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Rep. Andy Barr

Photo by Gage Skidmore/ CC BY-SA 2.0

Reprinted with permission from DCReport

Ten House Republicans who fashion themselves policy wonks are out with their diagnosis of what ails the American worker. Their proposed cure is a future that would be brutish, nasty and short.

The Hobbesian, dog-eat-dog policies the Republican Study Group proposes would enhance the power of those born to privilege, just so long as nothing knocks them off their comfortable perch.

The report proposes:

  1. No forgiveness of student loans even though our federal government authorized students to borrow huge sums to attend worthless commercial schools that went bankrupt, leaving them with no degree, just debt. The Republican plan lacks even the mercy provisions for debtors written into Hammurabi's Code almost 4,000 years ago, which wiped away debts when storms, war or corruption ruined a borrower's finances.
  2. A turn away from comprehensive higher education, especially liberal arts, to focus on technical skills and employability. Forget about developing the rigorous and thoughtful minds that enable young people to become informed citizens.
  3. Throughout, the report makes recommendations that would require a larger federal government workforce to police workers, students, poor people and immigrants.
  4. Empower workers by further weakening, if not eliminating, unions. The Republican Study Group report calls for workers to have more freedom to negotiate directly with their employers, a solution in search of a problem. "Our approach would unleash the full potential of the American people by refocusing labor policy to provide workers more control over their own future," the report states. Given that individual workers are mostly commodities, that's the equivalent of urging that each grain of wheat in a silo be free to negotiate whether it goes into the grist mill first or last.
  5. Get tough on the poor and immigrants, who are portrayed as greedy thieves who shirk work, especially during the coronavirus pandemic. The poor and hungry get the blame for high levels of what the report artfully calls "improper payments" despite evidence that mostly these are screwups by federal agencies, not applicants. Not a word, by the way, is said about thieving defense contractors, farmers and other business operators even though a link in the report is full of examples where such businesses benefit from fraud, waste and abuse.
The report's attacks on labor unions comes right out of the Donald Trump playbook.

The 66-page report, Reclaiming the American Dream: Proposals to Empower the Workers of Today and Tomorrow, is amazingly slipshod. Frankly, the study group, lead by Rep. Mike Johnson (R-La.) and its staff should be ashamed that they published such low-quality work.

Rep Mike Johnson (R-La.)

Many hypertext links in the End Notes don't work, including the first. Others point to web pages that generate a "404" page missing response. While some End Notes refer to official data, many point to ideological marketing organizations like the Heritage Foundation and polemics based on a priori assumptions.

Anti-Union Claim

Bizarrely, the report characterizes unions as holding down the compensation of members. That's absurd since the whole point of collective bargaining is to ensure that workers get fairly paid for their contribution to their employer's financial success.

Consider this lie on Page 32: "Under current law, union contacts set both a wage floor and a wage ceiling. As a result, individual workers cannot be given raises, including performance-based raises, by their employer."

No law is cited because none exists. And not one example of a contract that prohibits merit pay is cited in the report or in the right-wing newspaper article to which it links. I've negotiated a labor contract and I've read countless such collective bargaining agreements, none of which had prohibition of merit pay or bonuses. It's possible they exist, but the Study Group fails to show any evidence.

How revealing, though, that the Republican Study Group describes its imaginary prohibition on merit pay and bonuses as entirely a problem with unions rather than employers. The incentive to hold down pay lies with companies, not unions.

The report's attacks on labor unions as a detriment to members comes right out of the Donald Trump playbook in which making stuff up or distorting it without any respect for facts is the name of the game. Just make the claim and damn reality.

Throughout, the report makes recommendations that would require a larger federal government workforce to police workers, students, poor people and immigrants. Many more auditors and investigators would be needed to investigate anyone who relies on what remains of America's tattered social safety net.

Implementing the proposed changes also would require massive investments in technology, primarily computers to both operate federal programs and to find people who abuse these benefits.

Neglecting to propose these expansions of investigative staff and computer systems makes the study group report empty rhetoric that reveals its members' mindset, favoring much more top-down power and punishment.

Attacking Working-Class Leisure

The report attacks not working, something a wealthy nation could reasonably aspire to achieve. "Among the civilian labor force, less than half of those who fail to complete high school are participating in the labor force," the report states, accurately.

Heaven forbid that people not work. This is on a theme with Trump, who throughout his 2016 campaign complained that too many Americans were not working.

Of course, there are many reasons people don't work, especially the "poorly educated" whom Trump often says he loves.

Those reasons include staying home to raise children, which Republicans used to hail as a virtue. Then there's caring for elderly parents or a disabled spouse or just enjoying leisure instead of chasing every last buck.

Unmentioned in the report are government policies that have driven down wages for the "poorly educated," an issue examined in my 2014 anthology DIVIDED: The Perils of Our Growing Inequality. For the many people whom nature or education made fit only for unskilled work, wages are now so low that it doesn't pay to get a job and can actually make you worse off.

We would have more people working if we moved to the shorter workweeks and mandatory paid vacations found in, say, Germany. That's anathema to the Study Group's perspective.

Tough Luck for Scammed Students

Another bizarre claim is that forgiving the debt of students swindled by corrupt fake colleges "would actually drive up the cost of college tuition and send the message that students who make irresponsible borrowing decisions will ultimately be bailed out by the federal government."

What of the responsibility of Congress, under both Democratic and Republican majorities, and presidents from both parties who enabled fake colleges and who put in place the harsh student loan rules that are also examined in my 2014 anthology DIVIDED. My 2008 bestseller Free Lunch tells of a student loan company that bought a Gulfstream jet to ferry members of Congress around gratis, the kind of institutional bribery that can distort the priorities of lawmakers.

Nowhere does the Republican Study Group propose the most obvious answer to America's higher education affordability issues. To prepare our young for the increasingly complex world of the future, we could simply restore the mid-20th century policies of making public higher education tuition-free or nearly so, an investment of tax dollars to build a prosperous and durable future.

Not everything in the report is without merit. The federal government operates, the study group says, 90 social welfare programs. Consolidating and simplifying those programs is a worthy goal. The report, though, is antagonistic to such programs, making any reader reasonably suspicious of changes the Study Group would seek.

This misunderstanding of the American students' and workers' needs should come as no surprise considering the signatories of this report. Nine are male. All ten are white.


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Former President Donald Trump, left, and former White House counsel Pat Cipollone

On Wednesday evening the House Select Committee investigating the Trump coup plot issued a subpoena to former White House counsel Pat Cipollone, following blockbuster testimony from former White House aide Cassidy Hutchinson, who said the lawyer had warned of potential criminal activity by former President Donald Trump and his aides.

The committee summons to Cipollone followed long negotiations over his possible appearance and increasing pressure on him to come forward as Hutchinson did. Committee members expect the former counsel’s testimony to advance their investigation, owing to his knowledge of the former president's actions before, during and after the January 6, 2021 attack on the U.S. Capitol.

Keep reading... Show less

Mark Meadows

Donald Trump’s White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows wanted a presidential pardon. He had facilitated key stages of Trump’s attempted 2020 coup, linking the insurrectionists to the highest reaches of the White House and Congress.

But ultimately, Meadows failed to deliver what Trump most wanted, which was convincing others in government to overturn the 2020 election. And then his subordinates, White House security staff, thwarted Trump’s plan to march with a mob into the Capitol.

Meadows’ role has become clearer with each January 6 hearing. Earlier hearings traced how his attempted Justice Department takeover failed. The fake Electoral College slates that Meadows had pushed were not accepted by Congress. The calls by Trump to state officials that he had orchestrated to “find votes” did not work. Nor could Meadows convince Vice-President Mike Pence to ignore the official Electoral College results and count pro-Trump forgeries.

And as January 6 approached and the insurrection began, new and riveting details emerged about Meadow’s pivotal role at the eye of this storm, according to testimony on Tuesday by his top White House aide, Cassidy Hutchinson.

Meadows had been repeatedly told that threats of violence were real. Yet he repeatedly ignored calls from the Secret Service, Capitol police, White House lawyers and military chiefs to protect the Capitol, Hutchinson told the committee under oath. And then Meadows, or, at least White House staff under him, failed Trump a final time – although in a surprising way.

After Trump told supporters at a January 6 rally that he would walk with them to the Capitol, Meadows’ staff, which oversaw Trump’s transportation, refused to drive him there. Trump was furious. He grabbed at the limousine’s steering wheel. He assaulted the Secret Service deputy, who was in the car, and had told Trump that it was not safe to go, Hutchinson testified.

“He said, ‘I’m the f-ing president. Take me up to the Capitol now,’” she said, describing what was told to her a short while later by those in the limousine. And Trump blamed Meadows.

“Later in the day, it had been relayed to me via Mark that the president wasn’t happy that Bobby [Engel, the driver] didn’t pull it off for him, and that Mark didn’t work hard enough to get the movement on the books [Trump’s schedule].”

Hutchinson’s testimony was the latest revelations to emerge from hearings that have traced in great detail how Trump and his allies plotted and intended to overturn the election. Her eye-witness account provided an unprecedented view of a raging president.

Hutchinson’s testimony was compared to John Dean, the star witness of the Watergate hearings a half-century ago that led to the resignation of President Richard Nixon for his aides’ efforts to spy on and smear Democrats during the 1972 presidential campaign.

“She IS the John Dean of the hearings,” tweeted the Brooking Institution’s Norman Eisen, who has written legal analyses on prosecuting Trump. “Trump fighting with his security, throwing plates at the wall, but above all the WH knowing that violence was coming on 1/6. The plates & the fighting are not crimes, but they will color the prosecution devastatingly.”

Meadows’ presence has hovered over the coup plot and insurrection. Though he has refused to testify before the January 6 committee, his pivotal role increasingly has come into view.

Under oath, Hutchinson described links between Meadows and communication channels to the armed mob that had assembled. She was backstage at the Trump’s midday January 6 rally and described Trump’s anger that the crowd was not big enough. The Secret Service told him that many people were armed and did not want to go through security and give up their weapons.

Trump, she recounted, said “something to the effect of, ‘I don’t f-ing care that they have weapons. They’re not here to hurt me. Take the mags [metal detectors] away. Let the people in. They can march to the Capitol from here.

As the day progressed and the Capitol was breached, Hutchison described the scene at the White House from her cubicle outside the Oval Office. She repeatedly went into Meadows’ office, where he had isolated himself. When Secret Service officials urged her to get Meadows to urge Trump to tell his supporters to stand down and leave, he sat listless.

“He [Meadows] needs to snap out of it,” she said that she told others who pressed her to get Meadows to act. Later, she heard Meadows repeatedly tell other White House officials that Trump “doesn’t think they [insurrectionists] are doing anything wrong.” Trump said Pence deserved to be hung as a traitor, she said.

Immediately after January 6, Hutchinson said that Trump’s cabinet discussed invoking the 25th Amendment to remove a sitting president but did not do so. She also said that Meadows sought a pardon for his January 6-related actions.

Today, Meadows is championing many of the same election falsehoods that he pushed for Trump as a senior partner at the Conservative Partnership Institute (CPI), a right-wing think tank whose 2021 annual report boasts of “changing the way conservatives fight.”

His colleagues include Cleta Mitchell, a lawyer who pushed for Trump to use every means to overturn the election and leads CPI’s “election integrity network,” and other Republicans who have been attacking elections as illegitimate where their candidates lose.

Hutchinson’s testimony may impede Meadows’ future political role, as it exposes him to possible criminal prosecution. But the election-denying movement that he nurtured has not gone away. CPI said it is targeting elections in national battleground states for 2022’s midterms, including Arizona, Georgia, Florida, Michigan, and Pennsylvania.

Trump did not give Meadows a pardon. But in July 2021, Trump’s “Save America” PAC gave CPI $1 million.

Steven Rosenfeld is the editor and chief correspondent of Voting Booth, a project of the Independent Media Institute. He has reported for National Public Radio, Marketplace, and Christian Science Monitor Radio, as well as a wide range of progressive publications including Salon, AlterNet, The American Prospect, and many others.

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