My Congressman, Jim Moran, is retiring this year and his seat is up for grabs in the VA – 8th Congressional District. This is a solidly blue district made even more solid by the Republican gerrymander following their win in the disastrous elections (for poor people, for women, for the middle class, and for minorities) of 2010 in Virginia. So, the question is, which of the eleven candidates who are running in the primary will win it, and become the heavy favorite to win the Congressional election in November.
The heavy primary favorite is Don Beyer, a noted auto dealer in Northern Virginia, who has served as Lieutenant Governor twice, and also as Ambassador to Switzerland. My impression of Ambassador Beyer has been favorable. I have a friend who bought cars from him over many years and who had his Volvos serviced at his dealership all the while, and he had nothing but good things to say about the integrity of the service he received.
That said, however, and personal characteristics aside, I’d like Beyer to clarify his positions on the issues. So, I’m addressing this open letter to him.
Dear Ambassador Beyer,
I’ve always had a favorable but relatively uninformed impression of your public service up to this point, and I find myself at a bit of a loss in deciding whether to vote for you, the candidate currently favored to win the Democratic Primary for Congress in VA – 8th, or vote, instead, for one of the alternative candidates. It would help me to decide if you would be kind enough to clarify your positions on a number of issues that are very important to me. I’ll state the issues as you have stated them on the friendsofdonbeyer.com web site and in a recent campaign mailing from Don Beyer for Congress, dated March 14, 2014, and then go on to discuss some additional issues you don’t mention.
From the web site:
Economy: With 40 years of experience building a family-owned business, I know the challenges that face entrepreneurs and working families in this economy. In my business and when I was in government, I worked to create jobs. You can count on me to continue that work in Congress.
I know that you have experience in running a successful family-owned business and that you worked to create jobs at the State level. But the task of creating jobs at the Federal level is different because the Federal Government, including the Congress, the Treasury, and the Federal Reserve working together, have the authority under the constitution and current law to create whatever amount of deficit spending is needed to enable and or create full employment and end economic stagnation.
Congress’s role is to appropriate deficit spending that will do that. The Federal Reserve’s role is to create bank reserves and buy financial assets to target and maintain whatever interest rate is needed to facilitate full employment with price stability, and the Treasury’s role is to implement deficit appropriations by issuing debt instruments to help the Fed drain excess reserves from the economy, and also issue coins to earn seigniorage providing a source of reserve credits from the Fed that Treasury can use in implementing deficit spending, or under certain policies, to redeem previously issued debt instruments as they fall due.
So, with that as background, I have a few questions related to the issue of what you would support doing to create full employment with price stability in America. Will you continue to support the President’s stated view that US financial capability to deficit spend is limited because it is possible for the United States to involuntarily “run out of money,” or will you strike out on your own and accept that the Federal Government can never run out of money involuntarily, and that it has the power to buy anything that is for sale in the United States, and that, in consequence, as a member of Congress you will propose and support legislation based on its projected REAL impact on the economy, rather than on its projected impact on the deficit and the debt?
Education: I well know the importance of education as a ladder to a brighter future. As the co-founder of the Northern Virginia Technology Council, I also know that an educated workforce plays an essential role in our region’s economic success. That’s why, after serving as lieutenant governor, I became the chairman of Jobs for Virginia Graduates — the state’s most successful high-school dropout prevention program. In Congress, I will continue working to make sure Virginia’s students — and America’s — get the strong education they deserve.
I’m glad to know that you’re favorable to improving education, but realistically, how can you improve it without ending the fiscal austerity in State and Local Government? And how can you end that without providing funding in the form of Federal revenue sharing grants to be used for upgrading the physical plant, curricula, and Faculty, in pre-school, K-12 public schools, and State colleges and universities? And how can you provide those revenue sharing grants at the level needed without Federal deficit spending?
So, are you willing to deficit spend for this purpose? And are you willing to reply to the inevitable attacks from deficit hawks by going on offense and advancing the position that the United States can always afford to deficit spend what it must to achieve its public purposes, and that such deficit spending is a good thing and not a bad thing, because it produces a much greater fiscal multiplier for the larger economy than spending that is “paid for” with increased tax revenue?
Climate change: While serving as President Obama’s ambassador to Switzerland, I saw firsthand the glacial melt caused by the global warming. Despite the urgency of this situation, there has been no congressional legislation that addresses this crisis since 2009. The United States should be a leader on this critical energy issue.
What does “being a leader” mean? As a voter, I’m not interested in PR statements like this one. I want to know what you’ll propose, support and legislate in Congress if you win. The US needs a five year plan to get off fossil fuels and shift entirely to renewables. We should have done that back n the ’80s. Jimmy Carter tried to move in that direction, but all the Presidents since, have pretty much doubled-down on the slow suicide of relying on fossil fuels.
We need to stop that now. Will you propose and legislate a five year program allocating funded at whatever level is necessary to get this done? Or will you not?
Again, you’ll find it very difficult to move in a credible way toward this objective if you insist on “pay fors.” But if you accept that the United States has no financial solvency concerns and are prepared to educate the public about this truth, then your proposed legislation can fund this without “pay fors,” while accelerating the macroeconomy at the same time. So will you support this and act to introduce such legislation or not?
Immigration Reform: As a businessman, I’ve heard tales of hardship from many people who crossed borders to find a safe home here in the United States. One such friend, Manuel Arias, had a choice in his Salvadoran village between joining a death squad or being killed by it. He fled in the middle of the night. There must be a path to citizenship for the hard-working, contributing people who deserve it, which also keeps our economy strong.
I’m glad you favor immigration reform. I do too, because I think America’s main source of wealth is always its people. Immigrants have contributed immeasurably to our nation, and our undocumented immigrants will too, if we let them become citizens. Immigration reform may yet pass this year or before the election of 2016, because fear of demographic change may overwhelm Republicans. But, I think it would pass a lot faster if the labor market were very tight.
So, I think the way to get to an immigration reform more easily is to focus on full employment first. We can get to full employment at a living wage with good fringe benefits by legislating a Federal Job Guarantee program. I’ll say more about the level of the living wage later, but my basic point here is that reform will be much easier to pass than it is now, if we have a roaring economy, rather than very hig unemployment.
Will you go beyond good sentiments about immigration reform and take a position supporting and writing a bill providing for a Federal Job Guarantee at a living wage with good fringe benefits? And will you propose, support, and legislate an immigration reform bill that provides a realistic path to citizenship without onerous requirements for presently undocumented immigrants?
LGBT: I support full equality for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people. As a member of Congress, I would support legislation that bans job discrimination based on sexual orientation. I believe the institution of marriage should be available to committed, same-sex couples, and I would work to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act. I believe equality is not complete until it reaches every aspect of our society, including adoption and immigration sponsorship.
Fine. But, I think people need more than just favorable statements without commitments. Will you propose, support, and legislate a bill prohibiting state and local laws discriminating against LGBTs who want to get married?
Minimum Wage: I’m strongly in favor of the proposal to increase the minimum wage to $10.10. The nation’s minimum wage has not kept pace with inflation and the current hourly minimum is simply not sufficient or fair. A full-time worker earning the minimum wage makes $15,080 a year, which is below federal poverty guidelines for a family of any size.
A minimum wage of $10.10 may be a living wage in rural Kansas or Oklahoma and some places in the US, but it is not a living wage in the VA – 8th or in most of the more densely populated areas of our country, and it won’t lift all working people out of poverty. Will you propose, support, and legislate a minimum wage that begins at $10.10 for the lowest CPI areas in the United State, along with upward adjustments to that base minimum wage based on an area’s CPI? In the District you want to represent that would probably translate to a minimum wage of $16.00 per hour or so. Will you support that? And are you willing to mandate it by Federal Law, and provide penalties for violating the law that will serve as a real deterrent to violating it?
Paid Family and Medical Leave: The United States is the only industrialized country that does not guarantee paid time off to care for a new child, and one of very few industrialized nations not to guarantee paid time off for other types of family care. The unpaid family and medical leave that passed 21 years ago only covers about half of all employees, given various exemptions such as the employee’s status and the size of the business. It is past time to given American workers the ability to care for their loves ones without economic hardship.
Good statement! But are you willing to support and legislate a policy that would provide for paid family and medical leave, and at least two weeks of paid vacation every year plus paid holiday leave at least as liberal as the holiday leave given Federal workers?
Federal Workforce: Between sequestration, a government shutdown, a three-year pay freeze, and reductions in retirement benefits, the federal workforce is under enormous strain. Through all of these trials, federal workers have performed our nation’s most critical work with the utmost professionalism and skill. As the representative of a district with one of the largest populations of federal workers in the country, I pledge to champion their interests and to work diligently to protect them from unfair targeting in future budget battles.
I too think Federal workers generally do a great job under difficult conditions, but you won’t be able to do much about this if you follow the emphasis of the Democratic Party over the past 40 years on deficit reduction. As long as you do that, then both Democrats and Republicans will look for ways to narrow or eliminate the gap between spending and taxes. One of these ways is to cut Federal spending and to create austerity for Federal workers. So, the best thing you can do for the Federal workers in the VA – 8th is to develop an understanding about why it’s important to run deficits as long the private sector wants to run trade deficits and to have aggregate private sector savings.
If the private sector wants both of these things, which I think it does, then the Government must run deficits and not surpluses, and not small deficits either. A healthy flow of post-crash savings to the private sector each year of about 6% of GDP, along with a trade deficit of 3% of GDP would require that the Government sector run a deficit of 9% of GDP if we hope to have full employment. Also, if increased Federal deficit spending leads to increased savings and trade deficits, then the Government deficit would have to grow large enough to compensate for these leakages for full employment to be maintained.
So will you propose, support, and legislate deficit spending programs aimed at achieving public purposes, while at the same time designing these with an eye toward projecting their impact on achieving and maintaining full employment defined as the ability of everyone who wants a full time job to get a job offer? And, in particular, will you propose, support, and legislate a job guarantee program that will create full employment?
If you do these things, then the issue of spending some additional money to treat Federal workers as they should be treated, and to expand the Federal work force again will be an afterthought and not the lightening rod it is today. That’s because cutting Federal spending on employees will have no traction when people realize that there’s no danger of Federal insolvency and also when they realize that the US must run large deficits to have a healthy economy, and when they themselves are prospering and have good jobs.
Transportation: The 8th District faces some of the country’s most difficult transportation challenges. Nevertheless, building a robust transportation infrastructure that meets the needs of commuters, local businesses, and the nation’s capital is critical to creating new jobs and opportunities. This infrastructure, however, cannot rely solely on interstates, cars, and trucks. As a nation, we must invest in clean fuel technologies, meaningful light-rail installations, and more extensive mass transit options, particularly in congested areas, like the 8th District. In Congress, I will ensure that our transportation needs are well represented and actively pursued.
I agree that we badly need to reinvent our transportation infrastructure. But, how will you do that if you’re always worried about deficit reduction and “pay fors”? To build that new infrastructure, we need to be able to give grants to State, local, and regional authorities to implement the program? But how can we do that without Federal revenue sharing grants to these bodies? Also, how can we provide those grants without deficit spending by the Government. If we don’t have that, then the best we can do will be inadequate efforts leaving us far behind some developing nations in modernizing our transportation infrastructure.
As with so much else in your discussion of views, you’ve advocated doing things that can’t be done without abandoning the mistaken view that fiscal responsibility is about reducing deficits, and even eventually, eliminating them. It’s not! REAL fiscal responsibility is about Government using its authority to create and manage coins, currency, and reserves to implement fiscal policies that will have net positive impacts on Americans and their public purposes, including full employment with price stability. So, will you propose, support, and legislate transportation programs that will produce a modernized transportation infrastructure without worrying, short of achieving full employment, about the deficit spending involved?
Protecting Social Security and Medicare: I oppose privatizing Social Security and making Medicare into a voucher system. I’ll work to strengthen both programs and keep our commitment to seniors.
I’m glad you oppose privatization, but your commitment to “strengthen” both programs is far too vague and ambiguous for this voter. Let me tell you what I think will “strengthen” these programs. First, you need to pass legislation providing for annual automatic funding of expected costs for all SS and Medicare trust funds. That’s done now for Supplementary Medical Insurance (Medicare Part B), and Prescription Drug Benefits (Medicare Part D).
So what needs to be passed is legislation extending the same language to the SS Old Age and Survivors Insurance (OASI) and Disability Insurance (DI) trust funds, and to the Medicare Hospital Insurance (HI) trust fund. Once you do that, CBO projections will immediately show that neither program will be insolvent ever; as far out as anyone cares to look, and there will no longer be any discernible solvency crisis for these entitlement programs.
So, will you propose, support, and legislate such a bill, if elected to Congress, in order to end the phony entitlement crisis that is supposedly besetting us? I really want to know the answer to this question.
You may doubt this solution by pointing out that this legislation just pushes off the solvency problem to the Treasury at large, rather than the entitlement programs, but it doesn’t solve the entitlement insolvency problem. Only it does, because the Government as a whole has no fiscal solvency problem, since it can always use its authority to create money to pay all its bills, as I explained earlier.
In addition to legislating this simple measure you can also strengthen Social Security by passing legislation to increase benefits. Retirees cannot live on SS alone now, if they ever could. And the other two legs of the famous three-legged stool have sustained severe damage. Private defined benefit pensions are now few and far between. Government pensions at the State and local government levels have been under attack as well.
Homeowners have sustained severe reductions in the value of their home equity, in many cases losing it all. Seniors need to have their SS benefits doubled to compensate for these losses and to allow them to live out their years in dignity. It is their human right, as FDR knew. Will you propose, support, and legislate for such an increase in benefits and really ‘strengthen” SS?
And what about Medicare. You don’t “strengthen” it by cutting benefits. What you need to do is extend it to everyone and enhance it as proposed in John Conyers’s HR 676 legislation. That is the way to decrease real costs and make Medicare sustainable permanently. John Conyers estimates that enhanced Medicare for All will save $300 to $400 Billion per year in medical spending. But I think he’s being way too conservative in this estimate.
Total medical spending in the US is now at 18% of GDP. Canada’s enhanced Medicare for All program, in contrast costs only 12% of GDP, and delivers better results and higher life expectancy than our current system does. If we could administer enhanced Medicare for All with equal efficiency, we can expect to reduce medical spending to 12% of GDP too. In rough terms, the resulting savings are $900 Billion per year, not $300 Billion, and $9 Trillion over 10 years.
In addition, the rate of increase in medical spending would be reduced due to the increased bargaining power of the Government with providers. Our experience shows that the rate of cost inflation in Medicare costs is a fraction of what we’re seeing in the private market.
So, will you support and help to legislate HR 676, if elected? This is an important question for all your constituents. I’ll move on now to discuss those parts of your campaign letter of March 14, that were somewhat different from the issues on the web site.
From the Campaign Letter:
Creating jobs and improving our economy: We need to pass the President’s infrastructure bill, raise the minimum wage, and stop the tea party Republicans in Congress from threatening our country’s financial status with their partisan games.
We do need infrastructure legislation, but estimates indicate that we need $3 Trillion in spending to modernize and reinvent our infrastructure. If we want to do that in five years that would take $600 Billion per year. The President’s program is only a fraction of the necessary spending and will not solve the problem.
So, knowing that the Federal Government can’t become insolvent involuntarily, will you now propose, support, and legislate a $600 Billion infrastructure program? I hope so, because that’s also the way you’ll get a lot of new jobs created and our transportation infrastructure needs in Northern VA fulfilled.
I’ve already commented on raising the minimum wage. We need to do that, and also to make it a living wage. The best way to do it would be to create a Federal Job Guarantee (JG) program that gives anyone who wants one a full time job offer at a living wage with good fringe benefits.
If you worked to pass that, then you wouldn’t have to pass a separate minimum wage law, because private sector employees would have to provide better total compensation than the JG program to hire the workers they need. The living wage would start at $10.10 in the lowest CPI areas within the US and would then be cost-adjusted according to the degree the CPIs in other areas exceeded the minimum value CPI. The fringe benefits would include annual leave, access to Medicare, paid leave on all Federal holidays, family leave, and retirement contributions, and all other standard fringe benefits.
On stopping tea party irresponsibility, the best way to do that is use the Executive Branch’s authority to mint platinum coins having face values specified by the Treasury. For example, if the President were to have Treasury mint a coin having a face value of $60 Trillion, and then deposit that coin at the Federal Reserve, then the Fed would have to credit the Treasury account with $60 Trillion in reserves. The Treasury could then pay down the public debt subject to the limit as it falls due, and still have more than $42 Trillion available to implement Congressional deficit appropriations for many years to come.
A move like this, would take the debt ceiling weapon away from the tea partiers, because the debt would decrease to zero as time passes. This solution would not only be important for taking the debt ceiling issue away; it would also create a backdrop for fiscal policy discussions that would make austerity arguments irrelevant. Pete Peterson would have to go out of the political business until he thought up a new fantasy rationalization for undermining democracy.
Of course, the Administration would get a lot of flack if it minted that big coin, along with charges of “printing money” and stoking hyper-inflation, but for reasons given in the link just above, the inflationary impact is likely to be minimal, or actually deflationary, unless Congressional appropriations mandate deficit spending exceeding full employment.
Stopping gun violence:
Of course, I’d like to see tough measures passed to curb gun violence also, and I’m glad you’re a supporter. But, I wonder if the Democrats and relatively few Republicans who would join them can develop the support necessary to overcome NRA propaganda?
I think regulating guns will have to wait until the role of money in politics is lessened or nearly eliminated, and the Democrats are able to build their approval ratings up to a very high level because they’ve successfully enabled full employment, universal health care and other popular measures which actually give concrete benefits to most of the electorate. Right now, Democrats are distrusted on the gun issue by enough of the population that the NRA with its big money can work its will. To end this, Democratic popularity has to be high enough that the distrust on guns doesn’t count, because even if the gun-toting constituency is angered by legislation regulating guns, they still won”t be angry enough at Democrats to vote against them.
So, I’m suggesting that gun violence looks like a separate issue, but it’s really about the anger that large portions of the population feel about a political system that is taking care of the banks and the 1%, but almost never passes legislation that is in the public interest. If this is right, then to get at gun violence you have to get at other problems first, and actually solve them, rather just passing legislation, like the Affordable Care Act that is too little, too late, or both.
What I’d like to know is whether, if elected, you will prioritize gun control legislation, or legislation addressed to most of the above issues?
Defending a woman’s right to choose:
I’m all for this, and I’d support any initiative to get there, but I really don’t think Congressional legislation directly targeted on the issue is likely to pass until another big victory making the Republicans a minority in both Houses occurs. For now, I think it’s much better to approach defending the right to choose and other rights of women indirectly.
You can do this first by proposing, supporting and legislating bills that will overturn the various state laws restricting voting rights, so that women who don’t have the money to get the abortion services they need elsewhere, and/or who believe in choice and gender equality, can see to it that anti-woman legislation being passed at the state level is repealed, and any support for such anti-woman, anti-choice legislation becomes a political death warrant for the state legislator who signs it. In other words, I’m saying that if you want to defend women’s rights, then you need to empower women so they can defend them with or without anyone else’s help.
This will also take the load off Planned Parenthood and give them the ability to once again supply services to needy women. So, will you actively legislate and support such voting rights legislation?
In addition, it’s very important in stopping the efforts of ALEC and other right wing organizations moving the nation to the right to destroy their economic base. This means getting rid of money in politics to a very large extent and preventing the Supreme Court from reviewing that legislation.
Here’s a post covering how that may be done with links to carefully developed arguments in this area. In addition, you would need to support measures to undercut the right wing Supreme Court Justices who are producing the outlandish decisions we’ve seen in recent years.
This may require introducing impeachment legislation for Scalia and Thomas on grounds of the flagrant conflicts of interests they’ve engaged in while on the Court. Their lack of impartiality in judging can certainly be proved and comes under the heading of violating their oaths of office.
If elected will you do the various things I’ve outlined above? If not, then in my view you’re really not serious about doing anything concrete to support a woman’s right to choose.
Supporting President Obama’s agenda:
I’m afraid this is the best reason for voting for a candidate other than yourself in the VA 8th Democratic primary that I can think of. The President has failed the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party all through his presidency.
He began by not influencing Harry Reid to get rid of the Senate filibuster. Reid was vulnerable in 2010, he surely believed that he needed the President to support him in that election in early January of 2009 when the country was frightened and at the President’s feet. The President could have used that belief to get rid of the filibuster.
Once that was done, he could have proceeded to get enabling legislation passed to take the big banks into resolution, and end the control frauds and mortgage frauds. His failure on this front was vital, because then there would have been no more bank bailouts, credit would have continued to flow from the Federal Regulators in control of the banks, and home owners and other victims of the Great Crash could have been compensated.
Moving from there, the President could then, with Wall Street down, the big banks under control, and no filibuster, have passed a proper stimulus bill with deficit spending large enough (1.8 Trillion in SS tax cuts and deficit spending) to bring near full employment back, and end the recession quickly. He then could have moved on to a credit card reform bill limiting credit card interest to 5 points over prime. That would have been immensely important in keeping consumer demand high.
Next, with the banks out of the political picture, unable to buy legislators, and their top executives under investigation, he could have moved to universal health care and passed HR 676, enhanced Medicare for All, and a finreg bill with real teeth that would have re-regulated Wall Street and big business.
I won’t go further with this litany. But, I will point out that if he had done these things, then there would have been no rant from Rick Santelli, no tea party in the spring and summer of 2009, and a big victory for the Democrats in 2010, rather than a sweep against them followed by the census results that led to the gerrymandering, and all the other state legislature-passed abuses we see today.
Nor is the political mess created by the President the only reason not to follow his agenda, today. It is that agenda itself.
It includes the chained CPI, further cuts to Medicare funding, the TPP, the Keystone XL pipeline, the all of the above (don’t stop the climate change) energy policy, and the TTIP. It also includes some version of the Grand Bargain, which includes not only the chained CPI, but a long-term entitlement solution and more tax giveaways to the globalists, as outlined by the Bowles-Simpson so-called “Catfood Commission” report, which wasn’t even a commission report, but just one done by Bowles and Simpson themselves. It also includes continued failure to prosecute the banksters, the fraudsters, the torturers from the Bush Administration, and the surveillers from both Administrations, who have violated the constitutional privacy rights of Americans, the FISA law, and in collusion with state and local police, the civil liberties and rights of Occupy and other Americans.
This president has no agenda for the American people that is worthwhile. His agenda is about making the world safe for plutocracy. It has to be stopped, not supported.
I want to vote for a candidate who will not support the President’s agenda, but who will go beyond it and throw it under the bus. I want to vote for a candidate who will legislate for the 99% and not for the 1%. I want a candidate who will work in the tradition of FDR and not in the triangulating tradition of Bill Clinton. Can you be that candidate for Congress? If you can, then you will have my vote in the primary; but if you cannot then I will vote for someone else who more closely represents my interests and values.
Conclusion: Missing Issues
I was surprised to find that among all the issues discussed at the web site and in your campaign letter, you didn’t take the space and time to address the issue of money in politics and Citizens United, as well as the general trend toward a political plutocracy in the United States. You say nothing about these issues, but they, along with the issue of what REAL fiscal responsibility is, underlie everything else. How can you expect to get done the various things you claim to favor, if you don’t have a plan to deal with these issues and don’t even consider them issues?
In addition, your treatment of issues ignores foreign policy completely. I want to know whether you’re in favor or oppose trade agreements. I want to know whether you support or oppose the President’s risky policies in Syria and the Ukraine.
The American people have no enthusiasm for military action in these areas, especially since when the Government spends trillions on military activity, suddenly it starts whining about “running out of money” when it comes to creating prosperity for all Americans. So, where do you stand on foreign policy and on these issues and what kind of policy will you support if elected? How can you expect to get elected to Congress when you won’t say anything about foreign policy?
In this letter, I’ve pointed out again and again, that to do the things you want to do you’ll need to support large-scale deficit spending, yet you don’t address the fiscal responsibility/deficit reduction issue at all. That makes me think you take it for granted that Pete Peterson is right. Also, to do the various things you say you’re in favor of, you need to do what’s necessary to get money out of politics, or make the use of money in election campaigns useless. Do you have any plans for this, or any ideas about how to get it done? If you don’t, then I can’t vote for you.
And how about the unmentionable, the drift toward plutocracy? Will you oppose that, or will you, as part of the 1%, reinforce it? If not, then what will you do to stop this undermining of our democracy and reverse the current trend? Any ideas on how to do this? Any legislation you have in mind? If not, then how can you ask me and other members of the 99% to vote for you to represent the VA – 8th?
Joseph M. Firestone
(also blogging as letsgetitdone)
Your prospective constituent