One victory won, a lot more to go!
Last week’s AHCA debacle was a great triumph for the millions who get to keep their health coverage under Obamacare. It also makes clear that our resistance is working.
This week has seen a new barrage of assaults, most notably on the livable climate that our futures depend on. Just as we did on healthcare, we will resist these attacks, and we will win.
We’ll be addressing climate issues in-depth starting next week with a mini-series of action items in the lead up to the People’s Climate March on April 29 (see last week’s item 3). This week, we’re starting two similar mini-series – on tax issues and scientific research – to build up to those marches as well.
1) Support Jon Ossoff in Georgia’s 6th District special election
2) Defend science and medical research funding
3) Oppose the Keystone XL Pipeline
4) Learn about tax reform, Part 1
5) Nepotism Watch: Stay aware of Jared Kushner’s new powers
1) Support Jon Ossoff in Georgia’s 6th District Special Election
Last month, we asked you to help support Jon Ossoff, a Democrat running in this year’s first competitive special election for the House. Ossoff is a candidate to represent Georgia’s 6th Congressional District in the seat vacated by Secretary of DHHS Tom Price.* The election is on April 18, and early voting in the special election has started this week, so your support is more crucial now than ever.
Ossoff, who has the support of Congressman John Lewis and many others, has been gaining ground in the polls and it looks increasingly like the Democrats could win the seat – especially after last week’s AHCA debacle. Momentum is on our side, but it will take concerted efforts to keep it up and get over the line on the 18th.
It may be only one House seat, and far away from many of us, but every single seat matters. Perhaps even more importantly, this is a great opportunity to build up our organizing capacity.
What You Can Do::
- If you live in Georgia’s 6th District, vote! Or get an absentee ballot.
- If you don’t live in Georgia’s 6th District, volunteer to phone bank on Ossoff’s behalf.
- Donate to Ossoff’s campaign.
- Share info about Ossoff’s campaign on social media (#FlipThe6th), especially with your friends, family, and acquaintances in Georgia.
* Fun fact – this was Newt Gingrich’s district when he was Speaker of the House. What greater irony and better symbol of our resurgence than to take it over?
2) Defend Science and Medical Research Funding
Trump’s proposed budget would drastically decrease funding for scientific and medical research.
His proposals would cut the National Institute of Health’s budget by 20%. Because the NIH uses the vast majority of its budget to fund grants to universities, major research institutions like MIT may see their overall budget drop by 8-10%. The proposed budget cuts also specifically target research in renewable energy technology.
These cuts would severely inhibit the ability of scientists, doctors, and researchers to carry out their jobs – which means that they would no longer be able to pursue projects that are desperately needed to preserve our society and planet for future generations. For instance:
- Medical research. In addition to long-term medical research campaigns, such as the search for cancer cures, vaccines, and epidemic prevention, scientists are racing to find new antibiotics to replace those that are rapidly being rendered ineffective by increasing populations of antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
- Renewable technologies. Although there has been fantastic development in the field of renewable technologies, significant R&D is needed if we expect them to replace fossil fuels on anywhere near the current scale of energy consumption. We need better batteries to account for intermittency with solar/wind electricity, as well as more advanced biofuels to account for liquid transportation fuel.
Not only would these cuts force existing projects to be decreased or even cancelled, they might even contribute to the loss of an entire generation of researchers because of the disappearance of financial support for grants and education.
It is important to communicate to legislators, as well as to the general public, how deeply this money matters beyond the walls of academic institutions.
What You Can Do:
- Call your senators and representatives, and tell them that you see great cause for concern. Ask them to make fighting these budget cuts a priority.
- Consider relating your call to a personal story: for instance, mention your affiliation with a research university, or talk about how you’ve benefited from federally funded research in the past.
- If you’re at MIT, submit your own personal story — why is the research you or your colleagues do vital? We will pass these on to MA legislators.
3) Oppose the Keystone XL Pipeline
You may recall that one of Trump’s first moves as President was to invite TransCanada to re-apply for permission to build the Keystone XL Pipeline (KXL), which would carry heavy crude oil from Alberta to refineries and ports along the Gulf of Mexico. The pipeline had been rejected by then-Secretary of State John Kerry in 2015 after much public controversy.
Last week, after a 60-day “review”, the State Department determined the pipeline to be “in the national interest” and issued the presidential permit that allows the pipeline to cross the Canadian border. Also, remember when Trump promised that new pipelines would be built from American steel? Nahhhhhh.
Despite the change in political winds, TransCanada still has a few hurdles to clear. The company must get approval and permits from the state of Nebraska before it can begin construction. Activists are gearing up to fight the project again. Also, the economics of the project may no longer make sense since oil prices have dropped and Canada has implemented an escalating carbon tax on fossil fuels.
What You Can Do:
- KXL still requires a permit from the State of Nebraska to pass through its land.
- If you belong to one of the 21 banks backing TransCanada, please remove your holdings and move to a more ethically responsible bank. Local credit unions, like the MIT Federal Credit Union, are great, accessible alternatives.
- Tell your bank why you’re withdrawing your money.
- Sign this petition to the CEOs of those banks.
4) Learn About Tax Reform, Part 1
With April 15 fast approaching, it seems like a natural time to start a mini-series about tax issues, and with Friday’s failure to pass Obamacare repeal, it looks like Republicans are turning toward tax reform as their next attempt at a big change: partially for policy reasons, and partially for their political need to look like they’re accomplishing something major. This first installment will be more focused on background and warning you about what to look for in the coming weeks, with action to follow as the Republicans’ plans solidify.
Massive, comprehensive tax reform hasn’t happened in some of our lifetimes, not since Ronald Reagan and the Democrats in Congress compromised to pass the Tax Reform Act of 1986. The GOP’s failure to coalesce around a bill to replace Obamacare didn’t help them with tax reform. However, the Republicans are eagerly looking for a “win”, and tax reform is a naturally easier issue for Republicans because there’s a strong intra-party consensus that lowering taxes is always good. That consensus is illustrated by the fact that, unlike with health care, the House Republicans (led by Speaker Paul Ryan) and the Trump campaign have both put out detailed proposals since last year, and the proposals are actually quite similar.
What would these proposals do? They would cut tax rates substantially, but especially on corporate income and passive investment income, disproportionately benefiting the richest Americans. The top 1% would get about half of the cuts under Trump’s plans, with millionaires averaging a $317,000 tax cut while a middle class family would save only a few hundred dollars.
The one significant area of uncertainty in the GOP’s tax goals is whether to impose a border adjustment tax. Without getting into the tax-law arcana, the basic idea is to reward businesses for employing people and resources in the U.S. by taxing imports but allowing deductions for exports. Many economists expect that the dollar exchange rate (or possibly inflation in the U.S.) would adjust to reflect the tax, so that the effect would only be temporary. However, other economists think it could actually hurt U.S. exporters. So far, Senate Republicans have been reluctant, and the Trump administration has been noncommittal. This is a specific issue that may not have a strong lean from a progressive-values perspective but that will likely see a lot of corporate lobbying and argument between Republicans because the effects are so uncertain and different industries will be so differently affected.
On the other hand, Trump has responded to last Friday’s collapse by threatening conservative Republicans that he will make a deal on taxes with centrist Democrats if he has to. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer has welcomed such a possibility, but it’s not clear what real agreement he could reach with even moderate Democrats–perhaps a middle-class tax cut.
So it’s not at all clear yet what’s going to happen. All that’s clear is that we need to understand these issues and be ready to take action to support progressive moves and oppose regressive ones as politicians take sides in the coming tax fight.
P.S. Don’t worry, we haven’t forgotten Trump’s tax returns. We’ll be talking about those in the coming weeks, as the Tax March approaches.
5) Nepotism watch: Stay aware of Jared Kushner’s new powers
On Monday, President Trump created the White House Office of American Innovation (OAI) via this memorandum. The OAI will directly advise the president on “policies and plans that improve Government operations and services, improve the quality of life for Americans now and in the future, and spur job creation,” causing news outlets to call it a “SWAT team” to fix the government. This new office will be staffed with business executives and headed by Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and inheritor of a real-estate fortune in Kushner companies who has no political experience. Kushner has said “The government should be run like a great American company.”
It’s too soon to tell what the effects of the Office of American Innovation will be, but it certainly adds to Kushner’s already-extensive list of roles in the Trump White House. Kushner was given a position as senior advisor to the president in January and was “expected to have a broad portfolio that includes government operations, trade deals and Middle East policy, according to a member of Trump’s transition team.”
This is disturbing at a time when Kushner is being questioned by the Senate for his ties to Russia, notably meetings with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak, and with Sergey Gorkov, the chief of a major Russian bank that was put on the U.S. sanction list after Putin’s annexation of Crimea. Furthermore, Kushner Companies is negotiating a $400 million deal with Anbang Insurance Group, a Chinese company with strong ties to the Communist Party. Jared Kushner has recused himself from the company, but it’s hard to ignore this deal in light of his involvement with policy on China.
Until next week,