More Billionaire Presidential Candidates: A Bitter Pill

Leo W. Gerard

Leo W. Gerard USW International President

More Billionaire Presidential Candidates: A Bitter Pill
Former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz and soda tax sponsor Michael Bloomberg, both billionaires, prescribe political bitter pills to force down the throats of the 99 percent.

Billionaires are pretty damn sure they know what’s best for you. No more taxes on the rich and none of that Medicare-for-all is what’s best for you, according to two billionaires toying with seeking the presidency.

Or, maybe, that’s what’s best for them.

One of those billionaires, former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz, called Medicare-for-all un-American. Actually, the only thing that makes Medicare-for-all un-American is the fact America is the only First World country that fails to provide universal health insurance.

Schultz and Michael Bloomberg, the other billionaire who thinks he should be president, revealed themselves as out-of-touch, private-jet-riding, multi-mansion-owning, gold-leaf-latte-sippers by condemning lawmakers who have proposed raising taxes on the nation’s most obscenely rich.

Bloomberg said, for example, “We need a healthy economy and we shouldn’t be embarrassed about our system.”

No? It’s not embarrassing that 40 percent of Americans don’t have $400 for an emergency expense? It’s not humiliating that in the richest country in the world federal workers couldn’t afford their insulin during the government shutdown because their low pay forces them to live paycheck to paycheck? It causes no discomfort that 5 million Americans are stuck in part-time jobs when they need 40 hours? Or that so many more are trapped in precarious or contract work without security or benefits, when they need, you know, security and benefits? It’s not shameful that the number of Americans without health insurance increased by 3.2 million in the first year of billionaire Donald Trump’s presidency?

Well, the Americans who are demeaned and degraded by our system, the D.C. cafeteria workers who make so little they live in cars, the people who can only dream of affording a $5 Schultz latte don’t need or want billionaires telling them how to run their lives or how to fix the system that has rendered so many so desperate. They’ve got their own ideas.

They want an American system that fulfills its promise of equality. Not equality of income. No one is demanding that. They want a democracy that provides them with equality as self-determining citizens. They want political equality. They don’t have that parity when they are financially desperate. They don’t have it when they are uninsured or covered by insurance so costly that they can’t afford to use it. They know they are not politically equal to a Schultz or Bloomberg or Trump who can buy themselves hordes of lobbyists to get what they want from Washington, can purchase even the presidency itself, and then, with that power, sustain a system that benefits the very rich at the expense of everyone else.  

In recent weeks, several lawmakers have offered ideas to change the system for average Americans. U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren suggested a small tax on the wealth of those worth more than $50 million. U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez proposed taxing at 70 percent income above $10 million. Both of them, U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris, U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders and others support Medicare-for-all. Reducing health care costs for most Americans and increasing taxes on the uber-rich could help fund universal childcare, student debt relief and other programs to ease financial stress on the 99 percent. And that would free them to engage in political activism, to become marginally more politically equal.   

These populist pitches to rein in rule by plutocrats left Bloomberg and Schultz gagging. Barely containing his condescension, $3.4 billionaire Schultz called Ocasio-Cortez “a bit misinformed” and her tax plan, “punitive,” as if a levy on ultra-millionaires that would be lower than the 91 percent charged in 1950 would be punitive but pay so pathetic that full-time D.C. workers are reduced to homelessness is not.

Bloomberg said he knew of no country in the world with a wealth tax like the one Warren suggested. In fact, the number of nations charging such a tax has declined from 12 in 1990, as income and wealth inequality has risen worldwide, but there are still four, France, Norway, Spain and Switzerland.

Bloomberg just does not think the rich should be paying taxes. He said President Barack Obama’s proposal to raise taxes on the rich was “about as dumb a policy as I can think of.”

This is the guy who wants to tax the poor with a levy on soda pop. The $47 billionaire believes that poor people consume too many sugary drinks. He was going to “help” them keep weight off by making pop unaffordable. Rich guys like him can quaff as many $1,000 bottles of Chateau Lafite Rothschild 2009 as they want, with twice as many calories per cup as Cherry Dr. Pepper. But he was gonna control the lives of poor people.

The rich got their way in December of 2017. At the behest of billionaire Donald Trump, Congress substantially cut taxes on the wealthy and on corporations. They promised that gift to the rich would trickle down on the rest and that corporations would take those big fat savings and invest them in American factories, research and hiring. And, they claimed, there’d be so much more economic activity that the tax cut would pay for itself.

None of it happened. Corporations didn’t invest. A quarterly poll by business economists released this week found the tax cut had almost no impact on investment or hiring. Instead, corporations spent the money on stock buybacks, a scheme that enriches already-wealthy CEOs and stockholders. Buybacks hit a record $1 trillion last year, nearly 50 percent more than the year before.

The Congressional Budget Office said this week that the tax cuts pushed the federal budget deficit up to $900 billion, that they didn’t come close to paying for themselves and that their stimulus effects would wane this year.

To close that budget deficit, Republicans in Congress and the billionaire in the Oval Office refuse to consider reinstating higher taxes on the rich and corporations. Instead, they’re talking about repealing the estate tax charged only to a tiny percent of the nation’s most wealthy and slashing the very programs that non-rich Americans cherish and depend on – Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.

All of this defies logic in a democracy. Nearly 80 percent of Americans want Social Security and Medicare expanded, not cut. At least 56 percent support Medicare-for-all, not cuts to federal health insurance programs for the poor and elderly. And the vast majority of non-rich people in this country are all for increasing taxes on fat cats. Even a recent poll by the conservative Fox News found that to be the case. It determined that by a 46 point margin voters want to raises taxes on those earning more than $10 million. It was 70 percent in favor to a tiny 24 percent opposed.

But U.S. workers don’t get what they want. The rich determine which bitter pill to shove down the throats of the 99 percent. And billionaires like Schultz and Bloomberg believe they have the absolute right to prescribe that pill, political equality and self-determination be damned.


Leo W. Gerard also is a member of the AFL-CIO Executive Committee and chairs the labor federation’s Public Policy Committee. President Barack Obama appointed him to the President’s Advisory Committee on Trade Policy and Negotiation and the President's Advanced Manufacturing Partnership Steering Committee 2.0. He serves as co-chairman of the BlueGreen Alliance and on the boards of Campaign for America’s Future and the Economic Policy Institute.  He is a member of the executive committee for IndustriALL Global Labor federation and was instrumental in creating Workers Uniting, the first global union. Follow @USWBlogger

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Union Matters

Federal Minimum Wage Reaches Disappointing Milestone

By Kathleen Mackey
USW Intern

A disgraceful milestone occurred last Sunday, June 16.

That date officially marked the longest period that the United States has gone without increasing federal the minimum wage.

That means Congress has denied raises for a decade to 1.8 million American workers, that is, those workers who earn $7.25 an hour or less. These 1.8 million Americans have watched in frustration as Congress not only denied them wages increases, but used their tax dollars to raise Congressional pay. They continued to watch in disappointment as the Trump administration failed to keep its promise that the 2017 tax cut law would increase every worker’s pay by $4,000 per year.

More than 12 years ago, in May 2007, Congress passed legislation to raise the minimum wage to $7.25 per hour. It took effect two years later. Congress has failed to act since then, so it has, in effect, now imposed a decade-long wage freeze on the nation’s lowest income workers.

To combat this unjust situation, minimum wage workers could rally and call their lawmakers to demand action, but they’re typically working more than one job just to get by, so few have the energy or patience.

The Economic Policy Institute points out in a recent report on the federal minimum wage that as the cost of living rose over the past 10 years, Congress’ inaction cut the take-home pay of working families.  

At the current dismal rate, full-time workers receiving minimum wage earn $15,080 a year. It was virtually impossible to scrape by on $15,080 a decade ago, let alone support a family. But with the cost of living having risen 18% over that time, the situation now is far worse for the working poor. The current federal minimum wage is not a living wage. And no full-time worker should live in poverty.

While ignoring the needs of low-income workers, members of Congress, who taxpayers pay at least $174,000 a year, are scheduled to receive an automatic $4,500 cost-of-living raise this year. Congress increased its own pay from $169,300 to $174,000 in 2009, in the middle of the Great Recession when low income people across the country were out of work and losing their homes. While Congress has frozen its own pay since then, that’s little consolation to minimum wage workers who take home less than a tenth of Congressional salaries.

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