Tag Archives: Senator Warren

Democratic Candidates for 2020: Warren Details How She Would Finance Medicare for All

Sen. Elizabeth Warren, 2020 Democratic candidate for president detailed how she would finance her most controversial proposal, Medicare for All, without increasing taxes on middle class families. © Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

Senator Elizabeth Warren, Democratic candidate for President, has released details of her most controversial proposal, Medicare for All, promising that it will cover every person in America with health care, including long-term care, vision and dental, without increasing taxes on middle class families. Warren focuses on an overall restructuring taxes and spending – going after the loopholes and tax cheats and reining in military spending as well as drug costs and cutting healthcare costs by removing the for-profit insurance companies (gatekeepers) as middlemen. What her plan misses, though, is the obvious: collect the Medicare tax (1.45%, plus an extra 0.9% on income over $200,000) on all income, not just wages, and, if necessary raise the surcharge for incomes over $250,000. Interestingly, while employers would no longer pick and choose the private health insurance they subsidize, employers would still subsidize their employees’ Medicare cost. Health care is considered the leading issue for voters in 2020. Here is the detailed plan, from the Warren campaign: –Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com.

Charlestown, MA – Today, Senator Elizabeth Warren, candidate for President, released her plan to finance Medicare for All. The coverage is identical to the coverage in the Medicare for All legislation in the Senate and it will cover every single person in America with excellent, high-quality health care, including long-term care and vision and dental. 

Elizabeth will pay for this plan without raising taxes one penny on middle class families. Instead, she will put about $11 trillion in the pockets of American families by eliminating what they would pay in premiums, deductibles, co-pays, and other out-of-pocket costs over the next ten years. 

Her numbers add up and are backed by experts including: 

Simon Johnson, the former Chief Economist at the International Monetary Fund and a professor at MIT

Dr. Donald Berwick, one of the nation’s top experts in health system management and improvement, who ran the Medicare and Medicaid programs under President Barack Obama

Mark Zandi, Chief Economist of Moody’s Analytics

Betsey Stevenson, former Chief Economist for the Obama Labor Department

Elizabeth’s plan to dramatically improve health care and cut family costs would cost the United States less than our current broken system. It would require $20.5 trillion in new revenue, nearly half of which comes simply from having employers pay Medicare instead of private insurance companies.

Elizabeth will finance the remainder of Medicare for All with targeted defense spending cuts, new taxes on financial firms, giant corporations, and the richest 1% of Americans, and by cracking down on tax evasion and fraud. The $11 trillion in household insurance and out-of-pocket expenses projected under our current system goes right back into the pockets of America’s working people — substantially larger than the largest tax cut in American history — and no middle class tax increases.

My daddy’s heart attack nearly sent our family skidding over a financial cliff. Today I think about all the kids this year who will face the double blow of nearly losing a parent and then watching their lives turn upside down as their families struggle to pay a growing stack of medical bills.  

I spent my career studying why so many hard-working middle class families were going broke. For years, my research partners and I traveled the country from bankruptcy courtroom to bankruptcy courtroom, talking directly to people who’d seen their lives turned upside down. We interviewed lawyers, judges, and families involved in bankruptcy cases. To save on printing costs, we lugged around a Xerox machine (I nicknamed him “R2-D2”) to save money on photocopying court records. 

Eventually, we built the largest and most comprehensive database of consumer bankruptcy data ever assembled. That first study surprised us: we found that 90% of families went bankrupt because of job loss, medical problems, and marital disruption. That finding was confirmed in 2007 by my later research, which found that the number one reason families were going broke was health care – and three quarters of those who declared bankruptcy after an illness were people who already had health insurance. 

It’s been nearly thirty years since we published that first groundbreaking study. And after all that time, here’s where we are: between 2013 and 2016, the number one reason families went broke was still because of health care – even though 91.2% of Americans had health insurance in 2016.

Families are getting crushed by health costs. Just look at the numbers. 

$12,378. That’s how much an average family of four with employer-sponsored insurance personally spent per year on employee premium contributions and out-of-pocket costs in 2018. And this figure has increased each year.

87 million. That’s how many American adults in 2018 were uninsured or “underinsured” – meaning either they have no insurance or their so-called health insurance is like a car with the engine missing. It looks fine sitting on the lot, but inadequate if they actually need to use it. Nearly one in every two adults not currently on Medicare has no insurance or unreliable insurance.

37 millionAmerican adults didn’t fill a prescription last year because of costs. 36 millionpeopleskipped a recommended test, treatment, or follow-up because of costs. 40 millionpeople didn’t go to a doctor to check out a health problem because of costs. 57 millionpeople had trouble covering their medical bills. 

Today, in 2019, in the United States of America, the wealthiest nation in the history of the world, inadequate health coverage is crushing the finances and ruining the lives of tens of millions of American families. 

I’m running for President based on a radical idea – calling out what’s broken and speaking plainly about how to fix it. 

All my plans start with our shared values. There are two absolute non-negotiables when it comes to health care:

One: No American should ever, ever die or go bankrupt because of health care costs. No more GoFundMe campaigns to pay for care. No more rationing insulin. No more choosing between medicine and groceries.

Two: Every American should be able to see the doctors they need and get their recommended treatments, without having to figure out who is in-network. No for-profit insurance company should be able to stop anyone from seeing the expert or getting the treatment they need.

Health care is a human right, and we need a system that reflects our values. That system is Medicare for All.

Let’s be clear: America’s medical professionals are among the best in the world. Health care in America is world-class. Medicare for All isn’t about changing any of that. 

It’s about fixing what is broken – how we pay for that care.

And when it comes to health care, what’s broken is obvious. A fractured system that allows private interests to profiteer off the health crises of the American people. A system that crushes our families with costs they can’t possibly bear, forcing tens of millions to go without coverage or to choose between basic necessities like food, rent, and health – or bankruptcy.

We must fix this system. And over the long-term, the best way to achieve that goal is to move from the system we have now to a system of Medicare for All. 

Medicare for All is about where doctors, hospitals, and care providers send the bill – to a collection of private insurance companies who make billions off denying people care or to the Medicare program for fair compensation. Under Medicare for All, everyone gets the care they need, when they need it, and nobody goes broke. 

A key step in winning the public debate over Medicare for All will be explaining what this plan costs – and how to pay for it. This task is made a hundred times harder by powerful health insurance and drug companies that make billions of dollars off the current bloated, inadequate system – and would be perfectly happy to leave things exactly the way they are. 

In 2017 alone, health industry players whose profiteering would end under Medicare for All unleashed more than 2,500 lobbyists on Washington. These industries will spend freely on shady TV ads and lobbying to convince people that a program that saves them massive sums of money will somehow cost them money. That being able to see the doctors and get the treatments they need regardless of what their employer or their insurance company thinks is somehow actually a loss of choice. That a program that covers more services, more people, and costs the American people less than what we currently spend on health care is somehow too expensive.

Meanwhile, where are the 2,500 lobbyists for the people who get sick and can’t pay their medical bills?  Where are the hundreds of millions being spent so that people who are trying to balance a budget around rising health care premiums and growing deductibles and copays can make their voices heard in Washington?  Washington hears plenty from the giant health insurance and giant drug industries, but not so much from families being squeezed to the breaking point.

So let’s focus on families’ expenses and families’ health care. 

Start with the Medicare for All Act – which I have cosponsored. The bill provides a detailed proposal for how to achieve our end goal. But as economists and advocates have noted, the legislation leaves open a number of key design decisions that will affect its overall cost, and the bill does not directly incorporate specific revenue measures. While much of this ambiguity results from the reasonable choice to delegate significant implementation discretion to the Executive Branch, it has also allowed opponents of Medicare for All to make up their own price tags and try to scare middle class families about the prospect of tax increases – despite the conclusions of expert after expert after expert that it is possible to eventually move to a Medicare for All system that gives both high quality coverage for everybody and dramatically lowers costs for middle class families.

The best way to fight misinformation is with facts. That’s why today, I’m filling in the details and releasing a plan that describes how I would implement the long-term policy prescriptions of the Medicare for All Act and how to pay for it. 

Under my plan, Medicare for All will cover the full list of benefits outlined in the Medicare for All Act, including long-term care, audio, vision, and dental benefits. My plan will cover every single person in the U.S., and includes common-sense payment reforms that make Medicare for All possible without spending any more money overall than we spend now. 

My plan reflects careful, detailed analyses from key national experts in health policy, tax policy, and economics. By filling in the details, we can strip away all the misleading political attacks and make plain the choice facing the American people: 

Option 1: Maintain our current system, which will cost the country $52 trillion over ten years. And under that current system – 

24 million people won’t have coverage, and millions can’t get long-term care.

63 million have coverage gaps or substandard coverage that could break down if they actually get sick. And millions who have health insurance will end up going broke at least in part from medical costs anyway. 

Together, the American people will pay $11 trillion of that bill themselves in the form of premiums, deductibles, copays, out-of-network, and other expensive medical equipment and care they pay for out-of-pocket – all while America’s wealthiest individuals and biggest companies pay far less in taxes than in other major countries.

Option 2: Switch to my approach to Medicare for All, which would cost the country just under $52 trillion over ten years. Under this new system –

Every person in America – all 331 million people – will have full health coverage, and coverage for long-term care.

Everybody gets the doctors and the treatments they need, when they need them. No more restrictive provider networks, no more insurance companies denying coverage for prescribed treatments, and no more going broke over medical bills.

The $11 trillion in household insurance and out-of-pocket expenses projected under our current system goes right back into the pockets of America’s working people. And we make up the difference with targeted spending cuts, new taxes on giant corporations and the richest 1% of Americans, and by cracking down on tax evasion and fraud. Not one penny in middle-class tax increases. 

That’s it. That’s the choice. A broken system that leaves millions behind while costs keep going up and insurance companies keep sucking billions of dollars in profits out of the system – or, for about the same amount of money, a new system that drives down overall health costs and, on average, relieves the typical middle class families of $12,400 in insurance premiums and other related health care costs. 

No middle class tax increases. $11 trillion in household expenses back in the pockets of American families. That’s substantially larger than the largest tax cut in American history.

Not every candidate for president supports moving to a system of Medicare for All. Some who support Medicare for All will have different ideas about how to finance and structure it. And everybody knows that there must be a real transition. But you don’t get what you don’t fight for – and my view is clear.  

Every candidate who opposes my long-term goal of Medicare for All should explain why the “choice” of private insurance plans is more important than being able to choose the doctor that’s best for you without worrying about whether they are in-network or not. Why it’s more important than being able to choose the right prescription drug for you without worrying about massive differences in copays. Why it’s more important than being able to choose to start a small business or choose the job you want without worrying about where your health care coverage will be coming from and how much it will cost.

Every candidate who opposes my long-term goal of Medicare for All should put forward their own plan to cover everyone, without costing the country anything more in health care spending, and while putting $11 trillion back in the pockets of the American people by eliminating premiums and virtually eliminating out-of-pocket costs. Or, if they are unwilling to do that, they should concede that they think it’s more important to protect the eye-popping profits of private insurers and drug companies and the immense fortunes of the top 1% and giant corporations, rather than provide transformative financial relief for hundreds of millions of American families. 

And every candidate who opposes my long-term goal of Medicare for All should put forward their own plan to make sure every single person in America can get high-quality health care and won’t go broke – and fully explain how they intend to pay for it. Or, if they are unwilling to do that, concede that their half-measures will leave millions behind.  

And make no mistake – any candidate who opposes my long-term goal of Medicare for All and refuses to answer these questions directly should concede that they have no real strategy for helping the American people address the crushing costs of health care in this country. We need plans, not slogans. 

THE COST OF MEDICARE FOR ALL

A serious conversation about how to pay for Medicare for All requires, first, determining how much such a system would cost. 

In recent years, several economists and think tanks have attempted to estimate the cost of a single-payer system in the United States. Those estimates consider how much our nation’s health care spending will change over a ten year window, and range from a $12.5 trillion decrease to a $7 trillion increase. They also consider how much additional money the federal government would need to fund this system, and those estimates range from a low of $13.5 trillion to a high of $34 trillion over ten years. 

Because nobody can actually see the future, some of this variation results from different assumptions about how parts of our health care system might work differently under Medicare for All. But most of the difference comes from policy choices. And while the Medicare for All Act is clear about some of these choices – for example, generous benefits, long-term care coverage, and virtually no out-of-pocket expenses – it is silent on a number of really important ones. How much will we pay for medical care and for prescription drugs? What do we do with the existing money that states spend on Medicaid? How aggressively will we cut administrative costs? Aggressive choices mean a lower total cost. Less aggressive choices result in a higher total cost. 

Serious candidates for president should speak plainly about these issues and set out their plans for cost control – especially those who are skeptical of Medicare for All. Because whether or not we make modest or transformative changes to our health care system, cancer, diabetes, strokes, Alzheimer’s, and Parkinson’s aren’t going to simply disappear. And without leadership from the top, neither will the mushrooming cost of care in America that’s bankrupting our families. 

I’ve asked top experts to consider the long-term cost of my plan to implement Medicare for All over ten years – Dr. Donald Berwick, one of the nation’s top experts in health system improvement and who ran the Medicare and Medicaid programs under President Obama; and Simon Johnson, the former Chief Economist at the International Monetary Fund and a professor at MIT. Their analysis begins with the assumptions of a recent study by the Urban Institute and then examines how that cost estimate would change as certain new key policy choices are applied. These experts conclude that my plan would slightly reduce the projected amount of money that the United States would otherwise spend on health care over the next 10 years, while covering everyone and giving them vastly better coverage. 

REDUCING INSURER ADMINISTRATIVE COSTS 

The business model of private insurers is straightforward: pay out less for medical care than they take in as premiums. This model is located right in the center of our health care system, wasting huge amounts of time and money documenting and arguing over who is owed what. Incredibly, insurance companies spend a whopping $350 billion on administration costs annually—and then, in turn, push huge additional administrative costs onto hospitals, doctors, and millions of other health care professionals in the from of complex billing—and then, in turn, drive up costs incurred by employers as they attempt to navigate the complexity of providing their employees with insurance.

Medicare for All will save money by bringing down the staggering administrative costs for insurers in our current system. As the experts I asked to evaluate my plan noted, private insurers had administrative costs of 12% of premiums collected in 2017, while Medicare kept its administrative costs down to 2.3%. My plan will ensure that Medicare for All functions just as efficiently as traditional Medicare by setting net administrative spending at 2.3%.

COMPREHENSIVE PAYMENT REFORM 

In 2016, the United States spent nearly twice as much on health care as ten high-income countries, and these costs have been steadily rising for decades, growing from 5.2% of U.S. GDP in 1963 to 17.9% in 2017. But instead of resulting in better health outcomes, Americans have the lowest life expectancy of residents in high-income countries, the highest infant mortality rate, and the highest obesity rates. 

Why? As a group of health economists famously wrote, “It’s the prices, stupid.” 

Studies have continued to show that it’s not how much people use the health care system, often referred to as “utilization,” but rather how much people pay that drives our high spending. Compared to other high income countries, Americans simply pay more for health care. We pay more for physicians and nurses. We pay more in administrative costs. We pay more for prescription drugs. 

A heart bypass surgery that costs nearly $16,000 in the Netherlands costs an average of $75,000 in the United States. A CT scan that costs $97 in Canada costs an average of $896 here. And in the United States, hospitals can charge new parents for holding their newborn after delivery. 

Meanwhile, private equity firms fight bipartisan legislation in Washington that might undermine the profitability of their investments or prevent their hospitals from sending patients surprise bills. And health care CEO salaries continue to soar. Between 2005 and 2015, non-profit hospital CEO salaries increased by 93% to an average of over $3 million, and last year, 62 health care CEOs raked in a combined $1.1 billion – more than the CDC spent on chronic disease prevention. 

If we expect the American people to be able to afford health care, we need to rein in these costs. Comprehensive payment reform, as part of Medicare for All, will reduce this component of health care spending. Under my approach, Medicare for All will sharply reduce administrative spending and reimburse physicians and other non-hospital providers at current Medicare rates. My plan will also rebalance rates in a budget neutral way that increases reimbursements for primary care providers and lowers reimbursements for overpaid specialties. While private insurance companies pay higher rates, this system would be expected to continue compensating providers at roughly the same overall rate that they are currently receiving. Why? This is partially because providers will now get paid Medicare rates for their Medicaid patients – a substantial raise. But it’s also because providers spend an enormous amount of time on billing and interacting with insurance companies that reduces their efficiency and takes away from time with patients. Some estimate that hospitals will spend $210 billion on average annually on these costs. 

The nonpartisan Institute of Medicine estimates that these wasted expenses account for 13% of the revenue for physician practices, 8.5% for hospitals, and 10% for other providers. Together, the improved efficiency will save doctors time and money – helping significantly offset  the revenue they will lose from getting rid of higher private insurance rates.

Under my approach, Medicare for All will sharply reduce administrative spending and reimburse hospitals at an average of 110% of current Medicare rates, with appropriate adjustments for rural hospitals, teaching hospitals, and other care providers with challenging cost structures. In 2017, hospitals that treated Medicare patients were paid about 9.9% less than what it cost to care for that patient. The increase I am proposing under Medicare for All will cover hospitals’ current costs of care – but hospital costs will also substantially decrease as a result of simpler administrative processes, lower prescription drug prices, the end of bad debt from uncompensated care, and more patients with insurance seeking care. 

Of course, as Medicare currently recognizes, not every provider situation is the same, and my Medicare for All program maintains these base rate adjustments for geography and other factors. In my plan for Rural America, for example, I have committed to creating a new designation under Medicare for rural hospitals due to the unique challenges health systems face in rural communities. That’s why my plan allows for adjustments above the 110% average rate for certain hospitals, like rural and teaching hospitals, and below this amount for hospitals that are already doing fine with current Medicare rates.Universal coverage will also have a disproportionately positive effect on rural hospitals. Because people living in rural counties are more likely to be uninsured than people living in urban counties, these hospitals currently provide a lot of uncompensated care. Medicare for All fixes that problem. And I’ve previously laid out additional investments to increase the number of Community Health Centers and grow our health care workforce in rural and Native American communities, while cracking down on anti-competitive mergers that lead to worse outcomes and higher costs for rural communities. 

We can also apply a number of common-sense, bipartisan reforms that have been proposed for Medicare. Today, for example, insurers can charge dramatically different prices for the exact same service based on where the service was performed. Under Medicare for All, providers will receive the same amount for the same procedure, saving hundreds of billions of dollars. We can also make adjustments to things that we know Medicare currently pays too much for – like post-acute care – by adjusting those payments down slightly while accounting for the patient’s health status, bringing health care costs down even more.  

We will also shift payment rates so that we are paying for better outcomes, instead of simply reimbursing for more services. We build on the success of value-based reforms enabled by the Affordable Care Act, including by instituting bundled payments for inpatient care and for 90 days of post-acute care. Instead of paying providers for each individual service, bundled payments reimburse providers for an entire “episode” of care and have been shown to both improve outcomes and control costs. These bundles help ensure that a patient’s different providers all communicate because they are all tied to the same payment.

RESTORING HEALTH CARE COMPETITION

Health care consolidation has also contributed to rising health care costs. One analysis found that over 90% of metropolitan areas had health care provider markets that were either highly concentrated or super concentrated in 2016. And despite the same kinds of empty promises we see every time there’s industry consolidation – in this case, that bigger hospitals would lead to better care – the data have not borne this out. In fact, it’s the opposite: more competition between providers creates incentives to improve care, and that incentive will only increase under a Medicare for All system where quality, not price, is the main differentiator in the system.

Under Medicare for All, hospitals won’t be able to force some patients to pay more because the hospital can’t agree with their insurance company. Instead, because everyone has good insurance, providers will have to compete on better care and reduced wait times in order to attract more patients. 

That’s why I will appoint aggressive antitrust enforcers to the Department of Justice and Federal Trade Commission and allow hospitals to voluntarily divest holdings to restore competition to hospital markets. I’ve also previously committed to strengthening FTC oversight over health care organizations, including non-profit hospitals, to crack down on anti-competitive behavior. And I will direct my FTC to block all future hospital mergers unless the merging companies can prove that the newly-merged entity will maintain or improve care. 

REINING IN OUT-OF-CONTROL PRESCRIPTION DRUG COSTS

Americans pay more for prescription drugs than anyone in the world – $333 billion in 2017 alone. Americans spent $1,220 per person on average for prescription drugs, while the next highest spending country, Switzerland, spent $963 per person. That’s not because Americans use more prescription medication – it’s because lax laws have allowed pharmaceutical companies to charge insurance companies and patients exorbitant rates. In a now-infamous example, when Turing Pharmaceuticals purchased the rights to the HIV medication Daraprim, the company raised the price of this life-saving drug from $13.50 per pill to a stunning $750 per tablet overnight. The price of insulin has skyrocketed, forcing people to risk their lives by rationing. And as prices continue to rise, more Americans are turning to Canada in search of affordable prices. 

Reining in prescription drug costs should be a top priority for any President – and there’s no better way to do it than through Medicare for All. My administration will use a suite of aggressive policy tools to set a net savings target that will bring down Medicare prices for brand name prescription drugs by 70% and prices for generics by 30%, with an initial focus on more expensive drugs. 

Under Medicare for All, the federal government would have real bargaining power to negotiate lower prices for patients. I will adopt an altered version of the mechanism outlined in the Lower Prescription Drug Costs Now Act which leverages excise taxes to bring manufacturers to the table to negotiate prices for both branded and generic drugs, with no drug exceeding 110% of the average international market price, but removes the limit of the number of drugs Medicare can negotiate for and eliminates the “target price” so Medicare could potentially negotiate prices lower than other countries. 

If negotiations fail, I will use two tools – compulsory licensing and public manufacturing – to allow my administration to ensure patient access to medicines by either overriding the patent, as modeled in the Medicare Negotiation and Competitive Licensing Act, or by providing public funds to support manufacturing of these drugs, as modeled in my Affordable Drug Manufacturing Act. Medicare for All will also incentivize pharmaceutical companies to develop the drugs we need – like antibiotics, cancer cures, and vaccines. And it’s not just about driving down drug prices. Making sure patients get important drug therapies up front that keep them healthy and cost a fraction compared to more severe treatment down the line can save money overall. Insurers, who may only cover individuals for a few years of their lives, see those investments in long-term health as a cost they’ll never recoup – so they have a financial incentive to deny patients these treatments. But Medicare for All covers each patient for their entire lifespan. There’s no perverse incentive to deny the prescriptions they need today because the long-term benefits to their health won’t benefit their current private insurance company. 

STEMMING THE GROWTH OF MEDICAL COSTS

Year after year, U.S. health spending has grown at rates above GDP growth, reaching a whopping 17.9% of GDP in 2017. Experts believe the changes to prescription drug spending and value-based payment systems that I’ve already outlined will bring growth rates in line with U.S. GDP, which CBO projects to be an average of 3.9% for the next decade. And if growth rates exceed this rate, I will use available policy tools, which include global budgets, population-based budgets, and automatic rate reductions, to bring it back into line.   

REDIRECTING TAXPAYER-FUNDED HEALTH SPENDING

Through Medicaid and public health plans for state employees, state and local governments play a significant role in financing health care coverage in America. Under my approach to Medicare for All, we will redirect $6 trillion in existing state and local government insurance spending into the Medicare for All system. This is similar to the mechanism that the George W. Bush Administration used to redirect Medicaid spending to the federal government under the Medicare prescription drug program.Under this maintenance-of-effort requirement, state and local governments will redirect $3.3 trillion of what they currently spend to support Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program and $2.7 trillion of what they currently spend on employer contributions to private insurance premiums for their employees into Medicare for All. Because we bring down the growth rate of overall health spending, states will pay less than they would have without Medicare for All. They’ll also have far more predictable budgets, resulting in improved long-term planning for state and community priorities. 

Together, these policy choices represent significant reductions in health care spending over current levels. Compared to the estimate by the Urban Institute, they will save over $7 trillion over ten years, bringing the expected share of additional federal revenue to just over $26 trillion for that period. After incorporating the $6 trillion we will redirect from states to help fund Medicare, the experts conclude that total new federal spending required to enact Medicare for All will be $20.5 trillion.

PAYING FOR MEDICARE FOR ALL

Medicare for All puts all health care spending on the government’s books. But Medicare for All is about the same price as our current path – and cheaper over time. That means the debate isn’t really about whether the United States should pay more or less. It’s about who should pay. 

Right now, America’s total bill for health care is projected to be $52 trillion for the next ten years. That money will come from four places: the federal government, state governments, employers, and individuals who need care. Under my approach to Medicare for All, most of these funding sources will remain the same, too. 

Existing federal spending on Medicare and Medicaid will help fund Medicare for All.

Existing state spending on health insurance will continue in the form of payments to Medicare – but states would be better off because they’d have more long-term predictability, and they’d pay less over time because these costs will grow more slowly than they do today.

Existing total private sector employer contributions to health insurance will continue in the form of contributions to Medicare – but employers would be better off because under the design of my plan, they’d pay less than they would have otherwise. 

Here’s the main difference: Individual health care spending. 

Over the next ten years, individuals will spend $11 trillion on health care in the form of premiums, deductibles, copays, and out-of-pocket costs. Under my Medicare for All plan, that amount will drop from $11 trillion to practically zero. 

I asked top experts – Mark Zandi, the Chief Economist of Moody’s Analytics; Betsey Stevenson, the former Chief Economist for the Obama Labor Department; and Simon Johnson – to examine options for how we can make up that $11 trillion difference. They conclude that it can be done largely with new taxes on financial firms, giant corporations, and the top 1% – and making sure the rich stop evading the taxes we already have.

That’s right: We don’t need to raise taxes on the middle class by one penny to finance Medicare for All. 

Here’s how it would work.

REPLACING EMPLOYER HEALTH SPENDING WITH A NEW EMPLOYER MEDICARE CONTRIBUTION 

Let’s start with a basic fact: American companies are already paying a lot for health care for their employees. They are projected to pay nearly $9 trillion over the next ten years, mostly on employer contributions for employee health insurance and on health-related expenses for employees under workers’ compensation and long-term disability. My idea is that instead of these companies sending those payments to private insurance companies, they would send payments to the federal government for Medicare in the form of an Employer Medicare Contribution. 

In fact, it’ll be a better deal than what they have now: companies will pay less than they otherwise would have, saving $200 billion over the next ten years. 

To calculate their new Employer Medicare Contribution, employers would determine what they spent on health care over the last few years and divide that by the number of employees of the company in those years to arrive at an average health care cost per employee at the company. (Companies would count part-time employees towards the total based on the number of hours they worked during a year.) Under the first year of Medicare for All, employers would then take that average cost, adjust it upwards to account for the overall increase in national health care spending, and multiply it by their total number of employees that year. Their Employer Medicare Contribution would be 98% of that amount – ensuring that every company paying for health care today will pay less than they would have if they were still offering their employees comparable private insurance. 

A similar calculation would apply to pass-through entities, like law firms or private equity funds, even though many of the people that work there technically aren’t employees. People who are self-employed would be exempt from making Employer Medicare Contributions unless they exceed an income threshold. 

Small businesses – companies with under 50 employees – would be exempt from this requirement too if they aren’t paying for employee health care today. When either new or existing firms exceed this employee threshold, we would phase in a requirement that companies make Employer Medicare Contributions equal to the national average cost of health care per employee for every employee at that company. Merging firms would pay the weighted average cost of health care per employee of the two firms that are merging.  

Employers currently offering health benefits under a collective bargaining agreement will be able to reduce their Employer Medicare Contribution if they pass along those savings to workers in the form of increased wages, pensions, or other collectively-bargained benefits. New companies or existing companies who enter into a collective bargaining agreement with their employees after the enactment of Medicare for All will be able to reduce their Employer Medicare Contributions in the same way. Employers can reduce their contribution requirements all the way down to the national average health care cost per employee. 

That way, my plan helps unions that have bargained for good health care already, and creates a significant new incentive for unionization generally by making collective bargaining appealing for both workers and employers as a way of potentially reducing the employer’s Employer Medicare Contributions.

Over time, an employer’s health care cost-per-employee would be gradually shifted to converge at the average health care cost-per-employee nationally. That helps make sure the system is fair but also gives employers and employees time to adapt to the new system.  

If we’re falling short of the $8.8 trillion revenue target for the next ten years, we will make up lost revenue with a Supplemental Employer Medicare Contribution requirement for big companies with extremely high executive compensation and stock buyback rates.    

There are a variety of ways to structure an employer contribution to Medicare for All. This particular approach has the benefit of helping American employers in a few ways:

Employers would collectively save $200 billion over the next ten years.

Employers receive far more certainty about how their health care costs will vary over time and affect their finances.

Small businesses – who often suffer when competing for employees because they can’t afford to offer health care coverage – would no longer be at a competitive disadvantage against bigger businesses.

Employers can reduce their Employer Medicare Contribution by supporting unionization efforts and negotiating with workers to provide better wages and benefits – reducing costs and promoting collective bargaining at the same time.

Because my plan holds health care cost growth to GDP levels, businesses will have stable balance sheets that grow with the economy instead of crowding out other priorities.

By asking employers to pay a little less than what they are already projected to pay for health care, we can get almost halfway to where we need to go to cover the cost of my Medicare for All plan. 

Automatic Increases in Take-Home Pay 

Medicare for All puts a whole lot of money back in the American people’s pockets. One way it does that is by taking the share of premiums employees are responsible for paying through employer-sponsored insurance – that line on pay stubs each week or month that says “health insurance” – and returning it to working people. Congratulations on the raise! 

And higher take-home pay for workers also means additional tax revenue just from applying our existing taxes – approximately $1.15 trillion if we apply average effective tax rates.  

Medicare for All saves people money in other ways too. With Medicare for All, nobody would need to put money in Health Savings Accounts or medical savings accounts to try and protect themselves against the unthinkable. And because individual spending on premiums, deductibles, copays, and out-of-pocket costs will basically disappear, the tax break for medical expenses in excess of 10% of Adjusted Gross Income becomes irrelevant. Together, those changes would generate another $250 billion in revenue.

All told, another $1.4 trillion in funding for Medicare for All is generated automatically through existing taxes on the enormous amount of money that will now be returned to individuals’ pockets from moving to a Medicare for All system with virtually no individual spending on health care. 

Here’s what that means: we can generate almost half of what we need to cover Medicare for All just by asking employers to pay slightly less than what they are projected to pay today, and through existing taxes.  

So where does the rest of the money come from that allows us to eliminate premiums, deductibles, copays, and most out-of-pocket spending for every American? Four sources: (1) better enforcement of our existing tax laws so we stop letting people evade their tax obligations; (2) targeted taxes on the financial sector, large corporations, and the top 1% of individuals; (3) my approach to immigration; and (4) shutting down a slush fund for defense spending. 

CRACKING DOWN ON TAX EVASION AND FRAUD

The federal government has a nearly 15% “tax gap” between what it collects in taxes what is actually owed because of systematic under-enforcement of our tax laws, tax evasion, and fraud. If that 15% gap persists for the next ten years, we will collect a whopping $7.7 trillion less in federal taxes than the law requires. By investing in stronger enforcement and adopting best practices on tax reporting, withholding, and filing, experts predict that we can close the tax gap by a third – generating about $2.3 trillion in additional federal revenue without a single new tax. 

A big part of our current tax gap problem is that we’re letting wealthier taxpayers get away with paying less than what they owe. Studies show that the wealthiest 5% of taxpayers misrepresent their income more frequently than the bottom 90%. 

The wealthy and their allies in Washington have worked to slash the IRS budget, leaving it without the resources it needs. The agency today has about the same number of revenue agents as it did when the economy was one-seventh its current size in the 1950s. And the IRS insists on targeting low-income taxpayers rather than wealthy ones, even though the amount of revenue we can recover from wealthy taxpayers is far more. 

We know how to fix this problem. We can draw lessons from what works in other countries with much lower tax gaps and rely on the recommendations of tax experts. Here’s a game plan:

Substantially increase funding for the IRS, including the Criminal Investigation Division. The Treasury Department estimated in its Fiscal Year 2017 budget request that every $1 invested in IRS enforcement brings in nearly $6 in additional revenue – not even including an indirect deterrence effect three times that amount.

Expand third-party reporting and withholding requirements. Research shows that third-party reporting and withholding cuts down on the tax misreporting rate substantially.

Strengthen enforcement of the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA). FATCA requires foreign financial institutions to report the holdings and income of U.S. taxpayers, but the IRS is generally not systematically matching these reports to individual tax returns. We also don’t hold foreign financial firms truly accountable for ignoring their reporting obligations. Automatically matching FATCA reports to tax returns and instituting sanctions for non-compliant foreign financial institutions would help narrow the tax gap.

Simplify tax filing obligations in line with other comparable countries with lower tax gaps, including by adopting my Tax Filing Simplification Act and using “smart returns” to improve honest reporting.

Redirect enforcement resources away from low-income taxpayers towards high-income taxpayers. 

Increase the nonfiler compliance program, strengthen reporting requirements for international income, use existing currency transaction reports to enforce cash income compliance, and increase reporting requirements for virtual- or crypto-currencies, as suggested by the Treasury Department’s Inspector General.

Allow employees who disclose tax evasion and abuse to use the protections of the False Claims Act and other whistleblower protections. 

The experts who reviewed these ideas estimated that if we implemented them, we could close the tax gap by one-third from 15% to 10%, bringing us closer to the tax gap in countries like the United Kingdom (5.6%). That will produce another $2.3 trillion in net federal revenue – without imposing a single new tax. 

TARGETED TAXES ON THE FINANCIAL SECTOR, LARGE CORPORATIONS, AND THE TOP 1% 

We can generate a whole lot of the remaining revenue we need for Medicare for All just by eliminating bad incentives in our current tax system and asking those who have done really well in the last few decades to pay their fair share.

Let’s start with the financial sector. It’s been more than ten years since the 2008 financial crisis, and while a lot of families are still dealing with the aftereffects, the financial sector is making record, eye-popping profits. Meanwhile, the risk of another financial crisis remains unacceptably high. By imposing targeted taxes and fees on financial firms, we can generate needed revenue and also make our financial system safer and more secure.

For example, a small tax on financial transactions – one-tenth of one percent on the sale of bonds, stocks, or derivatives – would generate about $800 billion in revenue over the next ten years. The tax would be assessed on and collected from financial firms, and would likely have little to no effect on most investors. Instead, according to experts, the tax could help decrease what Americans pay in fees for their investments and reduce the size of relatively unproductive parts of the financial sector. 

We can also impose a fee on big banks that encourages them to take on fewer liabilities and reduce the risk they pose to the financial system. A small fee that applies only to the forty or so largest banks in the country would generate an additional $100 billion over the next ten years – while making our financial system more safe and resilient. 

Next, we can make some basic changes to ensure that large corporations pay their fair share and to fix some fundamental problems with our current approach that actually encourage companies to shift jobs and investment overseas. These changes will generate an estimated $2.9 trillion over the next ten years. 

For instance, our current tax system lets companies deduct the cost of certain investments they make in assets faster than those assets actually lose value. That means that if a company buys a machine for a million dollars, it gets to deduct a million dollars from its taxes that same year – even if the machine only loses $100,000 in value a year. Letting the company write off the extra $900,000 all at once is like giving them an interest-free loan from the government. 

That might be worth it if the company responded to this tax break by investing more and building out their businesses. But the data suggest this isn’t happening because companies don’t actually value these tax deferrals as much as policymakers assume. Companies are mostly making the same investments they would’ve made anyways – sometimes with small changes in timing – and getting a write-off in exchange. Some experts even suggest that accelerated expensing could induce less domestic investment, not more. 

That’s why I’m proposing to get rid of this loophole. Under my plan, businesses will still write off the depreciation of their assets – they’ll just do it in a way that more accurately reflects the actual loss in value. This would generate $1.25 trillion over ten years.

We can also stop giant multinational corporations from calling themselves American companies while sheltering their profits in foreign tax havens to avoid paying their share for American investments. 

Currently, a U.S. multinational corporation can make billions in profits and attribute it to a company it set up in a tax haven like the Cayman Islands, which has no corporate taxes. The Trump tax bill claimed to address that problem by creating a global minimum tax rate for corporations, but that minimum tax – the result of heavy lobbying by multinationals – is too low and easily gamed. While Trump and congressional Republicans claimed their minimum tax would keep companies from shifting profits to tax havens and limit offshoring, the opposite is happening. The current approach both encourages companies to shift their profits to tax havens and actually incentivizes American companies to outsource their operations overseas. 

That’s why I’m proposing to institute a country-by-country minimum tax on foreign earnings of 35% – equal to a restored top corporate tax rate for U.S. firms – without permitting corporations to defer those payments. Under my plan, corporations would have to pay the difference between the minimum tax and the rate in the countries where they book their profits. For example, an American corporation booking a billion dollars in profits in the Cayman Islands, taxed at 0% there, would need to pay the federal government a 35% tax rate – the difference between the new minimum rate (35%) and the foreign rate (0%) – on the billion dollars in profits. 

My plan would also collect America’s fair share of profits that foreign companies make by selling their products to Americans. Today, we have a “global tax deficit”: companies that sell their goods abroad don’t have to pay the extra taxes that they would have to pay if they were subject to a minimum effective tax rate in each country they operated in. Making U.S. firms pay a country-by-country minimum tax effectively collects their whole global tax deficit – but foreign companies should have to pay their fair share, too. That’s why I’m proposing that the U.S. collect the fraction of this global tax deficit that corresponds to the percentage of that company’s sales in the U.S. In other words, if a foreign company should owe an additional $1 billion in taxes if it were subject to a country-by-country minimum tax, the U.S. would collect a fraction of that $1 billion based on the amount of sales that company made in the United States. 

Together, the country-by-country minimum tax and the taxation of foreign firms based on their domestic sales would result in an additional $1.65 trillion in revenue. 

Finally, we can raise another $3 trillion over ten years by asking the top 1% of households in America to pay a little more. 

The tax burden on ultra-millionaires and billionaires is less than half that of working families in the United States. In 2019, the bottom 99% of families will pay 7.2% of their wealth in taxes, while the top 0.1% of households will pay just 3.2%. My Ultra-Millionaire Tax, a 2-cent tax on the wealth of fortunes above $50 million, tackles this head on. Under this tax, the top 0.1% – the wealthiest 75,000 Americans – would have to pitch in two cents for every dollar of net worth above $50 million and three cents for every dollar on net worth over $1 billion. With this version of the Ultra-Millionaire Tax in place, the tax burden on the wealthiest households would increase from 3.2% to 4.3% of total wealth – better, but still below the 7.2% that the bottom 99% are projected to pay.

Today, I’m going one step further. By asking billionaires to pitch in six cents on each dollar of net worth above $1 billion, we can raise an additional $1 trillion in revenue and further close the gap between what middle-class families pay as a percentage of their wealth and what the top one-tenth of one percent pay. 

Yes, billionaires will have to pay a little more, but they will still likely pay less than what they would earn just from putting their assets into an index fund and doing nothing. The average annual rate of return of the S&P 500 has regularly topped 10%. And billionaires have access to the kinds of fancy investment opportunities that can generate even higher returns on average. Put it this way – should we ask billionaires to pitch in an extra three cents on every dollar above $1 billion, or force middle-class families to bear another $1 trillion in health care costs?

We can also change the way the government taxes investment income for the top 1%. Today, taxes are only assessed on capital gains when securities are sold. That means wealthy investors can put their money in the stock market, see it grow, and not pay a dime in taxes on those earnings unless or until it is taken out of the market. Under the current system, they can then pass along those shares to their heirs when they die and their heirs will be able to pay even less when they choose to sell.

I’ve already proposed closing that loophole for how capital gains are treated when shares are passed on to heirs. But we can go a step further. Under “mark-to-market” system for the wealthiest 1% of households, we will tax capital gains income (excluding retirement accounts) annually, rather than at the time of sale, and raise the rates on capital gains to match the tax rates for labor income. Individuals would still only pay taxes on gains and could use current losses to offset future taxes.

Under this system, investment income will no longer be treated differently than labor income for the top 1% of households. Ultra-millionaires and billionaires won’t be able to earn income on giant fortunes year after year without paying a penny in taxes. And we can raise another $2 trillion over ten years to pay for my Medicare for All plan.

IMMIGRATION REFORM 

I support immigration reform that’s consistent with our values, including a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants and expanded legal immigration consistent with my principles. That’s not only the right thing to do – it also increases federal revenue we can dedicate to Medicare for All as new people come into the system and pay taxes. Based on CBO’s analysis of the 2013 comprehensive immigration reform bill, experts project that immigration reform would generate an additional $400 billion in direct federal revenue. 

REINING IN DEFENSE SPENDING 

Since the attacks of 9/11, the United States has appropriated $2 trillion to fund combat and counterterrorism operations around the world via the Overseas Contingency Operations fund, or OCO. On average this spending has amounted to $116 billion per year – and in total, an amount equivalent to nearly 10 percent of all federal discretionary spending over that same time period. 

Republicans – including the President’s current Chief of Staff – and Democrats alike agree that OCO is a budget gimmick that masks the true impact of war spending. The emergency supplemental funding mechanism was never intended to fund the costs of long-scale, long-term operations outside of the normal appropriations process. And in recent years, OCO has also been used to fund so-called “base” requirements unrelated to the wars, outside of the Budget Control Act caps – in effect acting as a slush fund for increased Pentagon spending. And as everything from more F-35s to massive bombs never used in combat have migrated into the OCO account, the Department of Defense has been spared from having to prioritize or live within its means. It’s not just bad budgetary practice – it’s wasteful spending. 

I’ve called out this slush fund for what it is. I’ve also called for an end to endless combat engagements in places like Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria, and to responsibly bring our combat troops home from these nations. These open-ended commitments are not necessary to advance American foreign policy or counterterrorism interests, their human cost has been staggering, and their financial cost has created a drag on our economy by diverting money better invested in critical domestic priorities. 

I’ve also called to reduce defense spending overall. The Pentagon budget will cost more this year than everything else in the discretionary budget put together. That’s wrong, and it’s unsustainable. We need to identify which programs actually benefit American security in the 21st century, and which programs merely line the pockets of defense contractors – then pull out a sharp knife and make some cuts. 

We can start by shutting down this slush fund and balancing with our overall defense priorities in the context of the actual defense budget. And as we end these wars, eliminating the Overseas Contingency Operations fund and forcing the Pentagon to fund any such priorities through its regular budgetary process will provide $798 billion over the ten-year period relative to current spending levels. 

As I have said repeatedly, under my Medicare for All plan, costs will go up for the very wealthy and big corporations, and costs will go down for middle-class families. I will not sign a bill that violates these commitments. And as my plan to pay for Medicare for All makes clear, we can meet these commitments without a tax increase on the middle class – and, in fact, without any increase in income taxes at all. 

America’s middle class is facing a crisis. For a generation, wages have remained largely flat while family costs have exploded. I’ve spent decades sounding the alarm about it. I’m running for President to fix it. That means doing whatever we can to reduce the overall strain on family budgets. 

Medicare for All can be a huge part of the solution. When fully implemented, my approach to Medicare for All would mark one of the greatest federal expansions of middle class wealth in our history. And if Medicare for All can be financed without any new taxes on the middle class, and instead by asking giant corporations, the wealthy, and the well-connected to pay their fair share, that’s exactly what we should do.

ACHIEVING MEDICARE FOR ALL

Of course, moving to this kind of system will not be easy and will not happen overnight. This is why every serious proposal for Medicare for All contemplates a significant transition period. 

In the weeks ahead, I will propose a transition plan that will specifically address how I would use this time to begin providing immediate financial relief to struggling families, rein in out-of-control health care costs, increase coverage, and save lives. My transition plan will take seriously and address substantively the concerns of unions, individuals with private insurance, hospitals, people who work for private health insurers, and medical professionals who worry about what a new system will mean for them. It will also grapple directly with the entrenched political and economic interests that would spend freely, as they have throughout modern American history, to influence politicians and try to frighten the American people into rejecting a plan that would save them thousands of dollars a year on premiums and deductibles while making sure they can always see the health care providers they need with false claims and scare tactics.  

But there’s a reason former President Barack Obama has called Medicare for All a good idea. There’s a reason the American people support it. It’s because when it comes to the cost of health care, we are in the middle of a full-blown crisis. 

We are paying twice as much as any other major nation for care – even as tens of millions lack coverage, and even as family after family sees its finances destroyed by a health issue. And the American people know that in the long-term, a simple system that covers everybody, provides the care they need when they need it, puts $11 trillion back in their pockets and uses all of the public’s leverage to keep costs as low as possible is the best option for their family budgets and for the health of their loved ones.

As President, I’ll fight to get it done.

Read the plan here
Read expert letter on cost estimate of Medicare for All here 
Read expert letter on financing Medicare for All here
Calculator here

Democratic Candidates for 2020: Senator Warren Details Plan to Restore Trust in the Federal Judiciary

Senator Elizabeth Warren holds campaign rally in Washington Square Park, NYC.
Warren’s proposals to restore trust in the federal judiciary are particularly noteworthy in light of widespread concern that the judiciary has been politicized © Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

With Attorney General William Barr facing criticism for his direct involvement in extorting Ukraine to engage in a bogus investigation intended to harm Democratic candidate for 2020 Vice President Joe Biden and opening a criminal investigation into the intelligence officers in the CIA and FBI who initially investigated and exposed Russian meddling in the 2016 Election and contacts with the Trump campaign, Senator Elizabeth Warren’s proposals unveiled earlier this month to restore trust in the federal judiciary are particularly noteworthy in light of widespread concern that the judiciary has been politicized. This is from the Warren campaign:

Charlestown, MA – Senator Elizabeth Warren detailed how she will strengthen the ethical integrity and impartiality of the federal judiciary. Her plan will ensure that judges do not hear cases where they have conflicts of interests, strengthen our nation’s ethics rules for judges, and ensure accountability for judges who violate these rules.

Under her plan, investigations into judicial misconduct could continue even when a judge resigns from office or is elevated to the Supreme Court. This provision would allow the judiciary to reopen the investigations into Alex Kozinski, Maryanne Trump Barry, Brett Kavanaugh, and any other judge who benefited from this loophole.

In December 2017, more than 15 female law clerks alleged that Ninth Circuit Judge Alex Kozinski committed sexual misconduct and created a “hostile, demeaning and persistently sexualized environment” for employees. According to their accounts, Kozinski inappropriately touched female clerks and showed them pornography in his chambers. 

It wasn’t the first time he was accused of misconduct. But what did Judge Kozinski do when the judiciary started to investigate? He retired.

And because of inadequate ethics laws, the investigation ended immediately. Meanwhile, Kozinski continues to collect his taxpayer-funded pension for life.

The Kozinski case is just one example of the broader problem of accountability in the federal judiciary.

Donald Trump’s sister Maryanne Trump Barry ended an investigation into the Trump family’s potential tax fraud and other tax schemes by resigning from the bench.

Justices Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia did not recuse themselves from Citizens United v. FEC, the case that opened an avalanche of money in politics to the benefit of people like the Koch brothers, who invited the pair to multiple all-expenses paid retreats.

And several judges have ruled on cases while owning stock in a company that was a party to the case, violating existing conflicts-of-interest rules that expressly prohibit this practice.

The basic premise of our legal system is that every person is treated equally in the eyes of the law – including judges. Our judiciary only functions properly when it lives up to this promise, and it risks eroding its legitimacy when the American people lose faith that judges are ethical and fair-minded.

That’s why today I’m announcing my plan to strengthen the ethical integrity and impartiality of the federal judiciary. It’s time to ensure that judges do not hear cases where they have conflicts of interests, strengthen our nation’s ethics rules for judges, and ensure accountability for judges who violate these rules.

Recusing Judges and Supreme Court Justices with Conflicts of Interest.

In 2011, Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals Judge James Hill ruled in favor of Johnson & Johnson in a case brought by a woman who suffered from a malfunctioning medical implant. He did so while owning as much as $100,000 in the company’s stock. The same judge ruled on three other cases involving companies in which he owned stock – and ruled in favor of the company each time. Judge Hill, unfortunately, is not alone: one study identified 24 cases in which judges owned stock in a company that appeared before them in court.

A basic principle of our federal judicial system is that judges make decisions as disinterested, impartial observers – stepping aside when they may not be able to decide cases objectively. This principle should also bar judges from being the final arbiter of whether they can be objective in the first place. 

It’s time for fundamental reform:

Prohibit judges from deciding for themselves whether they should recuse from a case due to a conflict. When a litigant believes that a judge cannot consider a case in an unbiased manner, the litigant may file a recusal motion asking for another judge to decide the case instead. But our current system gives judges enormous discretion to decide for themselves whether to grant recusal motions where their objectivity is challenged. My plan will instead empower the Chief Judges within regional circuits to establish a binding recusal process. It will also require courts to publish its reasons any time judges are disqualified from a case without a recusal motion, including when judges voluntarily recuse or when an automated conflict-checking software disqualifies them. 

Ban judges from owning or trading individual stocks. It’s not enough for judges like James Hill to recuse in cases with conflicts of interest – my plan would eliminate the appearance of impropriety by banning federal judges from owning or trading individual stocks, while allowing them to instead invest in conflict-free mutual funds or open new investment accounts managed by the Federal Retirement Thrift Investment Board. Law firms follow rules like these to avoid the appearance of financial conflicts with the interests of their clients. Judges should certainly be held to the same standard.

Require Supreme Court Justices to provide written explanations of recusal decisions when a litigant challenges for recusal. If a Supreme Court Justice has a conflict of interest, they are ethically obligated to recuse themselves from considering a case, but the law allows them to deny recusal motions without even providing an explanation. Under my plan, when a party asks for a Justice to recuse, the Judicial Conference will issue a non-binding, public advisory opinion with its recommendation – and the challenged Justice will publicly explain their final recusal decision in writing. Because all recusal decisions will be a matter of public record, future litigants will understand these conflicts and know when to bring recusal decisions of their own.

Strengthening Ethics Rules for All Judges.

Every lawyer in America is subject to ethics rules. Federal judges are generally subject to a Code of Conduct that applies the most basic of these principles to members of the judiciary.

But there is no Code of Conduct for Supreme Court Justices.

That means that Supreme Court Justices can go on trips with litigants, like Justice Scalia did when he heard a case involving Vice President Cheney after going hunting with him – without an independent ruling on whether it was proper to do so. It means Justices can receive large speaking fees and all-expenses paid trips to fancy conferences, like Justice Thomas did when the Federalist Society, an extremist right-wing legal group, flew him to Palm Springs and paid for meals and transportation for four days. And it means that someone like Brett Kavanaugh can face accusations of lying to Congress – without a full and fair investigation by the judiciary. These actions could violate the Judicial Code of Conduct, but because unlike all other federal judges these Justices are not bound by a code of ethics, they are immune from any judicial investigations into misconduct. 

We must act now to fix this – and that means strengthening the Code of Conduct for all judges.

Here’s where I would start:

Extend the Code of Conduct to Supreme Court Justices. When Judge Kavanaugh was elevated to the Supreme Court, 83 ethics complaints that had been lodged against him were dismissed – and because the Supreme Court is not covered by a Code of Conduct, no procedure exists to file new complaints. Questions are often raised about the behavior of Supreme Court Justices, such as Justice Thomas’s 13 years of financial disclosures that failed to list $690,000 in payments to his wife from the Heritage Foundation, a right-wing judicial activist group – but these actions are beyond the scope of current rules. Enough. My plan applies the Code of Conduct for United States Judges to Supreme Court Justices – and places the Judicial Conference in charge of violations. My plan also allows individuals to file complaints against Supreme Court Justices, just like they can against all other federal judges.  

Strengthen the Code of Conduct to ensure a fair and impartial judiciary. When judges accept gifts or financial contributions from interested parties, public trust in a fair-minded judiciary erodes. My plan strengthens the Code of Conduct so that judges generally cannot receive paid speaking fees or all-expenses-paid trips from outside organizations. To ensure that judges continue to interact with the public without the appearance of impropriety, my plan also establishes a modest fund to help cover reasonable expenses.

Real Enforcement for Judicial Misconduct.

When a lawyer violates the ethics rules, their state’s judiciary can investigate their behavior and impose disciplinary punishment, including stripping their licence to practice law.

But the panels of judges that investigate judicial conduct complaints have limited disciplinary power beyond asking the judge to voluntarily resign or asking the House of Representatives to consider impeachment proceedings – a request the House is free to ignore. 

It’s time for real accountability for judges. Here’s how we’ll start:

Continue investigations into judicial misconduct even when a judge resigns from office or is elevated to the Supreme Court.

In 2016, Federal District Court Judge Walter Smith faced a judicial investigation into allegations of sexual harassment of court employees and drinking on the bench while presiding over cases. Judge Smith resigned, and the complaints filed against him were dismissed. 

My plan extends the authority of the Judicial Conference to former judges so that individuals under investigation cannot simply resign from the bench to avoid accountability. This provision would allow the judiciary to reopen the investigations into Alex KozinskiMaryanne Trump-BarryBrett Kavanaugh, and any other judge who benefited from this loophole.

Provide strong disciplinary authority to judicial ethics watchdogs, including the ability to strip non-vested taxpayer-funded pensions from judges.

Under today’s rules, even if retired judges could be investigated, the Judicial Conference has no meaningful tools to discipline them. American taxpayers are paying for the more than $180,000-per-year retirement pay of Judge Smith, Judge Kozinski, Judge Trump-Barry, and several other judges who left office during investigations into their behavior. We need to restore real accountability within our judiciary. 

That’s why my plan provides disciplinary tools to the Judicial Councils and their parent organization, the Judicial Conference, including the ability to strip sitting or retired judges of their non-vested pension benefits by making retirement pay for new judges explicitly contingent on the absence of serious misconduct. In addition to strengthening these disciplinary tools, my administration will also work to prevent judicial misconduct against employees and law clerks by supporting strong climate surveys, questionnaires to court employees about the work environment in our federal courts, to help the judiciary understand how to improve the culture within our courts.

Create a new, fast-track impeachment process for federal judges who commit impeachable offenses. 

The Constitution reserves the impeachment of judges for only the most egregious offenses. But when a judge commits a serious offense or ethical violation, we need to make sure that there is a prompt investigation – and that Congress takes action.

It’s time to fast-track the process for judges who commit impeachable offenses. My plan would strengthen the process to certify that a judge may have committed an impeachable offense, and would ensure that any impeachment referrals will trigger a series of automatic rules under which the House Judiciary Committee will conduct a thorough investigation and vote without unnecessary delay. These reforms will ensure that judges who commit serious, impeachable offenses will more likely be promptly removed from office.

These changes will not only allow us to ensure accountability for bad actors, including reopening inquiries into the conduct of offenders like Brett Kavanaugh. They will also hold the vast majority of judges who act in good faith to the highest ethical standards, and in the process, begin to restore accountability and trust in a fair and impartial federal judiciary.

Read more about her plan here:  

Democratic Candidates for 2020: Warren Details Plan to Bolster Public School Education

Senator Elizabeth Warren holds campaign rally in Washington Square Park, NYC © Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

The vigorous contest of Democrats seeking the 2020 presidential nomination has produced excellent policy proposals to address major issues. In a recent poll, Americans have indicated that education is a top issue. Senator Elizabeth Warren released her plan to invest hundreds of billions of dollars in public schools, paid for by a 2c wealth tax on fortunes above $50 million. “It’s time to live up to the promise of a high-quality public education for every student. My plan makes big, structural changes that would help give every student the resources they need to thrive.” This is from the Warren campaign:

Charlestown, MA – Senator Elizabeth Warren released her plan to invest hundreds of billions of dollars in our public schools — paid for by a two-cent wealth tax on fortunes above $50 million — and make a series of legislative and administrative changes to ensure a great public school education for every student. 

Her plan has five objectives: 

Fund schools adequately and equitably: Invest hundreds of billions of dollars in pre-K-12 public education, paid for by her wealth tax — including quadrupling Title I funding, fully funding the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, investing an additional $50 billion in repairing and upgrading school buildings, and offering schools $100 billion in Excellence Grants to invest in options that schools and districts identify to help their students. A Warren Administration will also set the goal of turning 25,000 public schools into true community schools. She will condition the new Title I money on states chipping in more funding and adopting and implementing more progressive funding formulas, so that more resources go to the schools and students that really need them. She will also improve the way the federal government allocates this new Title I funding.

Renew the fight against segregation and discrimination in our schools: She will attack residential segregation in a variety of ways, strengthen Title VI of the Civil Rights Act by expanding the private right of action under Title VI to cover claims of disparate impact against states and school districts, revive the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, apply particular scrutiny to breakway districts, and commit to enforcing the civil rights of all students.

Provide a warm, safe, and nurturing school climate for all our kids: She will cancel student breakfast and lunch debt and provide free and nutritious school meals, eliminate high stakes testing, end zero tolerance discipline policies, implement and expand Social Emotional Learning, and address chronic absenteeism.

Treat teachers and staff like the professionals they are: She will address not just teacher pay, but other important issues including strengthening bargaining power, cancelling student loan debt, diversifying the teacher pipeline, and funding professional development.

Stop the privatization and corruption of our public education system: She will ensure public dollars are not diverted from traditional public schools, end all federal funding for creating new charter schools, and push to ensure that existing charter schools are subject to at least the same level of transparency and accountability as traditional public schools. She also supports banning for-profit charters, and will direct the IRS to investigate so-called nonprofit schools that are violating the statutory requirements for nonprofits, and will ban the storing and selling of student data. 

Read more about her plan here and below:

I attended public school growing up in Oklahoma. After I graduated from the University of Houston, a public university where tuition cost only $50 a semester, my first job was as a special education teacher at a public school in New Jersey. I later attended a public law school.  

I believe in America’s public schools. And I believe that every kid in America should have the same access to a high-quality public education — no matter where they live, the color of their skin, or how much money their parents make. 

We’re not living up to that promise. Funding for public K-12 education is both inadequate and inequitable. I’ve long been concerned about the way that school systems rely heavily on local property taxes, shortchanging students in low-income areas and condemning communities caught in a spiral of decreasing property values and declining schools. Despite a national expectation of progress, public schools are more segregated today than they were thirty years ago, and the link between school funding and property values perpetuates the effects of ongoing housing discrimination and racist housing policies, like redlining, that restricted homeownership and home values for Black Americans. 

We ask so much of our public school teachers, paraprofessionals, and school staff. But instead of treating them like professionals — paying them well, listening to them, and giving them the support they need — we impose extreme accountability measures that punish them for factors they cannot possibly control. We divert public dollars from traditional public schools that need them, leave our students vulnerable to exploitative companies that prey on schools’ limited resources for profit, and allow corruption to undermine the quality of education that our students receive. 

And each of these trends has gotten worse under Betsy DeVos — a Secretary of Education who thinks traditional public schools are a “dead end.” 

We can do so much better for our students, our teachers, and our communities. I’ll start – as I promised in May – by replacing DeVos with a Secretary of Education who has been a public school teacher, believes in public education, and will listen to our public school teachers, parents, and students. 

But that’s just the beginning. As public school teachers across the country know, our schools do not have the financial resources they need to deliver a quality public education for every child. That’s why my plan invests hundreds of billions of dollars in our public schools — paid for by a two-cent wealth tax on fortunes above $50 million — and makes a series of legislative and administrative changes to achieve five objectives: 

Fund schools adequately and equitably so that all students have access to a great public education.

Renew the fight against segregation and discrimination in our schools.

Provide a warm, safe, and nurturing school climate for all our kids.

Treat teachers and staff like the professionals they are.

Stop the privatization and corruption of our public education system.

What would this plan mean for America’s families? Parents wouldn’t have to bust their budgets to live in certain exclusive neighborhoods just to ensure that their children get a good education. Parents of children with disabilities wouldn’t have to fight every day so their children get the services they’re entitled to and that they need. Public school teachers and staff would have more financial security and more freedom to use their expertise to teach their students. And every student would have the chance to go to a safe, enriching public school from pre-K to high school. 

Funding Schools Adequately and Equitably 

All students should have the resources they need to get a great public education. That’s not happening today. The data show that more school funding significantly improves student achievement, particularly for students from low-income backgrounds. Yet our current approach to school funding at the federal, state, and local level underfunds our schools and results in many students from low-income backgrounds receiving less funding than other students on a per-student basis. My plan makes a historic new federal investment in public schools — and pushes both the federal government and state governments to dedicate more resources to the schools and students that need them most.

State and local funds make up about 90% of total K-12 education funding. The federal government provides roughly the remaining 10% of K-12 funding, primarily through Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965. 

Both sets of investments have serious shortcomings. On the state side, even when states provide substantial supplemental funding for high-need communities, reliance on local property tax revenue means wealthier communities are often still able to spend more money on their public schools than poorer communities. As of 2015, only 11 states used a progressive funding formula — one that dedicates more money per-student to high-poverty school districts. The remaining states use a funding formula that is either basically flat per-student or dedicates less money per-student to high-poverty districts. In a handful of states, students in high-poverty districts get less than 75 cents for every dollar that students in wealthier school districts get.

There are problems with federal funding too. The Elementary and Secondary Education Act is a civil rights law Congress enacted to provide supplemental support for students from low-income backgrounds or those who need extra support, like English Language Learners and students who are homeless or in foster care. Almost every school district and 70% of schools receive some Title I money, but the current investment in Title I — $15.8 billion — is not nearly enough to make up for state-level funding inequities. And Title I funding itself is distributed based on a formula that isn’t always efficiently targeted to ensure adequate support for the schools and students who need it most. 

Our flawed approach to K-12 funding isn’t just producing disparities in education between poor and rich students. It’s also helping produce disparities in education based on race. Black and Latinx students are disproportionately likely to attend chronically under-resourced schools. Bureau of Indian Education schools are badly underfunded too. 

My plan addresses each and every aspect of this problem. It starts by quadrupling Title I funding — an additional $450 billion over the next 10 years — to help ensure that all children get a high-quality public education. 

But we need to do more than just increase funding. We also need to ensure that federal funds are reaching the students and schools that need it most. That’s why I’m committed to working with public education leaders and school finance experts to improve the way the federal government allocates this new Title I funding. And I would impose transparency requirements on this new funding so that we can understand what investments work best and adapt our approach accordingly.

I’m also committed to using this new federal investment to press states to adopt better funding approaches themselves. I would condition access to this additional Title I funding on states chipping in more funding, adopting more progressive funding formulas, and actually allocating funding consistently with these new formulas. This would ensure that both the federal government and state governments do their part to progressively and equitably fund public schools while still ensuring that no child gets less per-student funding than they do today. 

My plan also lives up to our collective commitments to students with disabilities. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act protects the civil rights of students with disabilities by guaranteeing their right to a free and appropriate public education. When Congress passed the original version of IDEA in 1975, it promised to cover 40% of the additional costs of educating students with disabilities. 

But today, Congress is failing spectacularly in meeting that obligation. Last year, the federal government covered less than 15% of these costs. That failure has shifted the burden to states and school districts that simply can’t find the money to make up the difference. The result? Students with disabilities are denied the resources they need to fulfill their potential.  

This will end under my administration. I’ll make good on the federal government’s original 40% funding promise by committing an additional $20 billion a year to IDEA grants. I will also expand IDEA funding for 3-5 year olds and for early intervention services for toddlers and infants.

In addition to ensuring that all students have the resources they need for a high-quality public education, I’ll give schools the chance to invest in programs and resources that they believe are most important to their students. That’s why my plan will invest an additional $100 billion over ten years in “Excellence Grants” to any public school. That’s the equivalent of $1 million for every public school in the country to invest in options that schools and districts identify to help their students. These funds can be used to develop state-of-the art labs, restore afterschool arts programs, implement school-based student mentoring programs, and more. I’ll work with schools and school leaders to develop the best way to structure these grants to meet their needs.

Those funds can also be invested in developing sustainable community schools — and the Warren Administration will have the goal of helping 25,000 public schools transition to the community school framework by 2030. Community schools are hubs of their community. Through school coordinators, they connect students and families with community partners to provide opportunities, support, and services inside and outside of the school. These schools center around wraparound services, family and community engagement, afterschool programs and expanded learning time, and collaborative leadership structures. Studies show that every dollar invested in community schools generates up to $15 in economic return to the community. 

Finally, my plan will provide a surge of investment in school facilities and infrastructure. About 50 million students and 6 million adults spend their weekdays in public school buildings. Too many of these schools are dealing with leaky roofs, broken heating systems, lead pipes, black mold, and other serious infrastructure issues. According to the most recent data, more than half of our public schools need repairs to be in “good” condition. Our poor school infrastructure has serious effects on the health and academic outcomes of students and on the well-being of teachers and staff.

The vastly unequal state of public school facilities is unacceptable and a threat to public education itself. We cannot legitimately call our schools “public” when some students have state-of-the-art classrooms and others do not even have consistent running water. The federal government must step in. 

That’s why, as President, I’ll invest at least an additional $50 billion in school infrastructure across the country — targeted at the schools that need it most — on top of existing funding for school upgrades and improvements in my other plans. For example, my Clean Energy Plan for America commits billions of dollars to retrofit and upgrade buildings to increase energy efficiency and to invest in zero-emission school buses. My housing plan commits $10 billion in competitive grants that communities can use for school repairs. My Environmental Justice plan establishes a lead abatement grant program focused on schools. My Plan to Invest in Rural America commits to universal broadband so that every student in this country can access the Internet at school. And I will fully fund Bureau of Indian Education schools to support major construction and repair backlogs. 

Renewing the Fight Against Segregation and Discrimination in Public Schools 

While Donald Trump tries to divide us and pit people of different races and backgrounds against each other, Americans know that we are stronger because of our differences. As my dear friend Congressman Elijah Cummings said earlier this year before his passing, “America has always been at its best when we understand that diversity is our promise — not our problem.” Integrated communities and integrated schools help create a society built on mutual respect and understanding. 

But broad public affirmation of the Brown v. Board of Education decisions in the 1950s and recent debates about historical desegregation policies have obscured an uncomfortable truth — our public schools are more segregated today than they were about thirty years ago.  

We made only fitful progress towards integration in the years immediately after the Brown v. Board decisions. But by the mid-1980s, thanks to dedicated advocacy by civil rights leaders and sustained investment and oversight by the federal government, school segregation had declined

Then we reversed course. The Supreme Court scaled back the courts’ remedial tools to address segregation, which — as I called out at the time as a law student — entrenched segregation, particularly in Northern urban schools. To make matters worse, the Nixon and Reagan Administrations slashed investments in integration efforts and loosened federal oversight, setting us on a path towards heightened segregation. Over the same period, segregation of Latinx students entrenched even further. 

Integrated schools improve educational outcomes for students of all races. And integrated schools are demanded by our Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection to every person in this country. In a Warren Administration, we will achieve this goal.

The first step toward integrating our schools is integrating our communities. Today in America, residential communities are highly segregated. Some believe that’s purely a result of people choosing to live close to other people who look like them. That’s wrong. Modern residential segregation is driven at least in part by income inequality and parents seeking out the best possible school districts for their children. By investing more money in our public schools — and helping ensure that every public school is a great one — my plan will address one of the key drivers of residential segregation.    

Beyond that, my Housing Plan for America establishes a $10 billion competitive grant program that offers states and cities money to build parks, roads, and schools if they eliminate the kinds of restrictive zoning laws that can further racial segregation. And it includes a historic new down payment assistance program that promotes integration by giving residents of formerly redlined areas help to buy a home in any community they choose.   

My plan would also use federal education funding to encourage states to further integrate their schools. Under current law, states may use a portion of Title I funds to implement evidence-based interventions for low-performing schools. The data show that students at integrated schools perform better, so even in the absence of congressional action, my administration can and will use these provisions to encourage states to use that portion of Title I money on integration efforts of their own design. All told, that will add up to billions of dollars a year that states can use to promote residential and public school integration, including through the use of public magnet schools. And to ensure that school districts won’t have to choose between integration and federal funding, my plan will guarantee that districts will retain access to Title I funds even if their successful integration efforts cause the districts to fall below current Title I funding thresholds.

Incentives to integrate communities and schools will encourage many districts to do the right thing. But they won’t be sufficient everywhere. That’s why I’m committed to strengthening Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 — which prohibits discrimination on the basis of race in any program or activity that receives federal funding — and reviving robust enforcement of its terms. Betsy DeVos and the Trump Administration have pulled back on civil rights enforcement, seemingly content to let states and districts use billions of taxpayer dollars to entrench or exacerbate racial segregation in schools. That ends under a Warren Administration. Here’s what we’ll do:

Strengthen Title VI: Under current Supreme Court precedent on Title VI, the government can challenge any policy that disproportionately harms students of color, but students and parents can only bring a claim under Title VI for intentional discrimination. Students and parents should have the right to challenge systemic discrimination that perpetuates school segregation, so I will push to expand the private right of action under Title VI to cover claims of disparate impact against states and school districts. I will also fight to give the Justice Department — in coordination with the relevant funding agency — direct enforcement authority to bring disparate impact claims under Title VI, and to give DOJ the right to issue subpoenas and civil investigative demands under Title VI to strengthen their investigative capacity.

Revive and fund the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR): OCR is responsible for enforcing federal civil rights laws in our public schools. Betsy DeVos rescinded dozens of guidelines intended to prevent discrimination and limited OCR’s capacity to give complaints the consideration they deserve. My administration will restore and expand OCR’s capacity, reinstate and update the rules and guidance revoked by DeVos, press for new protections for students, and give OCR clear marching orders to root out discrimination wherever it is found.  

Subject attempts to create “breakaway” districts to additional enforcement scrutiny: Since 2000, there have been at least 128 attempts to break off a part of an existing school district into its own separate district. These “breakaway” districts are often wealthier and whiter than the district they leave behind and typically result in massive funding inequities between the new district and the old one. Under my leadership, the Department of Education and the Justice Department will subject any attempt to create a breakaway district to careful scrutiny and bring appropriate Title VI enforcement actions.  

Improve federal data collection to support better outcomes: Activists, academics, and legislators rely on the Department of Education’s Civil Rights Data Collection to better monitor and remedy what’s broken in our public education system. But there’s a years-long lag in the data collection process — and the data that are collected glosses over crucial details. I will increase funding for CRDC so that we can expand the types of data collected, provide data collection training on the district and state level, and produce data more quickly.  

I am also committed to ending discrimination against all students. My administration will strictly enforce the right of students with disabilities to a free and appropriate public education. I will push to build on Obama-era policies by writing new rules to help ensure that students of color with disabilities are treated fairly when it comes to identifying disabilities, classroom placement, services and accommodations, and discipline. I am opposed to the use of restraint and seclusion in schools, and I will push for sufficient training to ensure student, teacher, and staff safety. I will protect students’ right to be educated in the least restrictive environment. And in light of the Supreme Court’s unanimous decision in Endrew F. v. Douglas County School District, which affirmed the right of every child to have the chance to meet challenging objectives, my Department of Education will help schools and districts develop and implement ambitious individualized education programs for all students with disabilities. This includes upholding the right to a fair and appropriate public education for students in juvenile detention facilities, who are disproportionately students with disabilities. 

I will also fight to protect the rights of LGBTQ+ students. When Gavin Grimm took his school district to court to defend the rights of transgender students, he bravely stood for the many LGBTQ+ students facing harassment and discrimination in our schools. Today, more than half of LGBTQ+ students report feeling unsafe at school, and nearly a fifth have been forced to switch schools. That’s why I will press to enact the Safe Schools Improvement Act, which requires school districts to adopt codes of conduct that specifically prohibit bullying and harassment on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. I will also direct the Department of Education to reinstate guidance revoked under Trump about transgender students’ rights under Title IX, and make clear that federal civil rights law prohibits anti-LGBTQ+ rules like discriminatory dress codes, prohibiting students from writing or discussing LGBTQ+ topics in class, or punishing students for bringing same-sex partners to school events. And I will affirm and enforce federal protections under Title IX for all students who are survivors of sexual harassment and assault.

I will commit to protecting English Language Learners. Our public schools are home to nearly 5 million English Language Learners — about 10% of the entire student population. In 1974, the Supreme Court ruled that failing to give English Language Learners meaningful instruction was a violation of their civil rights. But, once again, the Department of Education is failing these students under Betsy DeVos. As President, I will affirm and strengthen the Obama Administration’s 2015 guidelines on the civil rights of English Language Learners to include meaningful access to rigorous coursework, teachers, special education services, and integration with the rest of the student body, while fostering their home language.

I will also commit to protecting immigrant students and their families. Immigration makes America stronger — economically, socially, and culturally. But because of the Trump Administration’s inhumane immigration policies, many immigrant students are afraid to go to school, and many families living in the shadows are afraid to access resources like free school lunch. I would end the Trump’s Administration’s monstrous policies and enact immigration reform that is fair, humane, and reflects our values. I will ensure immigrant students don’t get second-class status by being directed into GED programs instead of classrooms. I will protect sensitive locations like schools from immigrant enforcement actions. And I’ll recommit OCR to upholding and enforcing Plyler v. Doe — which the Trump administration has tried to undermine — so that all immigrant children have access to a quality education, no matter their native language, national origin, immigration status, or educational history. 

Finally, I will nominate judges who look like America and are committed to applying our civil rights laws. The courts often have the final say on critical civil rights matters. Donald Trump has appointed judges who are overwhelmingly white and overwhelmingly male. During their confirmation processes, dozens of his appointees refused to state publicly that they would uphold Brown v. Board of Education. I’m committed to appointing a diverse slate of judges, including those who have a background in civil rights. And while it is shocking to need to make this commitment, I will only appoint judges who will apply the law as established in Brown v. Board of Education and other landmark civil rights rulings.

Providing a Warm, Safe, and Nurturing School Climate for All Our Kids

Every student deserves the opportunity to learn in a traditional public school that’s welcoming and safe. Research shows that students learn best when they have supportive and nurturing relationships with teachers and administrators, and when learning is not just academic but social and emotional too. With 46 million children experiencing some form of trauma — whether it’s poverty, violence in the community or in the home, homelessness, family separation, or an incarcerated caretaker — we can’t expect schools to bear this burden alone.  

In addition to my goal of turning 25,000 public schools into true community schools, my plan will ensure the federal government plays its part in trying to bring a positive and nurturing climate to every school.  

Here’s what we’ll do:

Expand access to early childhood services and education: My plan for Universal Child Care and Early Learning will provide high-quality child care and early learning to 12 million kids across the country. As part of a comprehensive early childhood education system, I will ensure all children can attend free high-quality universal pre-K. That means pre-K teachers that are prepared, supported, and compensated fairly, and program alignment to K-3, ensuring that every child is ready for day one of kindergarten and beyond.

Eliminate high-stakes testing: The push toward high-stakes standardized testing has hurt both students and teachers. Schools have eliminated critical courses that are not subject to federally mandated testing, like social studies and the arts. They can exclude students who don’t perform well on tests. Teachers feel pressured to teach to the test, rather than ensuring that students have a rich learning experience. 

I oppose high-stakes testing, and I co-sponsored successful legislation in Congress to eliminate unnecessary and low-quality standardized tests. As president, I’ll push to prohibit the use of standardized testing as a primary or significant factor in closing a school, firing a teacher, or making any other high-stakes decisions, and encourage schools to use authentic assessments that allow students to demonstrate learning in multiple ways.

Cancel student breakfast and lunch debt and provide free and nutritious school meals: No one should have to go into debt to get a nutritious meal at school. I’ve already proposed expanding the farm-to-school program one-hundred fold so that schools get access to fresh, local, nutritious meals. I will also push to cancel all existing student meal debt and increase federal funding to school meals programs so that students everywhere get free breakfast and lunch. And to meaningfully address student food insecurity and hunger, I will direct my Department of Education to work with schools to look for ways to provide dinner, and meals over weekends and throughout long holidays, to students who need it.  

Invest in evidenced-based school safety: Despite evidence that the militarization of our schools does not improve school safety, the Trump Administration has doubled down on militarization policies that only make students, teachers, and parents feel less safe. Enacting basic gun safety laws that the overwhelming majority of Americans support is a critical step towards improving school safety. But we need to take a different approach in our schools, too — 14 million students attend schools with police but no counselor, nurse, psychologist, or social worker. 

I will push to close the mental health provider gap in schools so that every school has access to the staff necessary to support students. And if police officers have to be in schools, they should receive training on discrimination, youth development, and de-escalation tactics, and the contracts between districts and law enforcement agencies should clearly define the responsibilities and limitations of the officers and the rights of the students. And no teacher should be armed — period.  

End zero-tolerance discipline policies: Zero-tolerance policies require out-of-school suspensions or expulsions on the first offense for a variety of behaviors. These policies are ineffective, disproportionately hurt BlackLatinxNative American, and Southeast Asian and Pacific Islander students, and can serve as the entry point to the school-to-prison pipeline. My administration will encourage schools to adopt discipline policies that draw students in rather than pushing them out, including restorative justice programs, which have been shown to dramatically reduce suspension rates and the discipline gap between Black and White students. I will also push to issue guidance to limit the use of discriminatory dress codes targeting student dress and hairstyle that lead to students of color losing valuable learning time and Muslim students being denied participation in school activities.

Establish more School-Based Health Centers: Students do better when they have access to good health care on site, but students from low-income backgrounds are less likely to have regular access to providers and preventative care. Students from rural communities and students attending Bureau of Indian Education schools also face significant barriers to health care access. School-Based Health Centers have been shown to improve grade promotion and decrease suspension rates and to increase the rates of vaccination and detection of hearing and vision issues. I’ve committed to establishing a $25 billion capital fund for communities that are health professional shortage areas to improve access to care through projects like constructing a School-Based Health Center or expanding capacity or services at an existing clinic. 

Expand the implementation of comprehensive, culturally relevant curriculum and Social Emotional Learning: Rigorous, culturally relevant, identity-affirming curriculum can increase attendance and academic success of students. And Social Emotional Learning — curriculum that focuses on empathy, responsible decision-making, and positive relationships — has positive effects too. Unfortunately, because of tight budgets, these subjects and programs are often considered expendable. We should invest more in curricula that engage all students across a wide array of subject areas like the arts, STEM, civics, and health, including evidence-based inclusive sex ed. I’ll fight to fully fund and target programs that conduct research in and support well-rounded, culturally relevant education, some of which the Trump administration has proposed eliminating entirely. I’ve already committed to supporting programs to ensure that public school curriculum includes Native American history and culture as a core component of all students’ education. In addition to those programs, we should ensure that all the communities that make up our public schools are reflected in school curricula. And I’ll require states receiving these grants to provide the same well-rounded, culturally relevant curriculum in alternative schools and juvenile detention facilities. 

Provide better access to career and college readiness (CCR): As President, I will enact legislation to make public two-year, four-year, and technical colleges tuition-free for all students. We must also ensure that students are able to take advantage of those opportunities and that high schools are funded and designed to prepare students for careers, college, and life. Students from low-income backgrounds are more likely than their wealthier peers to graduate high school without having taken any CCR coursework. Students with disabilities are also less likely to have the opportunity to enroll in CCR courses. I’ve fought hard in Congress to make sure high school students can access career and technical education without paying out of pocket. I’ve also proposed dramatically scaling up high-quality apprenticeship programs with a $20 billion investment that will support partnerships between high schools, community colleges, unions, and companies. I’ll work with the disability community to encourage schools to begin the development of postsecondary transition plans, as required by IDEA, earlier in a student’s school career. I’ll work with states to align high school graduation requirements with their public college admission requirements. And I’ll also direct the Department of Education to issue guidance on how schools can leverage existing federal programs to facilitate education-to-workforce preparedness.

Address chronic absenteeism without punishing parents or children: About 8 million students missed at least three weeks of school during the 2015-2016 school year, with Black and Latinx students more likely to be chronically absent than their white and Asian peers. In younger grades, students who are chronically absent are less likely to meet state proficiency standards. In middle and high school, chronic absenteeism is a predictor of whether a student drops out of school before completing high school. I’m committed to decriminalizing truancy and to working to decrease the rate of chronic absenteeism through other means. My plan to invest in programs that promote Social Emotional Learning, free school meals, and restorative justice would help reduce chronic absenteeism. I’ll also increase federal funding for pilot programs that implement best practices in truancy reduction, like sending parents easy-to-understand notices on the effects of chronic absenteeism, which has been shown to improve attendance by 40%.  

Treating Public School Teachers and Staff Like the Professionals They Are 

Teachers, paraprofessionals, school staff, and school leaders are the foundation of our public education system. But inadequate pay, shrinking benefits, under-resourced classrooms, and dangerously high levels of student debt are squeezing teachers and staff. We trust them to educate our children, but we fail to treat them like the professionals they are. 

Despite these challenges, our country’s educators have taken matters into their own hands — not only in the classroom, but also in the fight for the future of our country. Teachers have been battling for public investment over privatization, and for shared prosperity over concentrated wealth and power. Educators, particularly women, across the country have carried the #RedforEd movement from the streets to state capitol buildings, striking not just to get the compensation they deserve, but to condemn the diversion of funding from public schools to private ones, to increase funding to reduce class sizes and improve their schools, and to expand services that will make their students’ lives safer and more stable.  

Teachers have shown that they will stand together and fight for what they believe in. They deserve a President who will fight for them too. That’s why, as President, I will:  

Provide funding for schools to increase pay and support for all public school educators: Pay for our public school educators is unacceptably low, and it’s putting incredible strain on them and causing many to burn out and leave the profession. My plan to quadruple Title I funding incentivizes states to shift their funding formulas to better support students in critical ways, such as by increasing teacher pay with the goal of closing the educator pay gap and also paying paraprofessionals and other education support professionals a living wage. It also means additional funds to ensure that classrooms are well-equipped with resources and supports so that teachers aren’t paying out of pocket.  

Strengthen the ability of teachers, paraprofessionals, and staff to organize and bargain for just compensation, for a voice in education policy, and for greater investment in public education: One of the best ways to raise teacher pay permanently and sustainably — and to give teachers more voice in their schools — is to make it easier for teachers to join a union, to bargain collectively, and to strike like educators did across 14 states in 2018-2019. I have led the effort to eliminate the ability of states to pass anti-union “right to work” laws, and I will make enacting that change a top priority. And as part of my plan for empowering American workersI pledged to enact the Public Service Freedom to Negotiate Act, which ensures that public employees like teachers can organize and bargain collectively in each state, and authorizes voluntary deduction of fees to support a union. 

Ensure that anyone can become a teacher without drowning in debt: A generation of educators is retiring, and our country is facing a looming teacher shortage. Our country’s student debt crisis hits teachers hard. Combined with salaries that are far too low, that debt makes it difficult for many educators to make ends meet and to continue teaching. Meanwhile, the debt forgiveness programs that the government promised teachers for their years of service turned out to be empty promises. My college plan will wipe out debt for most teachers and provide tuition-free public college so future teachers never have to take on that debt in the first place. In addition, I will push states to offer a pathway for teachers to become fully certified for free and to invest in their educators and build teacher retention plans. I will increase funding for Grow Your Own Teacher programs that provide opportunities for paraeducators or substitute teachers to become licensed teachers. And I will push to fully fund the Teacher Quality Partnership program to support teacher residency programs in high-need areas, like rural communities, and in areas of expertise like Special Education and Bilingual Education.  

Build a more diverse educator and school leadership pipeline: Representation matters in the classroom, and a diverse workforce helps all students. Teachers of color can boost the academic outcomes of their students and improve graduation rates among students of color. Though the teacher workforce is getting more diverse, it is not keeping pace with changes in student demographics: educators of color comprise only 20% of the teaching workforce, while students of color now represent more than half of public school students. 

My plan to cancel student loan debt, provide tuition-free public college, and invest a minimum of $50 billion in Historically Black Colleges and Universities and Minority Serving Institutions will help more Black, Latinx, Native American, Asian American, and Pacific Islander students become educators and school and district leaders. Over 38% of Black teachers have degrees from HBCUs or MSIs. And Hispanic Serving Institutions are playing a crucial role in closing the teacher-student population demographic gap. I’ve also committed to significantly increasing BIE funding so these schools can attract and train teachers, particularly those from Native communities. But we must do more. I will target the biases and discrimination that inhibit our ability to build a diverse educator workforce and school leadership pipeline, such as pay discrimination, by expanding OCR’s purview to investigate systemic and individual workplace discrimination in our schools. And I am committed to passing the Equality Act to guarantee workplace protections for LGBTQ+ teachers and staff. 

Provide continuing education and professional development opportunities to all school staff: Ongoing high-quality professional development opportunities for teachers, administrators, and education support professionals produce better outcomes for students. As President, I will increase funding for critical programs that fund professional development and ongoing education on effective instruction, cultural competency, and child development for school staff, like the Supporting Effective Instruction and Supporting Effective Educator Development grants, that the Trump administration has proposed eliminating. And I will invest in funding of IES research on best practices in professional development that is effective and engages educators in decision-making on their own learning. 

Combating the Privatization and Corruption of Our Public Schools 

To keep our traditional public school systems strong, we must resist efforts to divert public funds out of traditional public schools. Efforts to expand the footprint of charter schools, often without even ensuring that charters are subject to the same transparency requirements and safeguards as traditional public schools, strain the resources of school districts and leave students behind, primarily students of color. Further, inadequate funding and a growing education technology industry have opened the door to the privatization and corruption of our traditional public schools. More than half of the states allow public schools to be run by for-profit companies, and corporations are leveraging their market power and schools’ desire to keep pace with rapidly changing technology to extract profits at the expense of vulnerable students. 

This is wrong. We have a responsibility to provide great neighborhood schools for every student. We should stop the diversion of public dollars from traditional public schools through vouchers or tuition tax credits — which are vouchers by another name. We should fight back against the privatization, corporatization, and profiteering in our nation’s schools. I did that when I opposed a ballot question in Massachusetts to raise the cap on the number of charter schools, even as dark money groups spent millions in support of the measure. And as president, I will go further:  

Ensure existing charter schools are subject to at least the same level of transparency and accountability as traditional public schools: Many existing charter schools aren’t subject to the same transparency and accountability requirements as traditional public schools. That’s wrong. That’s why I support the NAACP’s recommendations to only allow school districts to serve as charter authorizers, and to empower school districts to reject applications that do not meet transparency and accountability standards, consider the fiscal impact and strain on district resources, and establish policies for aggressive oversight of charter schools. Certain states are already starting to take action along these lines to address the diversion of public funds from traditional public schools. My administration will oppose the authorization of new charter schools that do not meet these standards. My administration also will crack down on union-busting and discriminatory enrollmentsuspension, and expulsion practices in charter schools, and require boards to be made up of parents and members of the public, not just founders, family members, or profit-seeking service providers.

End federal funding for the expansion of charter schools: The Federal Charter School Program (CSP), a series of federal grants established to promote new charter schools, has been an abject failure. A recent report showed that the federal government has wasted up to $1 billion on charter schools that never even opened, or opened and then closed because of mismanagement and other reasons. The Department of Education’s own watchdog has even criticized the Department’s oversight of the CSP. As President, I would eliminate this charter school program and end federal funding for the expansion of charter schools. I would also examine whether other federal programs or tax credits subsidize the creation of new charter schools and seek to limit the use of those programs for that purpose. 

Ban for-profit charter schools: Our public schools should benefit students, not the financial or ideological interests of wealthy patrons like the DeVos and Walton families. I will fight to ban for-profit charter schools and charter schools that outsource their operations to for-profit companies. 

Direct the IRS to investigate so-called nonprofit schools that are violating the statutory requirements for nonprofits: Many so-called nonprofit schools – including charter schools – operate alongside closely held, for-profit service providers. Others are run by for-profit companies that siphon off profits from students and taxpayers. The IRS should investigate the nonprofit status of these schools and refer cases to the Tax Fraud Division of the Department of Justice when appropriate. I would also apply my plan’s ban on for-profit charter schools to any of these so-called “nonprofit” schools that actually serve for-profit interests. And my plan would ban self-dealing in nonprofit schools to prevent founders and administrators from funneling resources to service providers owned or managed by their family members.  

Expand enforcement of whistleblower actions against schools that commit fraud against taxpayers: Our federal laws allow whistleblowers to bring actions to expose fraud and retrieve stolen federal money. The Department of Justice should expand its enforcement of these whistleblower actions to address fraud that appears all too common in certain charter schools, including online charter schools that falsify or inflate their enrollment numbers. 

It’s also time to end the corporate capture of our education system and crack down on corruption and anti-competitive practices in the education industry. Here’s how we can start:

Require companies that lobby school systems that receive federal funding to comply with expanded federal lobbying restrictions and disclosure requirements: Corporate lobbyists spend millions of dollars lobbying state officials. If companies are lobbying for contracts from schools receiving federal funding, they should be subject to our federal lobbying rules, even when they are lobbying state officials. That’s why my plan would require all companies that lobby for these contracts to comply with the new federal lobbying proposals in my plan to end Washington corruption. That means that these education conglomerates will have to disclose the details of their meetings with all public officials, their lobbyists will not be able to donate or fundraise for federal candidates, those lobbyists will not be able to cycle through the revolving door into our federal government, and education companies like Pearson that often spend over $500,000 in a single year on lobbying will be subject to my new lobbying tax

Ban the sharing, storing, and sale of student data: Several investigations have revealed that educational technology companies, for-profit schools, and other educational entities are selling student data to corporations. My plan would extend the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) to ban the sharing, storing, and sale of student data that includes names or other information that can identify individual students. Violations should be punishable by civil and criminal penalties. 

Direct the FTC to crack down on anti-competitive data mining practices by educational technology companies: Big companies like Facebook and Google, and smaller companies like Class Dojo, have already collected student data to market products or to sell themselves to companies that can do so. As president, I would direct the FTC to crack down on these antic-competitive data mining practices by technology companies engaging in these practices in the education space, including by reviewing and blocking mergers of companies that have taken advantage of data consolidation.Require high-stakes testing companies to make all released prior testing materials publicly available: High-stakes testing companies create their own test prep companies using proprietary materials or sell these materials directly to those who can afford it, giving some children a distinct advantage on those tests. My plan would bar companies with federal government contracts from selling questions to individuals or to companies for commercial purposes.

Read statements of support from National Education Association, American Federation of Teachers, and others here

Democratic Candidates for 2020: Elizabeth Warren Details Plan to Confront Crisis of Environmental Injustice

Senator Elizabeth Warren details her plan to confront the crisis of environmental injustice. “Justice cannot be a secondary concern – it must be at the center of our response to climate change.” © Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

The vigorous contest of Democrats seeking the 2020 presidential nomination has produced excellent policy proposals to address major issues. Senator Elizabeth Warren details her plan to confront the crisis of environmental injustice. “Justice cannot be a secondary concern – it must be at the center of our response to climate change.” This is from the Warren campaign:

Charlestown, MA – Senator Elizabeth Warren has released her plan to fight for justice as we take on the climate crisis. Warren will implement an equity screen for her proposed climate investments, directing at least $1 trillion into the most vulnerable communities over the next decade and investing not only in cleaning up pollution but in building wealth and lifting up the communities in most need. 

The climate crisis demands all of us to act, but it is also an opportunity to create millions of new good, middle class, union jobs and to directly confront the racial and economic inequality embedded in our fossil fuel economy. Elizabeth will honor our commitment to fossil fuel workers by fighting for guaranteed wage and benefit parity for workers transitioning into new industries, and to protect the pensions and benefits that fossil fuel workers have earned. She’ll partner with unions every step of the way. 

She will hold corporate polluters accountable, working with Congress to create a private right of action for environmental harm, and imposing steep fines on violators that will be reinvested in impacted communities.

Elizabeth knows we need to elevate environmental justice at the highest levels. She’ll transform the Council on Environmental Quality into a Council on Climate Action with a broader mandate, including empowering frontline community leaders to speak directly to the White House. 

In 1987, the United Church of Christ’s Commission on Racial Justice commissioned one of the first studies on hazardous waste in communities of color. A few years later —  28 years ago this month —  delegates to the First National People of Color Environmental Leadership Summit adopted 17 principles of environmental justice. But in the years since, the federal government has largely failed to live up to the vision these trailblazing leaders outlined, and to its responsibilities to the communities they represent. 

From predominantly black neighborhoods in Detroit to Navajo communities in the southwest to Louisiana’s Cancer Alley, industrial pollution has been concentrated in low-income communities for decades — communities that the federal government has tacitly written off as so-called “sacrifice zones.” But it’s not just about poverty, it’s also about race. A seminal study found that black families are more likely to live in neighborhoods with higher concentrations of air pollution than white families — even when they have the same or more income. A more recent study found that while whites largely cause air pollution, Blacks and Latinxs are more likely to breathe it in. Unsurprisingly, these groups also experience higher rates of childhood asthma. And many more low-income and minority communities are exposed to toxins in their water — including lead and chemicals from industrial and agricultural run-off.

And these studies don’t tell the whole story. As I’ve traveled this country, I’ve heard the human stories as well. In Detroit, I met with community members diagnosed with cancer linked to exposure to toxins after years of living in the shadow of a massive oil refinery. In New Hampshire, I talked with mothers fighting for clean drinking water free of harmful PFAS chemicals for their children. In South Carolina, I’ve heard the stories of the most vulnerable coastal communities who face the greatest threats, from not just sea-level rise, but a century of encroaching industrial polluters. In West Virginia, I saw the consequences of the coal industry’s abandonment of the communities that made their shareholders and their executives wealthy — stolen pensions, poisoned miners, and ruined land and water.

We didn’t get here by accident. Our crisis of environmental injustice is the result of decades of discrimination and environmental racism compounding in communities that have been overlooked for too long. It is the result of multiple choices that put corporate profits before people, while our government looked the other way. It is unacceptable, and it must change. 

Justice cannot be a secondary concern — it must be at the center of our response to climate change. The Green New Deal commits us to a “just transition” for all communities and all workers. But we won’t create true justice by cleaning up polluted neighborhoods and tweaking a few regulations at the EPA. We also need to prioritize communities that have experienced historic disinvestment, across their range of needs: affordable housing, better infrastructure, good schools, access to health care, and good jobs. We need strong, resilient communities who are prepared and properly resourced to withstand the impacts of climate change. We need big, bottom-up change — focused on, and led by, members of these communities. 

No Community Left Behind

The same communities that have borne the brunt of industrial pollution are now on the front lines of climate change, often getting hit first and worst. In response, local community leaders are leading the fight to hold polluters responsible and combat the effects of the climate crisis.  In Detroit’s 48217 zip code, for example, community members living in the midst of industrial pollution told me how they have banded together to identify refinery leakages and inform their neighbors. In Alabama and Mississippi, I met with residents of formerly redlined neighborhoods who spoke to me about their fight against drinking water pollution caused by inadequate municipal sewage systems. Tribal Nations, which have been disproportionately impacted by environmental racism and the effects of climate change, are leading the way in climate resilience and adaptation strategies, and in supporting healthy ecosystems. The federal government must do more to support and uplift the efforts of these and other communities. Here’s how we can do that:

Improve environmental equity mapping. The EPA currently maps communities based on basic environmental and demographic indicators, but more can be done across the federal government to identify at-risk communities. We need a rigorous interagency effort to identify cumulative environmental health disparities and climate vulnerabilities and cross-reference that data with other indicators of socioeconomic health. We’ll use these data to adjust permitting rules under Clean Air and Clean Water Act authorities to better consider the impact of cumulative and overlapping pollution, and we’ll make them publicly available online to help communities measure their own health.

Implement an equity screen for climate investments. Identifying at-risk communities is only the first step. The Green New Deal will involve deploying trillions of dollars to transform the way we source and use energy. In doing so, the government must prioritize resources to support vulnerable communities and remediate historic injustices. My friend Governor Jay Inslee rightly challenged us to fund the most vulnerable communities first, and both New York and California have passed laws to direct funding specifically to frontline and fenceline communities. The federal government should do the same. I’ll direct one-third of my proposed climate investment into the most vulnerable communities — a commitment that would funnel at least $1 trillion into these areas over the next decade. 

Strengthen tools to mitigate environmental harms. Signed into law in 1970, the National Environmental Policy Act provides the original authority for many of our existing environmental protections. But even as climate change has made it clear that we must eliminate our dependence on fossil fuels, the Trump Administration has tried to weaken NEPA with the goal of expediting even more fossil fuel infrastructure projects. At the same time, the Trump Administration has moved to devalue the consideration of climate impacts in all federal decisions. This is entirely unacceptable in the face of the climate emergency our world is facing. As president, I would mandate that all federal agencies consider climate impacts in their permitting and rulemaking processes. Climate action needs to be mainstreamed in everything the federal government does. But we also need a standard that requires the government to do more than merely “assess” the environmental impact of proposed projects — we need to mitigate negative environmental impacts entirely. 

Beyond that, a Warren Administration will do more to give the people who live in a community a greater say in what is sited there — too often today, local desires are discounted or disregarded. And when Tribal Nations are involved, projects should not proceed unless developers have obtained the free, prior and informed consent of the tribal governments concerned. I’ll use the full extent of my executive authority under NEPA to protect these communities and give them a voice in the process. And I’ll fight to improve the law to reflect the realities of today’s climate crisis. 

Build wealth in frontline communities. People of color are more likely to live in neighborhoods that are vulnerable to climate change risks or where they’re subject to environmental hazards like pollution. That’s not a coincidence — decades of racist housing policy and officially sanctioned segregation that denied people of color the opportunity to build wealth also denied them the opportunity to choose the best neighborhood for their families. Then, these same communities were targeted with the worst of the worst mortgages before the financial crisis, while the government looked the other way. My housing plan includes a first-of-its-kind down-payment assistance program that provides grants to long-term residents of formerly redlined communities so that they can buy homes in the neighborhood of their choice and start to build wealth, beginning to reverse that damage. It provides assistance to homeowners in these communities who still owe more than their homes were worth, which can be used to preserve their homes and revitalize their communities. These communities should have the opportunity to lead us in the climate fight, and have access to the economic opportunities created by the clean energy sector. With the right investments and with community-led planning, we can lift up communities that have experienced historic repression and racism, putting them on a path to a more resilient future.

Expand health care. People in frontline communities disproportionately suffer from certain cancers and other illnesses associated with environmental pollution. To make matters worse, they are less likely to have access to quality health care. Under Medicare for All, everyone will have high quality health care at a lower cost, allowing disadvantaged communities to get lifesaving services. And beyond providing high quality coverage for all, the simplified Medicare for All system will make it easier for the federal government to quickly tailor health care responses to specific environmental disasters in affected communities when they occur.

Research equity. For years we’ve invested in broad-based strategies that are intended to lift all boats, but too often leave communities of color behind. True justice calls for more than ‘one-size-fits-all’ solutions — instead we need targeted strategies that take into account the unique challenges individual frontline communities face. I’ve proposed a historic $400 billion investment in clean energy research and development. We’ll use that funding to research place-based interventions specifically targeting the communities that need more assistance.

No Worker Left Behind

The climate crisis will leave no one untouched. But it also represents a once-in-a-generation opportunity: to create millions of good-paying American jobs in clean and renewable energy, infrastructure, and manufacturing; to unleash the best of American innovation and creativity; to rebuild our unions and create real progress and justice for workers; and to directly confront the racial and economic inequality embedded in our fossil fuel economy. 

The task before us is huge and demands all of us to act. It will require massive retrofits to our nation’s infrastructure and our manufacturing base. It will also require readjusting our economic approach to ensure that communities of color and others who have been systematically harmed from our fossil fuel economy are not left further behind during the transition to clean energy.

But it is also an opportunity. We’ll need millions of workers: people who know how to build things and manufacture them; skilled and experienced contractors to plan and execute large construction and engineering projects; and training and joint labor management apprenticeships to ensure a continuous supply of skilled, available workers. This can be a great moment of national unity, of common purpose, of lives transformed for the better. But we cannot succeed in fighting climate change unless the people who have the skills to get the job done are in the room as full partners. 

We also cannot fight climate change with a low-wage economy. Workers should not be forced to make an impossible choice between fossil fuel industry jobs with superior wages and benefits and green economy jobs that pay far less. For too long, there has been a tension between transitioning to a green economy and creating good, middle class, union jobs. In a Warren Administration we will do both: creating good new jobs through investments in a clean economy coupled with the strongest possible protections for workers. For instance, my Green Manufacturing plan makes a $1.5 trillion procurement commitment to domestic manufacturing contingent on companies providing fair wages, paid family and medical leave, fair scheduling practices, and collective bargaining rights. Similarly, my 100% Clean Energy Plan will require retrofitting our nation’s buildings, reengineering our electrical grid, and adapting our manufacturing base — creating good, union jobs, with prevailing wages determined through collective bargaining, for millions of skilled and experienced workers. 

Our commitment to a Green New Deal is a commitment to a better future for the working people of our country.  And it starts with a real commitment to workers from the person sitting in the White House: I will fight for your job, your family, and your community like I would my own. But there’s so much more we can do to take care of America’s workers before, during, and after this transition. Here are a few ways we can start: 

Honor our commitment to fossil fuel workers. Coal miners, oil rig workers, pipeline builders and millions of other workers have given their life’s blood to build the infrastructure that powered the American economy throughout the 20th century. In return, they deserve more than platitudes — and if we expect them to use their skills to help reengineer America, we owe them a fair day’s pay for the work we need them to do. I’m committed to providing job training and guaranteed wage and benefit parity for workers transitioning into new industries. And for those Americans who choose not to find new employment and wish to retire with dignity, we’ll ensure full financial security, including promised pensions and early retirement benefits. 

Defend worker pensions, benefits, and secure retirement. Together, we will ensure that employers and our government honor the promises they made to workers in fossil fuel industries. I’ve fought for years to protect pensions and health benefits for retired coal workers, and I’ll continue fighting to maintain the solvency of multi-employer pension plans. As president, I’ll protect those benefits that fossil fuel workers have earned. My plan to empower American workers commits to defending pensions, recognizing the value of defined-benefit pensions, and pushing to pass the Butch-Lewis Act to create a loan program for the most financially distressed pension plans in the country. And my Social Security plan would increase benefits by $200 a month for every beneficiary, lifting nearly 5 million seniors out of poverty and expanding benefits for workers with disabilities and their families. 

Create joint safety-health committees. In 2016, more than 50,000 workers died from occupational-related diseases. And since the beginning of his administration, Trump has rolled back rules and regulations that limit exposure to certain chemicals and requirements around facility safety inspections, further jeopardizing workers and the community around them. When workers have the power to keep themselves safe, they make their communities safer too. A Warren Administration will reinstate the work safety rules and regulations Trump eliminated, and will work to require large companies to create joint safety-health committees with representation from workers and impacted communities. 

Force fossil fuel companies to honor their obligations. As a matter of justice, we should tighten bankruptcy laws to prevent coal and other fossil fuel companies from evading their responsibility to their workers and to the communities that they have helped to pollute. In the Senate, I have fought to improve the standing of coal worker pensions and benefits in bankruptcy — as president, I will work with Congress to pass legislation to make these changes a reality.  

And as part of our commitment, we must take care of all workers, including those who were left behind decades ago by the fossil fuel economy. Although Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal is the inspiration for this full scale mobilization of the federal government to defeat the climate crisis, it was not perfect. The truth is that too often, many New Deal agencies and policies were tainted by structural racism. And as deindustrialization led to prolonged disinvestment, communities of color were too often both the first to lose their job base, and the first place policymakers thought of to dump the refuse of the vanished industries. Now there is a real risk that poor communities dependent on carbon fuels will be asked to bear the costs of fighting climate change on their own. We must take care not to replicate the failings and limitations of the original New Deal as we implement a Green New Deal and transition our economy to 100% clean energy. Instead we need to build an economy that works for every American — and leaves no one behind.

Prioritizing Environmental Justice at the Highest Levels

As we work to enact a Green New Deal, our commitment to environmental justice cannot be an afterthought — it must be central to our efforts to fight back against climate change. That means structuring our government agencies to ensure that we’re centering frontline and fenceline communities in implementing a just transition. It means ensuring that the most vulnerable have a voice in decision-making that impacts their communities, and direct access to the White House itself. Here’s how we’ll do that:

Elevate environmental justice at the White House. I’ll transform the Council on Environmental Quality into a Council on Climate Action with a broader mandate, including making environmental justice a priority. I’ll update the 1994 executive order that directed federal agencies to make achieving environmental justice part of their missions, and revitalize the cabinet-level interagency council on environmental justice. We will raise the National Environmental Justice Advisory Council to report directly to the White House, bringing in the voices of frontline community leaders at the highest levels. And I will bring these leaders to the White House for an environmental justice summit within my first 100 days in office, to honor the contributions of frontline activists over decades in this fight and to listen to ideas for how we can make progress.  

Empower the EPA to support frontline communities. The Trump Administration has proposed dramatic cuts to the EPA, including to its Civil Rights office, and threatened to eliminate EPA’s Office of Environmental Justice entirely. I’ll restore and grow both offices, including by expanding the Community Action for a Renewed Environment (CARE) and Environmental Justice Small Grant programs. We’ll condition these competitive grant funds on the development of state- and local-level environmental justice plans, and ensure that regional EPA offices stay open to provide support and capacity. But it’s not just a matter of size. Historically, EPA’s Office of Civil Rights has rejected nine out of ten cases brought to it for review. In a Warren Administration, we will aggressively pursue cases of environmental discrimination wherever they occur. 

Bolster the CDC to play a larger role in environmental justice. The links between industrial pollution and negative public health outcomes are clear. A Warren Administration will fully fund the Center for Disease Control’s environmental health programs, such as childhood lead poisoning prevention, and community health investigations. We will also provide additional grant funding for independent research into environmental health effects.

Diminish the influence of Big Oil. Powerful corporations rig the system to work for themselves, exploiting and influencing the regulatory process and placing industry representatives in positions of decision-making authority within agencies. My plan to end Washington corruption would slam shut the revolving door between industry and government, reducing industry’s ability to influence the regulatory process and ensuring that the rules promulgated by our environmental agencies reflect the needs of communities, not the fossil fuel industry. 

Right to Affordable Energy and Clean Water

Nearly one-third of American households struggle to pay their energy bills, and Native American, Black, and Latinx households are more likely to be energy insecure. Renters are also often disadvantaged by landlords unwilling to invest in safer buildings, weatherization, or cheaper energy. And clean energy adoption is unequal along racial lines, even after accounting for differences in wealth. I have a plan to move the United States to 100% clean, renewable, and zero-emission energy in electricity generation by 2035 — but energy justice must be an integral part of our transition to clean energy. Here’s what that means:

Address high energy cost burdens. Low-income families, particularly in rural areas, are spending too much of their income on energy, often the result of older or mobile homes that are not weatherized or that lack energy efficient upgrades. I’ve committed to meet Governor Inslee’s goal of retrofitting 4% of U.S. buildings annually to increase energy efficiency — and we’ll start that national initiative by prioritizing frontline and fenceline communities. In addition, my housing plan includes over $10 billion in competitive grant programs for communities that invest in well-located affordable housing — funding that can be used for modernization and weatherization of homes, infrastructure, and schools. It also targets additional funding to tribal governments, rural communities, and jurisdictions — often majority minority — where homeowners are still struggling with the aftermath of the 2008 housing crash. Energy retrofits can be a large source of green jobs, and I’m committed to ensuring that these are good jobs, with full federal labor protections and the right to organize. 

Support community power. Consumer-owned energy cooperatives, many of which were established to electrify rural areas during the New Deal, serve an estimated  42 million people across our country. While some co-ops are beginning to transition their assets to renewable energy resources, too many are locked into long-term contracts that make them dependent on coal and other dirty fuels for their power. To speed the transition to clean energy, my administration will offer assistance to write down debt and restructure loans to help cooperatives get out of long-term coal contracts, and provide additional low- or no-cost financing for zero-carbon electricity generation and transmission projects for cooperatives via the Rural Utilities Service. I’ll work with Congress to extend and expand clean energy bonds to allow community groups and nonprofits without tax revenue to access  clean energy incentives. I’ll also provide dedicated support for the four Power Marketing Administrations, the Tennessee Valley Authority, and the Appalachian Regional Commission to help them build publicly-owned clean energy assets and deploy clean power to help communities transition off fossil fuels. Accelerating the transition to clean energy will both reduce carbon emissions, clean up our air,  and help bring down rural consumers’ utility bills.

Protect local equities. Communities that host large energy projects are entitled to receive a share of the benefits. But too often, large energy companies are offered millions in tax subsidies to locate in a particular area — without any commitment that they will make a corresponding commitment in that community. Community Benefit Agreements can help address power imbalances between project developers and low-income communities by setting labor, environmental, and transparency standards before work begins. I’ll make additional federal subsidies or tax benefits for large utility projects contingent on strong Community Benefits Agreements, which should include requirements for prevailing wages and collective bargaining rights. And I’ll insist on a clawback provision if a company doesn’t hold up its end of the deal. If developers work with communities to ensure that everyone benefits from clean energy development, we will be able to reduce our emissions faster. 

It’s simple: access to clean water is a basic human right. Water quality is an issue in both urban and rural communities. In rural areas, for example, runoff into rivers and streams by Big Agriculture has poisoned local drinking water. In urban areas, lack of infrastructure investment has resulted in lead and other poisons seeping into aging community water systems. We need to take action to protect our drinking water. Here’s how we can do that: 

Invest in our nation’s public water systems. America’s water is a public asset and should be owned by and for the public. A Warren Administration will end decades of disinvestment and privatization of our nation’s water system — our government at every level should invest in safe, affordable drinking water for all of us.

Increase and enforce water quality standards. Our government should enforce strict regulations to ensure clean water is available to all Americans. I’ll restore the Obama-era water rule that protected our lakes, rivers, and streams, and the drinking water they provide. We also need a strong and nationwide safe drinking water standard that covers PFAS and other chemicals. A Warren Administration will fully enforce Safe Drinking Water Act standards for all public water systems. I’ll aggressively regulate chemicals that make their way into our water supply, including by designating PFAS as a hazardous substance.

Fund access to clean water. Our clean drinking water challenge goes beyond lead, and beyond Flint and Newark. To respond, a Warren Administration will commit to fully capitalize the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund and the Clean Water State Revolving Fund to refurbish old water infrastructure and support ongoing water treatment operations and maintenance, prioritizing the communities most heavily impacted by inadequate water infrastructure. In rural areas, I’ll increase funding for the Conservation Stewardship Program to $15 billion annually, empowering family farmers to help limit the agricultural runoff that harms local wells and water systems. To address lead specifically, we will establish a lead abatement grant program with a focus on schools and daycare centers, and commit to remediating lead in all federal buildings. We’ll provide a Lead Safety Tax Credit for homeowners to invest in remediation. And a Warren Administration will also fully fund IDEA and other support programs that help children with developmental challenges as a result of lead exposure.

Protecting the Most Vulnerable During Climate-Related Disasters

In 2018, the U.S. was home to the world’s three costliest environmental catastrophes. And while any community can be hit by a hurricane, flood, extreme weather, or fire, the impact of these kinds of disasters are particularly devastating for low-income communitiespeople with disabilities, and people of color. Take Puerto Rico for example. When Hurricane Maria hit the island, decades of racism and neglect were multiplied by the government’s failure to prepare and Trump’s racist post-disaster response — resulting in the deaths of at least 3,000 Puerto Ricans and long-term harm to many more. Even as we fight climate change, we must also prepare for its impacts — building resiliency not just in some communities, but everywhere. Here’s how we can start to do that:

Invest in pre-disaster mitigation. For every dollar invested in mitigation, the government and communities save $6 overall. But true to form, the Trump Administration has proposed to steep cuts to  FEMA’s Pre-Disaster Mitigation Program, abandoning communities just as the risk of climate-related disasters is on the rise. As president, I’ll invest in programs that help vulnerable communities build resiliency by quintupling this program’s funding. 

Better prepare for flood events. When I visited Pacific Junction, Iowa, I saw scenes of devastation: crops ruined for the season, cars permanently stalled, a water line 7 or 8 feet high in residents’ living rooms. And many residents in Pacific Junction fear that this could happen all over again next year. Local governments rely on FEMA’s flood maps, but some of these maps haven’t been updated in decades. In my first term as president, I will direct FEMA to fully update flood maps with forward-looking data, prioritizing and including frontline communities in this process. We’ll raise standards for new construction, including by reinstating the Federal Flood Risk Management Standard. And we’ll make it easier for vulnerable residents to move out of flood-prone properties — including by buying back those properties for low-income homeowners at a value that will allow them to relocate, and then tearing down the flood-prone properties, so we can protect everyone.

Mitigate wildfire risk. We must also invest in improved fire mapping and prevention programs. In a Warren Administration, we will dramatically improve fire mapping and prevention by investing in advanced modeling with a focus on helping the most vulnerable — incorporating not only fire vulnerability but community demographics. We will prioritize these data to invest in land management, particularly near the most vulnerable communities, supporting forest restoration, lowering fire risk, and creating jobs all at once. We will also invest in microgrid technology, so that we can de-energize high-risk areas when required without impacting the larger community’s energy supply. And as president, I will collaborate with Tribal governments on land management practices to reduce wildfires, including by incorporating traditional ecological practices and exploring co-management and the return of public resources to indigenous protection wherever possible. 

Prioritize at-risk populations in disaster planning and response. When the most deadly fire in California’s history struck the town of Paradise last November, a majority of the victims were disabled or elderly. People with disabilities face increased difficulties in evacuation assistance and accessing critical medical care. For people who are homeless, disasters exacerbate existing challenges around housing and health. And fear of deportation can deter undocumented people from contacting emergency services for help evacuating or from going to an emergency shelter. As president, I will strengthen rules to require disaster response plans to uphold the rights of vulnerable populations. In my immigration plan, I committed to putting in place strict guidelines to protect sensitive locations, including emergency shelters. We’ll also develop best practices at the federal level to help state and local governments develop plans for at-risk communities — including for extreme heat or cold — and require that evacuation services and shelters are fully accessible to people with disabilities. During emergencies, we will work to ensure that critical information is shared in ways that reflect the diverse needs of people with disabilities and other at-risk communities, including through ASL and Braille and languages spoken in the community. We will establish a National Commission on Disability Rights and Disasters, ensure that federal disaster spending is ADA compliant, and support people with disabilities in disaster planning. We will make certain that individuals have ongoing access to health care services if they have to leave their community or if there is a disruption in care.  And we will ensure that a sufficient number of disability specialists are present in state emergency management teams and FEMA’s disaster response corps. 

Ensure a just and equitable recovery. In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, disaster scammers and profiteers swarmed, capitalizing on others’ suffering to make a quick buck. And after George W. Bush suspended the Davis-Bacon Act, the doors were opened for contractors to under-pay and subject workers to dangerous working conditions, particularly low-income and immigrant workers. As president, I’ll put strong protections in place to ensure that federal tax dollars go toward community recovery, not to line the pockets of contractors. And we must maintain high standards for workers even when disaster strikes. 

Studies show that the white and wealthy receive more federal disaster aid, even though they are most able to financially withstand a disaster. This is particularly true when it comes to housing — FEMA’s programs are designed to protect homeowners, even as homeownership has slipped out of reach for an increasing number of Americans. As president, I will reform post-disaster housing assistance to better protect renters, including a commitment to a minimum of one-to-one replacement for any damaged federally-subsidized affordable housing, to better protect low-income families. I will work with Congress to amend the Stafford Act to make grant funding more flexible to allow families and communities to rebuild in more resilient ways. And we will establish a competitive grant program, based on the post-Sandy Rebuild by Design pilot, to offer states and local governments the opportunity to compete for additional funding for creative resilience projects.

Under a Warren Administration, we will monitor post-disaster recovery to help states and local governments better understand the long-term consequences and effectiveness of differing recovery strategies, including how to address climate gentrification, to ensure equitable recovery for all communities. We’ll center a right to return for individuals who have been displaced during a disaster and prioritize the voices of frontline communities in the planning of their return or relocation. And while relocation should be a last resort, when it occurs, we must improve living standards and keep communities together whenever possible.

Holding Polluters Accountable

In Manchester, Texas, Hurricane Harvey’s damage wasn’t apparent until after the storm had passed — when a thick, chemical smell started wafting through the majority Latinx community, which is surrounded by nearly 30 refineries and chemical plants. A tanker failure had released 1,188 pounds of benzene into the air, one of at least one hundred area leaks that happened in Harvey’s aftermath. But because regulators had turned off air quality and toxic monitoring in anticipation of the storm, the leaks went unnoticed and the community uninformed. 

This should have never been allowed to happen. But Manchester is also subject to 484,000 pounds of toxic chemical leaks on an average year. That’s not just a tragedy — it’s an outrage. We must hold polluters accountable for their role in ongoing, systemic damage in frontline communities. As president, I will use all my authorities to hold companies accountable for their role in the climate crisis. Here’s how we can do that: 

Exercise all the oversight tools of the federal government. A Warren Administration will encourage the EPA and Department of Justice to aggressively go after corporate polluters, particularly in cases of environmental discrimination. We need real consequences for corporate polluters that break our environmental law. That means steep fines, which we will reinvest in impacted communities. And under my Corporate Executive Accountability Act, we’ll press for criminal penalties for executives when their companies hurt people through criminal negligence.

Use the power of the courts. Thanks to a Supreme Court decision, companies are often let completely off the hook, even when their operations inflict harm on thousands of victims each year. I’ll work with Congress to create a private right of action for environmental harm at the federal level, allowing individuals and communities impacted by environmental discrimination to sue for damages and hold corporate polluters accountable.

Reinstitute the Superfund Waste Tax. There are over 1300 remaining Superfund sites across the country, many located in or adjacent to frontline communities. So-called “orphan” toxic waste clean-ups were originally funded by a series of excise taxes on the petroleum and chemical industries. But thanks to Big Oil and other industry lobbyists, when that tax authority expired in 1995 it was not renewed. Polluters must pay for the consequences of their actions — not leave them for the communities to clean up. I’ll work with Congress to reinstate and then triple the Superfund tax, generating needed revenue to clean up the mess.

Hold the finance industry accountable for its role in the climate crisis. Financial institutions and the insurance industry underwrite and fund fossil fuel investments around the world, and can play a key role in stopping the climate crisis. Earlier this year, Chubb became the first U.S. insurer to commit to stop insuring coal projects, a welcome development. Unfortunately, many banks and insurers seem to be moving in the opposite direction. In fact, since the Paris Agreement was signed, U.S. banks including JPMorgan Chase, Wells Fargo, Citigroup, and Bank of America have actually increased their fossil fuel investments. And there is evidence that big banks are replicating a tactic they first employed prior to the 2008 crash — shielding themselves from climate losses by selling the mortgages most at risk from climate impacts to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to shift the burden off their books and onto taxpayers at a discount. 

To accelerate the transition to clean energy, my Climate Risk Disclosure Act would require banks and other companies to disclose their greenhouse gas emissions and price their exposure to climate risk into their valuations, raising public awareness of just how dependent our economy is on fossil fuels. And let me be clear: in a Warren Administration, they will no longer be allowed to shift that burden to the rest of us.

Democratic Candidates for 2020: Senator Warren Would Tax Excessive Lobbying As Part of Her Anti-Corruption Proposal

Senator Elizabeth Warren, seeking the Democratic nomination for President, takes on the issue of corruption at a rally in Washington Square Park, New York City, that drew 20,000 people © Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

The vigorous contest of Democrats seeking the 2020 presidential nomination has produced excellent policy proposals to address major issues. Senator Elizabeth Warren details her plan to tax excessive lobbying as part of her anti-corruption proposal. This is from the Warren campaign:

Charlestown, MA – Senator Elizabeth Warren recently unveiled her plan for a new tax on excessive lobbying. It applies to every corporation and trade organization that spends over $500,000 per year lobbying our government. The revenue from this tax will be used to help our government fight back against the influence of lobbyists. 

Based on our analysis of lobbying data provided by the Center for Responsive Politics, if this tax had been in effect over the last 10 years, over 1,600 corporations and trade groups would have had to pay up – leading to an estimated $10 billion in total revenue. 

Senator Warren has already laid out how she will end lobbying as we know it and strengthen Congressional independence from lobbyists. (Read more about her plan here.)

Here is more about her plan to tax excessive lobbying:

When Americans think about corporate lobbyists, they usually think about the people in fancy suits who line the halls of Congress armed with donations, talking points, and whatever else they need to win favorable treatment for their big corporate clients. 

They’re right. In fact, corporate interests spend more on lobbying than we spend to fund both houses of Congress — spending more than $2.8 billion on lobbying last year alone. That’s why I have a plan to strengthen congressional independence from lobbyists and give Congress the resources it needs to defend against these influence campaigns. 

But corporate lobbyists don’t just swarm Congress. They also target our federal departments like the Environmental Protection Agency and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. These agencies exist to oversee giant corporations and implement the laws coming out of Congress – but lobbyists often do their best to grind public interest work at these agencies to a halt. 

When the Department of Labor tried to protect workers from predatory financial advisors who got rich by siphoning off large and unnecessary fees from workers’ life savings, Wall Street lobbyists descended on Washington to try to kill the effort – twice. When they failed the second time, they sued to stop it in the courts. 

When the Environmental Protection Agency decided to act on greenhouse gas emissions by passing regulations on methane, fossil fuel companies called in their lobbyists. The rule was dramatically weakened – and then Trump’s EPA went even further than some in the industry wanted by proposing to scrap the rule altogether

When the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau tried to crack down on payday lenders exploiting vulnerable communities, lobbyists convinced the Trump administration to cripple the rule – while the payday lenders who hired them spent about $1 million at a Trump resort. 

Regulatory agencies are only empowered to implement public interest rules under authority granted by legislation already passed by Congress. So how is it that lobbyists are able to kill, weaken, or delay so many important efforts to implement the law? 

Often they accomplish this goal by launching an all out assault on the process of writing new rules – informally meeting with federal agencies to push for favorable treatment, burying those agencies in detailed industry comments during the notice-and-comment rulemaking process, and pressuring members of Congress to join their efforts to lobby against the rule. If the rule moves forward anyway, they’ll argue to an obscure federal agency tasked with weighing the costs and benefits of agency rules that the rules are too costly, and if the regulation somehow survives this onslaught, they’ll hire fancy lawyers to challenge it in court. 

I have released the most sweeping set of anti-corruption reforms since Watergate. Under my plan, we will end lobbying as we know it. We will make sure everyone who is paid to influence government is required to register as a lobbyist, and we’ll impose strict disclosure requirements so that lobbyists have to publicly report which agency rules they are seeking to influence and what information they provide to those agencies. We’ll also shut the revolving door between government and K Street to prevent another Trump administration where ex-lobbyists lead the Department of Defense, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Labor, the Department of Interior, and the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative. 

My plan also calls for something unique – a new tax on excessive lobbying that applies to every corporation and trade organization that spends over $500,000 per year lobbying our government. This tax will reduce the incentive for excessive lobbying, and raise money that we can use to fight back against this kind of onslaught when it occurs. 

Under my lobbying tax proposal, companies that spend between $500,000 and $1 million per year on lobbying, calculated on a quarterly basis, will pay a 35% tax on those expenditures. For every dollar above $1 million spent on lobbying, the rate will increase to 60% – and for every dollar above $5 million, it will increase to 75%. 

Based on our analysis of lobbying data provided by the Center for Responsive Politics, if this tax had been in effect over the last 10 years, over 1,600 corporations and trade groups would have had to pay up – leading to an estimated $10 billion in total revenue. And 51 of them – including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Koch Industries, Pfizer, Boeing, Microsoft, Walmart, and Exxon – would have been subject to the 75% rate for lobbying spending above $5 million in every one of those years. 

Nobody will be surprised that the top five industries that would have paid the highest lobbying taxes are the same industries that have spent the last decade fighting tooth and nail against popular policies: Big Pharma, health insurance companies, oil and gas companies, Wall Street firms, and electric utilities. 

Among individual companies, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce would have owed the most of any company or trade group in lobbying taxes: an estimated $770 million on $1 billion in lobbying spending – over $400 million more than the next-highest-paying organization, the National Association of Realtors, which would have paid $307 million on $425 million in lobbying spending. Blue Cross Blue Shield, PhRMA, and the American Hospital Association would have all paid between $149 and $163 million in taxes on between $213 and $233 million in lobbying spending. And General Electric, Boeing, AT&T, Business Roundtable, and Comcast round out the top ten, paying between $105 million and $129 million in taxes. 

Every dollar raised by the lobbying tax will be placed into a new Lobbying Defense Trust Fund dedicated to directing a surge of resources to Congress and federal agencies to fight back against the effort to bury public interest actions by the government. 

Corporate lobbyists are experts at killing widely popular policies behind closed doors. 

Take just one example from the Obama administration. In October 2010, the Department of Labor (DOL) proposed a “fiduciary rule” to protect employee retirement accounts from brokers who charge exorbitant fees and put their own commissions above earning returns for their clients. The idea was simple: if you’re looking after someone’s money, you should look out for their best interests. 

It’s an obvious rule – but it would cut into financial industry profits. So the industry dispatched an army of lobbyists to fight against the rule, including by burying the agency in public comments. In the first four months, the DOL received hundreds of comments on the proposed rule, including comments from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Morgan Stanley, Bank of America, BlackRock, and other powerful financial interests. After a public hearing with testimony from groups like Fidelity and J.P Morgan, the agency received over 100 more comments — including dozens from members of Congress, many of which were heavily slanted toward industry talking points. Because the law requires agencies to respond to each concern laid out in the public comments, when corporate interests flood agencies with comments, the process often becomes so time-consuming and resource-intensive that it can kill or delay final rules altogether – and that’s exactly what happened. On September 19, 2011, the DOL withdrew the proposed rule, but said that it planned to try again in the future. 

Undeterred, Wall Street pushed forward their lobbying campaign to ensure that the Department of Labor wouldn’t try again to re-issue the fiduciary rule. In June 2013, Robert Lewis, a lobbyist for an investment industry trade group, personally drafted a letter opposing this common-sense reform – and got 32 members of Congress to sign it. The letter ominously urged the Department to “learn from its earlier experience” when the financial industry had killed the first proposal. Soon, members of Congress from both parties were joining in, telling the Obama administration to delay re-issuing the rule. 

To its great credit, the Obama Department of Labor didn’t give up. On February 23, 2015, the agency finally re-proposed the rule. Wall Street ramped up their lobbying once more to try to kill it a second time. This time, with firm resolve and committed allies, DOL and those of us fighting alongside them beat back thousands of comments, and retirees won – but it took so long that Donald Trump became President before the rule fully went into effect. 

Trump came through for Wall Street: the new Administration delayed implementing the rule, and after financial firms spent another $3 million on lobbying at least in part on the rule, the Department of Justice refused to defend it in court. Today, the Department of Labor is led by Eugene Scalia, the very corporate lawyer and ex-lobbyist who brought the lawsuit to kill off the proposal. 

Lobbyists have followed this same playbook to block, narrow, or delay countless other common- sense industry regulations. Swarm regulators and Congress, bury everyone in an avalanche of money, and strangle government action in the public interest before it even gets off the ground. 

That’s why I’m using the revenue from my tax on excessive lobbying to establish a new Lobbying Defense Trust Fund, which will help our government fight back against the influence of lobbyists. 

First, we’ll use the Lobbying Defense Trust Fund to strengthen congressional support agencies. In my plan to strengthen congressional independence from lobbyists, I explained how lobbying tax revenue would help to reinstate the Office of Technology Assessment and increase the budget for other congressional support agencies, like the Congressional Budget Office. 

Second, we’ll give more money to federal agencies that are facing significant lobbying activity. Every time a company above the $500,000 threshold spends money lobbying against a rule from a federal agency, the taxes on that spending will go directly to the agency to help it fight back. In 2010, DOL could have used that money to hire more staffers to complete the rule more quickly and intake the flood of industry comments opposing it. 

Third, revenue from the lobbying tax will help to establish a new Office of the Public Advocate. This office will help the American people engage with federal agencies and fight for the public interest in the rule-making process. If this office had existed in 2010, the Public Advocate would have made sure that DOL heard from workers and retirees – even while both parties in Congress were spouting industry talking points.


My new lobbying tax will make hiring armies of lobbyists significantly more expensive for the largest corporate influencers like Blue Cross Blue Shield, Boeing, and Comcast. Sure, this may mean that some corporations and industry groups will choose to reduce their lobbying expenditures, raising less tax revenue down the road – but in that case, all the better.

And if instead corporations continue to engage in excessive lobbying, my lobbying tax will raise even more revenue for Congress, agencies, and federal watchdogs to fight back.

It’s just one more example of the kind of big, structural change we need to put power back in the hands of the people – and break the grip that lobbyists have on our government for good.

Democratic Candidates for 2020: Warren Releases Plan to End Corruption in Washington

“The Best President Money Can’t Buy” Senator Elizabeth Warren lays out her plan to end corruption in government, in a speech to 20,000 in Washington Square Park, NYC, near where the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire took 146 lives in 1911 and triggered a grassroots movement that secured labor reform. © Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

The vigorous contest of Democrats seeking the 2020 presidential nomination has produced excellent policy proposals to address major issues. Ahead of her speech in Washington Square Park near the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory, in which she delineated how corruption in Washington has allowed the rich and powerful to tilt the rules and grow richer and more powerful, Senator Elizabeth Warren released her plan to end Washington corruption. 

Warren has already advanced comprehensive anti-corruption legislation in Congress, but she is going further with a set of far-reaching and aggressive proposals. “Her plan will end lobbying as we know it, end self-dealing in the White House, end corporate capture of the federal government’s rule-making process, hold our federal judiciary and the Supreme Court to the highest ethical standards, and more.”

Warren declared, “No matter what brings you into this fight — whether it’s child care, student loans, health care, immigration, or criminal justice, one thing is crystal clear: corruption is making it worse — and it’s at the root of the major problems we face as a democracy.

“Reforming the money game in Washington isn’t enough. We also need to comprehensively clean up our campaign finance system. That’s why I’ve also called for a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United. It’s why we need to get rid of the Super PACs and secret spending by billionaires and giant corporations that try to buy our democracy. It’s why we need to break the grip that big donors have by creating a system of exclusive public funding of our elections. But even if we solve our campaign finance problems, comprehensive anti-corruption reforms targeted at Washington itself are necessary to finally end the stranglehold that the wealthy and the well-connected have over our government’s decision-making processes.

“I believe that we can root out corruption in Washington. I believe we must make big, structural changes that will once again restore our trust in government by showing that it can work for all of us. And when I’m President, that’s exactly what I’ll do.”

This is from the Elizabeth Warren campaign:



In 1958, the National Election Survey first asked Americans a simple question: Do you trust the government to do the right thing most of the time? That year, 73% of Americans said yes.

Senator Elizabeth Warren holds campaign rally in Washington Square Park, NYC © Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

In 2019, that number is just 17%. Five out of every six Americans do not trust their government to do the right thing.

Why have so many people lost faith in government?

It’s true that right-wing politicians have spent a generation attacking the very idea of government. But it’s also true that these days, our government doesn’t work for most people. Sure, it works great for the wealthy and the well-connected — but for everybody else, it doesn’t.

It doesn’t work because big insurance companies and hospital conglomerates put profits ahead of the health and well-being of the American people, and dump piles of money into political campaigns and lobbying efforts to block any move toward Medicare for All.

It doesn’t work because big oil companies that have concealed climate studies — and funded bought-and-paid-for climate denial research — bury regulators in an avalanche of shady, bad-faith pseudoscience and then spend freely on influence peddling in Congress to make sure nothing like a Green New Deal ever sees the light of day.

It doesn’t work because giant pharmaceutical companies want to squeeze every last penny out of the people who depend on their prescriptions, while their army of lobbyists suffocates reform any time there’s a discussion in Congress on drug pricing.

Universal child care. Criminal justice reform. Affordable housing. Gun reform. Look closely, and you’ll see — on issue after issue, widely popular policies are stymied because giant corporations and billionaires who don’t want to pay taxes or follow any rules use their money and influence to stand in the way of big, structural change.

We’ve got to call that out for what it is: corruption, plain and simple.

Make no mistake about it: The Trump Administration is the most corrupt administration of our lifetimes.

Foreign nations, like Saudi Arabia, funnel money into Trump’s pockets by spending freely at his hotels.

Trump’s tax bill is a $1.5 trillion giveaway that primarily helps large corporations and wealthy Americans. Half of the total registered lobbyists in Washington worked on issues involving the word “tax” the year the bill was written — that’s eleven lobbyists for every member of Congress. And when the members of Congress who championed it lost their elections, they got juicy gigs in the lobbying industry themselves.

Trump’s Supreme Court Justices were hand-picked by right-wing extremist groups that spent millions on television ads — first to hold open a Supreme Court seat in the Obama Administration, and then to pressure the Senate to rubber stamp their candidates of choice, even when it meant ignoring serious sexual assault charges to ram through the confirmation.

Trump’s pick to lead the Environmental Protection Agency was a climate denier with ties to Big Oil — and when he was forced to resign after a slew of ethics violations, Trump replaced him with a former coal lobbyist.

Our nation’s ambassadors are a who’s who of Trump’s biggest donors and Mar-a-Lago members.

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Maurice Mitchell, national director of the Working Families Party, introduces Senator Elizabeth Warren, who has secured the labor-aligned progressive group’s endorsement for President © Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

But these problems did not start with Donald Trump. They are much bigger than him — and solving them will require big, structural change to fundamentally transform our government.

That’s why I’ve released plans to fight Washington corruption. A plan to make sure that no president is above the law. A plan to tackle defense contractor coziness at the Pentagon. A plan to ban private prisons and expand oversight, transparency, and enforcement for all contractors hired by the federal government. In Congress, I’ve previously advanced wide-ranging anti-corruption legislation.

But we must go further.

Today, I’m announcing a comprehensive set of far-reaching and aggressive proposals to root out corruption in Washington. It’s the most sweeping set of anti-corruption reforms since Watergate. The goal of these measures is straightforward: to take power away from the wealthy and the well-connected in Washington and put it back where it belongs — in the hands of the people.

My plan lays out nearly a hundred ways that we can change our government to fix this problem — from improving public integrity rules for federal officials in every branch of government to ending lobbying as we know it, fixing the criminal laws to hold corrupt politicians to account, and ensuring our federal agencies and courts are free from corrupting influences.

And I’m just getting started.

Restoring Public Integrity

If you choose to be a public servant, you should serve the public — not your own financial interests or the financial interests of the rich and powerful. But we face a crisis of confidence in the ethics and public integrity of federal officials in America. The revolving door in and out of the Trump Administration is spinning out of control, and wave after wave of people in Trump’s orbit are trying to profit personally from his presidency — including him.

But even before Trump entered the White House, our nation’s public integrity rules were far too lax. Too many public officials can easily leverage public service for personal gain. And the ability to walk around government with obvious and direct personal financial conflicts reduces public faith in honest officials. To fix this, we need a total rewrite of our ethics laws.

We must begin by rooting out financial conflicts of interest in Washington.

Donald Trump is a walking conflict of interest. Actually, more like 2,310 conflicts of interest — and counting. His refusal to divest from his businesses has opened the door for giant corporations, foreign lobbyists, and our own government officials to curry favor with his administration and pad his own bottom line.

According to a study by the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, Donald Trump has visited one of his own properties for nearly a third of the total days that he has been president. Trump’s Washington hotel even sent the federal government a bill for $200,000 because Secret Service agents were forced to stay there as well.

Foreign countries have also taken the hint. Representatives from 65 foreign governments have visited Trump properties since he took office, and embassies have begun booking Trump’s hotels for their events. Trump has egged them on, shamelessly floating another one of his properties as the venue for a future international summit.

Big corporations and billionaires have also tried to curry favor with Donald Trump by patronizing his properties. T-Mobile sent its top executives to the Trump Hotel in DC right after the company announced a merger requiring the Trump administration’s approval. Payday lenders held their annual meetings at Trump’s golf club in Miami, while the Trump administration has consistently gutted restrictions and regulations on exploitative payday lenders. And several wealthy donors who pay the $200,000 Mar-a-Lago membership fee — which doubled when Trump became President — have exerted “sweeping influence” at the Department of Veteran’s Affairs.

Even Trump’s own appointees and political allies have tried to suck up to Trump by exploiting his conflicts of interest. More than 100 Republican Members of Congress have become patrons of Trump’s businesses since he became President. Most recently, Trump’s Attorney General William Barr spent $30,000 at Trump’s Washington Hotel, implausibly claiming that it was the only place he could find for his holiday party in Washington — and on an official trip to Ireland, Vice President Mike Pence stayed at a Trump property reportedly at Trump’s instruction, even though it was three hours away from his scheduled meetings in Dublin.

Trump is by far the most egregious example — and we need new rules to hold leaders accountable for this kind of conduct. But we cannot condemn this conduct without also acknowledging that opportunities for the appearance of self-dealing are far too easy across the federal government. Restoring public confidence isn’t just about replacing Trump and his cronies. We need new bright lines and clear rules to eliminate the possibility of public officials serving private interests.

Senator Elizabeth Warren holds campaign rally in Washington Square Park, NYC © Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

Here’s where I would start:

End self-dealing in the White House by applying conflict of interest laws to the President and Vice President. Under my plan,Presidents and Vice Presidents would be required to place their businesses into a blind trust to be sold off. No more payoffs. No more bribes from foreign governments. No more self-dealing.

Disclose tax returns of federal candidates and officeholders to the public automatically. Tax return disclosure for federally elected officials shouldn’t be optional — it should be the law. And it shouldn’t just apply to Presidents — it should apply to everyone running for or serving in federal elected office. Presidential candidates, in particular, should follow the standard set by Barack Obama for releasing at least eight years of returns. (I’ve released eleven.) And the IRS should simply put out the required tax returns for qualified candidates themselves — so nothing like Donald Trump’s refusal to disclose his taxes can ever happen again.

Force senior government officials to divest from privately-owned assets that could present conflicts of interest. White House advisers like Jared Kushner have been allowed to use their government positions to further enrich themselves and their families, while Cabinet Officials like Betsy DeVos have hundreds of millions held in privately-owned accounts that make it nearly impossible to determine who could exercise influence over DeVos and her family. The fact that such conduct could pass any kind of ethics screen makes it clear that we need new rules. My plan puts an end to this practice by requiring senior officials, including those who are unpaid like Kushner, to divest from their businesses and other conflicted assets.

Completely ban the practice of government officials trading individual stocks while in office. Under current law, members of Congress can trade stocks and then use their powerful positions to increase the value of those stocks and pad their own pockets. Tom Price, Trump’s former Secretary of Health and Human Services, purchased pharmaceutical stocks while in the House of Representatives — then fought hard to get a return on his investment by pushing policies that would benefit giant pharmaceutical companies. And another member of Congress, Chris Collins, was charged for trading the same stocks based on insider information. But prosecutions like this are rare. And even where investments don’t influence decisions, the existence of these direct conflicts undermine public confidence in government.

The solution is simple — ban members of Congress and senior government officials from owning or trading individual stocks. Instead, they can invest in conflict-free mutual funds or funds managed by the federal Thrift Savings Program. Law firms follow these kinds of rules to prevent the appearance of financial conflicts with the interests of their clients — there’s no reason important public servants and elected officials shouldn’t, too.

Shut down a raft of additional shady practices that provide opportunities for government officials to serve their own financial interests. My plan bans members of Congress and senior congressional staff from serving on corporate boards — whether or not they’re paid to do so. It also strengthens ethics requirements for presidential transition teams to ensure that those who are shaping our government disclose any conflicts of interest and comply with the highest ethical standards. And to ensure that there are no questions about whether members of Congress are acting based on financial conflicts, like lobbyist-turned-Senator-turned-lobbyist Jon Kyl, my plan requires every member of Congress, including appointed ones, to disclose their financial conflicts before they take office.

Senator Elizabeth Warren, speaking from a podium built of wood from the Frances Perkins homestead in Newcastle, Maine, obtained from her grandson, Tomlin Perkins Coggeshall, evokes FDR’s Labor Secretary in laying out a plan to end the link between corporate greed and political corruption to get a fair deal for workers and families © Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

Finally, we must immediately end the possibility of trading on access to insider political information. Every year, hundreds of millions of dollars flow into so-called “political intelligence” firms that hire operatives to prowl the halls of Congress for insider information and sell that information to Wall Street traders trying to make a buck. My plan combats this practice by implementing strict disclosure requirements and regulations on so-called “political intelligence consulting,” including criminal penalties for former public officials who use insider political information to make investments or advise others who are doing so.

Senator Elizabeth Warren holds campaign rally in Washington Square Park, NYC © Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

Next, it’s time to close and padlock the revolving door between government and industry.

Donald Trump has not just enriched himself and his advisers; he has turned his White House into a case study in the dangers of the revolving door between industry and government.

Trump railed against Goldman Sachs on the campaign trail in 2016. But as soon as he was elected, he tapped more than half a dozen of the firm’s employees to fill senior positions in his administration — enough to open a new Goldman Sachs branch office.

One of these people was Gary Cohn, the former President of Goldman Sachs, who became Trump’s top economic adviser. On his way out of Goldman, the firm gave him a whopping $285 million — $123 million in the form of cash and stocks that he could only collect if he left the firm to work in government.

I call that a “pre-bribe.” And it paid off, too. While cashing that $285 million check, Gary Cohn helped rewrite our nation’s tax laws, rammed the changes through Congress, and gave Goldman Sachs their money back — and a few billion dollars in change.

There are countless examples like this in the Trump Administration, but it’s a widespread problem in official Washington — and it goes far beyond obvious and egregious quid-pro-quo bribery. When someone serves in government with plans to immediately turn around and work in the industry they’ve been overseeing, that individual faces obvious incentives to advance the interests of their future employer. And when someone moves immediately from a regulated company to a job regulating that company, the public is right to worry about the risk that such individuals will prioritize the interests of their old bosses.

Government must be able to benefit from tapping private sector expertise, and public servants who leave government should be able to find post-government employment. Similarly, volunteer and part-time government positions, which make sense in certain situations, necessarily assume some level of outside work. But there is a difference between expertise and graft.

It isn’t simply a matter of replacing Trump with an honest President. We’ve seen the issue of industry lobbyists and top execs spinning freely through the revolving door to and from important government positions in both Democratic and Republican administrations. Fixing the underlying problem requires us to tighten up the rules to ensure that when government officials are making decisions, they are considering only the public interest — and not their own personal interests or the interests of their friends and future employers.

Senator Elizabeth Warren holds campaign rally in Washington Square Park, NYC © Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

Here are some obvious steps to help address this problem:

Ban “golden parachutes” that provide corporate bonuses to executives for serving in the federal government. We can’t let big companies get away with installing their top executives in senior government positions and paying them pre-bribes on their way out the door. Under my plan, this would be illegal.

Restrict the ability of lobbyists to enter government jobs. Under my proposal, current lobbyists won’t be able to take government jobs for 2 years after lobbying, with limited exceptions for when the hiring is in the national interest. Corporate lobbyists will have to wait at least 6 years — no exceptions, and no waivers. These extensive cooling off periods will help ensure that if anyone with this background is hired into a government role, they are being selected because of their expertise, and not their connections.

Make it illegal for elected officials and top government appointees to become lobbyists — ever. My plan bans Presidents, Vice Presidents, Members of Congress, federal judges, and Cabinet Secretaries from ever becoming lobbyists — not for one or two years, but for life. All other federal employees will also be barred from lobbying their former office, agency, or House of Congress after they leave government service for at least 2 years — or 6 years for corporate lobbyists.

Restrict the ability of companies to buy up former federal officials to rig the game for themselves. Under my plan, companies would be banned from immediately hiring former senior government officials whose agency or office the company has lobbied in the past two years. And because the biggest and most market-dominant corporations in America also exercise outsized political power, my plan blocks them from using personnel hires to rig the game by banning giant companies, banks, and monopolies from hiring former senior government officials for at least four years.

Next, we’ll hold our federal judiciary to the highest ethical standards.

Giant corporations and powerful interests haven’t limited their influence-peddling to Congress and the White House. They’ve also turned their attention to the courts.

There is “no formal mechanism for review of conflicts” for Supreme Court justices. But covering your eyes doesn’t mean there’s nothing to see. The Federalist Society — an extremist, corporate-funded right-wing group that hand-picked Trump’s list of Supreme Court nominees — picked up Justice Clarence Thomas’s bills to attend a fancy retreat hosted by the Koch brothers. And for years, Justice Thomas failed to file public disclosures indicating that his wife worked as the White House liaison for the Heritage Foundation, a group whose co-founder personally began the conservative push to overturn Roe v. Wade.

It’s not just Supreme Court Justices, either. Federal judges can do just about anything without disclosing it, and in the rare instance where their ethical violations are discovered and they face investigation, they can escape further scrutiny altogether by resigning without penalty.

Our federal court system only works if the American people have faith that it is neutrally dispensing fair-minded justice without bias or personal interests interfering in judicial decisions. If we want the American people to believe this, we need some serious judicial ethics reforms.

Senator Elizabeth Warren holds campaign rally in Washington Square Park, NYC © Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

Here’s where I’d start:

Ensure Supreme Court Justices are held to the same standard as the rest of the federal judiciary. Today, every federal judge is bound by a Code of Conduct — except Supreme Court justices. It’s a recipe for corruption. We can fix it by applying the Code of Conduct for United States Judges to Supreme Court justices.

Strengthen ethics requirements for federal judges. Corporations and advocacy organizations routinely provide federal judges with all-expenses-paid trips to extravagant seminars. My plan tightens existing rules that prohibit judges from accepting gifts and establishes a new fund to cover reasonable expenses for participating in judicial seminars. No more big speaking fees and no more fancy trips to hunting lodges and golf courses. My plan also bans federal judges from owning individual stocks.

Require judges to disclose key information so the American people can verify that their conduct is above ethical reproach. My plan requires the Judicial Conference of the United States — the institution in charge of administering our federal courts — to publicly post judges’ financial reports, recusal decisions, and speeches to bring these activities out of the shadows. This will build public confidence that cases are being heard by fair and independent judges.

Close the loophole that allows federal judges to escape investigations for misconduct by stepping down from their post. When Ninth Circuit Judge Alex Kozinski was confronted with a judicial ethics investigation for sexual misconduct towards young female law clerks, he resigned — and the investigation immediately ended. Similarly, sexual assault and perjury complaints against Brett Kavanaugh were dismissed when he was confirmed to the Supreme Court, and Donald Trump’s sister Maryanne Trump-Barry resigned from the bench, ending an investigation into the Trump family’s decades-long tax schemes, including potential fraud. Under my plan, investigations will remain open until their findings are made public and any penalties for misconduct are issued.

Ending Lobbying As We Know It

The fundamental promise of our democracy is that every voice matters. But when lobbyists and big corporations can buy influence from politicians, that promise is broken. The first thing to do to fix it is to end lobbying as we know it.

The Constitution guarantees the American people the right to petition their government with grievances. Lobbying isn’t new — it’s been around for centuries. What’s new is the weaponization of lobbying to coerce our government into doing whatever corporate interests want. While companies have an important role to play in our democratic conversation, the voices of corporations and powerful interests shouldn’t be the only voices in the room. But that’s exactly what’s happened.

Prior to the 1970s, there was little corporate spending on lobbying. Last year, over eleven thousand registered lobbyists roamed the halls of government, mostly representing their powerful clients — to the tune of over $3 billion. It’s no wonder everyone else has such a hard time breaking through the noise.

This boom in the influence-peddling game has happened around the same time that right-wing ideologues have slashed independent government resources and in-house expertise, which are essential for officials to maintain their independence from the “expertise” of self-interested corporate lobbyists. Meanwhile, most corporate lobbying work remains hopelessly opaque — nominally governed by a patchwork of weak definitions, few meaningful restrictions, and inadequate reporting and disclosure requirements. And the free rein granted to corporate lobbyists to also fundraise for political campaigns crosses the line from influence peddling to legalized bribery.

We can break the grip that lobbyists for giant corporations have on our government. Together, we can end lobbying as we know it. Here’s where to start:

Expand the definition of lobbyists to include everyone who is paid to influence lawmakers. Because of our weak laws, only individuals who meet directly with politicians or spend more than 20% of their time lobbying are required to register as lobbyists. That means law firms, consultancies, and even self-described lobbying firms that hire individuals for the express purpose of influencing government may be able to avoid these registration requirements — allowing powerful interests to influence policy without any public accountability. This practice, endemic on both sides of the aisle, must end.

My plan brings this activity out of the shadows by strengthening the definition of a lobbyist to include all individualspaid to influence government. It also creates a new designation for corporate lobbyists to identify individuals paid to influence government on behalf of for-profit entities and their front-groups — and subjects these corporate hired guns to additional restrictions.

Ban lobbying for foreign entities — period. President Trump’s campaign chair currently sits in prison, convicted in part of failing to properly register his shady foreign lobbying activity on behalf of Ukraine. But what is the justification for allowing foreign governments to use Americans as hired guns who sit in the shadows, quietly attempting to influence our domestic political system? That’s not how diplomacy should work. Other nations have ambassadors and diplomatic staff in the United States. If those governments want to interact with our political process they can do so through normal, above-board diplomatic channels. My plan categorically bans the practice of private lobbying for foreign governments, foreign individuals, and foreign companies. No more K Street influence-peddlers looking out for the interests of China, Russia, or Saudi Arabia.

Impose strict rules on all lobbyists, including preventing them from donating to or fundraising for political candidates. Paid lobbyists are hired for one objective: to advance the interests of their clients. Allowing individuals who are paid to influence government officials on policy to also give gifts or funnel money to the political campaigns of those same officials sounds like legalized bribery. My plan not only bans lobbyists from making political contributions, it also bans them from bundling donations or hosting fundraisers for political candidates. And it outlaws lobbying contingency fees, where lobbyists are only paid if they successfully influence politicians to achieve a policy outcome that serves their client’s narrow interests.

Dramatically expand the kinds of information lobbyists are required to disclose. Our current laws require only minimal disclosure from lobbyists of their activities. This prevents the American people from fully understanding who is trying to influence government — and why. My plan requires all lobbyists to report publicly all meetings with Congressional offices or public officials, the documents they provide to those individuals, and all government actions they attempt to influence. It also demands that all charitable non-profit organizations, social welfare organizations, and trade associations disclose any donors whose money was used to develop products to influence Congressional testimony, agency rulemaking, or for lobbying purposes.

Impose a tax on excessive lobbying — and use this revenue to give Congress and agencies the tools to fight back against the corporate influence machine. In 2018, lobbyists spent a whopping $3.4 billion trying to influence public policy on behalf of their clients, including $95 million from the pro-corporate Chamber of Commerce, $73 million from the National Association of Realtors, and $28 million from the Big Pharma lobbying group. The right to petition our government does not allow industries to exercise unlimited financial influence over policymakers. That’s why I will impose a tax on any entity that spends over $500,000 per year on lobbying. The tax will reduce the financial incentive for excessive lobbying, and its revenue will be used to counter the effects of excessive lobbying by providing additional financial resources for agencies to research and review regulatory actions that are the targets of excessive lobbying activity, as well as additional funding for the National Public Advocate, an office established to help the public engage with the rulemaking process, and for Congressional support agencies.

Strengthen Congressional independence from lobbyists. Congressional offices and agencies are severely underfunded, creating unnecessary pressure to rely on lobbyists for expertise. My plan transitions Congressional staff to competitive salaries and reinstates the nonpartisan Congressional Office of Technology Assessment to help members of Congress understand new areas of science and technology — because members of Congress should be able to access expertise and information without being dependent on lobbyists.

Senator Elizabeth Warren holds campaign rally in Washington Square Park, NYC © Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

End Corporate Capture of our Federal Agencies

Major federal agencies — agencies like the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Labor, and the Department of Energy — were created by Congress to enforce and implement laws that protect the broad interests of the public against the unrestrained exercise of corporate power. But because of the revolving door, the avalanche of lobbyists, and the weakness of our agency tools to fight back, agencies often find their agendas hijacked by the very industries they are supposed to regulate. We can and should make additional changes to strengthen agencies’ independence and their ability to act decisively in the public interest.

Here are some of the steps my plan takes to address this:

Stop powerful actors from peddling fake research — often funded by undisclosed donors — and hold corporations accountable for lying to regulators. I’ll crack down on corporations who manipulate agencies by submitting sham research — like the climate denial studies bought and paid for by oil and gas magnates like the Koch Brothers — by requiring individuals who submit a public comment on a proposed rule to disclose editorial conflicts-of-interest related to any non-peer-reviewed research they cite. Studies that are determined to have conflicts of interest will be withheld from the rulemaking process unless the individual offering that research certifies that they have undergone rigorous, independent peer review. Otherwise, we’ll treat them like the bad faith junk science that they are, excluding them from the rulemaking process and preventing any court from considering them too. And if a company misleads an agency with “analysis” it knows to be false, they’ll be prosecuted just like anyone else who lies under oath to Congress or in a court of law.

End the practice of inviting corporate bigwigs to negotiate rules their companies would have to follow and put a stop to the stall tactics they use to kill public interest rules. My plan restricts the parties eligible to participate in the negotiated rulemaking process so that industry no longer has an open door to dominate the process. It also closes the loopholes that have allowed industry and agencies to delay the implementation of rules it disfavors, including by ending so-called informal review, reducing the review period to 45 days, and clarifying that only Appeals Courts — not individual Federal District judges — can temporarily block the implementation of rules. And my plan requires agencies to publicly justify the withdrawal of any public interest rules.

Give the public the tools to fight back against corporations who seek to co-opt this process for their benefit. My plan establishes an Office of the Public Advocate to help the public engage with important legal changes made by federal agencies during the rulemaking process. I’ll also allow private individuals to bring lawsuits against federal agencies for unnecessarily delaying or failing to enforce agency rules — and against corporations who have violated them.

Ensuring Access to Justice for All

Equal justice is supposed to be the promise of the American legal system. But it’s not delivering on that promise. Instead, we have one system for the wealthy and the well-connected, and a different one for everyone else. It’s hard enough to hold a powerful company accountable through our legal system, but recent developments in the law have made it even harder for individuals to even bring those cases in the first place. We need to reform our legal rules to make sure every person who has been harmed can have their day in court.

Here’s how I’ll start:

Ban forced arbitration clauses. Many companies force their employees and consumers to sign “forced arbitration” clauses as part of their contracts for employment or for services. These clauses mean that if something goes wrong, individuals agree to never file a lawsuit in federal court against the company — and instead are diverted into a private dispute system. These provisions are often tucked in the fine print of contracts that workers or consumers sign, and many people don’t even know that they have signed one until they have been harmed and need our courts to help them get justice. These provisions shouldn’t be enforceable, but the conservative majority in the Supreme Court decided that because there was no law explicitly against them, they could be freely enforced. So let’s pass that law. My plan categorically bans forced arbitration clauses from blocking lawsuits related to employment, consumer protection, antitrust, and civil rights.

Ban mandatory class action waivers. When workers or consumers are wronged by a company, they should be able to band together and seek justice. Taking on a big corporation’s army of lawyers takes enormous sums of money and legal expertise. But class action waivers tucked into consumer and employment contracts prevent individuals from suing together. That makes it virtually impossible to pursue a lawsuit, and gives companies unlimited license to rip you off without any consequences. These anti-worker and anti-consumer provisions shouldn’t be enforceable, but because of a Supreme Court decision written by Justice Gorsuch, they’re alive and well. That’s why my plan would restore the fundamental right of workers and consumers to join together when they are wronged by banning these provisions in employment, consumer protection, antitrust, and civil rights cases.

Restore fair pleading standards. When you file a lawsuit, one of the first steps of the legal process is called “discovery.” That’s when you’re supposed to ask questions and gather facts about your case, but a pair of recent Supreme Court decisions upended decades of pleading standards, making it difficult to file a case without already having many of these facts. These widely criticized cases deprive plaintiffs of their day in court, and allow powerful defendants to successfully dismiss cases before they even begin. My plan would undo this damage by restoring fair pleading standards so that every person who has been harmed gets their day in court.

Holding Bad Actors Accountable

The reforms I’ve outlined will go a long way toward cleaning up Washington. But we also need strong enforcement mechanisms and broad transparency requirements to make sure we can hold bad actors accountable.

Let’s start with real penalties for violating the rules.

When Secretary Ben Carson was warned about his son participating in fancy government events, he brushed it off. And when an independent federal ethics watchdog determined that Kellyanne Conway should be fired for repeatedly violating federal law, the administration barely cared.

In Washington, corrupt actors should face penalties when they break the law — not return to business as usual.

Here’s how my plan would fix this:

Establish a new U.S. Office of Public Integrity and strengthen ethics enforcement. The new office will investigate ethics complaints from the public, impose civil and administrative penalties on violators, and refer egregious violations to the Department of Justice for criminal prosecution.

Expand and strengthen the independent Office of Congressional Ethics. My plan ensures this office has the proper authorities and resources to conduct investigations, refer civil and criminal violations to the appropriate authorities, and recommend disciplinary action to the House and Senate Ethics Committees.

Expand the definition of “official act” in bribery statutes to criminalize the sale of government access. When a politician accepts gifts in exchange for government favors, that’s bribery — but thanks to a wrong-headed Supreme Court decision in United States v. McDonnell, our laws don’t fully recognize it. My plan plugs that tractor-sized loophole and ensures that corrupt politicians who accept bribes can be prosecuted. It also clarifies that a stream of benefits — rather than a single act — qualifies as an unlawful benefit paid in exchange for a bribe.

Clarify the definition of “in-kind contributions” to ensure that no future candidate can receive political assistance from foreign countries or solicit large hush money payments without facing legal consequences. Politicians and advisors like Donald Trump Jr. have reportedly tried to receive help from foreign countries, even though it is illegal for foreign individuals to provide in-kind contributions to campaigns. And Donald Trump directed Michael Cohen to spend $130,000 to cover up an affair so it would not come to light before the 2016 election, despite laws preventing him from soliciting large in-kind contributions. Although a federal judge accepted Cohen’s guilty plea, Trump’s lawyers and defenders continued to insist that what Cohen did — and what Trump solicited — was not a crime. My plan settles this debate and clarifies that the rules governing in-kind contributions also apply to intangible benefits, such as dirt on political opponents, and in-kind financial contributions, like the payment of hush money, when those contributions are made at least in part — even if not exclusively — for campaign purposes.

Senator Elizabeth Warren holds campaign rally in Washington Square Park, NYC © Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

Deter Corruption Through Broad New Government Transparency Standards

If government is supposed to work for the people, then the people should be given enough information to judge how well their government is working for them. Too many government records are kept behind lock and key, making it impossible for the public to hold their government accountable. Significant legal actions that have implications for public health and safety can be kept secret. And the actions of federal contractors — the companies often tasked with the implementation of government policies and programs, like Trump’s family separation policy — are almost completely concealed from public view, thanks to an assortment of exemptions and loopholes.

Here’s how my plan would shine a light on government activity:

Prohibit courts from sealing records involving major public health and safety issues. When people were killed by ignition defects in Chevrolet vehicles, General Motors settled the cases on the condition that all documents related to the defects would be sealed from public view. It wasn’t an isolated incident. Big corporations routinely use secret settlements to keep defective products on the market so they can continue to rake in profits. That must stop. My plan bans courts from sealing records in cases involving public health and safety, with rare exceptions, so that corporations cannot conceal these dangerous conditions from the American people.

Impose strict transparency standards for federal courts and remove barriers to accessing electronic judicial records. My plan requires federal appellate courts to livestream audio of their proceedings, share case assignment data in bulk, and make all electronic case records — which currently must be purchased from the government — more easily accessible and free of charge.

Strengthen federal open records laws to close loopholes and exemptions that hide corporate influence, and increase transparency in Congress, federal agencies, and nonprofits that aim to influence policy. The American people have a right to know whether their elected leaders are acting in the public’s best interest — and who is trying to influence them. Under my plan, Congressional committees, government agencies, and federal contractors would be required to publicly release key information so that the American people — and the American press — can hold the federal government accountable.

Read more about her plan here

Warren Tells Crowd of 20,000 in Washington Square Park ‘We can root out corruption in Washington’

Senator Elizabeth Warren, running for president in 2020, outlines her plan to address corruption before a crowd of 20,000 gathered in Washington Square Park, New York City © Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

By Karen Rubin, News-Photos-Features.com

Senator Elizabeth Warren, running to be the Democratic candidate for president, began and ended her speech before some 20,000 gathered at Washington Square Park in New York City relating the history of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire of 1911 which took place mere blocks from the Arch that took the lives of 146 Jewish and Italian immigrant women and girls – still one of the largest industrial accidents in US history. She spoke of Francis Perkins, who ran from a townhouse just behind where Warren stood. Perkins was already an activist for workers’ rights and won fire safety regulations, “but didn’t stop there,” and other worker protections.

Even before women got the right to vote, Perkins became a political adviser on workers rights and became the first woman Cabinet secretary, Secretary of Labor, under FDR.

Perkins, Warren said, worked from within, while thousands of women in the trade union movement, worked from outside – 500,000 marched in a funeral procession up Fifth Avenue for the 146.

Speaking from a podium built of wood from the Frances Perkins homestead in Newcastle, Maine, obtained from her grandson, Tomlin Perkins Coggeshall, Warren used the story to prove her point of what can happen through grassroots action, that big bold things – such as what she is proposing to make fundamental, systemic change. “Don’t be afraid…” she declared – a not-so-subtle shout out to the Democrats who, desperate to see Trump voted out of office, are looking for a candidate they believe has the best chance of winning the general election, which for many means someone who won’t rock the boat too much, rather than someone whose ideas and proposals excite, engage and promote real structural change.

There were cheers throughout her speech delivered by a crowd that the campaign estimated at 20,000 (Warren’s biggest to date) but especially as she said, “Medicare for All,” and then, at the phrase, “wealth tax,” chants of 2c, 2c, 2c rose up.

Warren, who had just been endorsed by the National Working Families Party,  said that the 2c on every dollar after the first $50 million in wealth, would correct historic, systemic, and “government sanctioned” racism and sexism that produced gaps in income and also political power – redlining in housing, the pay gap between women and men, particularly women of color, criminal justice reform, eliminating private prisons that incentive locking people up, eliminating student debt, providing universal pre-K. Without using the word “reparations” – she offered a more constructive, implementable series of programs that would accomplish the same goal of equalizing the opportunity to succeed.

“The time to hold back is over. We need structural change.”

Warren added, “I know what you are thinking – it is too much, too big, too hard.” Then, scanning the crowd, she joked, “OK, nobody here. I know this change is possible because others have made big structural change before.”

And she went back to Perkins and the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory – how factory owners, made filthy rich because of the horrendous working conditions and wages were able to amass the wealth to buy politicians, how greed by owners and corruption by politicians effectively negated democracy.

“30 years old, Francis Perkins already was a human rights activist…how, seeing the fire at the factory, she ran and watched as young women leaped to their death rather than be consumed by the flames.  500,000 at that march. It wasn’t the first march, but it was different.”

“While they picketed from the outside, Francis pushed from the inside. Those women died because of the greed of business owners and the corruption of politicians. Perkins was the lead investigator, years before women could vote, let alone have a role in government. But Frances had a” plan – she fought for fire safety, but she didn’t stop there.




Senator Elizabeth Warren, running for president in 2020, outlines her plan to address corruption before a crowd of 20,000 gathered in Washington Square Park, New York City © Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

“With Francis working from the inside and the women workers applying pressure from the outside, they rewrote state labor laws top to bottom to protect workers. She became the leading expert on working conditions.” President Franklin D. Roosevelt named her his Labor Secretary through the New Deal.

“That what one woman can do.” She added, “It’s what’s possible when we fight together.”

Warren declared, “No matter what brings you into this fight — whether it’s child care, student loans, health care, immigration, or criminal justice, one thing is crystal clear: corruption is making it worse — and it’s at the root of the major problems we face as a democracy.

Senator Elizabeth Warren, running for president in 2020, outlines her plan to address corruption before a crowd of 20,000 gathered in Washington Square Park, New York City © Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

“Reforming the money game in Washington isn’t enough. We also need to comprehensively clean up our campaign finance system. That’s why I’ve also called for a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United. It’s why we need to get rid of the Super PACs and secret spending by billionaires and giant corporations that try to buy our democracy. It’s why we need to br”eak the grip that big donors have by creating a system of exclusive public funding of our elections. But even if we solve our campaign finance problems, comprehensive anti-corruption reforms targeted at Washington itself are necessary to finally end the stranglehold that the wealthy and the well-connected have over our government’s decision-making processes.

“I believe that we can root out corruption in Washington. I believe we must make big, structural changes that will once again restore our trust in government by showing that it can work for all of us. And when I’m President, that’s exactly what I’ll do.”

Warren, famous now for posing for selfies with people who come out to see her, wound up staying until midnight before the line, thousands long, was through. “I stayed four hours, but so did the last guy on line,” she later said. It is an indication of the enthusiasm for her and her endurance as a candidate at a time when a big issue among Democrats is who can get out the vote.

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© 2019 News & Photo Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. For editorial feature and photo information, go to www.news-photos-features.com, email editor@news-photos-features.com. Blogging at www.dailykos.com/blogs/NewsPhotosFeatures.  ‘Like’ us on facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures, Tweet @KarenBRubin

Democratic Candidates for 2020: Senator Warren Releases Bold, Progressive Plan to Expand Social Security

Senator Elizabeth Warren, vying to be the Democratic candidate for president in 2020, has released a bold, progressive plan to expand Social Security © Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

Whenever Republicans talk about the need to reform “entitlements,” they always refer to the “sacrifice” demanded of the people most dependent upon Social Security benefits and most vulnerable (with the least political power) in society. They never ask the most obscenely rich, most comfortable, most powerful to make any sacrifice – after all, they are the “job creators” and we don’t want to interfere with the number of yachts and vacation homes they can purchase.

Senator Elizabeth Warren, vying for the 2020 Democratic nomination for president, has just released her plan to expand Social Security – not cut it.

“Millions of Americans are depending on Social Security to provide a decent retirement. My plan raises Social Security benefits across-the-board by $2,400 a year and extends the full solvency of the program for nearly another two decades, all by asking the top 2% to contribute their fair share to the program,” Warren states. “It’s time Washington stopped trying to slash Social Security benefits for people who’ve earned them. It’s time to expand Social Security.”

This is from the Warren campaign:

Charlestown, MA – Today, Elizabeth Warren released her plan to provide the biggest and most progressive increase in Social Security benefits in nearly 50 years. Her plan will mean an immediate Social Security benefit increase of $200 a month — $2,400 a year — for every current and future Social Security beneficiary in America. That will immediately help nearly 64 million current Social Security beneficiaries, including 10 million Americans with disabilities and their families. 

The plan also updates outdated rules to further increase benefits for lower-income families, women, people with disabilities, public-sector workers, and people of color. The plan finances these benefit increases and extends the solvency of Social Security by nearly two decades by asking the top 2% of earners to contribute their fair share to the program. 

According to an independent analysis, Elizabeth’s plan will immediately lift an estimated 4.9 million seniors out of poverty — cutting the senior poverty rate by 68%. It will also produce a “much more progressive Social Security system” by delivering much larger benefit increases to lower and middle-income seniors on a percentage basis, increase economic growth in the long term, and reduce the deficit by more than $1 trillion over the next 10 years. 

Read more about her plan here and below: 

I’ve dedicated most of my career to studying what’s happening to working families in America. One thing is clear: it’s getting harder to save enough for a decent retirement.

A generation of stagnant wages and rising costs for basics like housing, health care, education, and child care have squeezed family budgets. Millions of families have had to sacrifice saving for retirement just to make ends meet. At the same time, fewer people have access to the kind of pensions that used to help fund a comfortable retirement.

As a result, Social Security has become the main source of retirement income for most seniors. About half of married seniors and 70% of unmarried seniors rely on Social Security for at least half of their income. More than 20% of married seniors and 45% of unmarried seniors rely on Social Security for 90% or more of their income. And the numbers are even more stark for seniors of color: as of 2014, 26% of Asian and Pacific Islander beneficiaries, 33% of Black beneficiaries, and 40% of Latinx beneficiaries relied on Social Security benefits as their only source of retirement income.

Yet typical Social Security benefits today are quite small. Social Security is an earned benefit — you contribute a portion of your wages to the program over your working career and then you and your family get benefits out of the program when you retire or leave the workforce because of a disability — so decades of stagnant wages have led to smaller benefits in retirement too. In 2019, the average Social Security beneficiary received $1,354 a month, or $16,248 a year. For someone who worked their entire adult life at an average wage and retired this year at the age of 66, Social Security will replace just 41% of what they used to make. That’s well short of the 70% many financial advisers recommend for a decent retirement — one that allows you to keep living in your home, go to a doctor when you’re sick, and get the prescription drugs you need.

And here’s the even scarier part: unless we act now, future retirees are going to be in even worse shape than the current ones.

Despite the data staring us in the face, Congress hasn’t increased Social Security benefits in nearly fifty years. When Washington politicians discuss the program, it’s mostly to debate about whether to cut benefits by a lot or a little bit. After signing a $1.5 trillion tax giveaway that primarily helped the rich and big corporations, Donald Trump twice proposed cutting billions from Social Security.

We need to get our priorities straight. We should be increasing Social Security benefits and asking the richest Americans to contribute their fair share to the program. For years, I’ve helped lead the fight in Congress to expand Social Security. And today I’m announcing a plan to provide the biggest and most progressive increase in Social Security benefits in nearly half a century. My plan:

Increases Social Security benefits immediately by $200 a month — $2,400 a year — for every current and future Social Security beneficiary in America.

Updates outdated rules to further increase benefits for lower-income families, women, people with disabilities, public-sector workers, and people of color.

Finances these changes and extends the solvency of Social Security by nearly two decades by asking the top 2% of families to contribute their fair share to the program.

An independent analysis of my plan from Mark Zandi, chief economist of Moody’s Analytics, finds that my plan will accomplish all of this and:

Immediately lift an estimated 4.9 million seniors out of poverty, cutting the senior poverty rate by 68%.

Produce a “much more progressive Social Security system” by raising contribution requirements only on very high earners and increasing average benefits by nearly 25% for those in the bottom half of the income distribution, as compared to less than 5% for people in the top 10% of the distribution.

Increase economic growth in the long term and reduces the deficit by more than $1 trillion over the next ten years.

Every single current Social Security beneficiary — about 64 million Americans — will immediately receive at least $200 more per month under my plan. That’s at least $2,400 more per year to put toward home repairs, or visits to see the grandkids, or paying down the debt you still might owe. And every future beneficiary of Social Security will see at least a $200-a-month increase too, whether you’re 60 years old and nearing retirement or 20 years old and just entering the workforce. If you want to see how my plan will affect you, check out my new calculator here.

Our Current Retirement Crunch — And How It Will Get Worse If We Don’t Act

Seniors today are already facing a difficult retirement. Without action, future generations are likely to be even worse off.

While we’ve reduced the percentage of seniors living in poverty over the past few decades, the numbers remain unacceptably high. Based on the U.S. Census Bureau’s Supplemental Poverty Measure, 14% of seniors — more than 7 million people — live in poverty. Another 28% of seniors have incomes under double the poverty line. A record-high 20% of seniors are still in the workforce in their retirement years. Even with that additional source of income, in 2016, the median annual income for men over 65 was just $31,618 — and just $18,380 for women over 65.

It’s hard to get by on that, especially as costs continue to rise. Most seniors participate in Medicare Part B, and standard premiums for that program now eat up close to 10% of the average monthly Social Security benefit. The average senior has just 66% of Social Security benefits remaining after paying all out-of-pocket healthcare expenses — and if we don’t adopt Medicare For All, out-of-pocket medical spending by seniors is projected to rise sharply over time. The number of elderly households still paying off debt has grown by almost 20% since 1992, and hundreds of thousands of seniors have had their monthly benefits garnished to pay down student loan debt.

Meanwhile, the prospect of paying for long-term care looms over most retirees. 26% of seniors wouldn’t be able to fund two years of paid home care even if they liquidated all of their assets. And for people that have faced lifelong discrimination, like LGBTQ seniors who until recently were denied access to spousal pension privileges and spousal benefits, the risk of living in or near poverty in retirement is even higher.

This squeeze forces a lot of seniors to skimp in dangerous and unhealthy ways. A recent survey found that millions of seniors cut pills, delay necessary home and car repairs, and skip meals to save money.

While the picture for current retirees is grim, it’s projected to get even worse for Americans on the cusp of retirement. Among Americans aged 50 to 64, the average amount saved in 401(k) accounts is less than $15,000. On average, Latinx and Black workers are less likely to have 401(k) accounts, and those who do have them have smaller balances and are more likely to have to make withdrawals before retirement. The gradual disappearance of pensions has been particularly harmful to workers of color who are near retirement. And 13% of all people over 60 have no pension or savings at all.

Meanwhile, this near-retirement group are also suffering under the weight of mounting debt levels and other costs. 68% of households headed by someone over 55 are in debt. Nearly one-quarter of people ages 55 to 64 are also providing elder care. According to one study, 62% of older Latinx workers, 53% of older Black workers, and 50% of older Asian workers work physically demanding jobs, leading to higher likelihood of disability, early exit from the job market, and reduced retirement benefits.

Gen-Xers and Millennials are in even greater trouble. For both generations, wages have been virtually stagnant for their entire working lives. 90% of Gen-Xers are in debt, and they’re projected to be able to replace only 50% of their income in retirement on average. Many Gen-Xers are trapped between their own student loans and mortgages, the costs of raising and educating their children, and the costs of caring for their elderly relativesTwo-thirds of working millennials have no retirement savings, and the numbers are even worse for Black and Latinx working millennials. Debt, wage stagnation, and decreasing pension availability mean that, compared to previous generations at the same age, millennials are significantly behind in retirement planning.

There’s also the looming prospect of serious Social Security cuts in 2035. Social Security has an accumulated reserve of almost $3 trillion now, but because of inadequate contributions to the program by the rich, we are projected to draw down that reserve by 2035, prompting automatic 20% across-the-board benefit cuts if nothing is done.

My plan addresses both the solvency of Social Security and the need for greater benefits head on — with bold solutions that match the scale of the problems we face.

Creating Financial Security By Raising Social Security Benefits

The core of my plan is simple. If you get Social Security benefits now, your monthly benefit will be at least $200 more — or at least $2,400 more per year. If you aren’t getting Social Security benefits now but will someday, your monthly benefit check with be at least $200 bigger than it otherwise would have been.

My $200-a-month increase covers every Social Security beneficiary — including the 10 million Americans with disabilities and their families who have paid into the program and now receive benefits from it. Adults with disabilities are twice as likely to live in poverty as those without a disability. While 9% of people without disabilities nearing retirement live in poverty, 26% of people that age with disabilities live in poverty. Monthly Social Security benefits make up at least 90% of income for nearly half of Social Security Disability Insurance beneficiaries.

This benefit increase will also provide a big boost to other groups. It will help the 621,000 disabled veterans who are Social Security beneficiaries. It will benefit the 1 million seniors who exclusively receive Social Security Insurance — which helps Americans with little or no income and assets — and the 2.7 million Americans who receive both SSI and Social Security benefits.

On top of this across-the-board benefit increase, I’ll ensure that current and future Social Security beneficiaries get annual cost-of-living adjustments that keep pace with the actual costs they face. The government currently increases Social Security benefits annually to keep pace with the price of goods typical working families buy. But older Americans and people with disabilities tend to purchase more of certain goods — like health care — than working-age Americans, and the costs of those goods are increasing more rapidly. That’s why my plan will switch to calculating annual cost-of-living increases based on an index called CPI-E that better reflects the costs Social Security beneficiaries bear. Based on current projections, that will increase benefits even more over time.

Combined, my immediate $200-a-month benefit increase for every Social Security beneficiary and the switch to CPI-E will produce significantly higher benefits now and decades into the future. My Social Security calculator will let you see how much your benefits could change under my plan.

Targeted Social Security Improvements to Deliver Fairer Benefits

Broadly speaking, Social Security benefits track with your income during your working years. That means pay disparities and wrongheaded notions that value salaried work over time spent raising children or caring for elderly relatives carry forward once you retire. That needs to change. My plan increases Social Security benefits even further by making targeted changes to the program to deliver fairer benefits and better service to women and caregivers, low-income workers, public sector workers, students and job-seekers, and people with disabilities.

Women and Caregivers

In part because of work and pay discrimination and time out of the workforce to provide care for children and elderly relatives, women receive an average monthly Social Security benefit that’s only 78% of the average monthly benefit for men. That’s one reason women over the age of 65 are 80% more likely to live in poverty than men. My plan includes several changes that primarily affect women and help reduce these disparities.

Valuing the work of caregivers. My plan creates a new credit for caregiving for people who qualify for Social Security benefits. This credit raises Social Security benefits for people who take time out of the workforce to care for a family member — and recognizes caregiving for the valuable work it is.

The government calculates Social Security benefits based on average lifetime earnings, with years spent out of the workforce counted as a zero for the purpose of the average. When people spend time out of the workforce to provide care for a relative, their average lifetime earnings are smaller and so are their Social Security benefits.

That particularly harms lower-income women, people of color, and recent immigrants. There are more than 43 million informal family caregivers in the country, and 60% of them are women. A 2011 study found that women over fifty forgo an average of $274,000 in lifetime wages and Social Security benefits when they leave the workforce to take care of an aging parent. Caregivers who also work are more likely to be low-income and incur out-of-pocket costs for providing care. Because access to paid or partially paid family leave is particularly limited for workers of color — and first-generation immigrant workers are less likely to have jobs with flexible schedules or paid sick days — these workers are more likely to have to take unpaid leave to provide care and thus suffer reductions in their Social Security benefits.

My plan will give credit toward the Social Security average lifetime earnings calculation to people who provide 80 hours a month of unpaid care to a child under the age of 6, a dependent with a disability (including a veteran family member), or an elderly relative. For every month of caregiving that meets these requirements, the caregiver will be credited for Social Security purposes with a month of income equal to the monthly average of that year’s median annual wage. People can receive an unlimited amount of caregiving credits and can claim these credits retroactively if they have done this kind of caregiving work in the last five years. By giving caregivers credits equal to the median wage that year, this credit will provide a particular boost in benefits to lower-income workers.

Improving benefits for widowed individuals from dual-earner households and widowed individuals with disabilities. Because women on average outlive men by 2.5 years, they typically spend more of their retirement in widowhood, a particularly vulnerable period financially. My plan provides two targeted increases in benefits for widows.

In households with similar overall incomes, Social Security provides more favorable survivor benefits to the surviving spouses in single-earner households than in dual-earner households. After the death of a spouse, a surviving spouse from a dual-earner household can lose as much as 50% of her household’s retirement income. My plan will reduce this disparity by ensuring that widow(er)s automatically receive the highest of: (1) 75% of combined household benefits, capped at the benefit level a household with two workers with average career earnings would receive; (2) 100% of their deceased spouse’s benefits; or (3) 100% of their own worker benefit.

My plan will also improve benefits for widowed individuals with disabilities. Currently, a widow with disabilities must wait until she is 50 to start claiming Social Security survivor benefits if her spouse dies — and even at 50, she can only claim benefits at a highly reduced rate. Since most widows with disabilities can’t wait until the official retirement age of 66 to claim their full survivor benefits, their average monthly benefit is only $748 a month, or less than $9,000 a year. My plan will repeal the age requirement so widow(er)s with disabilities can receive their full survivor benefits at any age without a reduction.

Lower-Income Workers

My plan ensures that workers who work for a lifetime at low wages do not retire into poverty.

In 1972, Congress enacted a Special Minimum Benefit for Social Security. The benefit was supposed to help people who had earned consistently low wages over many years of work. But it’s become harder to qualify for the benefit, and the benefit amount has shrunk in value so it now helps hardly anyone. Today, only 0.6% of all Social Security beneficiaries receive the Special Minimum Benefit, and projections show that no new beneficiaries will receive it this year.

No one who spends 30 years working and contributing to Social Security should retire in poverty. That’s why my plan restructures the Special Minimum Benefit so that more people are eligible for it and the benefits are a lot higher. Under my plan, any person who has done 30 years of Social Security-covered work will receive an annual benefit of at least 125% of the federal poverty line when they reach retirement age. That means a baseline of $1,301 a month in 2019 — plus the $200-a-month across-the-board increase in my plan, for a total of $1,501 a month. That’s more than $600-a-month more than what that worker would receive under current law.

Public Sector Workers

My plan also ensures that public sector workers like teachers and police officers get the full Social Security benefits they’ve earned.

If you work in the private sector and earn a pension, you’re entitled to your full pension and your full Social Security benefits in retirement. But if you work in state or local government and earn a pension, two provisions called the Windfall Elimination Provision and Government Pension Offset can reduce your Social Security benefits. WEP slashes Social Security benefits for nearly 1.9 million former public-sector workers and their families, while GPO reduces — and in most cases, eliminates — spousal and survivor Social Security benefits for 700,000 people, 83% of whom are women.

My plan repeals these two provisions, immediately increasing benefits for more than two million former public-sector workers and their families, and ensuring that every current state and local government employee will get the full Social Security benefits they’ve earned.

Students and Job Seekers

My plan also updates the Social Security program so that it encourages people to complete college and participate in job training programs or registered apprenticeships.

Restoring and extending benefits for full-time students whose parent has a disability or has died. In the Reagan administration, Congress cut back a provision that allowed children receiving Social Security dependent benefits to continue to receive them until age 22 if they were full-time students. Before the provision was repealed, these beneficiaries came from families with average incomes 29% lower than their college peers, were more likely to have a parent with low educational attainment, and were more likely to be Black. Access to these benefits boosted college attendance and performance by letting low-income students reduce the number of hours they had to work while attending school. When Congress repealed this benefit, college attendance by previously eligible beneficiaries dropped by more than one-third. My plan restores this provision — and it extends eligibility through the age of 24 because only 41% of all students complete college in four years, and Black, Native American, and Latinx students have even lower four-year completion rates. A longer eligibility period will improve the chances the people who receive this benefit complete college before the benefit ends.

Encouraging registered apprenticeships and job training. Currently, workers who participate in registered apprenticeships or job training may receive lower Social Security benefits because they are taking time out of the workforce or agreeing to accept lower-paying positions to gain skills. We’re about to enter a period of immense transformation in the economy, and we should encourage workers to take time to participate in a registered apprenticeship or job training program so they are prepared for in-demand jobs. That’s why I proposed a $20 billion investment in high-quality apprenticeships in my Economic Patriotism and Rural America plans. My plan today complements that investment by letting workers in job training and apprenticeship programs elect to exclude up to three years in those programs from their lifetime earnings calculation for Social Security benefits, thereby producing a higher average lifetime earnings total — and higher benefits.

Improving the Administration of Social Security Benefits

My plan improves Social Security in another important way: it makes it easier for people to actually get the benefits they’ve earned.

Congress is starving the Social Security Administration of money, creating hardship for people who rely on the program for benefits. Congress has slashed SSA’s operating budget by 9% since 2010, even as the number of beneficiaries is growing. Meanwhile, more Baby Boomers are approaching retirement age — a critical period when workers are most likely to claim Social Security Disability benefits. SSA has a staff shortagerising telephone and office wait times, and outdated technology. Sixty-four Social Security field offices have closed since 2011 and 500 mobile offices have closed since 2010. Field office closures are correlated with a 16% drop in disability insurance beneficiaries in the surrounding area because those people — who have paid into the system and earned their benefits — no longer have assistance to file their applications.

Disability insurance applicants can wait as long as 22 months for an eligibility hearing. Thousands of people have died while waiting for administrative law judges to determine if they’re eligible to receive their benefits. To make matters worse, Donald Trump issued an Executive Order that will politicize the process of selecting the judges who adjudicate these cases. And his administration keeps proposing more cuts to the SSA budget.

My plan restores adequate funding to the Social Security Administration so that it can carry out its core mission. That will allow us to hire more staff, keep offices open, reduce call times, update the technology system, and give applicants and beneficiaries the services they need. And I will revoke Trump’s Executive Order on administrative law judges.

Strengthening Social Security By Extending Solvency For Nearly Two More Decades

Currently, the rich contribute a far smaller portion of their income to Social Security than everyone else. That’s wrong, and it’s threatening the solvency of the program. My plan fully funds its new benefit increases and extends the full solvency of Social Security for nearly 20 more years by asking the richest top 2% of families to start contributing more.

Social Security is funded by mandatory insurance contributions authorized by the Federal Insurance Contributions Act, or “FICA”. The FICA contribution is 12.4% of wages, with employers and employees splitting those contributions equally at 6.2% each. (Self-employed workers contribute the full 12.4%.) If you’re a wage employee, you contribute 6.2% of your very first dollar of wages to Social Security, and 6.2% of every dollar after that — up to an annual cap. This year’s cap is $132,900, and each year, that cap increases based on the growth in national average wages.

Congress designed the cap to go up each year based on average wages to ensure that a fairly steady percentage of total wages in America were subject to the FICA contribution requirement. But growing wage disparities over the past few decades has thrown the system out of whack.

While wages for lower-income and middle-income workers have been fairly stagnant — limiting the growth of the national average wage figure we use to set the annual cap — income at the very top has been skyrocketing. That means more income for the biggest earners has been above the cap and therefore exempt from the FICA contribution requirement. In 1983, 90% of total wage earnings were below the cap. Now it’s just 83%. The top 1% of earners have an estimated effective FICA contribution rate of about 2%, compared to more than 10% for the middle 50% of earners. That amounts to billions of dollars every year that should have gone to Social Security but instead remained in the pockets of the very richest Americans, while the Social Security system slowly starved.

And the very rich have escaped contributing to the system in yet another way: more and more of their income is in the form of unearned investment income, not wages, and they don’t have to contribute any of their investment income to Social Security. Although most Americans earn most of their income from wages, capital income makes up more than half of total income for the top 1% and more than two-thirds for the top 0.1%. All that income escapes the Social Security program.

My plan brings our Social Security system back into balance by asking the top 2% of earners to start contributing a fair share of their wages to the system and by asking the top 2% of families to contribute a portion of their net investment income into the system as well:

First, my plan imposes a 14.8% Social Security contribution requirement on individual wages above $250,000 — affecting less than the top 2% of earners — split equally between employees and employers at 7.4% each. While most American workers contribute to Social Security with every dollar they earn, CEOs and other very high earners contribute to Social Security on only a fraction of their pay. My plan changes that and requires very high earners to contribute a fair share of their income. My plan also closes the so-called “Gingrich-Edwards” loophole to ensure that self-employed workers can’t easily reclassify income to avoid making Social Security contributions.

Second, my plan establishes a new 14.8% Social Security contribution requirement on net investment income that applies only to the top 2% — individuals making more than $250,000 in annual income or families making more than $400,000 in annual income. My plan creates a new contribution requirement — modeled on the Net Investment Income Tax (NIIT) from the Affordable Care Act — that asks people and families above these high income thresholds to contribute 14.8% of the lesser of net investment income or total income above these thresholds. My plan also closes loopholes in the NIIT that allow wealthy owners of partnerships and other businesses to avoid it. This contribution requirement will ensure that the very wealthy are paying into Social Security even when they report the bulk of their income as capital returns rather than wages.

Democratic Candidates for 2020: Warren Releases Plan to Protect Our Communities from Gun Violence

Senator Elizabeth Warren, running to be the Democratic candidate for president, released her plan to protect communities from gun violence © Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

The vigorous contest of Democrats seeking the 2020 presidential nomination has produced excellent policy proposals to address major issues. Senator Elizabeth Warren released her plan to protect communities from gun violence. This is from the Warren2020 campaign (Read it here).

“The conversation about gun violence in America is shifting — but not just because we’ve seen a spike in violence fueled by the NRA and the Trump administration’s dangerous policies and extremist rhetoric. It’s also because of the tireless work of activists, organizers, and community leaders who have been fighting for reform at the state and local level.

“If you need proof that the majority of Americans support common sense gun reform, look at what’s happening in state legislatures and city councils across the country. Moms, students, and faith leaders have been packing hearing rooms and taking back spaces formerly reserved for NRA lobbyists. Survivors of mass shootings are doing the critical work of turning our attention to the daily gun violence in cities that doesn’t make headlines.

“And it’s working. States that pass expanded background checks see lower rates of gun-related deaths and gun trafficking. States that disarm domestic abusers see lower rates of intimate partner gun violence. States with extreme risk laws have been successful in reducing gun suicides and have used them to prevent potential mass shootings. Community-based violence intervention programs are popping up in cities across the country.

“Together, we can build on this momentum. We can build a grassroots movement to take back the Senate, eliminate the filibuster, and pass federal gun safety legislation that will save lives. And from the White House, I’ll make sure that the NRA and their cronies are held accountable with executive action. If we turn our heartbreak and our anger into action, I know we can take the power from the NRA and the lawmakers in their pockets and return it to the people.”

Charlestown, MA – Prior to her appearance at the Everytown presidential forum, Elizabeth Warren released her plan to confront gun violence in America. Yesterday, she called on Walmart to stop selling guns — one of the largest gun retailers in the world. 

Elizabeth will set a goal of reducing gun deaths in this country by 80%, starting with an ambitious set of executive actions she will take as president. In order to break the hold of the NRA and the gun lobby, she will pass her sweeping anti-corruption legislation and eliminate the filibuster to pass gun legislation in her first 100 days. She supports federal licensing, universal background checks, a military-style assault weapon ban, higher taxes on guns and ammunition, and closing the loopholes to make it harder for someone violent to get a gun. 

We know that Black and Latinx Americans have borne the brunt of the gun violence tragedy in our country. Instead of focusing solely on law enforcement and incarceration, Elizabeth will invest in interventions designed to stop gun violence before it occurs by piloting evidence-based community violence intervention programs at scale.

She will call on Congress to repeal the liability shield that protects the industry – and then go further, by establishing a federal private right of action to allow survivors of gun violence to get their day in court. Her plan also includes $100 million annually for gun safety research, and commits to study the reforms we enact to see what’s working, and send Congress updated reform proposals on an annual basis.

Read more about her plan here and below: 

Columbine.

Sandy Hook.

Charleston.

Pulse.

Las Vegas.

Parkland.

Pittsburgh.

Now El Paso. Dayton.

These are just a few of the names etched into the American consciousness, synonymous with senseless loss and enduring grief.

It’s been a week since these latest attacks, and on average every day 100 people are killed in the U.S. by a gun — in shootings that occur in our homes, on our streets, at our playgrounds.

The victims are our neighbors and our friends. Someone’s mother, someone’s child, someone’s sibling.

There is no shortage of horrifying statistics about our gun violence epidemic.

Our firearm homicide rate is 25 times higher than other comparable countries.

Our firearm suicide rate is nearly 10 times higher.

Women in the U.S. are 21 times more likely to be shot to death than women in other high-income countries, most killed by an intimate partner.

21 children and teenagers are shot every day.

The list goes on.

And while the majority of Americans — including a majority of gun owners — support sensible gun legislation, even the most basic proposals, like universal background checks, are consistently blocked by far-right ideologues in Congress who are bought and paid for by the gun industry, their NRA partners, and a supporting army of lobbyists and lawyers.

Faced with a complex and entrenched public health crisis, made worse by the ongoing inability of a corrupt government to do anything about it, it’s easy to despair. But we are not incapable of solving big problems. We’ve done it before.

In 1965, more than five people died in automobile accidents for every 100 million miles traveled. It was a massive crisis. As a nation, we decided to do better. Some things were obvious: seatbelts, safer windshields, and padded dashboards. Other things only became clear over time: things like airbags and better brake systems. But we made changes, we did what worked, and we kept at it. Over fifty years, we reduced per-mile driving deaths by almost 80% and prevented 3.5 million automobile deaths. And we’re still at it.

In 2017, almost 40,000 people died from guns in the United States. My goal as President, and our goal as a society, will be to reduce that number by 80%. We might not know how to get all the way there yet. But we’ll start by implementing solutions that we believe will work. We’ll continue by constantly revisiting and updating those solutions based on new public health research. And we’ll make structural changes to end the ability of corrupt extremists to block our government from defending the lives of our people — starting with ending the filibuster.

Here’s what that will look like.

As president, I will immediately take executive action to rein in an out-of-control gun industry — and to hold both gun dealers and manufacturers accountable for the violence promoted by their products.

I will break the NRA’s stranglehold on Congress by passing sweeping anti-corruption legislation and eliminating the filibuster so that our nation can no longer be held hostage by a small group of well-financed extremists who have already made it perfectly clear that they will never put the safety of the American people first.

I will send Congress comprehensive gun violence prevention legislation. I will sign it into law within my first 100 days. And we will revisit this comprehensive legislation every single year — adding new ideas and tweaking existing ones based on new data — to continually reduce the number of gun deaths in America.

Executive Action to Reduce Gun Violence

Reform advocates are engaged in a valuable discussion about gun reforms that can be achieved by executive action. We must pursue these solutions to the fullest extent of the law, including by redefining anyone “engaged in the business” of dealing in firearms to include the vast majority of gun sales outside of family-to-family exchanges. This will extend requirements — not only for background checks, but all federal gun rules — to cover all of those sales. This includes:

Requiring background checks. We will bring the vast majority of private sales, including at gun shows and online, under the existing background check umbrella.

Reporting on multiple purchases. We will extend the existing requirement to report bulk sales to nearly all gun sales. And I’ll extend existing reporting requirements on the mass purchase of certain rifles from the southwestern border states to all 50 states.

Raising the minimum age. We will expand the number of sales covered by existing age restriction provisions that require the purchaser to be at least 18 years old, keeping guns out of the hands of more teenagers.

My administration will use all the authorities at the federal government’s disposal to investigate and prosecute all those who circumvent or violate existing federal gun laws. This includes:

Prosecuting gun traffickers. Gun trafficking across state lines allows guns to move from states with fewer restrictions to those with strict safety standards, and gun trafficking across our southern border contributes to gang violence that sends migrants fleeing north. I’ll instruct my Attorney General to go after the interstate and transnational gun trafficking trade with all the resources of the federal government.

Revoking licenses for gun dealers who break the rules. Only 1% of gun dealers are responsible for 57% of guns used in crimes. My Administration will direct the ATF to prioritize oversight of dealers with serial compliance violations — and then use its authority to revoke the license of dealers who repeatedly violate the rules.

Investigating the NRA and its cronies. The NRA is accused of exploiting loopholes in federal laws governing non-profit spending to divert member dues into lavish payments for its board members and senior leadership. I’ll appoint an attorney general committed to investigating these types of corrupt business practices, and the banks and third-party vendors — like Wells Fargo — that enabled the NRA to skirt the rules for so long.

To protect the most vulnerable, my administration will use ATF’s existing regulatory authority to the greatest degree possible, including by:

Protecting survivors of domestic abuse. We will close the so-called “boyfriend loophole” by defining intimate partner to include anyone with a domestic violence conviction involving any form of romantic partner.

Reversing the Trump administration’s efforts to weaken our existing gun rules. We will rescind the Trump-era rules and policies that weaken our gun safety regime, including rules that lower the standards for purchasing a gun, and those that make it easier to create untraceable weapons or modify weapons in ways that circumvent the law. This includes overturning Trump-era policies enabling 3-D printed guns, regulating 80% receivers as firearms, and reversing the ATF ruling that allows a shooter to convert a pistol to a short-barreled rifle using pistol braces.

Restrict the movement of guns across our borders. We will reverse the Trump administration’s efforts to make it easier to export U.S.-manufactured weapons by transferring exports of semi-automatic firearms and ammunition from the State Department to the Commerce Department, and we will prevent the import of foreign-manufactured assault weapons into the United States.

The shooting in El Paso also reminds us that we need to call out white nationalism for what it is: domestic terrorism. Instead of a president who winks and nods as white nationalism gets stronger in this country, we need a president who will use all the tools available to prevent it. It is completely incompatible with our American values, it is a threat to American safety and security, and a Warren Justice Department will prosecute it to the fullest extent of the law.

Structural Changes to Pass Gun Safety Legislation

The next president has a moral obligation to use whatever executive authority she has to address the gun crisis. But it is obvious that executive action is not enough. Durable reform requires legislation — but right now legislation is impossible. Why? A virulent mix of corruption and abuse of power.

Big money talks in Washington. And the NRA represents a particularly noxious example of Washington corruption at work. Over the last two decades, the NRA has spent over $200 million on lobbying Congress, influencing elections, and buying off politicians — and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. The NRA spends millions poisoning our political discourse with hateful, conspiracy-fueled propaganda, blocking even modest reforms supported by 90% of American voters.

In the wake of the Sandy Hook massacre, the American people rallied for reform. President Obama suggested several serious legislative changes. The Senate voted down an assault weapons ban. It rejected a background checks proposal, even though 54 Senators from both parties voted for it, because of a right-wing-filibuster. These were the bare minimum steps we needed to take. And six years later, Congress still hasn’t done a thing.

This pattern repeats itself throughout our government. When money and influence can override the will of a huge majority of Americans, that is corruption, pure and simple.

It’s time to fight back. I have proposed the most sweeping set of anticorruption reforms since Watergate — a set of big structural changes that includes ending lobbying as we know it and slamming shut the revolving door. My first priority when I’m elected President is to enact this package to get our government working for everyone again.

But anti-corruption legislation alone won’t be enough to get gun safety legislation done. After decades of inaction, Democrats have rallied behind a number of important gun reforms. If we continue to allow bought and paid for extremists in the Senate to thwart the will of the people, we will never enact any of them.

Enough is enough. Lasting gun reform requires the elimination of the filibuster.

Legislation to Reduce Gun Violence

When I am president, I will send Congress comprehensive legislation containing our best ideas about what will work to reduce gun violence.

It starts by ensuring that safe, responsible ownership is the standard for everyone who chooses to own a gun. We’ll do that by:

Creating a federal licensing system. States with strict licensing requirements experience lower rates of gun trafficking and violence. A license is required to drive a car, and Congress should establish a similarly straightforward federal licensing system for the purchase of any type of firearm or ammunition.

Requiring universal background checks. I’ll expand background checks via executive action — but Congress should act to permanently mandate universal background checks. And I’ll push Congress to close the so-called “Charleston loophole” that allows a sale to proceed after three days even if the background check is not complete.

Increasing taxes on gun manufacturers. Since 1919, the federal government has imposed an excise tax on manufacturers and importers of guns and ammunition. Handguns are taxed at 10% and other guns and ammunition are taxed at 11%. These taxes raise less in revenue than the federal excise tax on cigarettes, domestic wine, or even airline tickets. It’s time for Congress to raise those rates — to 30% on guns and 50% on ammunition — both to reduce new gun and ammunition sales overall and to bring in new federal revenue that we can use for gun violence prevention and enforcement of existing gun laws.

Establishing a real waiting period. Waiting periods prevent impulsive gun violence, reducing gun suicides by 7–11% and gun homicides by 17%. Over the past 5 years, a national handgun waiting period would have stopped at least 4,550 gun deaths. The federal government should establish a one-week waiting period for all firearm purchases.

Capping firearms purchases. About one out of four of firearms recovered at the scene of a crime were part of a bulk purchase. Congress should limit the number of guns that can be purchased to one per month, similar to a Virginia law that successfully reduced the likelihood of Virginia-bought guns being used in criminal activity.

Creating a new federal anti-trafficking law. Congress should make clear that trafficking firearms or engaging in “straw purchases” — when an individual buys a gun on behalf of a prohibited purchaser — are federal crimes. This would give law enforcement new tools to crack down on gun trafficking and help keep guns out of the wrong hands.

Raising the minimum age for gun purchases. I’ll extend existing age requirements to virtually all sales, but federal law is currently conflicting — for example, a person must be 21 to purchase a handgun from a federally licensed dealer, but only 18 to purchase a rifle. Congress should set the federal minimum age at 21 for all gun sales.

We can also do more to keep military-style assault weapons off our streets. We’ll do that by:

Passing a new federal assault weapons ban. The 1994 federal assault weapons ban successfully reduced gun deaths but was allowed to expire ten years later. Congress should again ban the future production, sale, and importation of military-style assault weapons, and require individuals already in possession of assault weapons to register them under the National Firearms Act. Just as we did successfully with machine guns after the passage of that law, we should establish a buyback program to allow those who wish to do so to return their weapon for safe disposal, and individuals who fail to register or return their assault weapon should face penalties.

Banning high-capacity ammunition magazines. High-capacity magazines were used in 57% of mass shootings from 2009 to 2015, allowing the shooters to target large numbers of people without stopping to reload. Congress should enact a federal ban on large-capacity magazines for all firearms, setting reasonable limits on the lethality of these weapons.

Prohibiting accessories that make weapons more deadly. Gun manufacturers sell increasingly deadly gun accessories, including silencers, trigger cranks, and other mechanisms that increase the rate of fire or make semi-automatic weapons fully automatic. Congress should ban these dangerous accessories entirely.

We should also do everything possible to keep guns out of the hands of those at highest risk of violence. We’ll do that by:

Passing extreme risk protection laws. Extreme risk protection orders allow families and law enforcement to petition to temporarily restrict access to firearms for individuals in crisis or at elevated risk of harming themselves or others. Congress should pass a federal extreme risk law and create a grant system to incentivize states to enact their own laws that clearly define extreme risk.

Prohibiting anyone convicted of a hate crime from owning a gun. Too often, guns are used in acts of mass violence intended to provoke fear in minority communities; more than 10,000 hate crimes involve a gun every year. Any individual convicted of a hate crime should be permanently prohibited from owning a gun, full stop.

Protecting survivors of domestic abuse. Domestic violence and gun violence are deeply connected — in an average month, more than 50 women are shot and killed by an intimate partner. I’ll close the boyfriend loophole, but Congress should make that permanent, and expand the law to include individuals with restraining orders or who have been convicted of stalking.

Securing our schools. Parents shouldn’t have to buy bullet-proof backpacks for their children — guns have no place on our campuses or in our schools. Congress should improve the Gun-Free School Zones Act to include college and university campuses, and apply to individuals licensed by a state or locality to carry a firearm.

If we want real, long-lasting change, we must also hold the gun industry accountable, including online sites that look the other way when sellers abuse their platforms. We’ll do that by:

Repealing the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act. Nearly every other industry has civil liability as a check on irresponsible actions, but a 2005 law insulates firearms and dealers from civil liability when a weapon is used to commit a crime, even in cases when dealers were shockingly irresponsible. No one should be above the law, and that includes the gun industry. Congress should repeal this law, immediately.

Holding gun manufacturers strictly liable for the harm they cause through a federal private right of actionGun manufacturers make billions in profit by knowingly selling deadly products. Then they are let completely off the hook when people take those deadly products and inflict harm on thousands of victims each year. State tort law already recognizes that certain types of products and activities are so abnormally dangerous that the entities responsible for them should be held strictly liable when people are injured. Congress should codify that same principle at the federal level for guns by creating a new private right of action allowing survivors of gun violence to hold the manufacturer of the weapon that harmed them strictly liable forcompensatory damages to the victim or their family.

Strengthening ATF. The NRA has long sought to hobble the ATF, lobbying against staffing and funding increases for the agency and getting its congressional allies to impose absurd restrictions on its work even as the agency struggled to meet its basic responsibilities. Congress should fully fund ATF’s regulatory and compliance programs and remove the riders and restrictions that prevent it from doing its job.

Regulating firearms for consumer safety. Today there are no federal safety standards for firearms produced in the United States. We can recall unsafe products from trampolines to children’s pajamas — but not defective guns. Congress should repeal the provision of law that prevents the Consumer Product Safety Commission from regulating the safety of firearms and their accessories.

Tightening oversight for gun dealers. Today there is no requirement for federally-licensed gun shops to take even simple steps to prevent guns from falling into the wrong hands. Congress should pass basic safety standards for federally-licensed gun dealers, including employee background checks, locked cabinets, and up-to-date inventories of the weapons they have in stock.

Holding gun industry CEOs personally accountable. I’ve proposed a lawthat would impose criminal liability and jail time for corporate executives when their company is found guilty of a crime or their negligence causes severe harm to American families — and that includes gun industry CEOs.

Tragedies like the shootings we witnessed in El Paso and Dayton capture our attention and dominate the conversation about gun reform. But they’re just the tip of the iceberg of gun violence in America. Everyday, we lose one hundred Americans to gun violence, with hundreds more physically injured and countless more mentally and emotionally traumatized. And Black and Latinx Americans have borne the brunt of the gun violence tragedy in our country.

In the past, those statistics have been used to justify increased policing and strict sentencing laws. Communities already traumatized by gun violence were doubly victimized by policies that locked up their young people and threw away the key. We’ve got a chance to show that we’ve learned from the past and to chart a new path. It starts by acknowledging that gun violence is a public health crisis, one that cannot be solved solely by the criminal justice system.

We can start to do that by investing in evidence-based community violence intervention programs. Federal grant funding today focuses significantly on law enforcement and incarceration, rather than interventions designed to stop gun violence before it occurs. The data in urban communities indicate that the majority of violence is perpetrated by a small number of offenders, and many cities have found success with programs that identify those at highest risk of becoming the victim or perpetrator of a violent gun crime, then employing strategies to interrupt the cycle of violence before it escalates. Programs that engage the surrounding community, employ mediation to prevent retaliation, build trust with law enforcement, and provide needed long-term social services have been proven to de-escalate tensions and dramatically reduce violence. As president, I’ll establish a grant program to invest in and pilot these types of evidence-based intervention programs at scale.

Annual Research and Annual Reauthorization

Historically, when Congress works to address big national issues, we don’t simply pass one law and cross our fingers. Instead, we continue the research — into new policies and around the consequences of our existing policies — and then come back on a regular basis to update the law.

We don’t do this with guns. Not only have we not passed meaningful legislation in almost a generation, but thanks to the NRA, for decades Congress prohibited federal funding from being used to promote gun safety at all, effectively freezing nearly all research on ways to reduce gun violence. Last year, Congress finally clarified that the CDC could in fact conduct gun violence research — but provided no funding to do so.

This ends when I’m President. My budget will include an annual investment of $100 million for DOJ and HHS to conduct research into the root causes of gun violence and the most effective ways to prevent it, including by analyzing gun trafficking patterns, and researching new technologies to improve gun safety. These funds will also be used to study the reforms we enact — to see what’s working, what new ideas should be added, and what existing policies should be tweaked. And every year, I will send Congress an updated set of reforms based on this new information. That’s how we’ll meet our goal.

Democratic Candidates for 2020: Warren’s Plan to Transform America’s Approach to Trade

Senator Elizabeth Warren, running to be the 2020 Democratic candidate for president, released her plan to break decades of Washington consensus and transform every aspect of America’s current approach to trade.  © Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

The vigorous contest of Democrats seeking the 2020 presidential nomination has produced excellent policy proposals to address major issues. Senator Elizabeth Warren details a plan to transform America’s approach to trade: “Trade can be a powerful tool to help working families but our failed pro-corporate agenda has used trade to harm American workers and the environment. My plan represents a new approach to trade — one that uses America’s leverage to boost American workers and raise the standard of living across the globe. The President has a lot of authority to remake trade policy herself. When I’m elected, I intend to use it.” Here are the details, as provided by the Warren campaign:

Charlestown, MA – Senator Elizabeth Warren, who is running to be the 2020 Democratic candidate for president, released her plan to break decades of Washington consensus and transform every aspect of America’s current approach to trade. 

America enters trade negotiations with enormous leverage because it is the world’s most attractive market. A Warren Administration won’t hand that leverage to big corporations to use for their own narrow purposes. Elizabeth will use it to create and defend good American jobs, raise wages and farm income, combat climate change, lower drug prices, and raise living standards worldwide. Under Elizabeth’s plan, America will engage in international trade — but on our terms and only when it benefits American families. 

The plan is the third pillar of Elizabeth’s 
economic patriotism agenda. Read more about her plan here and below:
 

Last month, I released my economic patriotism agenda — my commitment to fundamentally changing the government’s approach to the economy so that we put the interests of American workers and families ahead of the interests of multinational corporations. I’ve already released my ideas for applying economic patriotism to manufacturing and to Wall Street. This is my plan for using economic patriotism to overhaul our approach to trade.

For decades, big multinational corporations have bought and lobbied their way into dictating America’s trade policy. Those big corporations have gotten rich but everyone else has paid the price. We’ve lost millions of jobs to outsourcing, depressed wages for American workers, accelerated climate change, and squeezed America’s family farmers. We’ve let China get away with the suppression of pay and labor rights, poor environmental protections, and years of currency manipulation. All to add some zeroes to the bottom lines of big corporations with no loyalty or allegiance to America.

We need to completely transform our approach to trade. America enters into trade negotiations with enormous leverage because America is the world’s most attractive market. As President, I won’t hand America’s leverage to big corporations to use for their own narrow purposes — I’ll use it to create and defend good American jobs, raise wages and farm income, combat climate change, lower drug prices, and raise living standards worldwide. We will engage in international trade — but on our terms and only when it benefits American families.

A New Approach to Trade

My plan is a new approach to trade — one that is different from both the Washington insider consensus that brought us decades of bad trade deals and from Donald Trump’s haphazard and ultimately corporate-friendly approach.

Unlike the insiders, I don’t think “free trade” deals that benefit big multinational corporations and international capital at the expense of American workers are good simply because they open up markets. Trade is good when it helps American workers and families — when it doesn’t, we need to change our approach. And unlike Trump, while I think tariffs are an important tool, they are not by themselves a long-term solution to our failed trade agenda and must be part of a broader strategy that this Administration clearly lacks.

To ensure that American families benefit from international trade in the decades to come, I want to invest in American workers and to use our leverage to force other countries to raise the bar on everything from labor and environmental standards to anti-corruption rules to access to medicine to tax enforcement. If we raise the world’s standards to our level and American workers have the chance to compete fairly, they will thrive — and millions of people around the world will be better off too.

Achieving this vision isn’t about tough talk or tweets. We must do the hard work of transforming every aspect of our current approach to trade: from our negotiating process to the negotiating objectives we pursue to the way we enforce agreements. That’s what I intend to do.

A Trade Negotiation Process that Reflects America’s Interests

Our current approach to negotiating trade agreements works great for the wealthy and the well-connected. The negotiating text is kept confidential from all but a small set of advisory groups comprised mostly of corporate executives and industry trade group representatives. Once those corporate interests are finished whispering in the ears of our negotiators, the completed text is released. Then, under the expedited “Fast Track” procedure Congress typically uses to approve trade agreements, our elected representatives must vote up or down on the agreement with no ability to propose and secure any changes to it. Meanwhile, the negotiators who constructed it often breeze through the revolving door to take jobs with the corporations whose interests underlie the deal.

This is undemocratic and obviously corrupt. In a Warren Administration, we will negotiate and approve trade agreements through a transparent process that offers the public a genuine chance to shape it:

Trade negotiators will publicly disclose negotiating drafts and provide the public with an opportunity to comment. When federal agencies write new rules, they typically must publish a proposed version of the rule and permit the public to submit comments on it. I will adopt a similar approach for our trade deals. Prior to negotiations, our negotiators will publish a draft of their proposals in the Federal Register, let the public offer comments on the draft, and take those comments into consideration during negotiations. And then as talks proceed, they will publish drafts of the negotiating texts so the public can monitor the negotiations.
 

Trade advisory committees will prioritize the views of workers and consumers. I will ensure that there are more representatives from labor, environmental, and consumer groups than from corporations and trade groups on every existing advisory committee. And I’ll expand the current list of advisory committees to create one for consumers, one for rural areas, and one for each region of the country, so that critical voices are at the table during negotiations.  

The US International Trade Commission will provide a regional analysis of the economic effects of a trade agreement. Trade agreements can hollow out communities and transform regional economies. Yet the report the ITC provides before Congress considers a trade agreement only includes a nationwide analysis of a trade deal’s economic impact. I will push for the agency to provide a region-by-region analysis so the public and Members of Congress can understand how an agreement is likely to affect the places they live and represent.  

The congressional approval process will offer more opportunities for the public and elected representatives to shape trade agreements. I will seek expedited congressional approval of trade agreements only when every regional advisory committee and the labor, consumer, and rural advisory committees unanimously certify that the agreement serves their interests. I will also expand the list of congressional committees that must review any agreement before it is eligible for expedited consideration.

Together, these changes will ensure that our negotiations reflect the views of American families, not corporate interests.

Using Our Leverage to Demand More for American Families and to Raise the Global Standard of Living

While a better process will produce better agreements, we also must fundamentally shift the goals of our trade agenda so they are aligned with the interests of America’s families.

With certain important exceptions, we live in a low-tariff world. Modern trade agreements are less about the mutual reduction of tariffs and more about establishing regulatory standards for everything from worker rights to pollution to patent protections.

My approach to trade reflects that reality. For too long, we have entered into trade deals with countries with abysmal records on laborenvironmental, and human rights issues. In exchange for concrete access to the American market, we get vague commitments to do better, which we then hardly enforce. The result is that millions of people in our trading-partner countries don’t gain the benefits of higher standards — and companies can easily pad their profits by shifting American jobs to countries where they can pay workers next to nothing and pollute the air and water freely.

That will end under my Administration. I am establishing a set of standards countries must meet as a precondition for any trade agreement with America. And I will renegotiate any agreements we have to ensure that our existing trade partners meet those standards as well.

My preconditions are that a country must:

Recognize and enforce the core labor rights of the International Labour Organization, like collective bargaining and the elimination of child labor.  

Uphold internationally recognized human rights, as reported in the Department of State’s Country Reports on Human Rights, including the rights of indigenous people, migrant workers, and other vulnerable groups.  

Recognize and enforce religious freedom as reported in the State Department’s Country Reports.  

Comply with minimum standards of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act.  

Be a party to the Paris Climate agreement and have a national plan that has been independently verified to put the country on track to reduce its emissions consistent with the long-term emissions goals in that agreement.  

Eliminate all domestic fossil fuel subsidies.  

Ratify the Convention on Combating Bribery of Foreign Public Officials in International Business Transactions.  

Comply with any tax treaty they have with the United States and participate in the OECD’s Base Erosion and Profit Shifting project to combat tax evasion and avoidance.  

Not appear on the Department of Treasury monitoring list of countries that merit attention for their currency practices.

A country should only be considered an acceptable partner if it meets these basic standards. Shamefully, America itself does not meet many of these labor and environmental standards today. I am committed to fixing that as President. And to help bring other countries up to these standards, I’ll revitalize our commitment to providing technical assistance to help countries improve.

I will also go beyond these minimum standards in key areas to promote the interests of American workers and families.

LaborI will ensure trade agreements protect Buy American and other programs designed to develop local industry, contain strong rule-of-origin standards to promote domestic manufacturing, protect worker pensions, promote equal pay for equal work for women, and prohibit violence against workers. Unlike previous trade deals agreements that have put labor standards in side agreements that are difficult to enforce, I will make labor standards central to any agreement.

Climate Change and the Environment. Climate change is real, it’s man-made, and we’re running out of time to address it. America should be leading this fight, but we have turned our backs on our responsibilities — with communities of color in the U.S. and developing countries bearing a disproportionate amount of the harm.

Trump is moving us in the wrong direction — withdrawing from the Paris Climate Accord, renegotiating NAFTA without even a mention of climate change, and handing special carve outs to oil and gas companies.

Beyond requiring implementation of the Paris Climate accord and the elimination of fossil fuel subsidies as preconditions for any trade agreement, I have already proposed a Green Marshall Plan to dedicate $100 billion to helping other countries purchase and deploy American-made clean energy technology.

But we must do more. I will push to secure a multilateral agreement to protect domestic green policies like subsidies for green products and preferential treatment for environmentally sustainable energy production from WTO challenges. And because big corporations will move their production to the countries with the weakest greenhouse gas emissions standards — undermining global efforts to address climate change and penalizing countries that are doing their part — I will impose a border carbon adjustment so imported goods that these firms make using carbon-intensive processes are charged a fee to equalize the costs borne by companies playing by the rules.

Prescription Drugs. Last year, Americans spent more than $500 billion on prescription drugs. That’s a 50% increase since 2010. Nearly 3 in 10Americans report not taking their medicine as directed because of costs. And yet, one of the core elements of America’s current trade agenda is guaranteeing pharmaceutical firms monopoly protections so they can avoid competition from generic drugs — driving up costs and reducing access to necessary medicine abroad, and undermining our efforts to reduce drug prices here at home. That’s exactly what the Trump Administration has done as part of their failed effort to renegotiate NAFTA.

While medical innovation is important, there is no link between extremely long exclusivity periods and pharmaceutical innovation. These are giveaways to drug companies, plain and simple, which allow them to maintain ludicrously high drug prices.

As President, I will fight to bring down the costs of prescription drugs here and around the world. I will never use America’s leverage to push another country to extend exclusivity periods for prescription drugs. I will support efforts to impose price controls on pharmaceuticals. And I will actively seek out opportunities to reduce exclusivity periods in our existing trade deals in exchange for securing other changes that will help America’s working families.

Agriculture. For decades, trade deals have squeezed family farmers, with Black farmers losing their land particularly quickly. Between the trade fights incited by Trump’s haphazard tariffs and a series of natural disasters, America’s farmers are now facing the worst crisis in almost 40 years. They are also facing unprecedented levels of uncertainty and instability. Trump’s tariffs have reduced crop prices, threatened farmers already operating on razor-thin margins, and opened up new non-American markets against which our farmers are now forced to compete. Like trade deals of the past, Trump’s NAFTA 2.0 is written to help giant multinational agribusinesses at the expense of family farms, and it will do nothing to solve the newly created market insecurity Trump’s tariffs have caused.

As President, I will fight for trade agreements that reward American farmers for their hard work by negotiating for fair prices for goods, breaking up the monopolies in grain trading and meat packing, and protecting domestic markets to create stability for America’s family farms. And I will impose Country-of-Origin Labeling rules to protect American producers and provide transparency to consumers.

Consumer protection. We must ensure that the food we eat is high-quality and safe. But our trade agreements have limited safety standards and the inspection of imported foods, while simultaneously enabling a new flood of food imports that overwhelm food safety inspectors. In my Administration, our trade pacts will require imported food to meet domestic food safety standards, including enhanced border inspection requirements.

As with imported food, our current trade deals require us to allow imports of other products and services that do not meet domestic safety and environmental standards. My trade agreements will ensure that imported products and services must meet the same standards as domestic products and services.

Antitrust. We are in an era of massive consolidation across many sectors of the economy. One of the reasons why is that we have a narrow, permissive approach to mergers that looks only at economic efficiency and consumer welfare instead of assessing the impact that a merger will have on competition itself.

In recent years, we have added this problematic standard into trade agreements and proposed it as the defining objective for competition policy in new and renegotiated agreements. Under my administration, we will not propose this standard in any new agreement, and we will work to renegotiate agreements to remove it.

Delivering for American Families with Stronger Enforcement

Our approach to enforcing trade agreements drives down standards worldwide and undermines American families. We offer big corporations fast and powerful methods to enforce the provisions that benefit them but make it nearly impossible for Americans to enforce labor and environmental protections. Foreign governments only fear a challenge to strong rules that might hurt corporate bottom lines, not to weak rules that might not adequately protect workers, the environment, or public health.

I will entirely reorient our approach to enforcement so we drive standards up, not down. I’ll start by ending “Investor-State Dispute Settlement,” or ISDS, the favorable enforcement approach we offer corporations. Under ISDS, a company that believes that a new law violates some aspect of a trade agreement can skip the courts and challenge the law before an international panel of arbitrators. If the company wins, the panel can order that country’s taxpayers to pay out billions in damages — with no review by an actual court. What’s worse, the arbitration panels handing out these binding rulings are often made up of corporate lawyers whose day jobs are representing the very same companies that seek judgments before them.

Companies have used ISDS to undermine laws intended to benefit the public interest. A French company challenged Egypt when it increased the minimum wage. A Swedish company challenged Germany when it decided to cut back on nuclear power after the Fukushima disaster. These cases have real effects across the globe: an ISDS panel’s decision to hear a challenge that Philip Morris brought against Uruguay’s anti-smoking campaign prompted several other countries to abandon similar public health efforts.

As President, I will not include ISDS in any new agreement and will renegotiate existing agreements to remove ISDS from them.

And I’ll strengthen our approach to enforcing labor and environmental standards. Unlike a corporation under ISDS, a labor union seeking to enforce labor standards can’t bring a claim on its own — it must convince the federal government to bring a claim on its behalf. Even in the face of overwhelming evidence, our government can refuse to act for diplomatic or other unrelated reasons.

As a result, the federal government has only pursued one such claim in the last 25 years. In that one case, the American government, AFL-CIO, and Guatemalan unions spent nine years trying to challenge the Guatemalan government for violating the labor chapter of one of our trade deals because Guatemalan workers were being murdered for trying to join a union. In the end, we lost because the trade agreement required a showing that the violations had affected trade.

I will replace this broken process by creating independent commissions — made up of experts in the area — to monitor potential violations, respond to complaints, and investigate claims. The commissions must review and investigate claims promptly so that claims don’t languish for years. If one of these commissions recommends that the United States bring a claim against another country, the United States will be required to do so, without exception.

I will also fix the problem that arose in the Guatemala case by pushing to remove language from our deals that require us to show that a violation of rights was “sustained or recurring” and “affecting trade or investment.” A violation is a violation, and I won’t let another case like Guatemala happen ever again.

I will strengthen our enforcement approach in other ways as well:

Under WTO rules, a country designated as a “non-market economy” can face more serious trade penalties. I will push for a new “non-sustainable economy” designation that would allow us to impose tougher penalties on countries with systematically poor labor and environmental practices. We cannot allow countries that treat their workers and the environment poorly to undercut American producers that do things the right way.  

I already have a plan to move the lead American trade negotiator — the Office of the United States Trade Representative — within my new Department of Economic Development. That will ensure that America’s trade policy supports our broader economic agenda of defending and creating good American jobs. I will also create a new labor and environment enforcement division at the USTR to more effectively enforce obligations, and embed a labor attache at U.S. embassies to monitor compliance with our labor standards.  

Unlike the current approach that lets our government ignore unfair trade practices, my administration will create automatic triggers to initiate investigations into unfair trade practices. If those investigations produce compelling evidence of a violation, the Department will impose trade remedies immediately until the offenders show they are no longer engaging in an unfair trade practice. These automatic triggers will also apply to violations of labor and environmental standards.  

Finally, when we impose duties to support particular domestic industries, I want to ensure that the money we collect actually goes to American workers, instead of being sucked up by executives and shareholders. I will fight to change our trade laws so that we review duties every six months and lift the duties if companies can’t demonstrate the benefits of the duties are going to their workers.