UPDATE: This article was picked up by the national publication In These Times and by the Daily Kos Progressive Blog Round-up. Check out the In These Times version for more details: Knights of the Progressive Roundtable.
Deals are made, and bills are negotiated not only in the halls of Congress but in offices and meeting rooms around DC. Since December 2012, Progressive Democrats of America (PDA) has been conducting monthly, Educate Congress roundtable meetings with Congressional representatives and key staff.
With a give-and-take format, these meetings allow PDA representatives and allies to discuss proposed legislation and related progressive ideas and allow Congressional representatives and staffers to offer updates, insights, and strategies.
The Progressive Roundtables provide a forum to address a broad range of issues– from Wall Street gambling and hunger in America to voting rights, immigration, fracking, universal healthcare, the living wage, austerity, tax reform, mass incarceration, and more.
“One of the things I love about PDA is you stand up for ‘the little guy,’ and that’s what government’s all about,” Massachusetts Rep. Jim McGovern told the roundtable audience in July 2013. “Donald Trump doesn’t need us [Congress], but somebody who is unemployed or somebody who is working and making so little that they still qualify for SNAP [food stamps], they need us!” More roundtable details and videos after the jump.)
Fifty million Americans, including 17 million children live in poverty, according to McGovern. PDA members nationwide mobilized in June 2013 to urge Congress not to cut foods stamps and free or discounted school lunch programs for millions of Americans. In addition to publicizing the proposed cuts through blogs and social media, PDA members hand-delivered 225 letters to Congressional offices around the country, urging their representatives to vote against any Farm Bill that included cuts to the supplemental nutrition program. In addition, they staged demonstrations at key Congressional offices, including House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi’s.
Because of PDA’s letter drops and street heat efforts outside the beltway, McGovern said that PDA “helped Democrats be Democrats” and vote against food stamp cuts. “People here knew there was a movement out there that was absolutely against gutting the SNAP program.” (Pictured above is a PDA Tucson thank you rally at Congressman Raul Grijalva's office. Below are two PDA Tucson members dropping off a letter at Congressman Ron Barber's office.)
Referring to future fights over food stamp funding, we’re still “in the game” because of PDA, McGovern said. “You are being heard.”
In addition to fighting to protect earned benefit programs like Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, unemployment insurance, and supplemental nutrition programs, PDA members and progressive Congressional representatives are pushing for legislation that would dramatically raise revenue– particularly the Inclusive Prosperity Tax, also know as the Robin Hood Tax.
Also at the July Educate Congress roundtable, Minnesota Congressional Rep. Keith Ellison offered insights into how the Robin Hood Tax fits into the upcoming budget battle with House Republicans, who continue to push for austerity (for the poor and middle class) and have threatened to shut the government down over budget battles this fall.
“The Republicans have said they want to lower the number of loopholes and lower the [tax] rates. They’ve argued for budget neutrality,” Ellison said. “If they argue that, we will continue to suffer under sequestration cuts that we have seen this year, the $85 billion.”
At the July meeting, Ellison warned of rolling cuts that will continue federal employee lay-offs– particularly Department of Defense civilians—and cuts to programs like Meals on Wheels, which delivers hot meals to the elderly and disabled, and Head Start, early childhood education for poor children. In fact, by mid-August, 57,000 poor children were cut from Head Start, a War on Poverty program that has been proven effective at helping children succeed.
“The Pain is not massive and all at once to people who are politically connected,” said Ellision. Instead the cuts will dribble out and primarily affected the “politically disconnected”.
“Politically these people [House Republicans] are not of a frame of mind to talk about ending sequestration,” Ellison continued. “But I believe this is coming to an end, and we are going to see cuts that will affect the whole country, Republicans included.”
How do progressives suggest we get the money to end sequestration and fully fund social safety net programs? The Robin Hood Tax. Officially known as the Inclusive Prosperity Tax, it would charge a tiny percentage tax on every Wall Street trade and raise $350 billion per year.
“It is more than a revenue-generator. It is a market regulator in that the financial transaction tax will slow down these erratic, flash trades, these algorithmic driven trades where literally millions of trades are taking place over a very short period of time—not based upon someone sitting down and analyzing the stock or the value of the company but just a mathematical trigger point and then all of these trades happen,” Ellison explained.
The rationale is that if individual trades are more expensive—even in an infinitesimal way—Wall Street gamblers will take the time to analyze the trades—rather than allow computerized micro-trading. “This will help markets operate in a more sensible way,” according to Ellison.
“The government and the people of the United States have the right to run the programs of the United States—health, welfare, housing,” Ellison said. The people who benefit from this infrastructure have a duty to support funding for it, and the Inclusive Security Tax is one method of raising revenue to fund the government, he concluded. More than 30 countries worldwide—including 11 in the European Union—have some form of a financial transaction tax.
“These people [House Republicans] do believe that plutocracy is the right model for America, and they’re striving to achieve it everyday,” Ellison noted. “We believe in democracy, so we’re not on the same page.”
All of the Congressional representatives at the roundtable thanked PDA members for their help, but McGovern said it most eloquently.
“It’s helpful to have wind at your back. You [PDA] are like a hurricane at my back.”
The letter drops at Congressional district offices around the country and the inside-the-beltway Progressive Roundtables are key components of PDA’s Educate Congress efforts. The letter drops take place on the 3rd Wednesday of every month. The next Progressive Roundtable will be September 11, 2013 in the Rayburn Building. As with the July meeting, a live streaming connection will be available for anyone who wants to watch. Videos also will be posted on PDA’s YouTube channel.