As leaders of the Reform Movement pointed out earlier this week, the only good thing about the deal to raise the nation’s borrowing limit is that it avoided a devastating default. Among a complex set of provisions, the deal creates a “supercommittee” to cut more than $1.2 trillion–in addition to initial discretionary cuts of $1.1 trillion–before the end of the year. Because Speaker John Boehner and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell have promised not to appoint any members to the supercommittee who will support revenue increases, its members will rely heavily on cuts to entitlement programs in order to achieve its mandate.
On Monday, the Supreme Court issued a 5-4 decision invalidating the matching fund provisions of Arizona’s public campaign financing system and threatening similar programs around the country. The consolidated McComish v. Bennett and Arizona Free Enterprise Club’s Freedom Club PAC v. Bennett is the first campaign finance case since Citizens United v. FEC (2010), in which the court overturned 63 years of precedent establishing the right of government to prohibit corporations from spending unlimited amounts of money to influence the outcome of elections. It was also the fifth campaign finance case heard by the Roberts court, and in each instance, the Supreme Court has erased existing campaign finance regulation. As such, the decision was both unsurprising and unsettling for supporters of campaign finance reform, including the Union for Reform Judaism, which submitted an amicus curiae brief defending Arizona.
It is often said that states are the “laboratories of democracy” because innovative ideas take shape at the state level before being adapted by the country as a whole. Teddy Roosevelt, however, coined the term in reference to the state of Wisconsin. In a speech before the Ohio Constitutional Convention in 1912, Roosevelt warned of the evils of unregulated corporate interests, saying, “[A] wicked big interest is necessarily more dangerous to the community than a wicked little interest” and calling for “strict supervision and regulation of these great industrial concerns…” Roosevelt singled out Wisconsin among the states for praise, calling it an “experimental laboratory of wise governmental action in aid of social and industrial justice” for its efforts to regulate the railroad industry.
In Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, Cassius stiffens Brutus’s resolve to carry out the assassination of Caesar by saying, “The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, / But in ourselves that we are underlings” (I, ii, 140-141). By this, he means that it is within Brutus and the conspirators’ power to end the tyranny that they see in Caesar’s reign. The gods gave humans the power to control their own destiny, and Cassius urges Brutus to take control of his own fate. Texas Governor Rick Perry would do well to heed this lesson.
A number of balanced budget amendments (BBA) are currently working their way through the legislative process and pose enormous economic justice challenges. When the House of Representatives returns from recess next week, it will vote (and is expected to pass) its version of the BBA.
To understand the threats posed by a BBA, one can consider the FY2012 budget proposed by House Budget Committee Chair Paul Ryan as a framework for the type of policies that a BBA would force Congress to adopt. Although the House passed the Ryan budget–that would have ended entitlement status for Medicaid and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as food stamps) and privatized Medicare, among other spending cuts (two-thirds of which came from programs that serve low-income families)–the Senate voted down the proposal.
Earlier this month, 44 Senators wrote a letter to President Obama threatening to filibuster any nominee to head the newly created Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB).
The CFPB was created by the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, which became law last year. Harvard Professor Elizabeth Warren, who conceived of and championed the idea of a financial consumer protection agency explained the rationale for such an institution in 2007:
Help the U.S. Post Office fight hunger this weekend by participating in the “Stamp Out Hunger” food drive. On Saturday, May 14, just leave a bag of food by your mailbox, and your mail carrier will deliver the food to your local food bank. Last year, the drive raised a record 77 million pounds of food. With your help, we can top that record this year and tackle the growing problem of hunger in the United States.
Last week, President Obama announced his intention to issue an executive order that would force government contractors to disclose their donations to groups that participate in political activities. The President is initiating this effort in response to the Supreme Court’s 2010 case Citizens United v. FEC, which, in overturning 63 years of precedent, allows corporations to spend unlimited sums of money on campaign advertisements. It is also a response to the failure of Congress to pass the DISCLOSE Act, which would have legislatively enacted similar policies to those the President intends to impose through executive order.