I keep waiting: Is this the time the Dems really, really mean it? Is this the time they stand up for the needy and vulnerable? Maybe. Because this time, they don't have to worry about Obama's reelection - but they do have to worry about their own:
President Barack Obama may find opposition from inside his own party if he is serious about making changes to the way Social Security benefits are distributed in order to pass a deal to replace sequestration.
A majority of the House Democrats -- 107 members -- sent Obama a letter on Friday stating that any changes to entitlements will be opposed by members of his own party.
"We remain deeply opposed to proposals to reduce Social Security benefits through use of the chained CPI to calculate cost-of-living adjustments," reads the letter, which was the idea of Reps. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.), John Conyers (D-Mich.) and Donna Edwards (D-Md.).
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney recently said the president would be open to implementing chained Consumer Price Index (CPI), which would alter the annual adjustment in how benefits are paid to Social Security recipients by using a less generous baseline of inflation.
"He has put forward a technical change, as part of a big deal," said Carney. "A technical change of CPI is possible as part of a big deal."
He added, however, that the president is opposed to raising the eligibility age of Medicare.
Progressives have opposed chained CPI because it would reduce the benefits that senior citizens receive.
The letter stated that while House Democrats are "committed to making the changes that will extend solvency for 75 years," Social Security has not negatively contributed to any of the country's fiscal problems so "it should not be on the bargaining table."
House Democrats reiterated in the letter their "vigorous opposition to cutting Social Security, Medicare, or Medicaid benefits in any final bill."
On a conference call today launching the new "Contract for the American Dream," Van Jones said that the American people have more wisdom about what's going on in the country than those inside the beltway.
More than 131,000 Americans submitted ideas for the platform, more than 1600 house meetings were held and more than 25,000 ideas were submitted. Of those ideas, the ten most popular were included in the contract. Compare that to the right-wing Contract From America, in which only 50,000 people submitted ideas and only 800 house meetings were held. This disparity was despite the fact that the Contract for the American Dream did not get a big push from Fox News (or any equivalent) and there wasn't a big funding push from anyone like the Koch brothers.
"This movement is real. It's big. It's growing," Jones said. The movement is already active in every congressional district in the country. Jones said that what we need now is for the majority of Americans who agree with the contract need to stand up and speak out for the mainstream American values it represents. These values are what helped make the twentieth century "the American Century." He points out that while both parties have responded to the tea party, that group only represents 10-15 percent of the country. The Rebuild the Dream movement represents 70 percent.
Rep. Jan Schakowsky said that the two biggest problems we face right now are creating jobs and stopping the disappearance of the middle class, the fact that the American dream is slipping through people's fingers. She said that further cuts to federal spending will kill more jobs and make the economy worse. The solution, Schakowsky argues, is to grow our way out of the economic troubles we have -- to have a robust economy, we have to have a robust middle class. And the middle class needs jobs.
She is introducing legislation that represents the contract, including the Emergency Jobs to Restore the American Dream Act, which would create 2.2 million jobs over two years that meet critical community needs, and the Fairness in Taxation Act that would create a new 45 percent tax bracket for those who make more than $1 million each year and a 49 percent tax bracket for those who make more than $1 billion each year. She said this bill would raise $800 billion over ten years and would require the richest Americans to pay their fair share.
Economist Dean Baker said it amazes him that the very people that got us into the trouble we face now are in charge of solving the problems they created. He said that it is the economic collapse -- not excessive spending -- that led to huge deficits and that to fix the deficit, we have to get the economy going again. The contract does just that, in his opinion, and is consistent with our successful responses to economic downturns in American history. His real fear, if we don't get things moving in the right direction again, is that there could be people in their 30s, 40s and 50s who may never work again in their lifetimes.
MoveOn's Justin Ruben says that his group's supporters are on board with this agenda. He doesn't think that the people in D.C. will take the plan seriously at first, although most economists would say that the plan makes sense. He's calling on MoveOn supporters to do the legwork to change the minds of members of Congress by talking the contract up at town hall meetings and in visit to congressional offices.
Also on board is the Center for Community Change, led by Jeff Parcher. He says that the economy doesn't have to be the way it is today. "We have enough, we are the richest, most under-taxed country in the developed world," he added. Certain members of our society are not contributing their fair share and the key is to change the conversation in Washington.
We, the American people, promise to defend and advance a simple ideal: liberty and justice . . . for all. Americans who are willing to work hard and play by the rules should be able to find a decent job, get a good home in a strong community, retire with dignity, and give their kids a better life. Every one of us – rich, poor, or in-between, regardless of skin color or birthplace, no matter their sexual orientation or gender – has the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. That is our covenant, our compact, our contract with one another. It is a promise we can fulfill – but only by working together.
Today, the American Dream is under threat. Our veterans are coming home to few jobs and little hope on the home front. Our young people are graduating off a cliff, burdened by heavy debt, into the worst job market in half a century. The big banks that American taxpayers bailed out won’t cut homeowners a break. Our firefighters, nurses, cops, and teachers – America’s everyday heroes – are being thrown out onto the street. We believe:
AMERICA IS NOT BROKE: America is rich – still the wealthiest nation ever. But too many at the top are grabbing the gains. No person or corporation should be allowed to take from America while giving little or nothing back. The super-rich who got tax breaks and bailouts should now pay full taxes – and help create jobs here, not overseas. Those who do well in America should do well by America.
AMERICANS NEED JOBS, NOT CUTS: Many of our best workers are sitting idle while the work of rebuilding America goes undone. Together, we must rebuild our country, reinvest in our people and jump-start the industries of the future. Millions of jobless Americans would love the opportunity to become working, tax-paying members of their communities again. We have a jobs crisis, not a deficit crisis.
To produce this Contract for the American Dream, 131,203 Americans came together online and in their communities. We wrote and rated 25,904 ideas. Together, we identified the 10 most critical steps to get our economy back on track and restore the American Dream:
10 CRITICAL STEPS TO GET OUR ECONOMY BACK ON TRACK
I. Invest in America's Infrastructure: Rebuild our crumbling bridges, dams, levees, ports, water and sewer lines, railways, roads, and public transit. We must invest in high-speed Internet and a modern, energy-saving electric grid. These investments will create good jobs and rebuild America. To help finance these projects, we need national and state infrastructure banks.
II. Create 21st Century Energy Jobs: We should invest in American businesses that can power our country with innovative technologies like wind turbines, solar panels, geothermal systems, hybrid and electric cars, and next-generation batteries. And we should put Americans to work making our homes and buildings energy efficient. We can create good, green jobs in America, address the climate crisis, and build the clean energy economy.
III. Invest in Public Education: We should provide universal access to early childhood education, make school funding equitable, invest in high-quality teachers, and build safe, well-equipped school buildings for our students. A high-quality education system, from universal preschool to vocational training and affordable higher education, is critical for our future and can create badly needed jobs now.
IV. Offer Medicare for All: We should expand Medicare so it's available to all Americans, and reform it to provide even more cost-effective, quality care. The Affordable Care Act is a good start and we must implement it -- but it's not enough. We can save trillions of dollars by joining every other industrialized country -- paying much less for health care while getting the same or better results.
V. Make Work Pay: Americans have a right to fair minimum and living wages, to organize and collectively bargain, to enjoy equal opportunity, and to earn equal pay for equal work. Corporate assaults on these rights bring down wages and benefits for all of us. They must be outlawed.
VI. Secure Social Security: Keep Social Security sound, and strengthen the retirement, disability, and survivors' protections Americans earn through their hard work. Pay for it by removing the cap on the Social Security tax, so that upper-income people pay into Social Security on all they make, just like the rest of us.
VII. Return to Fairer Tax Rates: End, once and for all, the Bush-era tax giveaways for the rich, which the rest of us -- or our kids -- must pay eventually. Also, we must outlaw corporate tax havens and tax breaks for shipping jobs overseas. Lastly, with millionaires and billionaires taking a growing share of our country's wealth, we should add new tax brackets for those making more than $1 million each year.
VIII. End the Wars and Invest at Home: Our troops have done everything that's been asked of them, and it's time to bring them home to good jobs here. We're sending $3 billion each week overseas that we should be investing to rebuild America.
IX. Tax Wall Street Speculation: A tiny fee of a twentieth of 1% on each Wall Street trade could raise tens of billions of dollars annually with little impact on actual investment. This would reduce speculation, "flash trading," and outrageous bankers' bonuses -- and we'd have a lot more money to spend on Main Street job creation.
X. Strengthen Democracy: We need clean, fair elections -- where no one's right to vote can be taken away, and where money doesn't buy you your own member of Congress. We must ban anonymous political influence, slam shut the lobbyists' revolving door in D.C., and publicly finance elections. Immigrants who want to join in our democracy deserve a clear path to citizenship. We must stop giving corporations the rights of people when it comes to our elections. And we must ensure our judiciary's respect for the Constitution. Together, we will reclaim our democracy to get our country back on track.
Not to be outdone, and never one to avoid recycling an old idea if possible, Newt Gingrich is trying to create a new crowdsourced Contract With America via Facebook. It's called Team 10, as in the Tenth Amendment, the Holy Grail for right-wingers who hate shared responsibility and shared sacrifice.
Is that really the debate we want to be having in the United States of America? I'm sure there are still are some immoral techniques we haven't used yet. Is it okay to start, on the off chance that they work?
Republicans ignited a firestorm of controversy on Thursday by revealing some of what they had been told at a closed-door Intelligence Committee hearing on the interrogation of terrorism suspects.
The Republicans who gave on-the-record interviews were Rep. Pete Hoekstra and Rep. John Kline.
Democrats immediately blasted the GOP lawmakers for publicly discussing classified information, while Republicans said Democrats are trying to hide the truth that enhanced interrogation of detainees is effective.
GOP members on the Intelligence Committee on Thursday told The Hill in on-the-record interviews that they were informed that the controversial methods have led to information that prevented terrorist attacks.
[...] “I am absolutely shocked that members of the Intelligence committee who attended a closed-door hearing … then walked out that hearing — early, by the way — and characterized anything that happened in that hearing,” said Intelligence Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations Chairwoman Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.). “My understanding is that’s a violation of the rules. It may be more than that.”
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Silvestre Reyes (D-Texas) said, “Members on both sides need to watch what they say.”
Both Schakowsky and Reyes accused GOP members of playing politics with national security.
“I think they are playing a very dangerous game when it comes to the discussion of matters that were sensitive enough to be part of a closed hearing,” Schakowsky said.
For the second time in as many weeks, a senior House Republican may have divulged classified information in the media.
In an opinion article published in the New York Post Thursday, Rep. Pete Hoekstra, R-Mich., reported the top-secret budget for human spying had decreased -- the type of detail normally kept under wraps for national security reasons.
"The 2008 Intelligence Authorization bill cut human-intelligence programs," Hoekstra wrote in the piece, in which he also criticized "leaks to the news media."
Formerly the chairman of the intelligence committee, Hoekstra is now its highest ranking Republican. In its recent budget authorizations, that committee kept from public view all figures and most discussion of spending on such classified items as human spying. Hoekstra's apparent slip was first noted on the liberal Web site, Raw Story.
"If Mr. Hoekstra wants to break ranks and disclose that information, that's fine with me," said Steven Aftergood, a government secrecy expert who has long pushed to declassify overall spending on intelligence. "But it is the sort of thing he has harshly criticized in the past."
Indeed, Hoekstra's penchant for openness appears to be selective. He has aggressively attacked unnamed opponents guilty of such leaking, accusing them of "recklessly and illegally" disclosing secrets "for political or other motives" in reports published by his committee.
He's even exacted punishment for suspected transgressions. Last October, Hoekstra stripped the credentials of a Democratic committee aide he believed may have leaked a then-classified document to The New York Times. A month later, he quietly reinstated the aide's access.
What do we say, boys and girls? "It's okay if you're a Republican!"
On more than 20 occasions, Mr. Bybee refused to answer a question, claiming over and over again that as an attorney in the Department of Justice he could not comment on any advice that he gave at any time. This is unfortunately becoming a very familiar refrain of nominees before the Judiciary Committee.
But the failure to make OLC opinions available to the Judiciary Committee during the consideration of a nominee for a seat on a circuit court is unacceptable... The administration should be able to agree to an acceptable procedure to allow the Judiciary Committee to review Mr. Bybee's OLC opinions. Given the recent history of many OLC opinions being made public, it is hard to believe that there are no opinions authored by Mr. Bybee that could be disclosed without damaging the deliberative process. Indeed, it is very hard to give credence to the idea that OLC's independence would be compromised by the release of some selection of the opinions of interest to members of the Judiciary Committee or the Senate.
"Judge Bybee has a good professional reputation in Nevada," Reid spokesman Jon Summers said in an e-mail. "While the memos that have been released are disturbing to Sen. Reid, at this point in time, he doesn't think we should be making a rush to judgment."
Reid has also resisted House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's request to create an independent commission to investigate the interrogation tactics. In a recent statement, Reid said, "I think it would [sic] very unwise from my perspective to start having commissions, boards, tribunals until we find out what the facts are.”
Reid sponsored Bybee's judicial appointment, along with fellow Nevada Senator John Ensign. Ensign has been adamant in his support of Bybee, referring to the calls for the judge's ouster as "outrageous" and saying that "This was not torture. This is the thing we have to get away from, that this is somehow accepted that it was torture. The United States does not engage in torture. This was 'advanced interrogation techniques.'"
My question is of Harry Reid. Are you supporting Judge ByBee because he is a Mormon? I'm not against religion as I've said many times, but if Bybee was involved with any other religion, would Harry Reid have supported him? Will any reporters pose that question to Harry Reid? It just seems odd to me that Reid didn't condemn the memos he's credited with writing much more harshly and is resisting any form of inspection. This is very troubling.
Last night at the Midwest Academy Awards and 35th Anniversary Celebration in Washington, DC, Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown introduced Illinois Representative Jan Schakowsky by saying, “We may have a special election in Illinois, and if Jan Schakowsky runs, I’ll support her.”
At the end of her speech, Schakowsky threw her hat in the ring, announcing that she was “passing around a clipboard” for people to sign up to be on an organizing committee for her “Senate race, and a basket for donations will follow right behind.” The audience cheered.
”Jan Schakowsky told me about a recent visit she had made to the White House with a congressional delegation. On her way out, she said, President Bush noticed her ‘Obama’ button. ‘He jumped back, almost literally,’ she said. ‘And I knew what he was thinking. So I reassured him it was Obama, with a 'b.' And I explained who he was. The President said, 'Well, I don't know him.' So I just said, 'You will.' " (New Yorker, 5/31/2004)