A pack of millionaires descended on Washington, DC, Wednesday to tell Congress to take more of their money. The Patriotic Millionaires for Fiscal Strength, a group formed in 2010 to push Obama to allow the Bush tax cuts on millionaires to expire, are back, and lobbying for the same thing as Congress faces the looming fiscal cliff.
A dozen or so 1-percenters, representing the group's total membership of about 200, are meeting with lawmakers on both sides of the aisle this week to deliver the message that "we care as much about our country as we do about our money," and that any budget agreement Congress cobbles together in the coming weeks should include fat taxes on the rich.
At a press conference to kick off the campaign Wednesday, Frank Patitucci, CEO of NuCompass Mobility, explained why the group is seemingly advocating against its own interests. "We believe we've been able to achieve our circumstance in life because of the vibrancy of the American system we live under," he said. "Right now we're in danger of losing some of what has been valuable to us." He noted that Americans like him often pay lower tax rates than, say a middle-income single mom with two kids. "We're losing the opportunity to achieve the American dream the way we have."
More MoJo Coverage of Inequality, Taxation and the Fiscal Cliff
Garrett Gruener, a venture capitalist and entrepreneur from Oakland, California, laid out the specifics of their demands: allow top tax rates to return to Clinton-era rates of 39.6 percent, and create a new tax bracket for those who make over $10 million; let taxes on capital gains return to Clinton-era levels of between 20 and 28 percent; tax dividends at the same rate as ordinary income; bring back a hefty estate tax; and limit itemized deductions for the wealthiest Americans.
The millionaires are quick to point out that they are not just a bunch of bleeding-heart libs. They're a coalition of Democrats, Republicans, and independents who see upping taxes on the rich as a practicality, not charity.
"I'm acting out of selfishness," said Woody Kaplan, a businessman from Boston (who incidentally voted for Gary Johnson for president). "With every business I've owned, customers have been terribly important. If we give the middle class a break, then we're much more likely to grow the middle class, and that will make all of us stronger."
That sounds nice, but what about all that GOP grumbling that higher taxes on the rich will curb job creation? Balderdash, says Gruener. "Their theory is by reducing my tax rates, I'll do more to create jobs. It just isn't true.If I thought they were right about that I'd be on their side of this negotiation. But my own experience as a venture capitalist is that this sort of investment they're talking about, in fact, has nothing to do with marginal tax rates."
T.J. Zlotnitsky, chairman and CEO of iControl Systems, agreed. "When it's time for my company to hire someone, I don't make a decision based on my personal tax rate. It's based on what my customers need. It's whether we see a new opportunity, a new concept."
The Patriotic Millionaires are meeting with nine Dems and three Republican legislators over two days. When asked how exactly they planned to convince the GOP to include the millionaires' plan in a budget compromise, Zlotnitsky appeared almost offended by the idea that their proposal was partisan. "There's an assumption that everyone here is of one political persuasion," he said. "I don't think it's about that. I think it's about putting Americans first. Putting country ahead of our party. The message is that people who are fortunate in this country such as ourselves are prepared to do more for our country. Now it's up to [the GOP] to be patriotic as well."
So far, the 112th Congress—the group of lawmakers elected in November 2010—has been the least productive in modern history, having passed the fewest number of bills of all Congresses since 1947, when such statistics started being compiled. That means there's still a lot on the legislative to-do list for the last few months before the 113th Congress begins in January—the period of time Washingtonians refer to as the lame-duck session. Here are a few things Congress has on its plate:
THE "FISCAL CLIFF"
Atlaspix/ShutterstockThis is what everyone is hyperventilating about. At the end of the year, the Bush tax cuts will expire and automatic cuts will hit defense and domestic programs, lopping off $109 billion in 2013 alone. Republicans, who requested the cuts as part of last year's deal to increase the federal debt ceiling, are now desperate to avoid both the cuts and the scheduled tax increases, and President Barack Obama has said he's willing to make a deal. But Republicans don't want that deal to include tax increases, so some progressives are hoping the president may wait and simply allow the Bush tax cuts to expire before making a deal. (For more detail on this, see Kevin Drum's awesome explainer.)
Wang Chengyun/Xinhua/ZUMAPRESS.comHurricane Sandy is estimated to have done about $60 billion of damage in obliterated homes and lost business. So House members are urging leaders to increase the budget for federal disaster relief fund's budget.
SAVING THE POST OFFICE
Library of CongressCome rain, come sleet, come snow, the USPS is going under. Unless Congress saves it. Over 8 million jobs depend on the postal service, which now owes over $11 billion to the federal government. The House and Senate have bills that would restructure the post office, but Congress will likely just pass a one-year patch.
Hadrian /ShutterstockSheldon Adelson, the casino magnate and famed super-PAC donor, doesn't like online gambling. He has been lobbying hard against federal legislation that would legalize it, but now, even legalization opponents in Congress have come to terms with the fact that gambling proliferation would be worse if individual states make up their own rules, creating a mess of licensing and regulatory schemes.
Marcio Jose Bastos Silva/ShutterstockOne provision of the Dodd-Frank financial reform law says financial firms have to trade derivatives in "clearinghouses," which manage the risks inherent in those kinds of transactions, requiring traders to back derivatives with cash to cover potential losses. This session might provide an opening for industry lobbyists and friendly members of Congress to bend the law to their liking by loosening regs.
VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN
Kayla Bailey/FlickrThe Violence Against Women Act expired over a year ago. Oddly enough, violence against women hasn't. In April, the Senate passed a version of the bill that extended protections to Native American, immigrant, and gay victims, but House Republicans refused to consider it, drafting their own version that would actually scale back the protections under current law. There was talk of this being accomplished before the end of the year, but…that probably won't happen.
andreasnikolas /ShutterstockThe House has already approved a five-year extension of the FISA Amendments Act, which authorizes the monitoring of "foreign communications" without a judicial warrant. The Senate might pick up its own bill in the lame duck. As my colleague Adam Serwer has reported, the legislation contains a loophole that gives the federal government vast powers to spy on Americans: "The government can get around Americans' Fourth Amendment rights against search and seizure by 'targeting' the communications of a foreigner who just happens to be communicating with someone in the United States."
Ira Gelb/FlickrIn September, as my colleague Dana Liebelson reported, Obama signed an executive order that aims to stop US tax dollars from funding human trafficking activities by government contractors and subcontractors. There's also a bipartisan bill in Congress that would strengthen the executive initiative by imposing criminal penalties and other enforcement measures, as well as enacting more safeguards against sexual exploitation, substandard wages, and abusive working conditions.
Pedro Salaverría /ShutterstockA Mitt Romney presidency would not have been friendly to subsidies for renewables like wind. But Obama's support for the industry has been key in the effort to get Congress to renew the wind production tax credit, which now looks likely to happen before it expires at the end of the year. "Swing states with wind farms and factories went overwhelmingly for Obama, and that helps remove uncertainty regarding the extension," according to the American Wind Energy Association, which says the industry is responsible for about 75,000 jobs.
BENEFITS FOR SAME-SEX PARTNERS
Charlie Nguyen/FlickrLegislation introduced in the Senate by Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine), and in the House by members on both sides of the aisle, would offer same-sex domestic partners of federal workers health and retirement benefits. It has been floating around Congress for years. Lieberman's imminent retirement may provide the giddyup.
The race in California's 36th congressional district shouldn't have been close. Republican Rep. Mary Bono Mack hung onto the seat for six terms (after gaining it in a special election when her husband Sonny Bono, who had previously held the seat, died). Her Democratic opponent, emergency room physician Raul Ruiz, is a political neophyte; plus he was recently confronted with a politically unsavory bit of his past: a tape of him reading a letter of support of Leonard Peltier, a Native American convicted of murdering two FBI agents in 1977.
The district, which includes Riverside County and Coachella Valley, was reconfigured this year and now officially has more Democrats than Republicans. Almost half of the district's residents, and about a quarter of its voters, are Hispanic. Apparently these folks were not fond of Bono Mack's Romney-ish positions and style.
Misleading flier handed out by a poll volunteer in Pennsylvania.
Pennsylvania is quickly emerging as the national epicenter of voting chaos. In addition to epic lines, voting machine malfunctions, and what voting rights advocates describe as a possible "unreported purge of voters," Mother Jones has received numerous reports of voters being asked to show ID at the polls. In March, Pennsylvania passed one of the strictest voter ID laws in the country, but last month a state judge blocked it from taking effect until 2013.
Nevertheless, voters across the state report encountering signs and election volunteers requesting identification. Even the polling place in Shaler where Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett voted this morning boasted a hand-scrawled sign informing voters to be prepared to show a photo ID, a poll worker at the precinct told Mother Jones.
Ursula Rozum is running on the Green Party ticket in New York's 24th District, an upstate region that includes Syracuse. Dan Maffei, a Democrat who lost his seat by several hundred votes in 2010, is hoping to take it back from Republican Ann Marie Buerkle. Polling shows the race is razor tight. That means a few extra lefty votes for Rozum could Nader-ify the contest and deliver the seat to Buerkle. And New Yorkers aren't the only ones who are hip to this reality. A family of rich Republicans from Florida, who may be rooting for this very scenario, recently sent thousands in friendly campaign cash Rozum's way.
Rozum is a staff organizer for the Syracuse Peace Council and lives at the Bread and Roses Collective, a group house whose residents commit to social-justice activism, gardening, chore- and meal-sharing, and bike fixing. They do not run around naked or do drugs, she told the Syracuse Post-Standard.
Rozum has been visiting college campuses and holding rallies, handing out "Voting Green Is Sexy" stickers, and talking about climate change, job creation, student debt, cutting defense spending, and legalizing marijuana. And her message seems to be getting through: People are jumping on board her "commie lib" train. In the latest polls, Rozum had 7 percent of the vote, and Maffei and Buerkle were tied at 43 percent, with 7 percent undecided.