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GE hit on “tax dodging,” Durbin on budget cuts

A dozen community and faith groups will protest “tax dodging” by General Electric and call on Senator Dick Durbin to lead the charge for corporate tax reform to fund social programs in related actions tomorrow.

Protestors will deliver a giant “cease and desist” letter calling on GE to “stop dodging taxes while lobbying for cuts to Social Security” at GE’s Chicago headquarters, 500 W. Monroe, at 12 noon on Thursday, August 22.  They will demonstrate outside Durbin’s office at 230 S. Dearborn at 12:40 p.m.

It’s part of a national week of action “outing” corporate tax dodgers across the country by Chicago-based National Peoples Action.

Tax-free profits

From 2002 to 2012, GE paid $2.1 billion in federal income taxes while earning $88 billion in profits — a tax rate of 2.4 percent, far below the official rate of 35 percent — according to Americans for Tax Fairness.

In four of those years GE reported $22.5 billion in profits but paid no taxes — and received $4.8 billion in tax rebates, according to the group.

One way it accomplished this was by investing U.S. profits overseas, according to Huffington Post.

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Seniors to Congress: Protect Social Security

Hundreds of seniors, backed by community and labor groups, will perform the “Scrap the Cap Shuffle” in Federal Plaza tomorrow and deliver bags of bottle caps to congressional leaders to kick off a campaign to lift the cap on payroll taxes in order to strengthen Social Security.

The “Scrap the Cap” rally takes place at noon Tuesday, April 2, at the Federal Plaza, Dearborn and Adams.   Representative Danny K. Davis will participate, organizers said.

Delegations of seniors will attempt to meet with Senators Richard Durbin and Mark Kirk to urge them to oppose cuts to Social Security and focus on strengthening the program by lifting the limit on income levels subject to FICA taxes.

Currently income over $113,700 is exempt from FICA taxes.  “Scrapping the cap” would solve solvency issues for Social Security far into the future. The program’s trust fund now has a $2.7 trillion surplus, enough to fully cover benefits for at least 25 years.  And the fund is entirely separate from the federal budget.

Durbin in particular has backed implementing the so-called Chained CPI — which seeks to predict how consumers will substitute cheaper items when prices rise — and raising the retirement age.

“Older women, especially older women of color will suffer the most from switching to a Chained CPI formula,” said Audrey Douglas, vice chair of the Jane Addams Senior Caucus. “Senators Durbin and Kirk need to hear that older women have something to say about this issue.   Any cuts to Social Security are unacceptable.”

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‘Durbinville’ dramatizes safety net cuts

Local protestors will erect a “Durbinville” shantytown at the Federal Plaza at noon on Thursday, continuing their challenge to Senator Richard Durbin’s embrace of the austerity agenda that’s dominating budget talks in Washington.

Since Monday, a coalition of grassroots groups has been staging a soupline outside Durbin’s downtown office “to make visible the hunger and suffering that budget cuts will create,” according to a statement from IIRON.

All kinds of people are accepting the homemade soup being offered, and many are expressing surprise when they learn that Durbin is backing drastic safety net cuts, said Kristi Sanford of Northside POWER.

The long-term spending reductions Durbin is calling for — outlined in the Simpson-Bowles commission report he backed in 2010 – would be no better than the cuts required by “sequestration” if Congress fails to come up with a budget deal by the end of the year, Sanford said.

“They would push us back into recession, and we’d have more lost jobs and suffering,” she said.  “It would cut education, food security, a whole range of government services we rely on.”

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Fiscal cliff notes

Nineteen protestors demanding Senator Richard Durbin oppose cuts to Social Security and other social programs as part of any deficit deal were arrested on Friday in his office and the lobby of the Federal Building, Kari Lydersen reports at In These Times.  (See our previous post for more.)

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The so-called “grand bargain” is a “grand swindle” which ignores the “victory for middle-class populism” that last week’s election represents, according to Roger Hickey of the Campaign for America’s Future.

“Within hours of the election, the austerity posse was fear-mongering around the so-called ‘fiscal cliff’ and pressuring Washington to accept a ‘grand bargain’ before the end of the year that would slash Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid – and plunge us into a double-dip recession.”

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Durbin and other deficit hawks “are hoping that the hype around the budget standoff (aka ‘fiscal cliff’) can be used for a grand bargain that eviscerates the country’s two most important social programs, Social Security and Medicare,” writes Dean Baker of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, noting that “they made a point of keeping this plan out of election year politics.”

But they must act quickly, he points out – because “one of the pillars of their deficit horror story could be collapsing.

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Challenge to Durbin: Don’t cut Social Security

Dozens of clergy members will carry a golden calf symbolizing the idols of wealth and greed to Senator Richard Durbin’s office on Thursday, as a coalition of community groups demands that Durbin defend social programs – including Social Security and Medicare – in any post-election budget showdown.

So far Durbin has refused to sign a pledge – backed by Majority Leader Harry Reid and 28 other senators – promising to oppose cuts to Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid.

“Durbin is missing in action on this issue,” said Jacob Swenson of the Make Wall Street Pay coalition. The Illinois senator is assistant majority leader and the Obama administration’s closest ally in the Senate.

Led by the clerical procession, members of the coalition will march from the Chicago Temple, 77 W. Washington, to Durbin’s office in the Federal Building, 230 S. Dearborn, at 10 a.m. on Thursday, November 8.

On Friday at 3 p.m., hundreds of clergy, students and others will rally at Pritzker Park, Van Buren and State, calling on Durbin to stand tough in budget negotiations.

Hardball

Following the failure of Durbin’s “Gang of Six” to reach a budget compromise in the summer of 2011, Congress passed a measure establishing a supercommittee to breach the impasse, with the threat of $1.2 trillion in automatic “sequester” cuts to military and domestic spending if they failed.  They failed, and the deadline to act under that measure looms.

Congress could just repeal sequestration and start over, Swenson said.  The current impasse revolves around Democrats’ insistence on a mix of tax revenue and budget cuts to address the deficit, while Republicans oppose any tax increases whatsoever.

President Obama has to check his propensity for preemptive compromise and “play hardball,” said Swenson.  Specifically, he said, Democrats can win if they are willing to allow the Bush tax cuts – all of them – to expire.

“We’d like to keep them in place for people earning under $250,000, but if you’re not willing to let them expire, you don’t have political leverage,” he said.  “The Democrats haven’t taken the strong bargaining position they need to take.”

Durbin: raise retirement age

Obama has backed the recommendations of the Simpson-Bowles commission, which Durbin supported, including raising the retirement age to 69 and reducing cost of living adjustments for Social Security; the plan would also lower the tax rate on top incomes.

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Pay Day Loan Reform — and Alternatives

Two members of the Illinois congressional delegation are offering competing legislation to address predatory pay day lending, and local consumer advocates are lining up in support of Senator Richard Durbin’s bill and against one authored by Representative Luis Gutierrez.

Meanwhile, community organizations that provide financial counseling say much stronger protection against predatory lending is needed — while community credit unions are pioneering affordable alternatives to pay day loans.

Gutierrez’s bill, HR 1214, would limit interest and fees to $15 on a $100 loan, but since that applies to a single pay period, it amounts to an annual rate of 390 percent for a two-week loan, advocates point out. Durbin’s bill, SB 500, would cap interest for all consumer loan products at a 36 percent annual rate.

The House Subcommittee on Financial Institutions, which Gutierrez chairs, will hold a hearing on HR 1214 tomorrow (April 2).

That bill would provide congressional authorization “to a product that is not good for low-income borrowers,” said Lynda DeLaforgue of Citizen Action Illinois. “It sends a signal that this is a legitimate product.”

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