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Benny

Eric Levitz at NY Magazine. This got the attention of progressive left pundits last week. Part 1


Remote Work Is Poised to Devastate America’s Cities

The “work from home” revolution has been very good for political columnists who like to write shirtless in pajama pants and share too much personal information with their readers. But the phenomenon hasn’t been so great for America’s cities.

The nation’s office buildings aren’t as empty as they were before COVID vaccines became widely available in spring 2021. But they’re still far less populated than they were in 2019. A recent analysis of Census Bureau data from the financial site Lending Tree found that 29 percent of Americans were working from home in October 2022. In New York City, financial firms reported that only 56 percent of their employees were in the office on a typical day in September.

Full-time remote work has grown less prevalent since the worst days of the pandemic. But flexible work arrangements — in which employees report to the office a couple times a week — are proving stickier. A recent paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research estimated that 30 percent of all full-time workdays would be performed remotely by the end of 2022.

As Insider’s Emil Skandul illustrates in an excellent piece, these surveys and projections are buttressed by mobile phone data showing that, in virtually all major U.S. cities, foot traffic in central business districts is down substantially from 2019.

And collapsing office attendance rates are taking cities’ tax revenues down with them.

When only 50 percent of a company’s staff leave their homes in the morning, that firm’s desire for floorspace plummets. If storm-clouds appear on the economic horizon — like, say, a central bank dead set on slowing the economy to kill inflation — downsizing your office becomes the easiest way to cut expenses. Thus, as rising rates have laid tech low, San Francisco’s signature office towers have emptied out. In New York, meanwhile, Meta has ditched 450,000 square feet of office space. Across the nation as a whole, only about 47 percent of offices are occupied.

All this translates into plummeting demand for commercial real-estate, which translates into plummeting property values, which translates into plummeting tax receipts. A recent study from New York University’s Stern School of Business found that office values fell 45 percent in 2020, and are likely to remain 39 percent below pre-pandemic levels for the foreseeable future. If that projection proves true, it would wipe $453 billion in property values off American cities, thereby slashing a critical source of municipal revenues.

In New York City, property taxes are the single largest source of public funds, supplying one-third of the city’s tax revenue. Office buildings account for one-fifth of that sum. The declining market value of Manhattan’s major office districts alone cost the city $5.24 billion in revenue.

Remote work’s toll on cities does not end with its implications for property tax revenue. Enable suburban commuters to work from their dens several days a week, and you transfer all manner of smalltime commerce — lunch orders, after-work drinks, etc. — from the urban core to its periphery. And lost transactions mean lost sales taxes. U.S. cities expect their sales tax revenues to decline by an average of 2.5 percent in 2022, according to a survey from the National League of Cities. Last year, New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer estimated that remote work would cost the city $111 million in sales tax receipts annually.

Meanwhile, emptier office towers also mean emptier subways and buses. Although mass transit ridership has recovered from its COVID-era lows, it’s plateaued at roughly 70 percent of pre-pandemic levels. That poses an existential threat to municipal transit systems, many of which were struggling to operate on budget even before the COVID crisis. In New York, the Metropolitan Transit Authority is poised to see a widening gap between its revenues and operating expenses as this decade progresses.

The great danger for cities is that these trends could become self-reinforcing. Falling revenues could translate into lower-quality public services (e.g. less reliable subways, less well-maintained infrastructure, lower performing public schools, stingier safety nets), which render cities less attractive to high earners, who then decamp for the suburbs in greater numbers, thereby depressing revenues further. Meanwhile, underpopulated downtowns are less conducive to successful small businesses and more conducive to crime. As central business districts become home to fewer restaurants and more criminal activity, more firms will flee them, leading to even more underpopulated office towers.

For now, the American Rescue Plan’s copious aid to states and municipalities are keeping cities out of this vicious cycle. But those funds will dwindle in the coming years. In the National League of Cities recent survey, nearly one-third of cities said that they will confront financial challenges next year, as relief funds grow thin.

It is possible that work from home will simply fall out of fashion as the pandemic recedes into history. But given the myriad advantages that flexible work arrangements have for both employees and firms, cities shouldn’t count on it. Instead, major U.S. cities should capitalize on the one benefit of commercial real-estate’s collapse: The newfound potential to create a ton of new housing in already constructed, centrally located buildings.

America’s most successful cities have long failed to expand their stocks of housing in line with demand. The result has been a perennial crisis of affordability that constrains urban growth, transfers vast sums of money from workers to landlords, and displaces longtime residents. Restrictive zoning codes — and community opposition to new construction that threatens to bring more noise, traffic, and competition for parking spots — have helped entrench this sorry state of affairs.

But vacated office towers typically reside in districts already zoned for both residential and commercial activities. And since the buildings are already built, they tend to attract less community opposition. Their centrality, meanwhile, makes them potentially attractive residences for urbanites who wish to walk to work, and/or have virtually every good or service one could ever want within a hop, skip, and a jump.

Alas, converting office buildings into housing is easier said than done. Commercial buildings tend to have far fewer bathrooms and kitchens than residential ones require. Which means that any conversion demands reconstructing a tower’s plumbing and electrical systems. Expenses add up quickly, especially at a time of elevated construction costs.

Meanwhile, many office buildings do not meet all of the standards that municipal zoning codes require of residential buildings. Offices tend to have much more interior space between windows, leaving much of their floor plans without external light. Additionally, in New York City, residential buildings are generally required to have 30-foot rear yards, in order to ensure a modicum of light and air. Commercial buildings often have smaller rear yards, while also running afoul of the parking minimums that many cities impose on residential towers.

Faced with the high costs and regulatory headaches of attempting a conversion, many real-estate developers have resigned themselves to lower revenues from their commercial properties, while nursing hopes that remote work will prove to be a mere fad.

If conversions don’t pencil out for private developers, however, they promise profound benefits for cities as a whole. Turning thinly populated office towers into apartment buildings would ease cities’ housing shortages, while boosting both downtown commerce and property values and, therefore, tax revenues.

Thus, city and state policymakers would be wise to help lower both the funding and regulatory hurdles to mass office-to-residential conversions.

Benny

Part 2

Cities have often sought to promote development by giving tax credits and abatements to new projects. Yet one of the main objectives of promoting office-to-residential conversions is to increase property tax receipts. So, trying to spur such developments by doling out property tax breaks seems less than ideal.

Instead, cities should help finance new projects with revolving funds that secure the public sector a cut of the ultimate proceeds. Montgomery County’s Housing Production Fund in Maryland offers one model for this form of public-private development. In simple terms, the county’s fund encourages private investment in housing by providing partial funding for new projects, thereby reducing the financial risk that developers must assume when pursuing new construction. In exchange, developers agree to place income restrictions on 30 percent of the units in a given building, and to share a portion of their ultimate profits with the government. Through this mechanism, Montgomery County has managed to catalyze the construction of new affordable housing, at a negligible net-cost to the public sector.

While providing capital for office-to-residential conversions, cities should also exempt such projects from their most burdensome zoning requirements. Residential towers in central business districts replete with transit options should not have to comply with parking minimums. And they probably don’t all need 30-feet yards either. Relaxing such standards will necessarily mean that some new housing developments will offer residences with unusually poor light and limited windows. But they will also offer renters and buyers the myriad amenities of a city center and benefits of new construction. Having poorly-lit new housing is not ideal. But having an acute shortage of affordable housing — and a superabundance of downtown office space — is even worse. New York, Los Angeles, and myriad other cities have offered regulatory exemptions to conversion projects in the past, and have rarely regretted trading stringent standards for more housing units.

Indeed, the benefits of office-to-residential conversions are so significant, cities should consider exempting them even from the requirement that all legal bedrooms have windows.

Given the massive core-to-window depths of contemporary office buildings, converting many such towers to residences will require tolerating some deeply weird floor plans. The real estate developer Bobby Fijan recently tweeted this example of how a typical modern office could be refashioned into a spacious yet bizarre home.

Not everyone is going to want to live in a 2,500 square-foot apartment with a massive common area and 4 windowless bedrooms. But as Matt Yglesias argues, some people probably would. Personally, I’m a very light sleeper who is routinely awakened by city noise and morning light. So the idea of having a bedroom insulated from both by solid walls has some appeal. If cities are faced with a choice between letting office towers sit vacant, or letting photophobic bargain hunters live in windowless bedrooms, they should opt for the latter.

The liberation of America’s white-collar homebodies need not come at cities’ expense. The remote work revolution could devastate municipalities’ downtowns and finances, or it could help resolve their housing crises. If they can summon the requisite policy imagination and flexibility, city officials can make “work from home” work for everyone.

Food for thought. I’m hoping that Karen Bass and CA will be listening in general. NY too, but I don’t hold out much hope with Eric Adams.

jcitybone

Thanks orl

Good

https://www.politico.com/news/2023/01/03/health-care-lobbyists-bernie-sanders-00075192

Health care lobbyists representing insurers, drugmakers and a range of powerful industry interests are steeling themselves for a Senate chair immune to their usual charms — Bernie Sanders.

The Vermont independent is set to take over the Senate’s Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee next month. Leading the panel gives the Medicare-for-All proponent oversight authority over some of his policy priorities — drug pricing, workers’ rights and income inequality, and student and medical debt.

But Sanders’ well-chronicled antagonism toward lobbyists has some concerned they’ll be unable to blunt criticism of their clients’ profits or corporate executive salaries. They are anxious Sanders might seek to revive policies like importing drugs from Canada and other nations, an idea loathed by drugmakers.

Lobbyists also worry they’ll struggle to get traction on any push to make changes to a drug discount program involving pharmaceutical companies and hospitals or revisit association health plans after a Trump-era rule around them was voided.

“This will not be business as usual for K Street. It will be harder for companies to get in and make a case,” said Michaeleen Crowell, a lobbyist at lobbying and public affairs firm S-3 Group who served as Sanders’ chief of staff for more than five years. “The culture in the office is one where lobbyists are mistrusted, and they’re more likely to discount what they hear directly from companies.”

POLITICO spoke to more than a dozen lobbyists and lawyers about having Sanders at the helm of the HELP Committee, some of whom were granted anonymity to talk about the senator’s dynamic with K Street.

Multiple lobbyists representing health insurers, pharmaceutical companies, providers and health systems told POLITICO they’re going to have to “bank shot” their advocacy to get their messages across — lobbying other lawmakers on the committee and getting into the ears of progressive policymakers and left-leaning organizations.

“There are ways to get things passively on his radar if you know him well enough, if you know who he listens to or what he reads,” Crowell said.

Sanders’ office declined to respond to questions from POLITICO, including those about his relationship with lobbyists.

Lobbyists said another strategy could be working to insert favorable provisions into larger bills, lean on the panel’s House counterpart, the Energy and Commerce Committee, or go to Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), who is stepping down as HELP Committee chair to head the Senate Appropriations Committee.

“It’s not status quo … we’re going to have to be creative with patient groups to get him to listen,” said a lobbyist with health system, health insurance and pharmaceutical clients granted anonymity to speak freely. “If I’m going to be completely honest, we’re still trying to figure out what we’re going to do.”

Sanders has talked about working to boost access to care, lower drug costs, expand the health care workforce and raise wages, and possibly reach across the aisle. Sanders is also expected to push the jurisdictional bounds of the committee, potentially taking on issues such as the health impacts of climate change.

K Street will likely watch how often Sanders collaborates with the committee’s incoming ranking member, Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.), as the two have a history of working across the aisle. Although some lobbyists have floated policies around drug pricing and surprise billing as a possibility for them to find agreement, it’s not entirely clear if they’ll end up on the same page.

“There’s a good chance the committee becomes a one-legged duck, swimming in circles,” said a Republican lobbyist and former HELP Committee staffer granted anonymity to speak freely.

But if the two end up aligning on some issues, that could be a liability for some industry clients on K Street.

Jeff Forbes, co-founder of lobbying and public affairs firm Forbes Tate, said Sanders has a history of bipartisanship, particularly while chairing the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, and will work to get stuff done — “the question is going to be what, and at whose expense?”

“Does corporate America have to worry? Of course they do,” he added. “Between a populist Republican like Cassidy and a left-wing chairman like Sanders, they’ll have plenty of anti-corporate areas of mutual interest.”

With the Senate majority comes subpoena power, and it’s almost certain that health executives will be called to testify before the committee — a reputational risk for corporations.

“Subpoena authority is certainly something that gets people paying attention,” said Rafi Prober, co-head of the congressional investigations practice at Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld.

And conditions are ripe for the HELP Committee to beef up its hearings schedule: The panel has only a few must-do items next session — reauthorizing both pandemic preparedness legislation known as PAHPA and an animal drug user fee bill — and Democratic priorities aren’t expected to move, given the GOP-controlled House. This gives Sanders the runway to dig into any issue he wants.

Most senior members of Congress have relationships with K Street because lobbyists had worked for — or closely with — them while serving as Capitol Hill aides, have donated to their campaigns or otherwise have become close with their staff.

Sanders, meanwhile, isn’t rubbing elbows with executives and lobbyists at fundraisers and doesn’t have a “kitchen cabinet” of donor-advisers he talks with about policy, Crowell and others said. He’s sworn off all money from political action committees — even ones run by other senators and members of Congress — to his Senate campaigns.

Further, most of his staffers have a mix of experience working for him, progressive campaigns and nonprofits and share the aversion to downtown corporate lobbyists.

“The prospects of a Sanders-led HELP committee are refreshing and exciting,” said Craig Holman, a lobbyist at Public Citizen who works on money-in-politics and ethics issues.

“The chairman will give everyone their due, including lobbyists representing the public’s interest, without being swayed by campaign cash,” he said. “Sanders’ new leadership position will help build some equity between the influence of the haves and have-nots, of which Public Citizen and other nonprofits more or less qualify as the latter.”

But one Democratic lobbyist who advocates before the HELP Committee, who was granted anonymity to speak candidly about the dynamic, said Sanders’ staff members rarely take people’s meetings.

“It’s hard to find a lobbyist [who] has had much success working with his staff. If the committee wants to be taken seriously on some very important issues, they’re going to need to be more open to talking with stakeholders — even ones [they] don’t like,” he said.

Not all lobbyists are so down on their prospects. Michael Strazzella, the leader of Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney’s federal government relations practice, said he is optimistic about working with Sanders and his staff.

“He can be educated just like every other senator,” Strazzella said. “Influence is a strong word, to be honest, but I do believe that he is open to continuous education and understands the impact of new policies. … I don’t think he’s necessarily set in his ways about everything.”

Aside from his current staff, much of the dynamic with K Street will depend on who he brings in to work on the committee, several lobbyists told POLITICO.

Some hope it will be a departure from his traditional hiring patterns, but one lobbyist who has relationships with Sanders’ health care staff said he wants them to stick around.

“I just hope they stay because we at least know who we will be working with next year and can have conversations with them,” said the lobbyist, who was granted anonymity to speak about the relationship, in an email. “I worry about the staff changing some and not knowing any of the… players coming in and their approach to interacting with downtown.”

Benny

Votes for Speaker of the House are in process. McCarthy has some votes against him so far. NYT updates say there are at least 5 defections. Here’s one of them:

Murmurs and oohs from the crowd as Lauren Boebert votes for Jim Jordan. She had previously declined to say who she would vote for as an opponent to McCarthy.

Dems are unified on this one. But anyone would not expect any defections today.

Benny

Update from NYT:

It appears that — unless something truly out of the norm were to happen — McCarthy will lose the vote for speaker on the first ballot. Already 10 Republicans have voted against him, and we know that there are more defectors to come later in the roll call. McCarthy has vowed to keep fighting for the speakership on the House floor for as many ballots as it takes.

With more sleeper defectors emerging in this vote, it’s a good time to remember that 31 House Republicans voted “no” on nominating McCarthy for the position back in November. At the time, it was not clear how many of them were doing so to make a point but would ultimately support him. McCarthy didn’t necessarily know the entire list of people he had to win over.

Benny

Mary Miller of IL, new Rep who lost against Rodney Davis (my former congress critter as of today; luckily, my district was re-done, benefitted a purple candidate) voted for Jordan. Miller is a Trumper.

Andy Biggs has gotten a couple of votes as well.

Does not look like McCarthy will get it on the first ballot. Jeffries may get more votes than McCarthy, but the problem, as we know, the Dems did not prevail for 2023-4.

Benny

update from NYT:

As Representative Kevin McCarthy of California has scrounged for the votes to become speaker, a core group of hard-right Republicans has laid out a series of demands crucial to winning their support.

As part of a grueling, monthslong negotiation to lock down the support he needs, Mr. McCarthy agreed to some of the demands from members of the House Freedom Caucus — a group that includes Representatives Matt Gaetz of Florida, Lauren Boebert of Colorado, and Scott Perry of Pennsylvania — and incorporated them in a proposed package of rules governing how the House operates for the next two years.

They included a rule to allow a vote at any time to oust the speaker, which would weaken the post considerably, though Mr. McCarthy proposed to set the threshold for forcing such a vote at five lawmakers rather than a single one, as the holdouts had demanded.

The package also included the so-called Holman rule, which allows lawmakers to use spending bills to defund specific programs and fire federal officials or reduce their pay.

But Mr. McCarthy refused to accede to a number of other conditions set by his critics. Here are some of the other demands:

Promising to hold votes on a series of bills backed by hard-right members, including legislation that would require term limits for members of Congress, a balanced federal budget and fortifying security at the southwestern border.

Pledging that the leading Republican political action committee would not fund challengers in party primaries. The demand reflects anger among right-wing and conservative groups toward Mr. McCarthy for using the leadership PAC aligned with him to back more mainstream candidates.

Adopting a requirement that any spending earmark receive two-thirds support of the House in order to pass.

Benny

The Dems should pay mind to some of these demands, in particular, this one, if they regain the House in 2025:

Pledging that the leading Republican political action committee would not fund challengers in party primaries. The demand reflects anger among right-wing and conservative groups toward Mr. McCarthy for using the leadership PAC aligned with him to back more mainstream candidates.

No reason for Jeffries to walk in with a total win.

Benny

Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), as president pro tempore, is third in line for the presidency as there is no speaker of the House. Until the House sorts out this vote for speaker, the line of presidency runs through the Senate’s presiding officer.

Update: After reading this tweet:

I am striking out this comment

It’ll last until this evening, I think.

Isn’t interesting that Dianne Feinstein wasn’t running for the post.

Benny

From WaPo:

When embattled Rep.-elect George Santos (R-N.Y.) stood up, a Hispanic Democrat yelled “mentiroso!” which translates to “liar” in English.

Benny

Benny

Benny

Benny

Benny

Rosendale and Self also vote for Gym Jordan.

Aint Supposed to Die A Natural Death
Aint Supposed to Die A Natural Death

Lolol… Our congress is a shit show.

Aint Supposed to Die A Natural Death
Aint Supposed to Die A Natural Death

Dianne Feinstein???? Running for what???? Lololol….

Benny

It’s been the custom that one of the oldest and the longest serving member of the majority party in the senate gets the President ProTempre post (last one was Patrick Leahy, who just retired).

My musing is that Feinstein has been service longer than Patti Murray, and Feinstein would be the President ProTempre. I’m hoping Feinstein declined any invitation for the post.

wi64

I doubt she could repeat her home address at this point

Benny

I hope she’s not that bad yet. She doesn’t retire for two more years and we need to fill more judicial appointments.

Benny

Aint Supposed to Die A Natural Death
Aint Supposed to Die A Natural Death

I like that demand. Let’s adopt it.

Benny

Benny

Second report I’ve seen tweeted.

Benny

And he does speak. He says he wants to fix problems. Haha

Benny

Benny

Second ballot underway now. Biggs, who had 10 votes, voted for Gym Jordan. Cloud, Bishop, Boebert, Gosar, Good (VA-Rep) vote Jordan.

Benny

From WaPo:

Rep. Josh Brecheen (R-Okla.) also cast a ballot for Jordan after voting for Rep. Jim Banks (R-Ind.) previously.

Benny

Benny

From WaPo:

Reps. Bob Good (R-Va.) Andy Harris (R-Md.) and Paul A. Gosar (R-Ariz.) also voted for Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) on the second ballot, bringing his tally to 11. Though Rep. Kevin McCarthy’s (R-Calif.) vote count has increased, he still is unlikely to receive the votes he needs to avoid a third ballot.

All three flipped from supporting Rep. Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.).

Luna and Perry also voted Jordan.

Benny

ICYMI:

Benny

Still not sworn in as McCarthy has not won a majority vote of his own party.

wi64

Stop GQP just stop, my abdomen muscles are are starting to hurt from laughing to much over this

Benny

wi64

Weird to see big John in a suit

Benny

Benny

Dave Dayen

House GOP Tries to Cancel Congressional Staff Unions

Whenever House Republicans get around to choosing a Speaker, they will vote on a rules package for the next Congress. The rules package includes some culture-war fodder, like ending security screening for the House floor, clarifying that members don’t have to use gender-nonspecific language in speeches, and allowing appropriations to target the salaries of specific executive-branch officials. It includes the restoration of “cutgo,” where any new spending has to be offset by spending cuts only, not new taxes; in fact, tax increases will require a three-fifths vote. It repeals the Gephardt rule, which deemed the debt limit increased upon the passage of a budget resolution. It requires the Congressional Budget Office to assess all legislation for its impact on inflation (I guess assessing for improving quality of life isn’t necessary).

But the most unique provision in the House rules package would eliminate House staff labor unions, several of which have been voted into being. But there’s some question as to whether a rules vote can legally accomplish that.

It’s a predictable but amusing kickoff of this Congress for a Republican Party that has mused about being a “worker’s party.” The first chance they get, they are attempting to nullify the rights of the employees in their own workplace.

To recap, the Congressional Accountability Act of 1995 (CAA) applied many of the rules of employment that apply to the private sector to the workplace of Congress. That created a framework for House and Senate staffers to organize their offices. But regulations had never been passed to enable the process.

Last May, the House passed a resolution implementing those regulations, in a 217-202 party-line vote. The Senate has never passed such a resolution. But the House vote granted the right to organize to over 9,000 House staffers.

Since that House action in May, the offices of Reps. Ro Khanna (D-CA), Ilhan Omar (D-MN), Melanie Stansbury (D-NM), and most recently Cori Bush (D-MO, whose staff began voting last week and are expected to unionize) have voted to organize. Former Rep. Andy Levin’s office also unionized—he was the author of the resolution and saw organizing in his own office as a template—but since Levin no longer sits in Congress after having lost his primary, that will go away. Five other offices have filed to hold elections with the Office of Congressional Workplace Rights (OCWR), representing staff for Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), Ted Lieu (D-CA), Dina Titus (D-NV), Sean Casten (D-IL), and Chuy García (D-IL). García is currently running for mayor of Chicago, the election for which will be held on February 28.

Pay rates, which are set by Congress—the outgoing Democratic House set a minimum staff pay threshold of $45,000/year—are unlikely to be part of the bargaining process, though that’s up to the OCWR to decide. But a number of other working conditions other than pay could be addressed. That includes benefits like vacation and sick leave, funding levels for offices, and rules for dealing with situations like workplace harassment.

The first chance they get, Republicans are attempting to nullify the rights of the employees in their own workplace.

If all nine active offices unionize, that will comprise about 100 workers. But under the House GOP resolution, all of those unionized workplaces and pending elections would be wiped away. The question is whether or not that can be done through a rules package.

The CAA is statute; it holds that Congress cannot exempt itself from federal labor law. Now that the regulations governing the bargaining process are written and passed under House rules, critics of the GOP’s action say that Congress would have to pass a law repealing parts of the CAA and restoring the exemptions.

House members did not write those regulations; they only approved them. The OCWR promulgated the regulations, and only they, according to this argument, could alter them. The House cannot unauthorize the regulations or unwind the collective-bargaining agreements that have already been confirmed.

House Republicans obviously have a different opinion. But it’s unclear how far they’d go to enforce that. It is incredibly unlikely that any Republican office will have staff attempt to unionize, at least in the near term. If a Democratic office believes they remain unionized even after the rules vote, would Republicans go to court to disband it? And who would want to hear that case? This is more of a question of House procedure than labor law, making it destined for federal courts rather than the National Labor Relations Board. And it may be seen as a political question where judges don’t want to intervene.

For their part, the Congressional Workers Union, the umbrella group for organizing staff, has said that they are not viewing the imminent rules package vote as the end of the line. “We organized and unionized offices in the 117th Congress, and we’re going not to stop in the 118th Congress. When we fight, we win, and we’re ready to take on any anti-worker battles that may come our way,” CWU wrote in a tweet.

Interestingly, two incoming House Democrats, Reps. Chris Deluzio (D-PA) and Maxwell Frost (D-FL), signaled their endorsement in replies. Either of those offices could provide a test case if staffers choose to organize with their boss’s support.

UPDATE: In a statement to the Prospect, Congressional Workers Union member Taylor Doggett said the union was currently seeking advice from legal and legislative experts on whether the rules package could nullify staff unions. “As of now, we have no plans to stop our organizing drive and this has in fact invigorated workers to want to utilize their collective power even more and cement their seat at the table,” Doggett said.

Benny

Kevin McCarthy’s speaker-election fiasco has been brewing in the GOP for years

Tossing concessions left and right, and still falling short, Kevin McCarthy found out the hard way what happens when you try to bargain your way to victory.

The historic chaos that unfolded on the floor of the House of Representatives on Tuesday afternoon didn’t happen in a vacuum. It was years in the making.

To understand why, for the first time in more than a century, multiple ballots were required in an effort to elect a speaker of the House, you have to go back more than eight years to June 10, 2014. That night, the sitting House Majority Leader Eric Cantor lost his primary to right-wing challenger Dave Brat.

At the time, Cantor was a part of a trifecta dubbed “The Young Guns” with Rep. Paul Ryan and — you guessed it — McCarthy. The trio represented the next generation of leadership for House Republicans. Cantor was pegged as the would-be speaker-in-waiting, McCarthy his loyal deputy and Ryan controlling the policy agenda. It was the perfect succession plan … until Cantor was pushed off the ballot by his district’s voters back in Virginia.

Back then, names like Steve Bannon, Breitbart and Laura Ingraham were considered to be on the fringes of the Republican Party. They weren’t power brokers. They had no proximity to influential leaders in the party. But in supporting Brat and taking out Cantor, this extreme wing of the GOP claimed its first victory over the so-called establishment. It then propelled the “red wave” of the 2014 midterms, clinching Republican control of the House and winning the Senate.

A year later, the fringe claimed another victory, creating an untenable environment for Speaker John Boehner that concluded with his resignation. With Cantor gone, all eyes turned to McCarthy to step into the speaker’s chair. On the eve of the vote, the House Freedom Caucus released a public statement announcing their opposition to McCarthy. McCarthy withdrew from the race 24 hours later, paving the way for Paul Ryan to become speaker. Two years later, Ryan would retire from Congress as Democrats and Rep. Nancy Pelosi ascended to power. The radical wing was not defeated, just gathering strength.

Time and again, we’ve seen a vocal minority within the Republican conference exert an inordinate amount of influence over the majority. Each time, with each conflict, the response from the Republican leadership was to back down or fold.

That reflex to pander to the most extreme voices within their party is what allowed President Trump to hijack it. For Trump, it wasn’t even difficult. The party simply surrendered to him as his novelty candidacy gathered attention during the 2016 presidential primary.

What could possibly fuel the radical fringe more successfully than putting a like-minded person in the White House? Trump’s legacy is an energized cadre of politicians whose policy platform seems to simply be “burn it all down.”

Painful as it was to watch the GOP lurch toward Trump in 2016, we’ve seen the same pattern with the party’s reaction to the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol. Rather than break from Trump and denounce the extremist elements within their conference that stoked the flames of violent insurrection, today’s Republican Party has once again retreated from the battlefield and has looked to placate the domestic terrorists involved in the Capitol siege.

Is it any wonder that on Tuesday afternoon, 19 insurrection-loving extremists felt like they could successfully hold hostage a conference of 222? This has long been predictable. History has taught them that when push comes to shove, the Republican “leadership” will always back down.

At this point, in many ways, it doesn’t even matter whether McCarthy is successful in his quest to become speaker. If he does, he will limp into the office, positioned as the weakest speaker in modern history. He will have lost control of the chamber before he once grasped the gavel.

There’s a reason the official policy of the United States government is to not negotiate with terrorists, domestic or otherwise. That approach merely encourages them.

Benny

Benny

The Inflation Numbers Game

From the beginning of July to the end of November last year, the U.S. consumer price index rose in total by 1 percent—an annualized rate of 2.4 percent. If you find this number surprising, chances are that’s not because it is so high, but because it is so low.

In these same months, we were bombarded in the news media by reports of soaring inflation. Fox News, always eager to score political points against the Biden administration, was not alone in spinning this overheated story. The New York Times joined the chorus, too. So did USA Today, which in mid-December described the Fed’s latest interest rate hike as a step to “tame soaring inflation.”

“Soaring”—at 2.4 percent? The Fed’s target rate for inflation is 2 percent per year. Never mind that this is an arbitrary number fixated upon by monetary-policy officials rather than dictated by economic logic. The point is that 2.4 percent is pretty close. It also happens to have been the average annual rate from 1990 to 2021, when inflation was a nonissue.

Why the disconnect between what was happening in the economy and what was reported in the news media? It reflects the misleading habit of equating the inflation rate over the past 12 months with the inflation rate right now. This is also a habit of the Federal Reserve, which in turn influences how media coverage characterizes inflation.

By the past-year measure, the inflation rate at the end of November was roughly 7 percent—the difference between price levels in November 2022 and November 2021—despite the fact that for the last five months it was only 2.4 percent per year. In the seven preceding months, December through June, the annualized inflation rate was much higher at 10.2 percent. Putting the two periods together, the price rise for the past year averages 7 percent.

The fault is not in the arithmetic, but in the meaning of “now.” In normal parlance, now refers to the present time. As I write these words on a chilly New England morning, the temperature outside my window is 10 degrees Fahrenheit. If I were to claim that it really is a balmy 50 degrees—on the grounds that that’s the annual average—you would conclude that I was either delusional or disingenuous.

When talking about inflation, we usually refer to the rate per year. But this is not the same thing as the rate over the past 12 months. Similarly, your car speedometer shows how fast you’re driving in miles per hour, not how far you drove in the last hour. Say, for example, that you cruised along an interstate highway at 75 mph for 40 minutes, and then exited onto a back road where you’ve been driving at the 30 mph speed limit for the past 20 minutes. You are now doing 30 miles an hour, even though altogether you logged 60 miles over the past hour. No police officer is going to ticket you for speeding.

There is room for debate about the causes of the past year’s inflation. The COVID-19 pandemic and the war in Ukraine triggered supply shortages and pushed up prices worldwide. Corporations seized the time to ratchet their profit margins to the highest level in 70 years, and this drove up prices, too. In this context, the stimulus spending undertaken by the Biden administration to revive the economy and start rebuilding neglected infrastructure played a role, as well, by boosting demand.

We also can debate the wisdom of continuing to raise interest rates. At his last news conference of 2022, Fed chairman Jerome Powell described the aim bluntly: “Reducing inflation,” he explained, “is likely to require a sustained period of below-trend growth and some softening of labor market conditions.” The language is revealing: “softening” here means making things easier for employers but harder for workers. Some defend the latest interest rate hike as a prudent move to extinguish lingering embers of inflation; others see it as a callous move to extinguish lingering hopes for better jobs and higher incomes among working people.

One thing that should be relatively indisputable, however, is the inflation rate itself. By any sensible standard, inflation since mid-2022 has not been “soaring.” On the contrary, it has fallen back to the baseline level of the past three decades. Inflated numbers only muddy inflation debates.