Erika Eichelberger

Erika Eichelberger

Reporter

Erika Eichelberger is a reporter in Mother Jones' Washington bureau. She has also written for The NationThe Brooklyn Rail, and TomDispatch. Email her at eeichelberger [at] motherjones [dot] com. 

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Feds Say Big Banks Are Still Too Big to Fail

| Thu Jul. 31, 2014 8:06 PM EDT

Six years after the financial crisis, the largest US banks are likely still too-big-to-fail, according to a study released Thursday afternoon by the Government Accountability Office (GAO). That means that these massive financial institutions are still so important to the wider financial system that they can expect the government to bail them out again if they are close to collapse.

Even though the GAO study found that this advantage banks enjoy dropped off significantly in 2013, "this is a continuing issue," Sen. David Vitter (R-La.), who has introduced legislation aimed at ending bank bailouts, told Bloomberg Thursday. "Too-big-to-fail is not dead and gone at all. It exists."

During the financial crisis, the government forked out $700 billion to bail out the nation's biggest banks. The 2010 Dodd-Frank financial reform act imposed new requirements on Wall Street designed to prevent this from happening again. The law gave federal Wall Street regulators more authority to dismantle failing financial institutions, mandated that banks hold more emergency funds on hand, and required banks to submit to yearly stress tests to ensure that they can withstand another crisis.

How effective these measures have been in ending too-big-to-fail is still an open question, and subject to heated debate in the halls of Congress. Other reports have found that even after Dodd-Frank, big banks still enjoy a huge advantage over smaller, community banks in terms of lower borrowing rates, thanks largely to the perception that they can't fail. Many investors believe the government will still bail out large, systemically important banks if they are again faced with collapse, whereas the economy can afford to lose a local bank or two. As a result, the biggest US banks benefited from a $70 billion too-big-to-fail subsidy in 2012, according to a March report by the International Monetary Fund.

Sen. Vitter, as well as Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), and John McCain (D-Ariz.) have introduced legislation that attempts to truly end big bank bailouts by forcing banks to hold larger emergency reserves and shrinking the size of massive Wall Street firms.

Fast-Food Workers Just Took McDonald’s Down a Notch

| Wed Jul. 30, 2014 12:55 PM EDT

On Tuesday evening, the federal government dealt a huge blow to McDonald’s, which has for over a year and a half been the target of worker protests and lawsuits over its low wages and questionable labor practices.

McDonald’s has long maintained that as a parent company, it cannot be held liable for the decisions individual franchises make about pay and working conditions. On Tuesday, the general counsel at the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) ruled that this is nonsense, saying that the $5.6 billion company is indeed responsible for employment practices at its local franchises. That means that the company is no longer shielded from dozes of charges pending at regional NLRB offices around the country alleging illegal employment practices.

"McDonald’s can try to hide behind its franchisees, but today’s determination by the NLRB shows there's no two ways about it," Micah Wissinger, an attorney who brought a case on behalf of New York City McDonald's workers said in a statement Tuesday. "The Golden Arches is an employer, plain and simple."

The Fast-Food Workers Committee along with the Service Employees International Union has filed numerous complaints against the company with the NLRB since November 2012. Most recently, workers filed seven class action lawsuits against McDonald’s corporate and its franchises in three states alleging wage theft. The NLRB consolidated all these complaints into the case it decided on Tuesday, which focused on whether McDonald's corporate can be considered as a "joint employer" along with the owner of the franchise.

Since the fall of 2012, fast-food workers at McDonald's, Burger King, and KFC franchises around the country have been striking to demand a $15 minimum wage and the right to form a union without retaliation. The strikes recently went global. Organizers say Tuesday's ruling will lend workers new momentum in their ongoing battle against the fast-food mega-chain.

GOP to America: Rich Kids Are Worth More Than Poor Kids

| Fri Jul. 25, 2014 7:47 AM EDT

Update, Friday July 25: On Friday, the House passed Rep. Lynn Jenkins' (R-Ks.) child tax credit legislation, which would expand the credit for upper-middle class American families. The bill received the support of 212 Republican and 25 Democrats.

On Friday, the House will vote on a Republican bill that ignores an expiring tax credit for millions of low-income families, while handing one to better-off Americans.

The bill, introduced by Rep. Lynn Jenkins (R-Ks.), changes the way the federal child tax credit works by raising the eligibility cap for married couples. At the same time, the legislation would allow a 2009 child tax credit increase for low-income families to expire at the end of 2017. Here's how that would play out in the coming years. A married couple with two children that bring in $160,000 a year would get a new annual tax cut of $2,200, according to an analysis by the left-leaning Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP). A single mother with two kids who makes $14,500 a year would lose $1,725 annually.

"The big winners would be the more-affluent families who would become newly eligible for the [child tax credit]," tax experts at the CBPP noted Tuesday. "The losers would be millions of low-income families who are doing exactly what policymakers often say they want these people to do—working, even at low-wage jobs."

Here's a look at how poor, middle-class, and wealthier Americans would be affected by the bill, via the CBPP:

The 2009 law that increased the child tax credit for poor families did so by lowering the income level required for a partial credit to $3,000 and reducing the annual income required for a full credit to $16,333. If it expires, 6 million children and roughly 400,000 veterans and military families would lose all or part of their child tax credit.

A spokesman for Jenkins explains that the reason the bill ends up extending the child tax credit to wealthier Americans is that it gets rid of the marriage penalty, which treats a married couple's total income differently than the sum of two separate incomes. The way the child tax credit is currently structured, a single person making up to $75,000 is eligible for a full credit. But for a married couple filing jointly, full credit eligibility cuts off at $110,000 instead of at $150,000, the couple's combined total income. Jenkins' bill moves the full credit cut-off to $150,000. (As income increases above these thresholds, the child tax credit phases out slowly. Under Jenkins' bill, for instance, a couple with two kids could still get the credit if they make up to $205,000.)

Jenkins' office adds that the reason that the legislation does not extend the low-income child tax credit increase is that this provision doesn't expire until the end of 2017, and future legislation can address it.

But a Democratic aide familiar with the bill says this justification is disingenuous, adding that if GOPers wanted to extend the low-income provision, they would. All 22 Republicans on the House ways and means committee voted for Jenkins' bill, while all 15 Dems on the committee voted against it. "[Republicans] can say whatever they want," the aide says. But "they are prioritizing making permanent [all the tax provisions] that they want to be permanent, and getting rid of everything else." For instance, Republicans are already pushing to extend another tax measure that expires at the end of 2017 that is designed to help parents and students pay for college expenses.

The Democratic staffer adds that if Jenkins' bill were to become law, and the low-income provision were left hanging on its own, it would be very difficult to "galvanize Congress into action" to pass a separate extension for the measure. "What carries it along is that it's bundled together," he says. Chuck Marr, one of the authors of the CBPP study, agrees that the most obvious way for the House to extend the low-income measure would be to include it in Jenkins' bill.

Even if the legislation passes the House, the bill—which would cost the government $115 billion over ten years—has little chance in the Democratic-controlled Senate.

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