This week, conservatives in the United States Senate blocked a $60 billion piece of President Obama’s American Jobs Act from advancing — a package that would have created a national infrastructure bank and funded needed infrastructure projects while putting 450,000 Americans back to work, paid for by a miniscule 0.7 percent surtax on taxpayers making over a million dollars a year. This follows the similar conservative blockage last month of $35 billion in aid to states that would have allowed states to save the jobs of hundreds of thousands of teachers and first responders. All told, Congress has now blocked three separate jobs bills over the past month (including their original rejection of the entire American Jobs Act), a striking display of intransigence on the part of conservatives who claim to be concerned about job creation. As jobs efforts stall in the nation’s capital due to this right-wing obstruction, state legislators from 48 states and counting are letting D.C. know their states need jobs now, and many are taking the lead on job creation themselves.
As the Occupy Wall Street movement spreads across the nation and occupations promise to continue into the winter months, the physical presence of the protesters and their effective communication of the widely shared concerns of “the 99%” about the consolidation of wealth and political power is already having a significant impact on the public debate. Reeling from Occupy-inspired criticism and watching as hundreds of thousands of their customers move their money to smaller banks and credit unions, big banks like Bank of America this week backtracked on their plans to institute yet another proposed fee for debit card use. With gridlock in Congress continuing, the most significant political impact of the Occupy protests may ultimately be felt in statehouses, where the renewed national focus on the consequences of historic levels of inequality are showing signs of revitalizing prospects for a host of progressive economic policies, including one key demand of the protests: asking the 1% to pay their fair share.
A pension debate in Rhode Island this fall could set the stage for how dozens of other states take up the issue when regular sessions resume in 2012. As Progressive States Network reported last month, calls for dramatic changes to public pension systems and social security are largely an opportunistic move by conservatives to advance a privatization and anti-tax agenda. The debate playing out in Rhode Island has turned into another unfortunate instance of this, driven by a take-it-or-leave-it proposal by State Treasurer Gina Raimando – a venture capitalist by trade – that would slash benefits and partially privatize the system. To support the proposal, a newly formed lobbying organization supported by financiers and business lobbyists is running a full-press political campaign that is choking out discussion of more reasonable alternatives.
“They’re forcing us to have a very necessary conversation. And that’s the beauty of it.” — State Assemblyman Karim Camara on the effect that the Occupy Wall Street protests are having on the legislative agenda and political climate in New York state.
Reports from the Institute for Research on Labor and Employment on public sector unions and state budget deficits, Demos and Young Invincibles on the brutal economic realities faced by young adults, Citizens for Tax Justice and the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy on corporate tax dodgers, Democracy Corps on effective messages to help win the economic argument, the National Association of Child Care Resource & Referral Agencies on how children pay the price for state budget cuts, the Fiscal Policy Institute on the positive effect that immigrants have on New York City’s economy, Families USA on the key role that Medicaid plays in providing access to health care for blacks and Latinos, the National Employment Law Project on job creation policies for cities and states, and the Institute for Women’s Policy Research on the disparate effects of the Great Recession on both men and women.
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Progressive States Network works to build a network of progressive legislators, grassroots advocates, progressive policy institutions, unions and community groups to move progressive policy and transform the political debate across the fifty states.