Math Geniuses Might Not Be The Best People To Set Political Strategy
Brad Miller is a measurably better representative for the 99% than David Price
There are several tools I use every single day in my work at DWT and Blue America and Progressive Punch is a major one. So much so that I wrote them a check out of my personal account to thank them for their great work. It would be immeasurably harder to do my own without theirs. The Progressive Punch system helps me figure out which incumbents are doing a good job in terms of working for the interests of the 99% instead of doing what most politicians do in toiling in the fields of the 1%. But Progressive Punch is by no means the end of any story. It's a useful tool to start a story.
Recently a group I'm involved in decided to take a look at the relative merits of the two Democratic incumbents who-- thanks to partisan GOP gerrymandering in the North Carolina legislature-- will be pitted against each other next November, Brad Miller and David Price. The group deduced from Progressive Punch that the two congressmen are about equal and decided to leave it to the North Carolina primary voters and not take a stand. As you may know, Blue America has already taken a strong stand in favor of Brad Miller. But this is what the raw Progressive Punch numbers show:
Brad Miller is the 122nd most progressive member of Congress based on his lifetime of votes on crucial roll calls and David Price is the 126th most progressive, a negligible difference. A more nuanced examination of their respective voting records paints a very different picture, one that shows why Brad Miller is the far better candidate in the most important sense of the issues most important to progressives-- like the very people in the groups I was arguing with. Let's start with an issue that is core to what ails the American economy, trade policy.
Price voted for several of the "free trade" deals, including the worst ever-- NAFTA, and just a few weeks ago, he voted for the horrible deals with Korea, Colombia and Panama. Brad Miller voted against every trade deal that's come up with the exception of one with Australia, a country with a similar enough standard of living to ours that it would not put American workers into competition with very poorly paid workers. There are objections that are specific to each trade deal, such as the history of state-sponsored murders of labor leaders in Columbia. More important, however, whatever the arguments for trade in the abstract, during a period of increasing income inequality and government policies that increase that inequality, trade acts as one more accelerant, increasing corporate profits and driving down wages. David Price has consistently been on the wrong side. Brad Miller has consistently been on the right side.
Sticking with the economy, let's move over to financial reform, Brad's strong point, an area where he has been not just a good voter, but a tenacious advocate for working families and the leader among progressives on the Financial Services Committee. Tragically, Price voted for all the financial deregulation in the nineties, which allowed banks to become too big to fail, erased the separation of commercial and investment banking (Glass-Steagall), and prohibited any regulation of derivatives. Other Members of Congress have told me that Brad has been the leading critic among members of bank practices, and introduced the House version of the Kaufman-Brown bill that limited banks' total assets to two percent of the GDP. That would have allowed banks with more than $300 billion in assets, which are huge banks, but would have required the six biggest banks to split into more than 30 entities (not all would be banks). He has also been a tireless advocate for separating certain bank functions to avoid conflicts of interest and he introduced legislation to prohibit servicers of mortgages owned by others (securitized mortgages) from holding second liens on the same homes. That effectively would have required the largest banks to spin off their servicing affiliates. Most recently he introduced the legislation to make it easier for bank customers to move their accounts to create effective competition in consumer banking.
And speaking of banking, let's look at bankruptcy. Price voted for the God-awful bankruptcy bill that became law in 2005, which made it almost impossible for middle-class families to seek bankruptcy relief from overwhelming debt, and made it impossible ever to reduce student loans in bankruptcy. There are peer-reviewed academic publications by economists that find that the bankruptcy law changes fueled the explosion of subprime mortgages because families had no way out of debt, so they borrowed against their homes. Also, lots of young people are now unemployed and have crushing student loan debt that will almost certainly be with them for most of the rest of their lives. Brad Miller voted against that bankrutpcy bill and he was the first Member of Congress to introduce the legislation to allow modification in bankruptcy of home mortgages ("cramdown"), and was one of the leaders of that fight throughout. That had a lot to do with why Alan Grayson, also then a member of the House Financial Services Committee told Blue America that "Brad Miller is exactly what people hope that their representatives will be: thoughtful, independent, selfless, smart, and completely committed to their well-being. There are very few Members of Congress who are willing to tell a well-connected lobbyist to get lost; Brad is one of them."
Brad voted against extending all of the Bush tax cuts last December, and signed a letter circulated by Barbara Lee to the "supercommittee" to oppose any cuts to Medicare or Social Security to reduce the deficit. Price voted to extend the Bush tax cuts, and signed the opposite letter to the supercommittee urging that "mandatory spending"-- in other words, Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security-- be "on the table" to reduce the deficit.
Moving away from purely economic issues for a moment, health care reform is an important place to look for what makes one of these candidates so much better than the other one. Brad voted to allow prescription drugs manufactured in the United States and sold cheaply in Canada to be brought back into the United States, which would lower prescription drug costs. Makes total sense, right? Price voted against it, which achieves exactly one thing-- protects drug company profits at the expense of consumers. And Price has gotten lots of contributions since then from drug companies, the most of any member of the North Carolina House delegation ($275,392). Miller... not so much ($25,750). Two Democrats from North Carolina with similar Progressive Punch scores. But Big Pharma values David Price 10 times more than Brad Miller, who's too busy fighting for a fair shake for middle class families to stick with the corporate agenda that brings in the big campaign contributions.
You don't get a vote on the panel of the DC groups that decide who to endorse. And unless you live in North Carolina, you don't get a chance to make sure Brad Miller is reelected next year. But you do get a chance to help him get his message out that there is a difference-- a very real one. And one way to do that is to contribute to his campaign through our Blue America ActBlue incumbents page. Another would be to send this post to everyone you know who's remotely interested in this kind of information.
GUEST UPDATE BY JOSHUA GROSSMAN: ProgressivePunch Responds
I love Howie, but I was irritated by his post. He essentially sets up a straw man argument and asserts that you can’t use someone’s composite score on Progressive Punch as the sole assessment of how progressive they are. Of course we never said you should do that to begin with. Ironically and somewhat humorously, Howie spent a lot of time digging through his old posts in order to show how Miller is better than Price. We could have saved him a lot of time. In fact Progressive Punch is explicitly designed so that people can determine themselves whether or not they agree with Howie’s praise of Brad Miller and criticism of David Price. On the Progressive Punch homepage you can click on any member of Congress, then drill down by looking at their voting record in any one of 14 master categories (e.g. Environment) then going to 160 subcategories (e.g. Global Warming), then looking at one sentence vote descriptions and then finally reading detailed narrative descriptions of the votes themselves. To read Howie’s post you would think that Progressive Punch is nothing but a compilation of scores. That tends to be how Howie uses Progressive Punch, but there’s a huge wealth of information there and it’s beautifully set up for anyone to come to their own conclusions about who is or is not deserving of our support. In other words you certainly don’t have to take Joshua Grossman’s or Howie Klein’s word for it, you can scope out what issues are of interest to you and come to your own conclusions. You may find yourself agreeing with Howie about Miller & Price-- or not, and another time around you may find yourself switching sides to agree with Howie’s conclusions or disagree, 180 degrees in opposition to your previous position. The point is you get to reach your own conclusions. No other free online database of Congressional voting records-- from any political perspective, not just the progressive one-- has this quantity and easy access to Congressional voting record information.