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With 33 days left before elections, a majority of the country thinks we are on the wrong track, and the unemployment rate is still at 9.6 percent. Seventy percent of those polled by the Center for American Progress Action Fund and Democracy Corps say they or their family and friends have lost a job, and 70 percent say they or their family and friends are experiencing reduced wages or hours at work. New CAP Action Fund and Democracy Corps research shows there are winning messages that candidates can use to break through in this tough environment and frame the debate.
More important to voters than policies, records, and resumes are three fundamental questions they want answered about candidates: Does this candidate know how bad it is? Is this person part of the mess in Washington, or are they committed to changing the system? And is this candidate going to fight for the middle class, or for Wall Street and special interests?
We outline some advice below for using the new GOP “Pledge to America” to push core economic messages and remind voters of their lingering doubts about Republicans and who they stand for.
The GOP pledge offers a contrast opportunity
The rollout of the lobbyist-drafted GOP “Pledge to America” provides a timely entry point for Democrats to connect with voters on the economy, drive home core Democratic messages, and remind voters of their lingering doubts about Republicans and who they stand for. This so-called pledge exposes perhaps the core divides between the parties: Democrats fight for the middle class, working people, and small businesses in tough economic times, while Republicans listen to special interests and are looking out for them and the wealthy at almost any cost to the rest of us.
The GOP is vulnerable on middle-class issues
Our research reveals that there are widespread perceptions that Republicans favor banks and special interests over the middle class. One focus group participant put it best. When asked what holds him back from voting for the GOP, he answered, “They are not for the middle class.” House Minority Leader John Boehner’s (R-OH) break from Republican orthodoxy and the backlash that ensued exposes a concern that voters already have about the GOP—they’re too focused on the rich.
Remind voters that the GOP favors special interests and the wealthy
The GOP brand is seen as fighting for millionaires and disconnected from the middle class. Your job is to remind people what they already believe to be true— Republicans prioritize policies that benefit the rich over the middle class. The GOP pledge offers a new way to show how Republicans are too close to special interests. They are not helping themselves by promoting a plan drafted by special interests that ignores most Americans’ concerns.
Headlines demonstrate what the public believes: The GOP pledge is for special interests, not for the middle class
- “A G.O.P. Leader Tightly Bound to Lobbyists,” The New York Times, September 11.
- "GOP ‘Pledge To America’ Director Lobbied For AIG, Exxon, Pfizer, Chamber," Huffington Post, September 22.
- “Not only are the players the same, the policies are the same.
Just more tax cuts for the rich and more deficit spending.”New York Times editorial, September 26.
- “Earmarks Cause GOP Rift,” Wall Street Journal, September 24.
- “Wall Street Banking on Republicans to Push Legislative Goals,” Bloomberg News, September 14.
Arguments that stick and demonstrate the contrast
The GOP pledge claims to be by the people and for the people but it is by lobbyists and special interests for lobbyists and special interests.
- Written by a lobbyist. The GOP pledge was written by a former top lobbyist for AIG, Exxon, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and it contains numerous giveaways to special interests and the wealthy.
- For special interests, not for the middle class. The GOP says they’re listening to the American people, but it turns out they’re listening to special interests. Why else would they leave out of the pledge one of the most popular ideas on their own website—stopping tax breaks for companies that ship jobs overseas—and not even mention outsourcing once?
- The pledge neglects to ban earmarks, which are often nothing more than slush funds written by and for Washington’s army of special interest lobbyists.
- Listening to lobbyists, not American families. According to Roll Call, “only one provision appears to have come solely from” the “America Speaking Out” website that solicited public input and was supposed to provide the ideas for the pledge.
- The Associated Press called the pledge “long on poll-tested goals, short on controversial specifics.”
- Rep. Pete Roskam (R-IL), one of the GOP members who participated in the pledge rollout, conceded that “[l]et’s face it, none of these topics are new topics.”
The pledge offers more of the same: loopholes for the wealthy and well connected that are paid for by the middle class.
- More for the wealthy and special interests, less for the middle class. The pledge is more of the same from the GOP: more tax cuts for the wealthy, more gigantic deficits. And it contains more giveaways to Big Oil, Wall Street banks, and other special interests at the middle class’s expense.
- While most Americans are struggling to keep their jobs and pay their bills, Republicans want to give each millionaire a tax cut that is more than twice the amount that the median American family makes in a year.
- The GOP pledge could cost 1.1 million jobs, according to one study.
- Increases deficit to pay for giveaways. The GOP pledge would increase the deficit by an additional $1.5 trillion from 2011-2020 as compared to President Barack Obama’s budget plan.
- We shouldn’t be borrowing money from the Chinese to be cutting $100,000 checks for millionaires. But that’s exactly what the GOP pledge would do.
- We also shouldn’t be borrowing money from the Chinese to give more than $25 billion in new tax cuts to lobbyists and special interests. We should be investing in small businesses and infrastructure, and projects that create jobs here in America.
Fact check: The GOP pledge’s anti-small-business tax break
The GOP, in the debate over extending the Bush tax giveaways to the rich, is already using its false definition of “small business” to try and protect tax loopholes exploited by lobbyists, law partners, and massive corporations like Koch Industries and Bechtel. In the pledge, the GOP goes even further by including a new “small business tax deduction” that will disproportionately benefit these same massive corporations, while actually harming real small businesses.
- The pledge’s 20 percent “small business tax deduction” is based on total business income, so the largest businesses with the most income—like Bechtel with its $34 billion annual revenue—stand to benefit the most. The New York Times notes that “[g]iven the Republicans’ broad definition, that implies another big tax cut—an estimated $25 billion over two years—flowing to many high earners.”
- A deduction reduces the taxable income and thus the taxes that somebody has to pay. A business owner with lots of business and other income will thus get a government subsidy of 35 cents for each dollar in deduction, while a small business owner in the 15 percent tax bracket will get 15 cents for each dollar in deductions. This means that Bechtel and the Tribune Company would be given a much larger break than the owner of a hardware store or dry cleaner who is paying in the 15 percent income tax bracket.
- Larger businesses could easily use this windfall to outcompete smaller businesses. A larger business owner with a 35 percent marginal tax rate will get a benefit that is 133 percent greater than the benefit that a smaller business owner with a 15 percent marginal tax rate gets for each dollar in tax deduction.
The bottom line is that the deduction sought by the GOP pledge would exacerbate already existing inequities that give large businesses a leg-up over small ones as well as dropping a windfall into the laps of wealthy business owners who certainly don’t need it.
The GOP opposes billions of dollars in tax cuts and other aid to actual small businesses
- President Obama has signed eight small business tax cuts into law and is prepared to sign eight more—15 of which have been opposed by the GOP.
- The GOP has almost unanimously opposed numerous small business bills passed by the House and has attempted or succeeded in blocking all in the Senate:
– The Small Business Jobs and Credit Act
– The Small Business Jobs Tax Relief Act
– The Hiring Incentives to Restore Employment Act
– The Small Business and Infrastructure Jobs Tax Act
– The Jobs for Main Street Act
Policies that show people where you stand
- Ending tax cuts for the top 2 percent of earners
- Eliminating subsidies for big oil
- Ending pay raises for Congress
- Stopping tax breaks for corporations shipping jobs overseas
- Ending the revolving door for lobbyists
- Tax cuts for small businesses to create jobs
More resources are available here on the GOP pledge and its health care, energy, and national security implications.
Download this memo (pdf)
The polling and focus group data in this memo comes from a web poll conducted by Democracy Corps and the Center for American Progress Action Fund from September 1–2, 2010, among 850 individuals who fall into the following demographic groups: the “rising American electorate,” which consists of youth, unmarried women, and minorities; and white non-college-educated respondents.
The two focus groups were conducted in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, on September 7, 2010, with white women aged 45 to 60 without a college degree and white men aged 30 to 45 with a college degree. All participants were independents, weak Democrats, or weak Republicans.
Additional data in this memo are based on a poll conducted by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner for Democracy Corps. The poll was conducted August 30–September 2, 2010, among 2008 voters nationwide. All data shown reflect results from 845 likely 2010 voters (895 unweighted; margin of error of 3.2 percentage points) unless otherwise noted.