On the News With Thom Hartmann: Higher Levels of Unionization Can Contribute to Economic Stability, and More

In today’s On the News segment: According to the Economic Policy Institute, higher levels of unionization can contribute to economic stability; last week, President Obama sent Congress a $3.9 trillion budget; Americans are almost $7 trillion short of what they need to pay for retirement; and more.


Thom Hartmann here – on the best of the rest of Economic and Labor News

You need to know this. Last week, President Obama sent Congress a $3.9 trillion budget. Although his 2015 plan has been deemed more politics than policy, it’s a blueprint of how to start repairing our economy. The 2015 fiscal plan would move us away from austerity, and start us back on a path of investing in our nation again. This budget has obvious benefits, but Congress isn’t even going to consider it. Congressman Paul Ryan dismissed it as nothing but a “campaign brochure,” and the Chairwoman for the Senate Appropriations Committee, Barbara Mikulski, said that Congress “will adhere to the spending caps” in the Murray-Ryan deal. The President’s plan calls for higher taxes on the rich, strong investments in our roads and bridges, more money for education, and tax breaks for the working poor. When he announced the plan at an elementary school in Washington, President Obama said, “As a country, we’ve got to make a decision if we’re going to protect tax breaks for the wealthiest Americans, or if we’re going to make smart investments necessary to create jobs and grow our economy, and expand opportunity for every American.” And, although his plan won’t be taken seriously by lawmakers, he’s finally talking about what Americans really want, and what we need to make our economy work for the 99 percent. At the very least, the President’s budget provides a strong platform for Democrats in this year’s elections. They have the opportunity to show Americans that they stand for progress – and that they support plans that benefit those who aren’t part of the one percent. It’s a shame that our lawmakers view the President’s strong ideas as unrealistic. It’s up to us to make them see that ending austerity and embracing investment is a plan that provides real benefits to all Americans.

One day before the President proposed his ideal plan for the future, Congressman Paul Ryan attacked the last 50 years of fighting poverty. In his 204-page report on our nation’s anti-poverty programs, Representative Ryan argues, “Federal programs are not only failing to address the problem. They are also, in some significant respects, making it worse.” However, Ryan’s own analysis disproves his talking points on at least 16 government programs. His report admits that the Veterans Health Administration – our nation’s only real socialist health system – is “effective in providing inexpensive health care for low-income veterans.” He praised various low-income tax credits for reducing poverty and “encouraging and rewarding work.” His analysis concludes that the WIC program helps low-income women have healthier babies, and that school breakfast programs increase “both nutrition and academic achievement among low-income children.” By his own calculations, the vast majority of our social programs are highly effective at fighting poverty, yet he continues to call for slashing them so that he can pretend we don’t need to raise taxes on the rich.

The wealthy love to complain about the so-called “Death Tax,” but the fact is – the working poor are the ones who really get squeezed in retirement. According to CommonDreams.org, Americans are almost $7 trillion short of what they need to pay for retirement. Although $8 trillion of new wealth was created in our country last year, just about all of it went to the top, rather than into the coffers for average Americans’ retirement. Even among upper-middle-class Americans, the median retirement fund for people between the ages of 50 and 64 is only $6500, and many will end up in poverty. While right-wing lawmakers often call pensioners greedy and lazy, their states hand out corporate tax breaks equal to twice the cost of funding pensions. There is clear evidence that states and corporations can afford to contribute to our retirement, but they refuse to let anything stand in the way of massive profits. Our nation can do better, and we need to stop the conservative myths about the so-called “Death Tax.”

Republicans love to attack unions, but much of what they claim is nothing but myth. In their fights for “right-to-work-for-LESS” laws around the country, conservative lawmakers and talking heads constantly claim that unions cost us jobs and economic growth. However, according to the Economic Policy Institute, higher levels of unionization can contribute to economic stability. And, according to the Center for American Progress, “unions have been shown to raise economic demand by increasing workers’ wages and buying power.” Another conservative talking point is that unions hurt competition by “driving companies like GM and Chrysler” to Mexico. The Economic Policy Institute struck down that myth as well, and explained that unions actually increase productivity, and says, “there is no clear correlation between unionization and international competitiveness.” Conservatives don’t hate unions because of economics or job numbers, they hate the fact that unions give workers a voice in the business, and a little more power on social issues. Organized labor is an asset to the real workers in our nation, and we need to fight hard to make sure that it survives.

And finally… Vermont wants public banking. Last week, at least twenty town meetings in that state voted on creating a state bank, and most results were an overwhelming “yes.” The group, Vermonters for a New Economy urged residents to petition local governments to turn the Vermont Economic Development Authority into a public bank, and it turns out that that idea is pretty popular. After the 2008 financial crisis, many people around our country pointed to the Bank of North Dakota as a model to use in other states. Public-banking advocates say that like North Dakota, a state bank would “create economic sustainability in Vermont by partnering with community banks and engaging in other activities that would leverage state funds to promote economic well-being in the state.” The people of Vermont have the right idea – if the legislators won’t stand up to the banksters, we will – and we can do it by making banking the boring business that it should be.

And that’s the way it is – for the week of March 10, 2014 – I’m Thom Hartmann – on the Economic and Labor News.