Andy Kroll

Andy Kroll

Senior Reporter

Andy Kroll is Mother Jones' Dark Money reporter. He is based in the DC bureau. His work has also appeared at the Wall Street Journal, the Detroit News, the Guardian, the American Prospect, and TomDispatch.com, where he's an associate editor. Email him at akroll (at) motherjones (dot) com. He tweets at @AndrewKroll.

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Chamber v. Obama: Jobs Throwdown

| Wed Jul. 14, 2010 10:42 AM EDT

On Wednesday the US Chamber of Commerce hosts its much-anticipated jobs summit here in Washington, dubbed "Let's Talk Jobs," and to keep things feisty, the Chamber's president previewed the event by ripping the Obama administration for stifling job creation and generally being anti-business. In an open letter to the White House set for release today, Chamber president and CEO Tom Donohue says the administration has "created an economic environment that is fundamentally incompatible with our desire to expand investment and create jobs." The letter, excerpted by Politico, goes on to say, "Uncertainty is the enemy of growth, investment, and job creation. Through their legislative and regulatory proposals—some passed, some pending, and others simply talked about—Congress and the administration have created an economic environment that is fundamentally incompatible with our desire to expand investment and create jobs."

At the same time, Stan Anderson, who leads the Chamber's Campaign for Free Enterprise, told the Wall Street Journal that "We are not going to engage in a debate over whether the White House is pro- or anti-business. We really want to talk about policy." From the looks of it, however, there's no debate needed—huge swaths of the business community, fairly or not, already believe the White House is anti-business.

The administration, predictably, responded today by releasing a report laying out the number of jobs saved or created through the White House's efforts to jump-start the economy, like the hundreds of billions of dollars in stimulus funds. By the end of June, the report says, the stimulus had boosted employment by 2.5 million to 3.6 million jobs and raised the nation's GDP by about 3 percent. Christina Romer, one of the president's top economic advisers, will also hold a conference call at noon hammering away at the White House's job creation efforts and pushing back against the Chamber and Donohue.

The Chamber's event today certainly won't sing the praises of the stimulus. Its roster of speakers includes fiscal conservatives like Sen. Judd Gregg (R-RI), Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.), and Erskine Bowles, who co-chairs Obama's National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform. The solutions tossed out will probably be revolve in some way around tax cuts—in other words, liberal economist Paul Krugman's worst nightmare. But at a time when there's a 9.5 percent unemployment rate, there are nearly six jobless workers for every one available job, and nearly half of all unemployed have been out of work for six months or more, any discussion of how to get the American job machine chugging again is worth having.

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Is Your Senator Fighting Jobless Benefits?

| Tue Jul. 13, 2010 2:27 PM EDT

By week's end, 2.5 million out of work Americans will lose their unemployment benefits. Thanks in large part to the filibustering of the Republican caucus, a bill to extend those benefits couldn't make it out of the Senate. Led by Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), Senate Republicans repeatedly voted against extending jobless benefits, saying they wouldn't support the measure because it adds to the deficit. That's true: New support for the unemployed is deemed "emergency" funding, and that cost is indeed tacked onto the deficit. Another fact: This practice of categorizing jobless benefits as "emergency" funds is longstanding in Congress, something both Democrats and Republicans have done for decades. As Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), a leading voice unemployment support, recently put it, "15 million people unemployed is an emergency. [Republicans' stance] is the most cynical, political position I have ever seen."

It's a position a vast majority of Americans don't agree with, either. A Washington Post poll today reported that 62 percent of Americans think Congress should "approve another extension of unemployment benefits." Seventy percent of respondents in a June Hart Research poll (pdf) say it's too early to cut back on "benefits and health coverage for workers who lost their jobs." And a December 2009 CNN poll found that 74 percent of people support creating more jobs even if it increases the deficit.

Is Congress' Golf Habit Out of Bounds?

| Mon Jul. 12, 2010 4:35 PM EDT

Each year, two familiar haunts on Washington political circuit—the Capitol Hill Club (GOP) and the National Democratic Club—host popular golf outings where members of Congress, their staffers, and other paying participants hit the links to raise money for the two clubs. The more big-name lawmakers who show up, enjoying for free a round of golf that usually costs $3,000 to $8,000, the better. But by letting lawmakers swing away and dine for free, are the clubs breaking House ethics rules?

That's what one government transparency group, the Sunlight Foundation, is alleging. According to ethics rules, members of Congress and their aides aren't allowed to play in golf fundraisers like the Capitol Hill Club's and the NDC's. (They are, however, cleared to play charity fundraisers, so long as they're not for social and recreation clubs.) The two clubs skirt these rules by obtaining ethics waivers for lawmakers and their staffers, according to Sunlight, even though the House ethics handbook warns against giving out individual waivers.

Here's more from Sunlight on the funny business with lawmakers attending golf tournaments that should be out of bounds for members of Congress:

National Democratic Club operations manager Dana Ehlman declined to say how many members would play in the 32nd Annual Tip O’Neill Golf Tournament at in Potomac Falls, Va.

"Two or three" members and the same number of staffers are expected to attend the Capitol Hill Club outing in Alexandria, fewer than usual, because of the event’s timing, right after the Independence Day recess, according to Lawson...

All year, members pay the clubs to host fundraisers for their campaigns and leadership PACs. This year there are over 500 invitations to Capitol Hill Club fundraisers and over 70 to the NDC and its next door townhouse in Party Time’s database of invitations.

The NDC has members, staffers, and lobbyists on its board of directors, according to its website. As of its 2008 tax return, the same was true for the Capitol Hill Club.

The exemption letter for the NDC is written specifically for the golf tournament, which is the only fundraiser by the club all year, Ehlman said. The Capitol Hill Club puts on three to six fundraisers per year and its exemption allows all of these events, Lawson said.

Rick Scott's Abortion Distortion

| Mon Jul. 12, 2010 2:33 PM EDT

Rick Scott, the former health care CEO running as a Republican in the Florida governor's race, likes to tout his pro-life cred by pointing to a multimillion-dollar million lawsuit his company lost in 2003. Scott, the St. Petersburg Times reports, claims his former employer, Columbia/HCO, lost the suit because his hospital saved the life of a child, born prematurely with severe complications, even though the parents didn't want that. As Scott tells it, the story comes across as the ultimate pro-life narrative, an unwavering opposition to abortion even in the face of grave medical complications.

Except Scott's version is far from the whole story. According to the Times, when the mother of the child, Karla Miller, was rushed to hospital, the complications surrounding her 23-week-old were many. The odds the child would live anything resembling a normal life were slim, if the child survived at all. Facing this grave outlook, the Millers chose to terminate the pregnancy. But the hospital ultimately made that choice for them, and began trying to save the fetus' life. In the end, the child, named Sidney, survived—but only after a brain surgery and other drastic medical interventions that led to serious and life-altering complications, both for Sidney and her parents.

Can Big Labor Recover In the 2010 Elections?

| Mon Jul. 12, 2010 11:17 AM EDT

Big labor is on the march.

The AFL-CIO is unveiling the first phase of its on-the-ground operations for the November midterm elections. The nation's largest federation of labor unions is set to distribute 300,000 pieces of campaign fliers at workplaces in 23 different states, from Florida and Michigan to Colorado to New Hampshire, the Washington Post reports. The fliers tackle House races all the way up the gubernatorial elections, taking both positive and negative positions depending on the candidate.

But will any of it matter?

This spring, we saw AFL-CIO and other labor groups throw their full electoral muscle—not to mention $10 million—behind Arkansas Lt. Gov. Bill Halter, a progressive challenging incumbent Blanche Lincoln for the state's Democratic nomination to the US Senate. Unions had ripped Lincoln for being anti-worker, citing her opposition to card-check legislation, which would've made it easier for workers to unionize and boosted dwindling union membership totals. The unions were so intent on helping Halter topple Lincoln that AFl-CIO and the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) were among the first groups to take advantage of the Citizens United ruling, cutting campaign ads that expressly called for Lincoln's ouster—something unions couldn't do before the Supreme Court's Citizens United ruling in January.

In the end, Halter forced Lincoln into a runoff, but lost by 4 percentage points in the early June election. Halter's loss dealt a stinging blow to unions and cast doubt on their electoral clout. Conservative pundit Michael Barone wrote, "Lincoln's victory removes the credibility of the unions' threat to end the careers of Democrats who don't do their bidding. The unions rode into Arkansas like Custer rode into Little Big Horn, and unlike Custer they managed to ride out—but without the scalp they were desperately seeking."

Whether the unions' credibility is all but lost, as Barone suggests, is doubtful. After all, it's far easier to influence House races than a blockbuster Senate primary like the Lincoln-Halter race, one on which the eyes of country were trained. (Also, Arkansas has one of the lowest rates of unionization in the country, so the unions had less pull there than they might elsewhere.) But as AFL-CIO rolls out the first stage of its 2010 battle plan, it's worth watching how much of an effect labor really has on what's shaping up to be a tumultuous midterm election.

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