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Alan Grayson

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Member since: Sat May 22, 2010, 12:02 PM
Number of posts: 485

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It’s Too Late, Baby, Now It’s Too Late

It’s too late.

What’s too late? Avoiding the fiscal cliff? The world ending on Dec. 21, 2012? You winning the $942 million 2012 Spanish Christmas lottery? April showers bringing May flowers?

Quite possibly. But that’s not what we’re talking about.

It’s too late for you to give a Christmas gift to our campaign. Or Chanukah gelt. Or Kwanzaa bucks. It’s just too late.

But don’t fret. It is not too late for you to make a New Years Day contribution to our campaign. And we would be grateful for that, because we still have bills left over from the November election. So please. We don’t want to start off 2013 in debt, like . . . like . . . like, well, the federal government, for instance.

Please send some dollars our way to make it a Happy New Year for us, our oh-so-patient creditors, and perhaps even yourself, knowing that you have given a boost to the campaign of someone who will make a difference. Someone who will fight for the things that you care about. Someone who will say the things that everyone is thinking, but no one else is saying. Our Congressman With Guts, Alan Grayson.

Contribute today. When you do, we feel the earth move, under our feet.

You have only 72 hours. Surely, it doesn’t take that long to click here. After that, it’s too late.

“It’s too late, baby, now it’s too late,
Though we really did try to make it.
Something inside has died, and I can’t hide,
And I just can’t fake it.”

- Carole King, “It’s Too Late” (1971).

Legislation Constipation

Here are what I modestly and humbly refer to as “Grayson’s Laws of Legislating”: (1) Vote for what you’re in favor of. (2) Vote for what you can live with, if you must do that to get what you need. What we’ve been seeing in the House of Representatives lately have been massive and pervasive violations of Grayson’s Laws of Legislating. Instead of “I’ll vote for X because it’s right,” or “You don’t like X and I don’t like Y, but I’ll vote for X and Y if you vote for X and Y,” instead it’s “If I don’t get Z, I ain’t votin’ on nothin’.” And that’s the problem.

Let’s take one very pertinent example: the impeding tax increases on taxpayers making less than $250,000 a year. I don’t know a single Member of the House, Democratic or Republican, who has said on the record that he or she is in favor of raising taxes, starting next Tuesday, on taxpayers making less than $250,000 a year. Let’s suppose that you crafted a one-sentence bill reading as follows: “There shall be no income tax rate increases for the 2013 tax year on taxpayers making less than $250,000 a year.” Let’s suppose that you then administered sodium pentathol to every Member of Congress. Let’s suppose that you then had a vote on that bill. Obviously, it would pass the House by 435 to 0, or something close to that. Followed immediately by unanimous passage by the Senate, and the President’s signature.

(Here is another entertaining thought experiment: Just for fun, administer sodium pentathol to Rush Limbaugh, too. You’d have three hours of total silence on the airwaves.)

So anyway, in the case of “no income tax rate increases for everyone but the rich,” Grayson’s First Law of Legislating is sufficient. Everyone’s in favor of it, so everyone votes for it. Done.

It turns out that many, many components of the so-called “fiscal cliff” could be resolved quite simply by applying Grayson’s First Law of Legislating. I think it’s fair to say that a majority of the Members of Congress, right or wrong, are in favor of raising the debt ceiling before the government’s borrowing capacity is exhausted. I think it’s fair to say that a majority of the Members of Congress, right or wrong, are against a 27% cut in Medicare payments to doctors, starting next week. I think it’s fair to say that a majority of the Members of Congress, right or wrong, are against an 8% cut in air traffic control on Jan. 1. If you had single votes, up or down, on 90% of the components of the “fiscal cliff,” the outcome would not be in doubt.

And as for the remaining 10%, then you’ve got Grayson’s Second Law of Legislating to apply. I really, really don’t want to see unemployment insurance benefits cut off for millions of unemployed workers, seven days after Christmas. Maybe Rep. Skullinrear (R-Tea Party) doesn’t care. But Rep. Skullinrear really, really doesn’t want to see a 12% cut in defense spending from sequestration next week. I may not share Rep. Skullinrear’s morbid preoccupation with blowing stuff up. Nevertheless, his morbid preoccupation with blowing stuff up, together with my odd aversion to seeing families living in cars, gives the two of us something to talk about.

Mick Jagger, that eminent political scholar, had it all figured out more than forty years ago. You can’t always get what you want. But if you try sometimes, you just might find – you just might find -- that you get what you need.

But in the House, that’s not what we’re seeing at all. Instead, we see what might be called the “Young John McCain” Law of Legislating. Senator John McCain has written that when he was a toddler, he sometimes got so furious that he held his breath until he passed out.

Now John Boehner is doing it. Boehner is holding his breath until America passes out.

It’s been ten months since the Chairman of the Federal Reserve Board coined the term “fiscal cliff” when he called attention to the “massive fiscal cliff of large spending cuts and tax increases” that will go into effect less than a week from now. Ten months. But in all of that time, there has been nothing in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives even remotely resembling a line-by-line vote on whether each one of those spending cuts and tax increases, individually, is good or bad. Just John Boehner holding his breath until the Democrats “agree” to extending tax breaks for the rich, and cutting Social Security and Medicare benefits.

It’s the worst case of legislation constipation that I’ve ever seen. But that’s what happens – what ought to happen -- when the folks in charge say over and over again, “I’m in favor of X, but I won’t vote for X, or even allow a vote for X, unless I get Y.”

We’re going to need some kind of patch to get through this. But I hope that the Powers That Be learn from this mistake. Slice it all into little pieces, and then vote each piece up or down. It works. And it’s a lot more practical than hoping that John Boehner, or Barack Obama, pulls a rabbit out of his hat.


Alan Grayson

Oh, you can't always get what you want.
Oh, you can't always get what you want.
Oh, you can't always get what you want.
But if you try sometimes,
You just might find, you just might find,
You get what you need.

- The Rolling Stones, “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” (1969).

The “Chained CPI” Cut – “If You Can’t Dazzle Them With Brilliance . . .”

Let me get right to the point. I'm against the proposed "chained CPI" cut in Social Security because it substantially undermines the protection against inflation that Social Security recipients enjoy under current law. The existing cost of living adjustment ("COLA" already understates actual increases in the "cost of living"; the chained CPI would exacerbate the problem.

I understand that the vast majority of Americans -- including, quite possibly, most people reading this - have no burning desire to learn anything about the chained CPI. It has, however, become a major part of the "fiscal cliff" negotiations, and so it has become one of those things that people have to learn about, for their own protection.

Where we are now in the fiscal cliff negotiations is that Speaker Boehner is talking about reducing the federal deficit in the exact same way that Governor Romney did - Boehner says that he wants to, but he won't tell us how. President Obama, boxed in by the poll-driven sense that he must-must-must propose something "balanced," is "balancing" the reduction of tax breaks for the rich against the reduction of the protection that seniors have against inflation. On the merits, however, reducing that protection is undeserved, unwise and unfair.

Social Security benefits are automatically adjusted each year to reflect increases in the cost of living, as determined by the consumer price index (CPI). The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics calculates the CPI each month.

Here is how the "chained CPI" would change things: Let's say that the cost of gasoline tripled, from $3.33 per gallon to $10 per gallon. Most people would call that a 200% increase in the price of gas. That's how it would be calculated under the CPI today. Under the chained CPI, however, it would be calculated at less than 200%, because some people couldn't afford to pay $10 a gallon. They would drive less. They might have to take the bus to work. They might take a "staycation" instead of a vacation.

Because a tripling in the price of gas basically makes everyone poorer, and thus less able to buy gas, the chained CPI doesn't count that as a 200% increase. It reduces the percentage increase in proportion to the amount of gas that people can no longer afford to buy.

In fact, the bigger the price increase (and the poorer people get), the bigger the gap between the actual price increase and the chained CPI adjustment. This effect starts off small, and barely noticeable, but then as time goes by, it swells like a blister. In fact, it swells from $1.4 billion in the first year to $22 billion in the tenth year, according to the Congressional Budget Office. So the chained CPI is inflation protection that, by design, inflation itself erodes. Ain't that just grand?

To make things worse about the chained CPI, there is no evidence that the existing CPI is somehow overpaying seniors. On the contrary, as John Williams has pointed out at Shadowstats.com, if the Government simply calculated the CPI today in the same manner as it did through 1990, then every year, the CPI increase would be approximately 3% higher. If the Government calculated the CPI today in the same manner that it did before 1980, then every year, the CPI increase would be approximately 7% higher. That's the sort of thing that happens when you pretend (as the CPI now does) that a computer with a CPU that is twice as fast is the same as a computer that costs half as much.

And let's be honest: you know plenty of Social Security recipients. Have you seen any of them driving a brand-new Lexus, thanks to a COLA increase?

The political proponents of the chained CPI are hoping that you don't understand it. Because when you do understand it, you won't support it. We should be doing more to protect seniors against inflation, not less.

The chained CPI calls to mind something that W.C. Fields once said: "If you can't dazzle them with brilliance, baffle them with . . . " With the chained CPI.


Alan Grayson

"And time goes by, so slowly,
And time can do so much.
Are you still mine?"

- The Righteous Brothers, "Unchained Melody" (1965).

“The Taxpayers Are Getting Fed Up”

The Middle Class feels squeezed, and a lot of people are angry. They are told to be angry about Social Security and Medicare benefits, but the truth is that both Social Security and Medicare operate at a profit. They are told to be angry about state employee pay and benefits, but virtually all states already have a balanced budget. Maybe they should direct their anger toward companies that fail to pay a living wage, requiring the taxpayers to make up the difference. Here is what Congressman Alan Grayson (D-Orlando) said on Cenk Uygur’s national TV show about that, recently, while explaining why he joined protesting Walmart workers on Thanksgiving:

CENK: And Congressman Alan Grayson from Florida is joining us now. Congressman, it’s great to have you with us. First of all, how angry was your family when you didn’t join them for Thanksgiving dinner?

ALAN: {Laughter.} They’re used to making sacrifices, in my case. They’ve been doing it for years.

CENK: Okay. All right, in all seriousness, what were you doing there? Why did you want to go and give these people turkey sandwiches? What was the real objective?

ALAN: We handed out bags to the workers who had to work. They didn’t want to work -- they had to work, on Thanksgiving night, and couldn’t be with their families. The bags had three things inside: a turkey sandwich, because it was Thanksgiving; a bag of chips; and a letter informing them of their right to organize.

CENK: All right, now what do you think here? Walmart says, “Hey listen, these strikes were no big deal. Only about fifty people walked out.” Now there are reports that that’s just not true. “But you know, we’re just perfectly lovely to our employees. I don’t know what you guys are complaining about.” How do you respond to that?

ALAN: Well, it’s ridiculous. As you pointed out, the average associate at Walmart makes less than $9 an hour. I don’t know how anybody these days can afford their rent, afford their food, afford their health coverage, afford their transportation costs just to get to work, when they’re making only $9 an hour or less.

And who ends up paying for it? It’s the taxpayer. . . . The taxpayer pays the earned income credit. The taxpayer pays for Medicaid. The taxpayer pays for the unemployment insurance when they cut their hours down. And the taxpayers pay for other forms of public assistance like food stamps. I think that the taxpayer is getting fed up paying for all these things when, in fact, Walmart could give every single employee it’s got, even the CEO, a 30% raise, and Walmart would still be profitable.

CENK: Now Congressman Grayson, you’re going back in to Congress now. Is there anything you can do about it legislatively, or is it just simply political and economic pressure on Walmart to be more decent to their workers?

ALAN: Well one thing we’ve already done is in the Affordable Care Act. We have a mandate that the employer is supposed to provide health coverage, or pay the difference. And I think that’s going to make a big difference in the lives of these Walmart workers. But that’s just the start. I don’t think that Walmart should, in effect, be the largest recipient of public assistance in the country. In state after state after state, Walmart employees represent the largest group of Medicaid recipients, the largest group of food stamp recipients, and the taxpayers shouldn’t have to bear that burden. It should be Walmart. So we’re going to take that burden and put it where it belongs, on Walmart.

CENK: So that’s really interesting. And I want the audience to understand this. It’s really fascinating because Walmart, as Congressman Grayson is saying there, winds up becoming the biggest taker of government subsidies in some of these programs. But the six heirs to the Walmart fortune have more money that 40 percent of the country combined. That is amazing.

Congressman Grayson, the liberal think tank Demos came up with this idea. They said, “Look, if you just increase wages to $25,000 a year for the average Walmart worker . . . that would increase costs to us of $20 per year for the customer, right?" Twenty dollars per year doesn’t seem like a lot for the average customer. And then, here are the results. Do you know what it would do? It would lift 1,500,000 people out of poverty, create 100,000 new jobs, and give a $13.5 billion (gross domestic product) boost. Now what do you make of those numbers? Is that a deal that you think the American people are willing to take, if it costs an extra $20 a year to have these people make a decent wage, and possibly improve the economy?

ALAN: Listen, I think those numbers are mostly right, but I think the numbers are actually different from that. According to the numbers that I’ve seen, as I said before, every Walmart employee could get that raise to $25,000 a year, every single one of them, and Walmart would still be profitable, without raising prices.

Look, Walmart already charges people as much as they possibly can. That’s the nature of being in business. But what they do is give their employees as little as they possibly can. They exploit them and keep them in the dark, without benefits and without knowledge of the right to unionize. The difference is what they call “profit.” And Walmart is hugely, hugely profitable.

So I don’t think customers are going to end up paying any more at all; not a penny more. What’s simply going to happen is that Walmart is going to make a little bit less profit.

CENK: All right, Congressman Grayson. Good to have a progressive fighter back in Congress. Thank you for joining us, and back at Walmart, and sticking up for people as well. Thank you so much.

ALAN: You’re welcome.

Ask yourself this: who else among our so-called Representatives is standing up for the working poor? Who else is helping to make the right to organize something real? Isn’t it about time that you showed your support again for a Congressman With Guts? It’s not hard – just click on that CONTRIBUTE link below.


“We Want the Working Poor to Have a Better Life”

Following the Thanksgiving protests at Walmart, CNN invited Congressman Alan Grayson on the air to explain what they were all about. Here is what he said:

CNN’S CAROL COSTELLO: Here in the United States, the protest against Walmart goes on. And you can count Representative-Elect Alan Grayson with standing with the company’s workers. He joins us now live. Welcome.

ALAN GRAYSON: Thank you.

COSTELLO: You attended a walkout at a Walmart in Orlando on Black Friday, and you showed your solidarity the night before by delivering bagged meals to Walmart employees who had to work on Thanksgiving, and that caused Walmart to call the cops. So tell us what happened.

GRAYSON: Well, we went to Walmart to hand out Thanksgiving dinners to them because they had to work on their Thanksgiving. They couldn’t be with their families. So we brought a bag; the bag had three things in it. A turkey sandwich, because it was Thanksgiving. A bag of chips. And a letter explaining to them their rights to organize.

COSTELLO: So the cops were called? What did the cops do when they arrived? Tell us about that.

GRAYSON: Well, it was the security staff. Walmart always has security staff around. Once they saw that we were handing out the bags, they objected to that, asked us to leave, and we left. The security staff simply escorted us, as they often do. But the important thing is we showed the workers, first of all, what their rights are, because Walmart tries to keep them in the dark. And we showed them that they’re not alone, that people actually care. That we want the working poor to have a better life in America.

COSTELLO: You posted a letter on your Facebook page and you wrote this: “Walmart accounts for more than 10% of all the retail sales in the United States. It is the largest private employer in the world, with more than two million employees. And even though those employees comprise barely ten percent of its cost of doing business, Walmart exploits them mercilessly. Now Walmart employees are starting to organize, starting to fight back.” I had a conversation at dinner last night with someone who says, “Hey if you don’t like working at Walmart, get another job.”

GRAYSON: Well listen, all the people who have those kinds of jobs suffer from the fact that we have 8% unemployment. But we all suffer from the fact that Walmart underpays its employees.] The average associate at Walmart makes barely $1,200 a month. That’s $1,200 a month. Could you live on $1,200 a month? I couldn’t.

And the fact is that they don’t (live solely on that), because the taxpayers end up subsidizing them. Because Walmart underpays them, the taxpayers end up paying for their Medicaid. Because Walmart underpays them, the taxpayers end up paying for their food stamps. In fact, each Walmart associate costs the taxpayers over $1,000, and it is time to end that. Walmart needs to pay for its own employees, and give them a living wage.

The minimum wage needs to be higher. Walmart and other employers need to pick up the tab on health insurance and health coverage for their own employees, and stop handing that tab off to the taxpayers.

COSTELLO: When many of those protests happened on Black Friday, we noticed that not a lot of workers comprised the big crowds. It was mostly union people, community leaders, and a few Walmart workers. Some might say that really the unions are behind this, the employees aren’t behind this so much.

GRAYSON: Well, in fact, at one Walmart not too long ago, 200 Walmart employees walked out, and shut down the store. But the Walmart employees in general are afraid. They’re being intimidated. They’re being told in many cases, “If you even talk about a union, you’ll be fired.” Here in Orlando, one of the employees who talked about a union was fired. He came back a few days later just to talk to his former employees, his former staff, his former colleagues, and they led him off the premises in handcuffs, in a way that everyone else could see. So these employees are being intimidated. They want to help. They want to join. They want to make their lives better, but Walmart is doing everything it can to prevent that.

COSTELLO: Well, frankly it seems like Walmart is winning. It had one of its biggest Black Fridays ever. It didn’t stop people from shopping, these protests.

GRAYSON: The protests are not meant to stop people from shopping. The protests are meant to inform workers of their rights to organize under the law and under the Constitution. And to make sure that they understand that they’re not alone, and they will be protected if they exercise their rights. It’s not meant to raise prices. It’s not meant to interfere with shopping. It’s meant to organize people who desperately need to be organized, to make a better life for themselves.

COSTELLO: Representative-Elect Alan Grayson, thanks so much for being with us this morning.

GRAYSON: Thank you too.

Ask yourself this: who else among our so-called Representatives is standing up for the working poor? Who else is helping to make the right to organize something real? Isn’t it about time that you showed your support again for a Congressman With Guts? It’s not hard – just click on that CONTRIBUTE button below.
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