Edwards aims to "Reverse the War On Work"

John Edwards is still focusing on Issues that matter to Working Families!

like the Economy ... like Taxes.

All the while the GOP continues to "debate" that "only MORE Corporate Tax Cuts will create Jobs and keep the Economy strong!"

Hmmm ... Where are all those Jobs, by the way?

Billions in Tax give aways to the Rich, for the last 5+ years, only seem to have strengthen the Rich, it seems to me.

From the John Edwards Issues pages:

In America today, families are working harder to get by.

Half of American families say they are living paycheck to paycheck,
and 3 out of 10 American workers have not been able to save a dime for their retirement.


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John Edwards stays on message

Note: I am a volunteer precinct captain for John Edwards in the Des Moines suburbs.

A few months ago I wrote about why I want John Edwards to take our case to the American people. That diary focused on Edwards' communication skills as witnessed by people who saw him in North Carolina courtrooms.

Today I want to highlight Edwards' skills as a campaigner. All the money in the world won't win an election if the candidate cannot communicate effectively with voters.

As I've written before, while other Democratic candidates tout their policy ideas and leadership skills, Edwards is taking it a step further on the stump. He tells audiences that we need to do more than elect a new president. We need to take on the whole system that allows corporate lobbyists to get their way on too many matters of national importance.

CBS reporter Chip Reid, who is "embedded" with the Edwards campaign, jokes that Edwards isn't screwing up enough on the campaign trail:

DISCIPLINE, DISCIPLINE, DISCIPLINE - I'm a bit unhappy with John Edwards. I've been covering his campaign for 10 days and he hasn't made a lot of news. Let's face it - a lot of what political reporters report on is mistakes. The campaign trail is one long minefield, covered with Iowa cow pies, and when they step in one - we leap.

I've done very little leaping - and I blame Edwards. While other candidates misspeak, over-speak, and double-speak, Edwards (at least in these 10 days) has made so few mistakes that I end up being transported -- newsless -- from town to town like a sack of Iowa corn.

It's not just that Edwards isn't making gaffes, Reid adds:

He has a remarkable ability to stay on message. Not just in "the speech," but even in Q and A. Nothing throws him off. He turns nearly every question into another opportunity to repeat his central theme. Global warming? We need to fight big oil. Health care? Fight the big drug and insurance companies. Iowa farmers' problems? Blame those monster farm conglomerates. And the Iowa populists eat it up. We'll see how well it works in other states.

He's even disciplined in his daily routine. While most reporters use the campaign trail as an excuse to over-eat and abandon their exercise routines, Edwards squeezes in a run EVERY DAY, rain, sleet, or shine.

Come on John - relax. Step in an Iowa cow pie and let me do my job.

It bothers me that campaign correspondents think reporting on gaffes is the only way to do their jobs, but that's a subject for a different post.

I have seen Edwards answer questions several times this year. Whatever the issue, whether the questioner is friendly or hostile, Edwards is able to relate his answer to the larger themes of his campaign.

If you've watched the presidential debates, you may have noticed the same pattern. In September, I wrote a diary highlighting some of Edwards' answers at the AARP forum in Davenport, Iowa. If you click the link, you will find excerpts from the debate transcript showing how Edwards, asked a narrowly-focused question, made his answer about the big picture.

When the moderator Judy Woodruff asked him whether states should be allowed to go first in implementing health-care reforms, Edwards also mentioned "the drug companies, the insurance companies, and their lobbyists" who stand in the way of the national health care reform we need.

When Woodruff asked whether he would raise tax rates on the very wealthy above 39 percent, Edwards didn't spend his whole answer on the minutiae of his tax reform plan. Instead, he got to the bigger issue: wealth income is currently taxed at a much lower rate than work income, which means we are not treating work "with the dignity it's entitled to" in this country.

There is more to "staying on message" than memorizing a stump speech or mindlessly repeating a few talking points.

A strong campaigner is not only conversant with the issues (as are all of our Democratic candidates) but is also able to think on his or her feet, so that no matter what question is asked, the answer relates to the bigger themes and values the candidate is emphasizing.

CBS reporter Reid may be annoyed by Edwards' ability to stay on message, but what do Iowa Democrats think? Des Moines Register political columnist David Yepsen reported on Sunday that

the guy who sells political buttons at all these campaign rallies tells me he sees the most enthusiastic crowds for John Edwards.

If you say that a populist message is just red meat for diehard Democrats, I say you are wrong. But don't take my word for it--look how Mike Huckabee is using very similar rhetoric in his campaign appearances.

The difference is that Huckabee's answer to the grossly unfair economic playing field is the goofy "fair tax," a "crackpot scheme from beginning to end". In contrast, the Edwards tax reform and simplification plan would actually benefit the middle class by taxing work and wealth equitably.

Edwards has both a strong message and the skills to communicate that message to the general electorate.

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The Edwards Tax Plan: Reward Work -- Not Wealth

The old saying goes:

"The only things Inevitable in Life, are Death and Taxes!"

These are both unpleasant subjects, and since political candidates can't really do a lot about one, this diary will be exploring the other -- Taxes.

John Edwards has based his campaign on hard hitting messages about the need for "Economic Parity" in our Country -- this Diary will be taking a serious look at what Edwards will do about Taxes.

The Senator often says "I do not wanting to live in a Country made up of the Super-Rich and Everybody Else!" 

That's not the America we all grew up in. Each year achieving the American Dream becomes more and more difficult. What are working people to do, in this society of Haves and Have-Nots?

Is John's tough Campaign Rhetoric just Talk, or does he actually have the Plans to Back it up?

Turn the page, to see where the "Rhetoric meet Reality" when it comes to that annual April Ritual, most hard-working American love to hate -- spelled I.R.S.

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How John Edwards would help the middle class (part 1)

Reading articles about John Edwards, I have noticed the perception that his domestic policy ideas are mainly good for poor people, while other candidates are focusing more on middle-class issues.

David Mizner wrote an excellent diary earlier today: "What Edwards is About." (If you missed it, click here or here--it sparked a lively discussion.) David points out that Edwards has done the most by far to call attention to growing social and economic inequality in the United States. I encourage everyone to check out his plans to reduce poverty in this country and globally.

While I agree that Edwards is the candidate who would accomplish the most for the least fortunate, I want to call your attention to his proposals that would benefit middle-class Americans.

The Edwards education plan would strengthen public schools and make college more accessible. As we know, even many students from middle-class backgrounds find it hard to afford college.

His rural policy agenda would restore some balance to our agricultural policies, which currently favor agribusiness over family farmers, and would do more to support the locally-owned businesses that have been the livelihood of so many people in smaller towns.

And of course, his universal health care plan would cover the 47 million uninsured, most of whom are above the poverty line and therefore ineligible for Medicaid.

I'll need more than one diary to discuss all of the Edwards policies that would benefit the middle class. For now I will focus on tax reform.

The Edwards plan to reshape the tax system has two main components. First, he would "end the war on work." As he said in July (and here I am quoting from a diary by TomP):

"In America, when the middle-class makes money from hard work they shouldn't pay higher taxes than when the rich make money from money." 

You can find details and a longer pdf file about his tax reform that rewards work at the Edwards campaign website. Also, be inspired, who blogs at MyDD as sirius, posted a good summary of the plan in this diary.

Edwards proposes three tax breaks "to strengthen the middle class pillars of saving, work and family." From the campaign website:

    * Savings: A new "Get Ahead" tax credit to match up to $500 a year in savings for families earning up to $75,000--that could be used for retirement, college education, buying a home, investing in a small business or during a financial or medical emergency, and new "Work Bonds" to offer additional targeted savings incentives for low-income families. The credit will be refundable to benefit low-income families and the size of the credit will be reduced for families with higher incomes. All families earning up to $75,000 will be eligible.
    * Families: Expand the Child Care Credit to pay up to 50 percent of child and dependent care expenses up to $5,000 and make it partially refundable, and allow stay-at-home parents to help pay for child care for newborn infants.
    * Work: Triple the Earned Income Tax Credit for single adults and cut the marriage penalty.

In addition, Edwards would raise tax rates on certain types of wealth income. From the campaign website:

Nothing better reflects the problems with our tax code than the lower tax rates for capital gains. As Warren Buffett says, there is something wrong when he pays taxes at a lower rate than his secretary. As president, Edwards will:

   * Raise the tax rate on capital gains to 28 percent for the most fortunate taxpayers - taxing the investment income of the wealthiest Americans similarly to the wages of the middle class.
    * Repeal the Bush tax cuts for the highest-income households and keep the tax on very large estates (above $4 million for couples).
    * Declare war on offshore tax havens by cracking down on tax shelter promoters, cooperating with allies to fight tax havens, and closing the "tax gap" by improving IRS customer service, simplifying tax filing, auditing more large corporations and high-income individuals and requiring more third-party reporting.
    * Close unfair loopholes like the tax breaks for hedge funds and private equity fund managers and unlimited executive pensions.

Speaking of that last point, earlier this month, while most of the media were not paying attention, lobbyists were again able to stymie efforts to get the Democratic-controlled Congress to close a loophole that lets some money managers pay just 15 percent in taxes on their income. (For background on this issue, check out this diary by mariesamuels from July.)

After the tax reform legislation that would have ended that injustice stalled, Edwards released a statement:

"Today, America learns another striking example of how broken Washington is. Congress' failure to pass tax reform that would have closed loopholes that let private equity and hedge fund managers pay only 15 percent in taxes on most of their income is testament to the terrible power that lobbyists have to stop real reform - reform that would ensure a fairer America. As a result, rich private equity and hedge fund managers will continue to pay only 15 percent in taxes on most of their income - which can be hundreds of millions, or even billions, of dollars a year - while ordinary hard-working Americans will pay twice that rate or more in income and payroll taxes. Worst of all, real reform was stopped by one factor alone - D.C. lobbyists.

"Incredibly, for an investment of about $6 million dollars in lobbying fees - and another $6 million in political contributions - these elite Wall Street traders preserved a $6 billion tax break for themselves. America needs a leader who will stand up to these powerful interests and who will fight for real change that makes America better and stronger.

"We can't just trade corporate Republicans for corporate Democrats. We have to end the rigged system in Washington that rewards big corporate interests at the expense of hard-working families. This is a perfect example of why we need to change the way Washington works, and why we need tax fairness so hedge fund millionaires don't pay taxes at a lower rate than middle class families."

In addition to getting the policy right, I think Edwards has the politics right as well. Many people will respond to the idea of "rewarding work" and ending the unfairness that allows wealthy people to pay lower taxes on money they earn from money.

Edwards often paraphrases that Warren Buffett remark during his stump speech, by the way. He also mentioned it during the AARP forum in Davenport, Iowa, last month (you can read the excerpt in this diary containing the highlights from his remarks at that debate).

For those who scream "class war," I note that capital gains were taxed at 28 percent during Ronald Reagan presidency.

The second big component of the Edwards tax reform plan would simplify the filing process for millions of Americans. The overview of this plan is on the campaign website, or you can click this link to listen to a podcast Edwards recorded in April summarizing the main points.

RDemocrat wrote a diary on this plan when it was first released:

The American tax code is unnecessarily complicated and full of shelters and loopholes that favor wealth over work. While corporations and wealthy families can hire expensive accountants and lawyers, ordinary families face unnecessary obstacles in calculating and paying their taxes. It takes seven hours to complete even the simplest tax form, the 1040EZ. One-third of EZ filers pay tax preparers. Meanwhile, for tens of millions of taxpayers who file simple returns, the Internal Revenue Service already has all the data it needs (such as household size, wages, and interest income) to calculate the tax or refund due. [IRS, 2005; GAO, 2006]

   In the first of a series of Saturday Morning E-Casts, John Edwards describes his plan to overhaul the tax filing system. Under his plan, the IRS will calculate millions of families' tax bills and mail it to them on a new "Form 1." Like a credit card bill, families could verify and recalculate it or simply sign and return it. Form 1 is part of Edwards' vision of a tax code that is simpler and fairer and rewards work.

JSCram3254 explains in more detail how Form 1 would work, saving millions of people time. Benny05's take on the same proposal is here.

I like this idea because it would give many middle-class Americans choices they don't have today. They can save time and money spent on tax preparation by signing and returning Form 1. Or, if they don't trust the IRS to calculate their taxes, or prefer doing things themselves, they can keep filing taxes as they have done in the past.

Again, good policy and good politics. I will sign off here and continue the discussion of Edwards and the middle class another week.

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Highlights: John Edwards at the AARP forum

Disclosure: I am a volunteer precinct captain for John Edwards in the Des Moines suburbs.

If you missed the AARP Democratic candidates' forum on health care and financial security last Thursday in Davenport, Iowa, I encourage you to go watch the whole thing on the Iowa Public Television website. The format was better than that used in previous debates, and Judy Woodruff did a good job as moderator, asking direct questions and following up when it was warranted.

All five candidates who participated did well, in my opinion. While no one had a bad night, I thought John Edwards was outstanding, and I would like to call your attention to what I consider particularly good comments by him during the debate.

I couldn't find a transcript on the IPTV website or anywhere else. Thanks to Tracy Joan of the Edwards campaign, who was able to send me a full transcript, from which I pulled the excerpts in this post. (I added a few explanatory notes to the transcript in square brackets.) In lieu of video clips, I have included information about when these exchanges occurred, so people who click over to the Iowa Public Television website will be able to find the relevant parts easily.

One important skill for politicians is to be able to answer not only the questions journalists ask, but the questions you wanted them to ask. I have seen John Edwards take questions many times, and he is very good at bringing his answers around to the themes he wants to emphasize.

This answer begins at about the 9:30 mark in the video of the AARP forum:

>> Woodruff: Senator Edwards, what do you think about this question of letting the states go first [in implementing health care reforms]?

>> Edwards: Well, it's not a state problem. This is a national problem. I mean, there are lots of folks here in Iowa who don't have health care coverage. Unfortunately, I've met too many people in Iowa who don't have health care coverage. But this is clearly a national problem. I have a very strong view about why we don't have universal health care. I think America doesn't have universal health care because of the drug companies, the insurance companies, and their lobbyists in Washington, DC. They stand between America and the universal health care that we need, and we do--I want to follow up on what Senator Biden just said. We desperately need a president who is not working with compromising with those people, who want to stop universal health care. We need a president who's actually willing to stand up to them, and I've been doing it my whole life and I'll do it as president of the United States.

Voters who want to see universal health care adopted will have to decide who has the best political strategy to get it done, and I think Edwards makes a powerful argument here.

Here's another passage I enjoyed, which begins at around 19:00 on the video on the IPTV website. Here Edwards takes a question about how he would pay for health care reform, and he quickly addresses that (using more accessible language than what Woodruff used in her question). But note how he leaves himself enough time to segue to the need to reform our tax system, which currently favors wealth over work:

>> Woodruff: Thank you, Senator Clinton. Now, Senator Edwards, you've said that you will pay for your health care plan by repealing the Bush tax cut on individuals making over $200,000 a year, returning the top tax rate to 39 percent and keeping the estate tax. But my question is it's been noted that that would not raise the $100 billion plus that would be required until into your second term, if you were elected. So my question is would you consider raising the tax rates on the very wealthy above 39 percent.

>> Edwards: Well, I've already proposed--and let me just make clear what you just said so that the audience understands. I'm proud of the fact that I was the first candidate up here to come out with a truly specific universal healthcare plan, which I did many months ago. And I'm glad to see that others are speaking on this issue now because what's important is we're talking about this issue for America. What I proposed was, my plan costs--I don't claim it's free. It costs $90 to $120 billion a year. And what I propose is to pay for it by getting rid of George Bush's tax cuts for people who make over $200,000 a year. That was my proposal.

Now, beyond that I'm also proud of the fact that I've laid out a very specific tax reform proposal which goes beyond just getting rid of taxes on those--getting rid of Bush's tax cuts for people who make over $200,000 and beyond doing something about the estate tax. For example, I believe that the capital gains rate in America, which is now at 15 percent, is completely out of whack with what working people pay on their income, on their working income. What happens is people like Warren Buffett--and he says this himself, by the way. People like Warren Buffett pay 15 percent of the millions of dollars that they earn from wealth income, which is investment income, while their secretary is paying a higher rate on her work income. It's not right. What I have said is we ought to change the capital gains rate from 15 to 27 percent for people who make over $250,000 a year so that we actually treat work with the dignity that it's entitled to in the United States of America.

The wealth/work portion of Edwards' stump speech has always been one of the most effective, in my opinion.

I like this next part as well, which begins around 22:30 in the video. Edwards is responding to Governor Bill Richardson, who claimed he can provide universal health care without raising taxes and listed various cost-saving measures that can be implemented:

>> Edwards: I just wanted to respond briefly. My proposal actually saves $120 to $130 billion a year by doing all those things. It has preventive care, chronic care, long-term care covered. It requires electronic record-keeping, requires the use of technology, puts limits on what insurance companies can charge for profit and overhead at 15 percent. But the thing I want to say about this is I think it's really important, particularly in this election. Since the American people have been misled for seven years, it is time for us to tell people the truth. And we cannot have universal health care for free. And I think we need to be honest about what it costs and honest about how we intend to pay for it.

>> Woodruff: And are you suggesting other candidates on stage have not been?

>> Edwards: No, I'm suggesting that for decades what's happened is politicians have rolled through Iowa saying we're going to give you this, we're going to give you that, we're going to give you this, and, oh, by the way, by the way, we're going to get rid of the federal deficit. It is not reality and people need to hear the truth from us.

Cosbo already covered this next part in a diary complete with a You Tube clip. It begins around the 24:00 mark, when Edwards joked about the similarities between his plan and Hillary's:

>> Woodruff: All right. I do want to come back to you, Senator Edwards, to pick up on something you said a few minutes ago. You have been very critical of Senator Clinton's acceptance of lobbyists' money and what you call her ties to corporate America. You've said, among other things, you guarantee your picture wil never be on the cover of Fortune magazine as the corporations' favorite candidate. Well, you've now had a chance to look at Senator Clinton's health care proposal. Do you think it was influenced by her associations with these lobbyists?

>> Edwards: No, no, I don't. I think her health care proposal is actually a very good health care proposal. It's very similar to mine, so it's very hard for me to be critical of it. [laughter]

And I'm proud of the fact that, you know, six, seven months later, Senator Clinton came out with a plan that is very similar to mine. [...]

I do think that--as much as I respect her, I do think we have some differences about the most effective way to do this. I don't believe you can take money from health insurance, drug companies, insurance company lobbyists, sit at the table with those people, let them pay to play, and negotiate and compromise your way to universal health care. I think if that worked, we would have universal health care today. I don't believe it works. And what I believe is the system in Washington is broken, and I don't think it works for ordinary Americans. And that's what I believe has to be challenged in order to bring universal health care to America.

What's important to my mind is not the joke, but the fact that Edwards again is making the case that he has a better strategy to get this done than Hillary. I know that the Clinton supporters disagree with him, but I think that what he says will resonate with a lot of Democrats. Also, I think this message is important enough for him to repeat several times during the debate.

Here's another part I thought was effective, beginning around 34:45 in the video. The first couple of sentences are a response to Joe Biden, who had earlier implied that Edwards was unable to get a patients' bill of rights through the Senate. The rest of it deals with the problems in Medicare:

>> Edwards: Briefly. Joe, we did pass the patients' bill of rights in the United States Senate. It was Bush who stopped it. I just had to respond to that. But here's what I think. The reason that the Medicare prescription drug law is as bad as it is, is a perfect living example of what's wrong with the way Washington operates, because the drug company lobbyists got everything they wanted. Everybody on this stage wanted to allow Medicare to negotiate better drug prices. Everybody on this stage wanted to dole out prescription drugs into this country from Canada.

>> Woodruff: But this question about [she is trying to ask about the solvency of Medicare] -

>> Edwards: Let me finish. Let me finish, please. Everybody on this stage wanted to do something about drug company advertising on television, where they spend much more money than they do in research and development. We all wanted to do that. The problem is because of the way the system works in Washington, these drug company lobbyists got exactly what they wanted. They literally wrote the bill. And the result is for all these seniors in Iowa and for millions and millions of seniors across America, they can't pay for their prescription drugs. This has to stop. We have to give the power in this government back to the American people and take it away from that crowd in Washington, the insiders who are running our country today.

Later in the debate, Woodruff asked several questions related to the solvency of Social Security. Again, Edwards brought up how our tax system favors wealth over work. This part begins around the 43:45 mark in the video:

>> Edwards: I just want to follow up on one thing that Senator Biden said just a minute ago, but he mentioned it briefly in passing. There is something we can do to generate more revenue for Social Security. Today for those in the audience who may not be aware of this--and I suspect most of them are--it caps out at about $97,000. In other words, if you make $80,000 a year, you're paying Social Security taxes on every dime of your income. If you work on Wall Street and you make $50 million a year, you pay Social Security tax on the first 97,000, no Social Security tax on the rest of it. This is not right and it's not fair and what we need to do, in my judgment--[applause]

I don't--to the point that Bill just made, I do think we need to have a bubble above that 97, probably up to about 200,000 so we don't raise taxes on middle class families. But above the 200,000, these millionaires on Wall Street ought to be paying their Social Security taxes.

Later, Woodruff turned the discussion to pensions. Several of the candidates, including Biden and Clinton, made good points about the unconscionable behavior of corporations that used bankruptcy code to wipe out workers' pensions while giving top executives lucrative compensation packages.

Then Edwards made sure to bring up an important issue without waiting for Woodruff to ask about it. This begins around 52:00 in the video:

>> Edwards: Very quick. I really just want to say two things that have not been discussed yet. It is so important if we want workers when they retire to have pensions and to have pensions that are protected, that we strengthen the right of unions to organize in the workplace-- [cheers and applause] because 80 percent--80 percent of union workers have a pension, and that's--the result of that is the result of collective bargaining. It's a result of organizing in the workplace. We need to make it easier for workers to organize in the workplace. I want to say one other thing, and I'll do it very quickly. We ought to have a law in the United States of America that says CEO, chairmen of the boards, compensation, golden parachute pension will be treated exactly under the law the same way as the lowest paid worker in the company's pension is treated. [applause]

Here Woodruff asked a narrowly-focused question on alternative minimum tax, but Edwards used his answer to bring the discussion around to the big picture: comprehensive tax reform. This begins around the 1:06:00 mark:

>> Edwards: No, I think it needs to be modified. The AMT, it was originally designed, the alternative minimum tax, to hit at high-income taxpayers who were using big tax loopholes to their advantage. Because they had accountants, they could take advantage of these things. So the notion actually was a very good one when it was originally enacted. The problem is it's now hitting many middle class families. And I think we are going to have to change it, number one. It's part, from my perspective, of a broader, comprehensive tax reform that's needed in America. I've spoken about some of it already, getting rid of Bush's tax cuts for people who make over $200,000, not eliminating the estate tax, doing something about the capital gains rate. I think it's all these things in combination that have to be looked at. The problem with asking just about the AMT alone is it's part of a bigger problem. We need serious comprehensive tax reform in America.

There are other parts of the debate I liked as well, but this diary is getting long, so I will sign off. Again, I encourage Democrats to watch the whole video. We've got a very strong field.

There's more...


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