already face a constant battle against workplace discrimination.

A recent report by United for a Fair Economy emphasizes the vital role of the public sector in providing opportunities to people of color, who are burdened not only with the residual effects of past injustices, but also contemporary barriers to upward economic mobility. Today, Black workers are significantly more likely than the overall workforce to hold government positions. Because of that reality, across-the-board cuts to the federal, state and even local budgets would have particularly ruinous effects on Black workers.

SoD 2011 - Chart 18

If we’re ever to move beyond a jobless recovery, and meaningfully address the disgraceful racial inequality that tars our supposed “civil” society, it is imperative that we preserve the public sector by funding a jobs program that invests in our people and in the longer-term stability of our economy.

Where’s the Money?

The phrase “we’re broke” as rationale for bone-deep budget cuts isn’t just tired, it’s wrong. We’re not broke. We’re still a very wealthy country. The problem, as earlier mentioned, is that too much of this country’s wealth is concentrated in too few pockets. Robert Reich asserted:

You can’t fight something with nothing. But as long as Democrats refuse to talk about the almost unprecedented buildup of income, wealth, and power at the top – and the refusal of the super-rich to pay their fair share of the nation’s bills – Republicans will convince people it’s all about government and unions.

And, not to make a total scapegoat of the GOP, Reich points out the Dems’ misguided politicking:

The Republican message is bloated government is responsible for the lousy economy that most people continue to experience. Cut the bloat and jobs and wages will return.

Nothing could be further from the truth, but for some reason Obama and the Democrats aren’t responding with the truth. Their response is: We agree but you’re going too far. Government employees should give up some more wages and benefits but don’t take away their bargaining rights. Private-sector unionized workers should make more concessions but don’t bust the unions. Non-defense discretionary spending should be cut but don’t cut so much.

The money for a jobs program and other recovery measures exist, but we’re not tapping the most abundant sources.

Let’s demand that corporations stop dashing off-shore to avoid paying their tax tabs.

Let’s tax the high-risk, casino-like investing on Wall Street that so heavily contributed to the financial meltdown.

Let’s restore progressiveness to the personal tax system by raising taxes on the wealthy, who have reaped the most from our economy and are most able to contribute more without sacrificing their livelihoods.

We can raise the top-tier federal income tax rates to their pre-Bush levels (at the very least), and add new brackets for those with remarkably high incomes. We can strengthen the estate tax – a means to prevent the creation of American dynasties and reduce wealth inequality – well beyond its current form. We can bring an end to preferential treatment of investment income – like capital gains and dividends – by taxing it the same as earned income.

And, let’s wean the Pentagon – which now accounts for 58 percent of the discretionary federal budget – off of the taxpayers’ proverbial teat by cutting unnecessary defense spending.

The revenue generated would be more wisely applied to domestic investments. But, investments should be made using a targeted approach that would address chasms of race and class in the U.S.

SoD 2011 - Chart 17

We’ll first have to establish a shared agreement about the type of society in which we want to live. Will it be one that encourages greed and inequality, or one that provides essential services and opportunities to all of us? Will it be one that provides access to only the financially enriched, or one that’s truly democratic? Will it continue to pit us against one another, or will it inspire togetherness and community?

At its best, the American labor movement has not only fought for its own members, but has campaigned for policies that would benefit us all, like a national health care system, a higher minimum wage, safe workplaces, labor rights and environmental protection.

And, while the historical intersections of the civil rights and labor movements haven’t always been flattering, it would be counterproductive to target unions for a legacy of discrimination that belongs to the nation as a whole. We should embrace the real hope that the two movements can find shared purpose, and move forward as a more diverse, inclusive and, most importantly, unified movement.

Ironically, It may well be Governor Walker’s outrageous attacks on public employees that ignites the very movement he seeks to destroy, and brings the U.S. toward a more just and egalitarian society.

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Estate Tax


A strong federal estate tax is a crucial to achieving greater economic and racial equality. The estate tax reduces concentrated wealth by ensuring that a portion of America's greatest fortunes are used to generate needed revenue to fund vital services, instead of being simply passed from generation to generation in predominantly white families.


What is the estate tax?
The estate tax is a tax on the transfer of assets at death. When someone dies, his or her assets (the "estate") are distributed to heirs. If the total value of the estate is larger than the tax-exempt amount (currently $5.25 million for individuals and $10.5 million for couples), an estate tax is imposed on everything above the exemption before the remaining assets are distributed. Any amount of an estate given to a spouse or charity is tax exempt.

Who pays the estate tax?
The estate tax is reserved only for society's wealthiest elite. In 2013, just 0.14% of Americans (less than 2 out of every 1,000 people who die) are expected to owe any estate tax.

How much does the estate tax raise every year?
It's estimated the estate tax will generate about $200 billion in the next 10 years under current law.

What about farms and small businesses?
It's estimated that only 20 small businesses and farm estates nationwide will owe any estate tax in 2013. The Tax Policy Center estimates that these 20 estates will owe only 4.9% of their value in tax, on average. Repeal of the estate tax or exempting farms completely will only encourage further concentration of farm ownership, which reduces competition. An unlimited exemption for farm assets could create a giant loophole from the estate tax because wealthy individuals who expect to owe estate tax could use much or all of their wealth to buy farms before they die. 

What makes for a good estate tax?
UFE's Estate Tax Campaign is calling on Congress to stop enriching the inheritors of wealthy millionaires and billionaires by reinstating a robust estate tax. A strong estate tax should raise significant revenue to reduce the deficit and fund vital services. It should only be paid by the top 1% of estates, raising more money from the wealthiest estates through a graduated rate structure. Check out our 2012 Responsible Estate Tax Proposal for more specifics.

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