During any given Congressional term, literally thousands of proposals never make it past the committee stage of the legislative process. In recent years, less than 5 percent of all bills introduced ultimately became law. The scope of proposals in Congress garnering considerable media attention is similarly narrow. The pieces of legislation that attract the most publicity from the beltway media—like Paul Ryan’s radically unpopular plan to scrap Medicare—tend to drown out more sensible ideas that hardly stand any chance of enactment without public pressure on lawmakers to move the agenda forward.
But behind the smoke screen of the news cycle, there are several genuinely excellent pieces of legislation that remain more or less entirely shrouded from public view. The bills below are among the more progressive efforts underway in our 112th Congress, with sponsors and co-sponsors representing both sides of the aisle. They warrant far greater attention than they’re getting.
The Fairness in Taxation Act [H.R.1124]
Sponsored by Illinois Democrat Jan Schakowsky and co-sponsored by twenty other Democratic House members, the Fairness in Taxation Act [FTA] would create additional tax brackets at the top of the income ladder, starting with $1 million and ending at $1 billion. As things stand, the highest tax bracket is set at $373,000, meaning the top twenty hedge fund managers with an average annual income of over $1 billion pay the same marginal tax rate as those who make 2,500 times less than they do.
If enacted, FTA would raise federal tax revenue by more than $78.9 billion in 2011 alone, according to Citizens for Tax Justice. That would more than cover the $61 billion dollars in GOP-proposed cuts to Pell grants, community health centers, high speed rail, Head Start, NIH funding, housing cuts and Title X family planning.
“This isn’t about punishment or revenge. It’s about fairness,” Schakowsky said in a recent press release. “It’s about avoiding budget cuts that harm middle class families and those who aspire to it. We can choose to cut education, job creation and health care, or we can choose to ask those who can contribute more to do so.” And according to a March 2011 NBC/Wall Street Journal poll, Americans agree with Schakowsky, choosing “a surtax on federal income taxes for people earning over one million dollars a year” as the most popular method of reducing the federal budget deficit.
The Foundations for Success Act [S.294]
In the past decade, childcare costs have increased twice as fast as the median income of families with children. Roughly 30 percent of households with children have only one parent and one in five children now live in poverty. According to a UNICEF report on the well-being of children in rich countries, “evidence from many countries persistently shows that children who grow up in poverty…are more likely to be in poor health, to have learning and behavioral difficulties, to underachieve at school, to become pregnant at too early an age, to have lower skills and aspirations, to be low paid, unemployed, and welfare dependent.” Nobel Prize–winning economist James Heckman warns that failing to tackle poverty by investing early on in “human capital,” will “drive up deficit spending by paying to remediate disparities when they are harder and more expensive to do so.”