‘Lobbyists Are Here. Goldman Sachs Is Here. Where’s Labor? Activists?’ Tlaib & Ocasio-Cortez Pull Back Curtain on Corporate-Sponsored Freshman Orientation



By Jake Johnson
Common Dreams (12/6/18)

Pulling back the curtain on the ostensibly “bipartisan” orientation for newly elected members of Congress at Harvard’s Kennedy School in Boston, Reps.-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) informed the public through live social media updates on Thursday that—contrary to the ideologically neutral advertising—the private conference featured a heavy dose of speeches by corporate CEOs and completely shut out organized labor and members of the progressive community.

“Our ‘bipartisan’ congressional orientation is co-hosted by a corporate lobbyist group,” Ocasio-Cortez noted, likely referring to the Koch-funded American Enterprise Institute, which is co-sponsoring the event. “Other members have quietly expressed to me their concern that this wasn’t told to us in advance. Lobbyists are here. Goldman Sachs is here. Where’s labor? Activists? Frontline community leaders?”

Tlaib, for her part, called attention to a speech by Gary Cohn, the former Goldman Sachs president who left his post as President Donald Trump’s chief economic adviser earlier this year.

According to Tlaib, Cohn condescendingly told the freshman members, “You guys are way over your head, you don’t know how the game is played.”

“No, Gary,” Tlaib responded, “you don’t know what’s coming—a revolutionary Congress that puts people over profits.”

Journalists and progressives were quick to praise both Ocasio-Cortez and Tlaib for their commitment to transparency and their willingness to offer the public a behind-the-scenes look at the corporate-dominated event that typically goes entirely undiscussed by members of Congress and the press.

“One of the best parts of Ocasio-Cortez’s arrival in D.C. as a new leader is that she notices, and is revolted by, the corrupt, corporatist rituals that are so embedded in D.C. culture that most politicians and journalists barely notice them, let alone find them objectionable or odd,” noted The Intercept‘s Glenn Greenwald.

Others echoed Greenwald’s praise of Ocasio-Cortez and Tlaib, both of whom rejected corporate PAC during their campaigns and ran on platforms demanding bold progressive change.

“Democratic leadership signs off on these events,” observed Huffington Post reporter Zach Carter. “The new class isn’t having it.”

According to the Harvard Kennedy School’s Institute of Politics (IOP), which is hosting the orientation, the event is designed to give newly elected members of Congress “insights on governing from former elected office holders, current and former senior White House and administration officials, diplomats, economists, business leaders, lobbyists, and academics.”


Below is a list of speakers who are participating in the event. Conspicuously absent, as Ocasio-Cortez pointed out, are any representatives of organized labor, environmental groups, other public interest advocates, or anyone who could reasonably be considered a progressive:

  • Hon. Elaine Chao, U.S. Secretary of Transportation, former Secretary of Labor and Director of the Peace Corps
  • Hon. Ash Carter, former U.S. Secretary of Defense, Director of the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, and Belfer Professor of Technology and Global Affairs
  • Hon. Mitch Landrieu, former Mayor of New Orleans, IOP Visiting Fellow
  • Danielle Allen, James Bryant Conant University Professor at Harvard University, and Director of Harvard’s Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics.
  • Mary Barra, Chairman and CEO of General Motors
  • Arthur Brooks, President of the American Enterprise Institute, Professor of the Practice of Public Leadership at Harvard Kennedy School
  • Gary Cohn, former Director of the National Economic Council
  • Douglas Elmendorf, former Director of the Congressional Budget Office, Dean of Harvard Kennedy School
  • David Gergen, former Presidential adviser, Public Service Professor of Public Leadership, Director of the Center for Public Leadership at Harvard Kennedy School
  • Alex Gorsky, Chairman and CEO of Johnson & Johnson

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With Power to Kneecap Bold Demand, Incoming Democratic Tax Committee Chair Says Medicare for All ‘Not Realistic’

By Jake Johnson
Common Dreams (12/6/18)

As progressive House Democrats strategize and push for a vote on Medicare for All legislation as soon as possible, surging congressional and grassroots momentum for single-payer could soon run into a serious obstacle in the form of incoming Ways and Means Committee chair Rep. Richard Neal (D-Mass.), who has denounced Medicare for All as “not realistic” and will soon be in a position to tank healthcare plans that are unacceptable to his insurance industry donors.

“Neal will have near total control over what tax-related policies come to the House floor, including legislation that would create a Medicare for All healthcare system,” noted investigative reporter Eoin Higgins in a piece for Sludge on Wednesday. “Having Neal at the helm of the committee, rather than a more progressive member, makes it much less likely that the House of Representatives will vote on universal healthcare measures.”

Insurance industry cash

As Higgins documents, Neal—who has served as the top Ways and Means Democrat since 2016—has received more insurance industry cash throughout his career than any other member of the incoming Congress, including Republicans.

This fact may help explain his recent attacks on supporters of Medicare for All, who he recently called on to be more “calm” in their pursuit of bold solutions to America’s deadly healthcare status quo.

“I think that there is an approach that is a little more incremental in nature,” Neal said of his position on Medicare for All during an interview in August. “I understand aspiration… but the idea that overnight you’re going to take 20 percent of the American economy and transform it is not realistic.”

“Two decades of generous donations apparently gets you a powerful congressman willing to throw up roadblocks in front of universal healthcare.”

Neal neglected to mention research showing that Medicare for All would cost trillions of dollars less than the current for-profit system while providing decent healthcare for everyone.

Neal’s negative view of Medicare for All pits him against many of his House Democratic colleagues, a growing number of whom have co-sponsored single-payer legislation. It also places him completely out of touch with the 84 percent of Democratic voters—and 70 percent of Americans overall—who support Medicare for All.

Further fueling speculation that he will use his position as Ways and Means chair to squash any Medicare for All legislation, Neal is also backing a proposed rule that would “require a three-fifths supermajority to raise individual income taxes on the lowest-earning 80 percent of taxpayers”—a measure progressives have condemned as an absurd restriction that would make it impossible to fund single-payer, a Green New Deal, and other agenda items.

“Supermajority tax increase rules, which can be traced back to model bills from the conservative American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), have been used in state legislatures across the country to stymie progressive change,” Higgins pointed out. “Neal’s push to use House rules to constrain change means that even before the 116th Congress is seated in January, the congressman is already flexing his legislative muscle in a way that will benefit his donors.”

Insurance industry-friendly bulwark

With Neal positioned to serve as an insurance industry-friendly bulwark against Medicare for All, Rep.-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) is vying for a seat on the Ways and Means Committee for precisely the opposite reason—to advance an ambitious progressive agenda over the objections of corporate Democrats, who have helped kill progressive healthcare solutions in the recent past.

As The Intercept first reported on Wednesday, Ocasio-Cortez is taking on self-described “fiscally conservative” Rep. Tom Suozzi (D-N.Y.) for a spot on the Ways and Means committee—part of a broader effort by progressive members to seize committee positions as a first step in moving toward Medicare for All and a Green New Deal.

“Everything that progressives care about goes through those committees,” Alex Lawson, executive director of Social Security Works, said of the Ways and Means and Energy committees.

For this reason, progressive groups are mobilizing aggressively in support of Ocasio-Cortez’s bid for a Ways and Means seat and against Sen. Joe Manchin’s (D-W.Va.) potential rise to the top spot on the Senate Energy and National Resources Committee.

“It’s incredibly important to get progressives on committees like Ways and Means, especially fighters like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez,” Stephanie Taylor, co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, told Vice. “It’s unthinkable that Nancy Pelosi would choose someone like Tom Suozzi instead.”

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PETITION: Let House Democrats Know We Will No Longer Accept Politics As Usual


Progress America (12/8/18)

After everyone is sworn in, Democrats will control the House of Representatives, and Republicans will hold the Senate. So nothing that Democrats do in the next 2 years will matter, right? WRONG!

Virtually every Progressive priority—Medicare for All, a Green New Deal, expanding Social Security, student debt cancellation—will have to pass through the House Ways and Means Committee. And the makeup of that committee is being determined right now. And because these committees operate by seniority, members of Congress rarely move between committees.

The Ways and Means Committee is one of the most important committees in the House, taking a cut at every bill that affects taxes or revenue. For generations, this has been where progressive legislation runs aground. That’s because Wall Street has always ensured that the committee is stuffed with Democrats who still call themselves “fiscal conservatives.”

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is clearly not a normal Democrat. Her ideas fit the scale of our problems. I got into politics working on Barack Obama’s 2008 Presidential campaign. And so one of my formative political experiences is watching Obamacare get whittled away as it moved through each Committee. That’s why this fight is so important right now. That is why Committee assignments matter.

ADD YOUR NAME: Democrats should put Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez on the Ways and Means Committee!