Archive for May, 2009|Monthly archive page

DFA’s Citizen Lobbyist Training Materials

The DFA Night School training on Citizen Lobbying was last night, and I wanted to share the materials in case you missed it. I hope the embeds work, but if not here’s the link where you can find both.




(very) Quick Health Care Update

So I’m taking a summer class called “Congressional Commitees”, which as you can imagine is pretty useful and relevant to our work at Carrots & Sticks.  My first assignment, due tomorrow evening, is to figure out which House commitees will be handling the aspect of health reform that deals with covering the uninsured. I did a little internet sleuthing and asked some legislative folks at work, and here’s what I found:

  • Obama, Pelosi, Hoyer and the 3 committee chairs with jurisiction (Rangel, Waxman and Miller) met a couple weeks ago and announced that they expect to have a full bill through the House by the end of July.
  • So far, it seems like the 3 committees (Ways & Means, Energy & Commerce and, to a lesser extent, Education & Labor) will work together and mark up the same bill at roughly the same time.
  • The timetable for rolling out a concrete proposal is uncertain, but should happen within the next week or two.
  • The proposal will include a strong public option.
  • Ways & Means will have to work on both the Energy/Climate bill and the Health bill during the summer, but Rangel has stated Health will come first.
  • It’s unclear whether any subcommittees will be marking up the bill before the full committees get a look. The most likely bet, if any, is the Health Subcommittee of Energy & Commerce under Frank Pallone (D-NJ). Pallone should be a solid ally, but that doesn’t mean leadership wants to deal with any more veto points than necessary.
  • The Blue Dogs are already hemming and hawing about the early process not letting them gum up the works before a concrete proposal even emerges.
  • The Senate is still too early to read. Although Kennedy’s HELP committee will mark up a bill pretty soon, the power is all in Baucus’ hands at the moment, and that ain’t necessarily a good thing. He may just wait for the House to finish, which also ain’t necessarily a good thing.


The Summer of SAFETEA

Unfortunately, SAFETEA isn’t some sort of super-healthy refreshing summertime beverage. Neither, in fact, is its counterpart ISTEA. They are, respectively, the current and one of the former versions of the major federal transportation funding package. This behemoth, enacted every 4-5 years, allocates most of the nation’s transportation funding, last time at a cool $286.4 billion. And, as if there wasn’t already enough for Congress to do this summer, it happens to expire at the end of September.

In the past, its funding priorities have been skewed heavily (around 4-to-1) in favor of highways — asphalt rather than Amtrak, so to speak. But recent years have seen somewhat of a boom in demand for alternative modes of transportation. So there is a tremendous opportunity to rework that ratio, thereby investing in new forms of public transportation, dramatically expanding existing train, bus and bike networks, and substantially reducing the amount of car traffic on the road.

It’s easy to be skeptical about such an outcome in Congress, even with large Democratic majorities in both houses and support from the President. But things are looking rather promising so far. A couple weeks ago, two key senators with direct jurisdiction over transportation funding (Rockefeller and Lautenberg) introduced a plan for reauthorization. Although it fails miserably on the catchy acronym front (the new title is “The Federal Surface Transportation Policy and Planning Act of 2009“), it seems to make some crucual improvements over the current SAFETEA framework. Its big-picture goals are the following (my bolding):

•     Reduce national per capita motor vehicle miles traveled on an annual basis;
•     Reduce national motor vehicle-related fatalities by 50 percent by 2030;
•     Reduce national surface transportation-generated carbon dioxide levels by 40 percent by 2030;
•     Reduce national surface transportation delays per capita on an annual basis;
•     Increase the percentage of system-critical surface transportation assets that are in a state of good repair by 20 percent by 2030;
•     Increase the total usage of public transportation, intercity passenger rail services, and non-motorized transportation on an annual basis;
•     Increase the proportion of national freight transportation provided by non-highway or multimodal services by 10 percent by 2020; and
•     Reduce passenger and freight transportation delays and congestion at international points of entry on an annual basis.

All sounds good to me. But as you all know, the legislative process has a nasty habit of sacrificing good policy goals for purposes of expediency. It’s up to committed activists like us to provide the push for a good bill. This thing is gonna move very quickly, and probably be wrapped up by the end of June. Thankfully, Transportation for America is on the case. They have been working the Hill hard the past few weeks and wrote a glowing review of the Lautenberg-Rockefeller proposal. I believe Bronwyn is very familiar with their work, a bit more so than myself, so hopefully she can chime in.

Anyway, I propose that we do some work on this. Anybody else with me?


The new Harry & Louise? Health Care Fearmongering

Despite a recent “we’ll be better this time, honest!” initiative, the health care industry is already starting to sabotage the Obama health care reform plan. This is what we’re up against:

The scene appears to be at a convention – a nicer hotel or conference center environment, full of people who are there to do business. Suits, pantsuits, nicer dress generally, lots of the same muted tones. They look like Washington people. The sound is mainly the growing din of conversation. Everything gets slowly louder and more frenzied. Maybe the establishing shot is a wide frame of the multitude, and it slowly zooms in over the course of the spot.

Snippets of conversation, almost yelled out to be heard over the noise, are audible:
“…pre-existing conditions? Nobody knows yet…”
“…of course the system isn’t ready for this. But I don’t see how you can slow it down…”
“…yeah, a lot like Medicare…”

Other background phrases include:
What about lines?
Larger system
Rising premiums
Individual mandate

As the camera searches the room, or continues to narrow the frame after beginning at a wide focus, an older Hispanic woman comes into view. She’s standing quietly in the middle of the action, as if she found herself at the wrong party, and doesn’t know a soul. The background noise is dialed down significantly, enough to hear her say to no one in particular: “Will somebody just tell me whether my Al will still be able to see Dr. Ferguson if we go through with this government plan?”

Although nobody stops to notice her, or even stops talking, the question is met with silence. She maintains a concerned look, waiting.

Final caption:The plans for health care reform being discussed in Washington will have very real consequences for all of us. Let’s make sure we know what we’re getting into. To learn more about what current plans for government-run health care mean to you and your family, you’ve come to the right place.

Of course, the goal of the private insurance industry, in this case Blue Cross & Blue Shield of North Carolina, is to torpedo the public option. They are saying it will limit choice, lead to longer waits, rationing, etc etc… but they really have no ground to stand on here. Nobody in the current debate is advocating a move to an entirely government run health care system. It’s a public OPTION, meaning if the for-profit industry can provide better coverage then they will continue to survive and thrive.

Yglesias, as usual, nails it:

If the public option offered rationing and low-quality care, why would anyone sign up for it? Nobody would. That kind of low-quality public option would give private insurance nothing to fear. But what they really fear isn’t that a public option would be bad, it’s that it would be good—putting effective cost-controls in place without compromising patient care, thus threatening private industry’s business model.

That, however, is one of the best ways at our disposal to make health reform really work. A public option that strives to achieve public goals—quality care at an affordable price—will challenge private industry to do a better job. Then competition between plans will drive improvements in quality and efficiency. Without a public option, the risk is that private plans will compete by trying to screen out sick patients. That’s a viable root to private sector profits, but it does nothing to improve quality or control costs.

On a related note, my favorite argument by some public option opponents: “it will place private health insurance companies at an unfair disadvantage.” Um, that’s the point. Supporters of the public option are confident that the government can deliver quality health care for cheaper than the private market, like it does in virtually every other advanced nation. If private companies are openly admitting an inherent market disadvantage vis-a-vis the public sector, then why should they exist? Really, this industry/GOP talking point is just silly on its face.


Some thoughts on civil rights & social issues

Erin just asked me in an e-mail:

I’d be curious your stance on a more civil-rights focused area as well (lgbtq, women, seniors and young people along with the standard racial discrimination) as I’ve seen an uptick in the media about it recently, and I am feeling some small legislation may be coming around at various points (and who knows, maybe the mathew shepard act will finally pass…).  It’d be a small focus, but still something to keep an eye on.

My response, which can hopefully serve as a conversation starter:

My stance on civil rights issues is complicated. I mean personally, it’s not. It just seems intuitive to me that people should be treated on a completely level playing field, and I really don’t understand how anyone can think naked bigotry is the least bit justifiable. Life’s too short to live with such corrosive hate.

However, it’s not the most salient political set of issues to me (with the notable exception of drug policy), precisely because it is so intuitive. Most people have very set views on these issues one way or another, and because there isn’t a lot of biconceptualism (swing voters in English) among the voting population on civil rights matters there isn’t a lot of room to maneuver politically. More than anything, the variable that will decide social justice issues in our favor is time; as older bigots die off and are replaced in the electorate by younger, more tolerant people, the tide will turn. That is already starting to happen on gay marriage and the same will happen on many remaining gender and racial issues in coming decades.

The other thing is, I believe these issues, while important, don’t form the backbone of a society’s big-picture identity. Once the most grievous injustices like codified race-based discrimination are out of the way, the distribution of wealth and the arrangement of economic incentives is much more important in determining whether a society is healthy or not. Right now, America’s economic incentives are downright destructive and are heading in the wrong direction. Income inequality is the worst it has been since 1928. When wealth concentrates too much into the hands of a fortunate few, the political system is inevitably rigged to favor the few, often at the direct expense of the many. Our economic system also fails to assign value to social or environmental priorities, and in the process causes the degradation of community and overexploitation of natural resources. In my opinion, these are the most dangerous current threats to the nation and indeed the world because they are incredibly difficult trends to reverse and can cause lasting damage to human welfare. This is why I suggested the Carrots & Sticks focus be on advocating sustainable prosperity; the term captures all of the stuff I just mentioned, and I’m wary about focusing too broadly at the expense of a core message.

But Carrots & Sticks belongs to all of us, not just me. I’m certainly open to discussion. Bring it up to the whole group if you want, and let’s see what folks say. In fact, I think there is an avenue we can work certain issues in where social backwardness directly interferes with other policy areas (Don’t Ask Don’t Tell and the War on Drugs are key examples).

Let’s see what everyone thinks….


The Fierce Urgency of Now

There is a NOAA administer that has been referencing this passage in her speeches about climate change.

We are now faced with the fact, my friends, that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. In this unfolding conundrum of life and history, there is such a thing as being too late. Procrastination is still the thief of time. Life often leaves us standing bare, naked, and dejected with a lost opportunity. The tide in the affairs of men does not remain at flood-it ebbs. We may cry out desperately for time to pause in her passage, but time is adamant to every plea and rushes on. Over the bleached bones and jumbled residues of numerous civilizations are written the pathetic words, “Too late.”

Words from Dr. Martin Luther King.


Moderate Dems Selling Out The Poor on Climate Change

Here is a Matthew Yglesias post from earlier this week discussing carbon auctions and the compromises being made to pass the cap and trade bill

But let me take some time out to express outrage about one aspect of the change that doesn’t really have a huge environmental impact, the decision to give away the carbon permits to utilities. The conservative bloc on climate/energy issues has a clear position. They think emissions should go up and up and the earth should get hotter and hotter and we’ll just kind of cross our fingers. The moderate bloc, by contrast, has portrayed itself as concerned with the climate crisis but worried about the tradeoffs with short-term economic growth. But the concession they’ve forced here doesn’t do anything to boost short-term growth. Instead, whereas auctioning the permits would have made rich people bear most of the cost of reducing emissions, by giving the permits away you make poor people bear most of the cost.

The environmental impact of the two methods is similar, and the overall costs are similar. But the moderates acted swiftly and decisively to reallocate a portion of the costs onto the backs of the poor. And they’ve done so specifically under guise of looking out for the interests of the working class. They ought to be ashamed of themselves.

This is absolutely correct. It’s why we’re working on this issue.

Emitting carbon into the atmosphere has a lot of negative consequences, but not everybody will feel those consequences and certainly not right away. Every argument about climate change is all about which groups will pay. The core argument about climate change, whether to limit carbon dioxide emission at all, is really between people that benefit from the continued expansion of dirty energy sources and future generations that will have fewer resources as a result of climate change.

Indeed, all of the sub issues within climate change have a similar trade-off. Lower the carbon emissions reductions for 2020? Then you’re favoring people living in 2009-2020 at the expense of people living in 2021-2030 and beyond. What’s the trade-off for carbon auctions? Exempting polluting companies from carbon auctions helps only those companies and it does so on the backs of consumers.

Why should polluting companies pay to pollute, and consumers get relief? Because polluting companies have already benefited from creating pollution for their entire existence. They pursued a business model and political lobbying strategy that has brought us to the brink of global calamity and now they think it’s more important that they can continue profiting at high rates, than that millions of Americans get relief when their heating, groceries, and gas bills go up.

It’s a despicable position, and yet it’s the position of “moderation” as documented by Bronwyn. It’s a position that will cost the poorest Americans a substantial share of their income and potentially undermine the viability of the Democratic party because it negatively affects so many lives.

We’re working on developing allies in this fight, but we always need more friends. Join us.


Selected Bills under consideration with anticipated amendments and motions

HR2187 – 21st Century Green High-Performing Public School Facilities Act

Amendment No. 7 – Add a requirement for green roofs and renewable energy projects’ recipients to post an educational display for students to learn about the benefits of the projects.

Amendment No. 10 – Add a requirement for the Education Department to set-aside 5% of grant for community educational agencies that serve economically distress areas or areas that are recovering from natural disasters.

Amendment No. 11 –  Add a requirement that will allow states to set-aside 1% of grant to minimize the affects of respiratory problems in children and minimize airborne particles to humans.

-Div Bistro