By: Emma Kiesling, Adam Graubart
Bold vs. Old Recap: Part 2 of 5
Over the course of the day, three U.S. senators, two of whom are also Democratic presidential candidates, pitched their ideas for reviving America’s middle class.
In conversation with Darrick Hamilton of the Kirwan Institute at Ohio State, Senator Cory Booker (D-New Jersey) began by articulating the importance of critical governmental programs in his father’s success. Booker also explained a couple bold proposals aimed at tackling pervasive racial income and wealth gaps: baby bonds and a housing-aware tax credit. Baby bonds would grant every American newborn their own account from the government that would accrue value over time and turn into a pool of startup funds once a child reaches adulthood. Such a program would grant every child in America the means to finance their initial professional or personal pursuits, regardless of socioeconomic status. Booker also proposed creating an additional tax credit for renters spending more than 30% of their income on housing. The tax credit provides another source of income for families who face the threats of eviction, displacement, or homelessness as they navigate rapidly increasing rents in America’s urban centers. As Washington, D.C. faces its own “affordable housing crisis," we found this policy proposal for low to middle-income renters particularly encouraging and intriguing. Hearing about the prospect of this tax credit on the federal level raised the question whether the DC Council and other city legislatures could likewise create housing-aware credits for municipal or state taxes, reducing the burdens associated with soaring rents.
Next, Senator Kamala Harris (D-California) was joined in conversation by Felicia Wong of the Roosevelt Institute. Both women hail from the San Francisco Bay area, and the conversation began as a reflection of their home state’s progressive influence on our national policymaking. Harris recounted her experiences fighting for homeowners crippled by the 2008 subprime mortgage loan crisis as California’s attorney general. Harris compelled 5 banks to cede over $25 billion for California homeowners when they had initially been offered only a fraction of that amount. The presidential hopeful also described a sweeping earned-income tax credit (EITC) proposal that would make up to $500 per month available for low-income Americans. Many of the beneficiaries of this proposal currently lack any savings, and when faced with an emergency expense, they turn to payday lenders who charge up to 1,000% interest on loans. The plan is her own answer to growing racial inequality in America, and we look forward to hearing more about her strategy to pass and implement such a massive expansion of America's social safety net.
Finally, fresh off his Dignity of Work tour, Senator Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) spoke about the need to reclaim progressive populism. He declared, “The dignity of work should unite all of us,” expressing that choosing between appeals to social Democrats and workers who want a respectable, decent-paying job represented a false choice. To restore dignity in the lives of working people, Senator Brown emphasized that we must similarly “overhaul the tax code” to prioritize people over corporations. He proposed giving people a once-annual advance on the earned income tax credit, citing that 40% of Americans lack $400 in the case of an emergency. Brown expressed a vision for our country that took root during the mid-twentieth century – that dignity of work requires a combination of a sturdy social safety net and substantial worker power. The speech was a striking throwback to liberalism, and Brown made sure to emphasize that a pro-worker policy platform – one that restores workers’ control over their lives, their schedules, and their voice in industry – rejects our contemporary divisiveness. He proclaimed, “Populism is never racist, populism is never anti-Semitic.”
In his second inaugural address, President Franklin Roosevelt declared, “we will never regard any faithful law-abiding group within our borders as superfluous. The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little.” It appears that Senators Booker, Harris, and Brown internalized this duty, and they appear willing to creatively utilize our tax code as a means to reduce our stark social and economic inequalities.
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