The most recent candidate endorsed by Blue America, Nabilah Islam, sometimes stands out from the crowd because of her name, which for old people, doesn't sound like a name from the Georgia suburbs. Others (men) remark not on her name but on her physical appearance. What people don't realize-- at least not until they get to know her is that Nabilah, despite how she looks and what he name is, is both an All-American girl and a policy wonk.
During one of the endorsement interviews, we were discussing her support for Medicare-For-All and the Green New Deal. She mentioned that voters in Gwinnett and Forsyth counties have been asking "how you going to pay for it?" frequently. Fox News is a popular TV station there, even among Democrats. We offered to introduce her to economist Stephanie Kelton, who has been generously giving her time to help progressive candidates grapple with questions like that. Afterwards, I asked Nabilah to write about the experience. This is what she had to say:
My First meeting With Stephanie Kelton
-by Nabilah Islam,
Before the end of the year, I had the pleasure of connecting with Stephanie Kelton. For those of you who don’t know, Stephanie is an economist, Professor of Public Policy, former Chief Economist on the U.S Senate Budget Committee 2015 minority party staff, and a leading proponent of Modern Monetary Theory.
Modern Monetary Theory is a macroeconomic theory that describes Currency as a public monopoly for the government. The argument is that the government should use fiscal policy to achieve full employment creating new money to fund government purchases.
Stephanie is someone who is extremely generous with her time and has such great knowledge that she freely imparts on any candidates willing to listen. What I came to understand through speaking her is a far better understanding of how Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) works and why it should be applied to the policies that we progressives advocate for.
Understanding MMT is essential advocating for policies like Medicare for All, a Green New Deal, Free Public college, and any other policies that Republicans and centrists' only argument is “hOw ArE wE gOinG tO pAy fOr iT.”
Governments are not people, and their debt should not be treated the same. It is healthy for a Government to have debt, and when inflation actualizes, we issue bonds to reduce circulation. Stephanie also made a great point to me. For every 10 dollars, we invest in our economy as a government, especially in communities that need it, it only strengthens our economy even if that means only 1 dollar is returned.
Republicans already practice MMT at their leisure. When it’s time for War, detention centers, private prisons, or Big Ag, they will write a blank check with their eyes closed. The same goes for centrists when we want to bail out big banks, no problem. But, when it comes down to protecting our most vulnerable, making sure there’s an educated electorate, or protecting our planet, the funds are never there.
Stephanie’s guidance was most helpful in regards to explaining the implementation of a Green New Deal. Yes, it is expensive, but what is the alternative? The reality is the scientific community has dramatically underestimated the severity of the speed of climate change in America and around the world. We must invest in green infrastructure and move to a renewable-based economy. We have to invest in protecting our frontline communities. While doing all of this, we create up to 20 million good-paying union jobs. This is where MMT plays a considerable role. These are not funds that are spent into an abyss. They are direct investments into our economy, our country, and will continue to be circulated. So while deficit spending is a traditionally unpopular idea viewing this through the lens of MMT, it causes stimulation.
I’m very grateful for Stephanie’s time and expertise. I strongly encourage people reading her work and watching her videos whenever possible. The point is MMT is a practice that is already in place, but selectively. It’s time we fix our priorities. This is Public Money, and it is time it is appropriately allocated.
While Nabilah was getting a crash course in MMT, she was also working on an initiative that could change the course of political history-- at least in terms of making it more feasible for working class men and women to be able to run for office.
Almost a decade after the Affordable Care Act was signed into law, 27.5 million Americans still lack health insurance. Nabilah Islam, 30, a progressive political organizer running in the very crowded Democratic primary in Georgia’s 7th Congressional District, is among them. Islam has come up with a unique way to address her situation: She’s asking the Federal Election Commission for help. Many from the working class are hesitant to run-- or can't do it full-time-- because they can't afford to particularly when it comes to health insurance. Calling her Atlanta's own AOC, Helaine Olen covered Nabilah's initiative for the Washington Post last week. "In a letter that will be filed next Monday," wrote Olen, "Islam is petitioning the FEC for an advisory opinion that would permit her to use campaign funds to pay for health insurance. Her short-term goal is medical coverage. But in the long term, this daughter of working-class immigrants from Bangladesh also wants the regulations changed so that more lower- and middle-income people can afford to seek public office. In other words, more people like herself."
“Running for Congress is an expensive endeavor and often cost prohibitive for working Americans,” Islam wrote in her filing. “Running for office while working-- even part-time-- severely limits your ability to campaign effectively. People with financial security are better positioned to campaign full-time while living on their savings.”
One result? Congress is hardly representative of the American public. About 40 percent of members are millionaires, compared with 3 percent of the U.S. population.
This isn’t, as Islam points out, simply because the rich hanker for political positions and power, while their working- and middle-class counterparts do not. It’s because people who lack significant financial resources face structural barriers that make it harder to get in a race and stay in.
Such as how to pay for health insurance.
Islam explained during a telephone interview she initially thought she would hold down a part-time position while competing for the congressional seat. She found that impossible. Running for Congress is a full-time job. She has instead put her student loans into forbearance and canceled her health insurance and is living off savings.
She knows she’s taking a risk: “If something happens to me, I could end up with thousands of dollars in medical bills.” But Islam says she can’t afford to do anything else. The average cost of an individual policy in 2019 was more than $7,000.
True, Islam was paying $120 a month. There was a trade-off involved. In technical terms, Islam says her policy did not comply with the Affordable Care Act. In layman’s terms, that means it wouldn’t have covered such events as the hospital bills if she got hit by a car while canvassing. “Junk,” she called it.
Monica Klein, the political consultant advising Islam, previously worked with Long Island’s Liuba Grechen Shirley, who successfully petitioned the FEC for permission to use campaign funds to cover her child-care expenses. Klein told me she sees similarities between the two woman’s quests. “Like Liuba, Nabilah isn’t just running for office,” she said. “Liuba and Nabilah are both working to dismantle the conditions that keep Congress overwhelmingly white, wealthy and male.”
But Islam is unlikely to meet with similar quick results. That’s got nothing to do with the merits. President Trump hasn’t bothered to nominate candidates to fill the three openings on the six-member commission, leaving the FEC short of the necessary quorum needed to hold meetings or issue rules.
This is obviously a bigger issue than Islam’s request. As Jeff Hauser, the executive director of the Revolving Door Project, noted, “Without a quorum, campaigns seeking to push-- or shred-- the envelope of legality can do so bolstered by the certainty the FEC cannot open investigations or issue fines.”
But requests for rulings that come in during this period don’t go away. The FEC will consider them when a quorum is restored. Islam’s request could eventually make it easier for other less-than-privileged candidates to run for office. That’s a win, no matter how Islam ultimately performs. “I really believe that we need more people like me, more people with my working-class background who grew up with parents that worked low-wage jobs,” Islam said. “If there are more Nabilahs in Congress, I assure you, things like Medicare-for-all, things like a living wage, $15 an hour, would just be a no-brainer.”