Wall Street's Democrats

Robert Reich

Robert Reich Former U.S. Secretary of Labor, Professor at Berkeley

Wall Street's Democrats

In Washington’s coming budget battles, sacred cows like the tax deductions for home mortgage interest and charitable donations are likely to be on the table along with potential cuts to Social Security and Medicare.

But no one on Capitol Hill believes Wall Street’s beloved carried-interest tax loophole will be touched.

Don’t blame the newly elected Republican Congress.

Democrats didn’t repeal the loophole when they ran both houses of Congress from January 2009 to January 2011. And the reason they didn’t has a direct bearing on the future of the party.

First, let me explain why this loophole is the most flagrant of all giveaways to the super-rich.

Carried interest allows hedge-fund and private-equity managers, as well as many venture capitalists and partners in real estate investment trusts, to treat their take of the profits as capital gains — taxed at maximum rate of 23.8 percent instead of the 39.6 percent maximum applied to ordinary income.

It’s a pure scam. They get the tax break even though they invest other peoples’ money rather than risk their own.

The loophole has no economic justification. As one private-equity manager told me recently, “I can’t defend it. No one can.”

It’s worth about $11 billion a year — more than enough to extend unemployment benefits to every one of America’s nearly 3 million long-term unemployed.

The hedge-fund, private-equity, and other fund managers who receive this $11 billion are some of the richest people in America. Forbes lists 46 billionaires who have derived most of their wealth from managing hedge funds. Mitt Romney used the carried-interest loophole to help limit his effective tax rate in 2011 to 13.9 percent.

So why didn’t Democrats close it when they ran Congress?

Actually, in 2010 House Democrats finally squeaked through a tax plan that did close the carried-interest loophole, but the Democratically-controlled Senate wouldn’t go along.

Senator Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), one of those who argued against closing it, said the U.S. “shouldn’t do anything” to “make it easier for capital and ideas to flow to London or anywhere else.” As if Wall Street needed an $11 billion annual bribe to stay put.

To find the real reason Democrats didn’t close the loophole, follow the money. Wall Street is one of the Democratic party’s biggest contributors.

The Street donated $49.1 million to Democrats in 2010, according to the non-partisan Center for Responsive Politics. Hedge-fund managers alone accounted for $5.88 million of the total. Schumer and a few other influential Democrats were among the industry’s major beneficiaries.

Wall Street has continued to be generous to Democrats (as well as to Republicans).

The Democrats’ unwillingness to close the carried-interest loophole when they could also goes some way to explaining why, almost six years after Wall Street’s near meltdown, the Obama administration has done so little to rein in the Street.

Wall Street’s biggest banks are far bigger now than they were then, yet they still have no a credible plan for winding down their operations if they get into trouble.

The Dodd-Frank Act, designed to prevent another Wall Street failure, has been watered down so much it’s slush. There’s been no move to resurrect the Glass-Steagall Act separating investment banking from commercial banking.

Not a not a single Wall Street executive has been prosecuted for his involvement in the frauds that caused the mess.

Wall Street was the fourth-largest contributor to Barack Obama’s presidential campaign in 2008, and is already gearing up for Hillary Clinton’s 2016 run.

Hedge-fund and private-equity managers are donating generously to Priorities USA Action, a super PAC dedicated to getting her elected.

The hedge fund Renaissance Technologies has contributed $4 million to date. D.E. Shaw, another fund, has donated over $1 million. Khosla Ventures and Soros Fund Management have donated $1 million each.

Many Wall Street financiers have donated $25,000 (intended to be the maximum contribution) to the Ready for Hillary superPAC.

Robert Wolf, the former president of UBS’ investment bank who now has his own advisory boutique, told “Politico” that six in ten Wall Street types are Democrats, and that “when and if she decides to run, [Hillary Clinton is] going to have an incredible support foundation from Wall Street.”

Just because a candidate takes Wall Street money doesn’t mean he or she is beholden to the Street.

But the reason Democrats have pulled their punches with the financial sector for years is because it’s hard to punch the hand that feeds you.

This must stop. America can’t tackle widening inequality without confronting the power and privilege lying behind it.

If the Democratic party doesn’t lead the charge, who will?

Originally posted at RobertReich.Org.

Robert Reich served as the nation’s 22nd Secretary of Labor and now is a professor of public policy at the University of California at Berkeley. His latest book, Aftershock: The Next Economy and America’s Future, is now in bookstores. His earlier book, “Supercapitalism,” is out in paperback. For copies of his articles, books, and public radio commentaries, go to www.RobertReich.org.

Posted In: Allied Approaches

Union Matters

Steel for Wind Power

From the USW

From tumbledown bridges to decrepit roads and failing water systems, crumbling infrastructure undermines America’s safety and prosperity. In coming weeks, Union Matters will delve into this neglect and the urgent need for a rebuilding campaign that creates jobs, fuels economic growth and revitalizes communities. 

Siemens Gamesa last month laid off 130 workers at its turbine blade manufacturing plant in Iowa, just months after GE Renewable Energy decided to close an Arkansas factory and eliminate 470 jobs.

The companies reported shrinking demand for their products, even though U.S. consumption of wind energy increases every year.

America’s prosperity depends not only on harnessing this crucial energy source but also ensuring that highly skilled U.S. workers build the components with the cleanest technology available.

Right now, the nation relies on imported steel and turbine components from foreign manufacturers like China while America’s own steel industry—well equipped for this production—struggles because of dumping and other unfair trade practices.

Steel makes up the bulk of turbine hubs and the wind towers themselves. It’s also used to make the cranes and platforms necessary for installing the towers.

Yet the potential boon to America’s steel industry is just one reason to ramp up domestic production of wind energy infrastructure.

American steel production ranks among the cleanest in the world, while China has the highest carbon emissions of any steelmaking nation and flouts environmental regulations.

The nation’s highly-skilled steelmaking workforce must play an essential role in the deeply-needed revitalization and modernization of the nation’s failing infrastructure. Producing the components for harnessing wind energy domestically and cleanly is an important step that will put Americans to work and position the United States to be world leaders in this growing industry.

 

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