It’s that time of year again — Washington has turned its focus to the threat of national default and how to fund the government. This year’s cocktail has had the additional flavors of a contested U.S. House Speaker’s race and a presidential race to spice things up, and has resulted in an actual budgetary framework for the first time in several years.
The problem now is that members of Congress are attempting to add deal sweeteners for corporate lobbyists into the final budgetary mixture. These so-called “policy riders” are legislative provisions addressing extraneous policy issues that have little or nothing to do with funding our government. They get slipped into must-pass funding bills because lawmakers hope the public won’t notice their bitter taste. These riders are generally ideological measures that the public opposes and the president would veto as standalone legislation.
Most of the attention has focused on one particularly heinous poison pill — the effort to defund Planned Parenthood — which would threaten healthcare for millions of women. Congressional Republicans have threatened to shut down the government to force us to swallow this one. But there are hundreds of other toxic ideological riders that have been added to the budget. These riders would block efforts to stop Wall Street abuses, ensure safe and healthy food and products, provide clean air and water, keep workplaces safe, prevent consumer rip-offs and corporate wrongdoing, and ensure continued access to vital healthcare services across the board.
One example is a rider that would prohibit the U.S. Department of Labor from finalizing or enforcing a rule that would ensure Americans get sound financial advice on their retirement savings. Another rider would block the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration from finalizing a rule to protect workers from toxic silica dust; this rule has been more than a decade in the making about would save 700 lives a year.
On August 5, 2015, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) voted 3-2 in favor of a final rule requiring public companies to disclose CEO pay as a multiple of the median-paid employee. The rule was mandated by the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, but languished at the commission for five years.
Commissioner Michael Piwowar voted against adoption of the final rule. He said “ideologues” and “bullies” pressed the SEC to carry out this mandate.
Public Citizen members and supporters appealed to the SEC to adopt this rule, which was mandated in 2010. (Yes, laws from Congress often require agencies to translate them for industry before they become enforced, but the time lag on this rule was ridiculous.) To achieve the success of the SEC following-through with a congressional mandate, Public Citizen worked in concert with the AFL-CIO, AFSCME, the Institute for Policy Studies, As You Sow, the Teamsters and other members allied with Americans for Financial Reform. We count, apparently, among the “bullies” that Commissioner Piwowar complained about. Our chief weapon — the written and spoken word (with an occasional Facebook graphic).
The rule itself is intended to confront economic bullying, namely, the diversion and concentration of corporate income into the bank accounts of senior managers. The SEC’s final rule final rule harnesses shareholder pecuniary interests to help arrest the runaway CEO pay that’s part of yawning income inequality in America. The SEC’s important action drew front page media attention in the Washington Post, stories in the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, CBS, Fox, etc.
With the new SEC rule in place, investors can better determine if CEO at company X is overpaid compared to the CEO at peer company Y.
Yesterday marked the 50th Anniversary of Medicare, the nation’s first national health insurance program. As soon as President Johnson signed it in 1965, 20 million Americans were immediately covered, and today that has grown to over 54 million.
To celebrate, events were held in Washington, D.C., and around the nation. In Washington, the day started with a rally in the Senate Park hosted by National Nurses United (NNU). The rally featured speakers like Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Executive Director of NNU RoseAnn DeMoro, and Representative Donna Edwards (D-Md.). Click here to watch a video of the rally.
Senator Sanders spoke passionately about expanding Medicare to cover everyone as a single-payer national health care program. Not only did he and the other speakers want to expand Medicare, but to improve it too by protecting it from further privatization threats.
Later in the afternoon a panel hosted by Representative John Conyers (D-Mich.) that Public Citizen helped organize honed in on the expansion and improvement of Medicare as well. The panel featured a riveting conversation between members of Congress and advocates for universal health care. To view the panel celebration, click this link. Public Citizen’s own President Robert Weissman eloquently enlightened us about the harsh reality that we are in and what we need to do advance single-payer Medicare for All in the United States.
In 2014, I finally was able to save enough money to landscape my backyard. As a first-time homeowner, what should have been an enjoyable experience that resulted in the increase of my home’s value quickly turned into an ongoing nightmare wrought with loss and a backhand from the legal system.
I had hired a licensed contractor who had earned my trust with his 28 years in business and persuasive promises and reassurances. After agreeing to the pricing and layout of the yard, I was surprised with a contract that contained a forced (or pre-dispute binding mandatory) arbitration clause. He read only parts of the contract and none of the arbitration agreement. When I had inquired about the contents of the agreement, he stated that it was one, mutually beneficial, two, the most economical option, and lastly, did not involve lawyers.
At the time, I was unaware that none of these claims were true. I later discovered through research and inquiry that forced arbitration, in actuality, strongly favors corporations, is oftentimes much more costly than court and the agreements usually contain an attorney’s fees provision, as did mine.
It is hard to overstate the contractor’s recklessness. The contractor’s failure to measure the yard resulted in a significant increase in the prices of each item contracted for by several thousands of dollars. Ultimately, this mistake resulted in him being unable to provide some of the items, and others only at significant additional cost. He charged for a shipment that was never delivered and for an order that was never made. He also denied ever hiring his subcontractor. Having already been charged an excessive downpayment — for services not rendered — I eventually stopped the work. However, by that time, I had already handed over a large sum of money.
To make matters worse, the contractor did not obtain permits and damaged my property with the improper installation of an electrical conduit that violates local fire safety law. I was left with property damages and a few unfinished, improperly installed items — but mostly with a large, expansive field of dirt in my still desolate backyard.
Note: The live online conversation will begin on Wednesday, July 22, at 3 p.m. Eastern.
At Public Citizen, we fight to keep the courthouse doors open to consumers harmed by Big Business.
But we’re up against a threat to our core democratic values – forced arbitration, a pernicious legal tactic developed by corporations to keep you out of the court and out of their way.
Buried in everyday contracts for products, services and jobs is fine print that says if you are harmed, you can’t go to court – which means you can’t go before an impartial judge or jury. Instead, you must settle your dispute in a private arbitration proceeding or not at all. That’s why we’re working with the Alliance for Justice and other allies to spread the word about forced arbitration and discuss ways to fight back.
Join the online conversation today at 3 p.m. Eastern to see Christine Hines, consumer and civil justice counsel for Public Citizen’s Congress Watch division, discuss this critical issue with other experts.
Watch the live conversation here (the video stream will start at 3 p.m. on July 22):