On January 23, the US announced that it was withdrawing from the anti-democratic, anti-worker Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement [TPP] and seeking a reopening of the North American Free Trade Agreement [NAFTA]. The AFL-CIO praised the moves, saying, "Today's announcement that the US is withdrawing from TPP and seeking a reopening of NAFTA is an important first step toward a trade policy that works for working people. While these are necessary actions, they aren’t enough. They are just the first in a series of necessary policy changes required to build a fair and just global economy. We will continue our relentless campaign to create new trade and economic rules that end special privileges for foreign investors and Big Pharma, protect our planet’s precious natural resources and ensure fair pay, safe conditions and a voice in the workplace for all workers."
Shortening the war in Afghanistan by two years could easily pay half of the costs of an extension and expansion of the payroll tax holiday, the centerpiece of President Obama's jobs bill. Thus, the amendment put forward by Senator Merkley calling on the President to accelerate the drawdown in Afghanistan - which the Senate may vote on today - could make a significant contribution to creating more than half a million American jobs next year.
On Monday, Senate Democrats introduced legislation to extend the payroll tax cut. According to Majority Leader Reid, under the bill the average working family would have close to $1,500 a year more to spend. As the New York Times noted, "lower- and middle-income workers are the greatest beneficiaries of the tax cut."
Unfortunately, press reports indicate that Senate Republicans are very unlikely to support the bill, because to pay for the payroll tax holiday - which also would reduce the tax paid by employers - Democrats propose a 3.25 percent tax on gross income over $1 million.
From the point of view of the 99%, the appeal of paying for the payroll tax holiday with a tax on the very rich is obvious. As Paul Krugman has noted, the economic case for increasing taxes on the very rich is compelling.
However, if - as expected - the current Senate bill goes down to defeat due to Republican opposition, the question of how to pay for the extension of the payroll tax holiday will remain, so it makes sense to get some other good ideas for debt reduction which could pay for the tax holiday on the table.
The spectacle of Democrats and Republicans arguing about who is to "blame" for the "failure" of the "Supercommittee" is certainly tempting for many partisans. But any progressive who participates in the spectacle risks attacking their own interests to the degree that they promote the implicit assumption that the public interest would have been better served if the Super Committee had reached a deal.
We shouldn't be arguing about who is to "blame" for this development. We should be arguing about who should be awarded credit for this best-plausible-outcome.
We should, to borrow a phrase from Monty Python, be dancing on the Super Committee's grave, singing Halleluyah.
Who should get the Academy Award? The AFL-CIO? The Strengthen Social Security Campaign? The Tea Party? All of the above?
Indeed, it was a de facto coalition between the AFL-CIO and its friends and the Tea Party and its friends which again defeated the cruel plan of the extreme center to trade Social Security cuts and raising the Medicare retirement age for a relatively meaningless increase on the tax rates paid by rich people.
Why meaningless? Because tax rates raised today can easily be lowered in the future. Cutting Social Security benefits by changing the cost-of-living formula and raising the Medicare retirement age are forever.
From the point of view of the national aspirations of the indigenous people of the United States, what was the right price to charge for Manhattan Island? Surely the answer is: there was no right price. Cash is ephemeral. Control of territory could be forever.
Similarly, there is no amount of increasing taxes on rich people that can compensate low-income workers for cutting their Social Security benefits and taking away their access to Medicare.
The war supplemental for Afghanistan is expected to come back from the Senate to the House next week - without any kind of timetable for military withdrawal from Afghanistan, and without money to save teachers' jobs attached.
In a take-it-or-leave-it gesture, the Senate voted Thursday night to reject more than $20 billion in domestic spending the House had tacked on to its $60 billion bill to fund President Barack Obama's troop surge in Afghanistan.
The moves repel a long-shot bid by House Democrats earlier this month to resurrect their faltering jobs agenda with $10 billion in grants to school districts to avoid teacher layoffs, $5 billion for Pell Grants to low-income college students, $1 billion for a summer jobs program and $700 million to improve security along the U.S.-Mexico border.
Labor unions had strongly backed the House Democratic effort to attach money to the supplemental to boost employment and avoid teacher layoffs. Will these unions now urge House Democrats to vote no on any jobless war supplemental?
Few expect that the House, in a freestanding vote next week, would reject the $33 billion request for the Afghanistan war, since until now there has been a solid block of more than 90% of House Republicans committed to voting yes on what they would consider a "relatively clean" war supplemental.
Republicans in Congress are trying to block the U.S. Treasury Department from supporting U.S. tax funded International Monetary Fund contributions to the so-called "bailouts" in Europe, which, as economist Mark Weisbrot explains, aren't bailouts for working families at all - for working families, the IMF programs guarantee extreme hardship, and most Europeans would be much better off if these IMF packages collapse - but bailouts of European banks with bad loans.
The purpose of the IMF packages is to force European working families to pay off the banks' bad loans through economic austerity, rather than forcing the banks to take their losses on their bad bets, which would be capitalism, or at least the capitalism they lecture us about it in school and on the nation's op-ed pages when the politically weak are on the chopping block. As we know from the recent Latin American experience, if a country like Greece defaulted on the bad debt and got it over with, economic growth could resume. But the IMF is more of a collection agency for the big banks than an institution concerned with boosting economic growth and employment or reducing poverty.
Sometime between now and Memorial Day, the House is expected to consider $33 billion more for war in Afghanistan. This "war supplemental" is largely intended to plug the hole in Afghanistan war spending for the current fiscal year caused by the ongoing addition of 30,000 troops in Afghanistan, whose purpose is largely to conduct a military offensive in Kandahar that 94% of the people there say they don't want, preferring peace negotiations with the Taliban instead.
Of course, by itself the number $33 billion is totally meaningless. To make it meaningful, we need to compare it to something - what else could we do with $33 billion?
If the Local Jobs for America Act (H.R. 4812) becomes law, it will create or save more than 675,000 local community jobs and more than 250,000 education jobs, according to the latest estimates from the House Education and Labor Committee.
According to the House Education and Labor Committee, the bill includes $75 billion over two years for local communities to hold off planned cuts or to hire back workers for local services who have been laid-off because of tight budgets. The bill also includes $24 billion, already approved by the House in December, to help states support 250,000 education jobs, put 5,500 law enforcement officers on the beat, and retain, rehire, and hire firefighters.
A statement put out by Senator Lugar's office this week contained a striking revelation: apparently, the State Department intends to fund election observer missions of the International Republican Institute and the National Democratic Institute for the controversial November 29 Honduras election supervised by the coup regime. If the US sends election observers before President Zelaya is restored, it would prepare the ground for recognizing the coup regime and its election as legitimate, putting the U.S. at odds with the rest of the hemisphere. Funding election observers appears to be part of a strategy of legitimizing the June coup against President Zelaya.
Both the IRI and the NDI are funded by Congress through the National Endowment for Democracy.
The International Republican Institute is affiliated with the Republican Party and the National Democratic Institute is affiliated with the Democratic Party. The IRI has a sordid history of anti-democratic actions, like supporting the 2004 coup in Haiti.
The NDI, on the other hand, is at least nominally accountable to the Democratic Party, so its involvement in trying to legitimize elections under the coup regime is quite surprising. Democratic leaders in Congress, like Senator Kerry and Representative Berman, have strongly opposed the coup. Congressional Democrats have urged President Obama not to recognize elections under the coup regime.
Last month, 60 Members of the House of Representatives, including 51 Democrats, voted against the war supplemental for Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iraq. But this week, when the House is expected to consider the agreement of a House-Senate conference on the war funding, the supplemental could well be defeated on the floor of the House - if most of the 51 anti-war Democrats stick to their no vote - which they might, if they hear from their constituents.
The key thing that's changed is the Treasury Department's insistence that the war supplemental include a $100 billion bailout for the International Monetary Fund - a bailout for European banks facing big losses in Eastern Europe, the international version of the Wall Street bailout.
House Republicans, including Minority Leader John Boehner, have threatened to vote no on the war funding if the IMF money is attached. If Boehner could bring all the Republicans with him, and if all the Democrats who voted no last month voted no again, the war supplemental would fail on the floor of the House, 200-228.
But not every Democrat who voted no before will vote no now, and therein lies the drama. The House leadership didn't need those anti-war Democrats before, so in a way it was a "free vote" - 51 Democrats could vote on behalf of their anti-war constituents without running afoul of the leadership. But if Treasury insists on the IMF money, and Republicans vote no, the leadership will need 18 of those Democrats now.