But Whitman’s plan to balance the state budget also leaves a lot to be desired. As UC Berkley economic Michael Reich noted, Whitman’s promise to cut $15 billion from the budget “necessarily implies significant reductions in spending on education, health, and social service programs on top of the deep cuts already made in the past two years.” But you won’t hear that from her, if her interview today with the New York Times’ John Harwood is any indication:
HARWOOD: Every single, at the national level, big deficit reduction package…has involved tax increases, revenue, as well as spending cuts. Is the better part of honesty and candor with the voters of California to say that’s what you’re going to have to do as well?
WHITMAN: I don’t believe we are going to have to do that. I am against increasing taxes on Californians.
HARWOOD: You can close a $19 billion budget deficit just by cutting spending?
WHITMAN: And growing the economy.
In the interview, Whitman named four things that she would do to supposedly save $15 billion (which still wouldn’t eliminate California’s $19 billion deficit). Here’s a look at why they amount to little more than hot air: Read more
Back in July, the Obama administration requested $1.4 billion to continue its Race to the Top program — which provides competitive grants to states to implement education reform — but the Senate and the House both refused to play along, with the former chopping funding for the program down to just $675 million. However, the full 2011 appropriations process has not been completed yet, so there is still time to fully fund another year of the program.
But if Rep. John Kline (R-MN) — the ranking member on the House Education and Labor Committee, who will take the gavel if the GOP gains a House majority — has anything to say about it, Race to the Top might not receive any more funding, period, as he told Dropout Nation:
I think it was irresponsible of Congress to give [Secretary of Education Arne Duncan] $5 billion with no strings attached. Race to the Top did some pretty bold things and some of them were in line with the Republican agenda like expanding charter schools. Other parts can be problematic. When you begin moving to a common assessment, if you’re only going reward states for adopting common standards, then you are moving into creating a common curriculum. Many of us are afraid that with common curriculum, are moving to a national curriculum. If you look at the second tranche of Race to the Top, only the states that adopted common standards would get Race to the Top money.
This year, President Obama asked for $1.3 billion more for Race to the Top this budget year. Why should Congress give more money to a program that hasn’t proven itself? Race to the Top money is just one-time money. A lot of states didn’t get it. And the states who got the money, I’m not sure that they would have done [undertaken the required reforms] if they didn’t need the money.
First, Kline seems willing to write off the program before giving it a chance to prove itself. And it’s undeniable that program has driven reforms, even in states that weren’t ultimately awarded grants. In all, 28 states put reform measures in place to compete in the program.
Kline’s fears about the common curriculum are also unfounded, as the effort was driven by the National Governor’s Association, under Republican Gov. Sonny Perdue (GA). Though supported by the Obama administration, it is a state-led initiative that sets a floor — not a ceiling — for academic standards and has the support of the American Federation of Teachers. “Imagine in football if one team made a first down in 7 yards and the other in 10 yards. That’s not fair,” said AFT President Randi Weingarten said. “Once the states adopt this, that’s when the preparation really begins to take this from ‘should’ to ‘will.’”
As the New York Times editorial board put it, “the Race to the Top initiative won’t solve this country’s education problems by itself, but it is focusing attention on the right issues and moving them up the national agenda.” Kline and his allies in Congress seem to be ready to pull the plug on an effort that is making a difference and could pay big dividends if given the right amount of time and resources.
Last night, Washington Republican senate nominee Dino Rossi sang the praises of student loans, which enabled him to go to college. However, he then came out against the student loan reforms passed by the current Congress, calling for bankers to be put back in between students and their federal loans:
You know, part of the takeover of government has been part of the student loans. So now you have to go to government. Having many banks and many other options for you to go to makes more sense. I’d like to see every student have options in front of them. I had options. Students should have options. Parents need to have options. Unfortunately, the options are getting limited because of government control.
First off, you don’t “have to go to the government” to get a student loan. That talking point is a favorite of the banking industry, which was constantly deployed during the student loan reform debate. But private student loan programs still exist. Want a student loan from Citigroup? Go here. Prefer Bank of America? Here you go.
What the student loan reform passed by the Congress did was cut private lenders out of the federal loan business, so taxpayer money is no longer being wasted on bank middlemen (who we still pay to service federal loans). Not only does this change make more money available to students, but it will also inject $100 billion into the economy through the additional expected lifetime earnings of students who gained new access to Pell Grants.
You’d think a self-styled fiscal conservative would applaud the government removing senseless corporate subsidies and instead spending the money on students who actually need it. But Rossi evidently thinks its the height of fiscal responsibility to let banks leach off a federal program and take funding out of students’ pockets for their trouble.
Kentucky Republican senate nominee Rand Paul has already made it quite clear that he doesn’t care much for worker’s rights, as he has called for drastically rolling back federal workers protections, including those for mine workers, and has a stated desire to “get OSHA out of our small businesses.” (OSHA is the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.) During a debate yesterday, Paul made this stance even clearer, saying that he opposed the Employee Free Choice Act because, if it became law, businesses that don’t want to see their workers unionize might have to deal with a union anyway:
Let me interpret for ya. [Attorney General Jack Conway] is for the Employee Free Choice Act, which creates and allows unions to be formed and forced on businesses that don’t want to have unions. Jack is for it, I know it’s difficult to get that out of the answer.
So, in Paul’s mind, if management doesn’t want a union, then the business shouldn’t be unionized, regardless of what the workers want. Either that, or he thinks that EFCA will magically unionize workers who have no interest in being in a union. He’s either ignorant regarding how the bill would work, or in the more likely scenario, he would empower management with veto power over workers who want to form a union and collectively bargain for better wages, benefits, or safety standards.
Back in reality, EFCA would simply authorize workers to automatically form a union by signing cards signaling their favor for such a move. Workers are already allowed to form unions in this manner, and have been doing so without controversy for years. In fact, since 2003, more than half a million workers have been organized by majority sign-up, including those at Cingular Wireless, Dow Jones, Pacific Gas & Electric, and Kaiser Permanente.
The only catch is that, in order for this process to proceed, the employer has to give its okay. Even if a vast majority of workers indicate that they want to join a union, the employer can demand an election, giving itself ample time to intimidate or even fire pro-union workers and bring in union-busting consulting firms that specialize in winning unionization elections for the management. (75 percent of employers facing union drives hire anti-union consultants.) EFCA would simply remove this management veto over majority sign-up campaigns.
So does Paul favor unionization only if the employer gives its okay? That would fit into his anti-worker worldview, which, if it actually came to pass, would allow businesses to run roughshod over their employees, with no way for workers to come together and demand a better, safer workplace.
In a debate last night in Kentucky, the Senate candidates were forced to weigh in on the controversy over the Chamber’s foreign funding. Democratic candidate Jack Conway was asked to offer his stance on whether “secret donors [are] trying to influence the elections.”
Conway responded by correctly noting that the local chambers in various Kentucky towns are separate from the actions of the national chamber. Indeed, most of the local chambers operate independently. Noting that his father-in-law was a former head of a local chamber, Conway said, “Our local chambers of commerce do a great job.”
Conway continued that the “larger issue” is that the “U.S.” Chamber of Commerce and Karl Rove’s American Crossroads group are “coming in here, and spending, spending, spending, spending, and trying to take your democracy away from you.” He concluded, “I don’t think the U.S. Chamber ought to be in here in support of a candidate [Rand Paul] that’s questioned civil rights and questioned the Americans with Disabilities Act.” (To be fair, local chambers may have supported the Disabilities Act, but the national Chamber did not.)
Republican Rand Paul responded with a full-throated defense of the Chamber:
I see the Chamber as a group that fosters economic development in every community. … In fact, we would encourage you to keep attacking the Chamber because the Chamber is probably more popular than any politician running for office. So please, your side, if you like this — keep on attacking the Chamber. It makes no sense whatsoever. And I think it’s a really, really poor political tactic and untrue.
Paul seems to be intentionally conflating the local chambers with the right-wing national chamber, hoping the popularity of the independent locally-run Chambers will inoculate him from his connection to the national Chamber. According to a Washington Post analysis, the national Chamber has spent at least $500,000 to defeat Conway, and Rove’s group (American Crossroads) has spent an additional $750,000.
Moreover, since Paul likes to claim the mantle of transparency, does he think it’s appropriate that the Chamber does not disclose the donors who are funding the political attacks on Kentucky television? According a recent Bloomberg poll, 47 percent of respondents said they would be less likely to support candidates if their “campaign was aided by advertising paid for by anonymous business groups.” 56 percent of voters overall (including 53% of independents) are less likely to vote for a candidate if they know the ads supporting that candidate are paid for by anonymous corporations and wealthy donors.