As ThinkProgress’ Zaid Jilani cataloged earlier this month, the Occupy Wall Street demonstrations have helped shift media coverage away from conservative concerns about the federal debt and deficit to the more progressive (and important) issues of unemployment and unequal income distribution.
Now, the 99 Percent Movement’s influence on the wider political landscape is becoming clear. According to a new poll from the Hill, the majority of likely voters now say “income inequality has become a big problem for the country,” and “majorities across practically all income levels, and all political, philosophical and racial lines agreed that the middle class is being reduced.” Nearly seven in 10 respondents said the current tax system — which a recent Congressional Budget Office report said is partially responsible for income inequality — is “unfair.”
That CBO report showed that average income of the top 1 percent increased 275 percent from 1979 to 2007, while growing by just 18 percent for the bottom 20 percent of earners. The issue has become so salient that even Republican lawmakers are beginning to feel obliged to address it, Politico’s Marin Cogan and Jake Sheman report:
Income inequality, a cause of liberal economists and pundits, is working its way into the discourse of Republicans on Capitol Hill. [...]
So rather than ignore the disparity — and risk looking out of touch — Republicans are acknowledging income inequality. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) is discussing it; House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) has talked about wealth disparity; and rank-and-file Republicans have started to lace the phrase into talks and interviews.
The move is rather remarkable for GOP lawmakers, who have previously tried to completely disqualify the Occupy protests and stamp out any discussion of wealth distribution or equity as “class warfare” or socialistic.
While critics deride the Occupy Wall Street protests for lacking clear policy goals or accomplishments, if the movement accomplishes nothing beyond fundamentally shifting the political discourse away from trumped up fears about the debt to real issues like inequality and jobs, then it has already succeeded.
Speaking at the University of Louisville in Kentucky today, House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) said “I understand” the “frustrations” of Occupy Wall Street protesters. “The economy is not producing jobs like they want.”