Debate: How would SWFL Democrats tackle the economy in Congress?


04-16-20 David Holden cropped    04-07-20 Cindy Banyai

April 17, 2020 by David Silverberg.

With the US economy in deep difficulty, The Paradise Progressive asked the two Democratic congressional candidates in Florida’s 19th Congressional District the question:

When the 117th Congress takes office in January 2021, the United States is likely to be in the midst of a deep economic downturn, even a depression. As the member of Congress from the 19th Congressional District, what would you specifically do at the federal level to support, sustain and improve the economy of Southwest Florida?

The answers are presented in full below, without editing. In our last debate question, we went in alphabetical order. This time we’re reversing that.

David Holden:

04-16-20 David Holden cropped
David Holden

SWFL faces several unique challenges to its economy that will undoubtedly be exacerbated by this crisis. Many of our talented young people leave year after year, creating a dearth of youth-lead politics, energetic new businesses, and cultural innovations enjoyed by other parts of Florida with the population density CD 19 boasts. While we may have the likes of billionaires like Rick Scott reveling in Medicare money on our beaches, we also have one of the largest gaps in income inequality in the entire nation. We have local governments more interested in satiating developers than cleaning up literal toxic waste dumps in portions of Ft Myers. All the while, committing to a denial of climate change and a dedication for polluting the same waters that keep our economy afloat. And though engineered factors like these have slowed the speed of progress drastically, it is still inevitable. We can fix this.

First, we must address the ongoing challenges to good policy-making precipitated by the 1994 Republican takeover of the House. Lawmakers have been too complacent about the stripping away of staff and expertise. To address that I will urge my Democratic colleagues to restore staffing levels and funding for House operations to 1993 levels, adjusted for inflation.

Bolstering our economy in SWFL, retaining talent, and shoring up our shrinking middle class will take several steps to address. I will introduce legislation mandating direct income support for working Americans though what may be a prolonged economic crisis. The measures taken by Canada and Great Britain make clear that one-time checks, no matter how welcome, simply aren’t enough to sustain our workers. What will allow our nation to recover economically is increased demand for goods and services, that only happens when folks have money to spend. In addition, we must fight for a living wage. I will co-sponsor a bill for the fight for $15, but those numbers need to be adjusted and we must legislate raises in the minimum wage that take into account inflation, increases in productivity, and buying power.

People in SWFL are dying because of the COVID crisis, but every year our populace falls prey to toxic algal blooms and poisonous red tides. We must allocate federal funds for research on connections between algal blooms, red tide, and human health. I will support immediate efforts to mend the tattered fabric of the American healthcare system. First strengthening the Affordable Care Act, then moving briskly to a single-payer system that provides every American with quality healthcare. Our district has families going bankrupt over medical bills which is flatly unacceptable anywhere, let alone in the richest country in the world.

Additionally, our national infrastructure is a disgrace. We have sucked resources out of public goods for decades in a never-ending obsession with providing tax cuts and bailouts for the wealthiest Americans and corporations. We need to build a new American Dream and we can begin by rebuilding our roads, bridges, mass transit systems, and hospitals. We must craft legislation to protect the USPS—a service we all rely on—and provide funding to transit in SWFL instead of toll roads to nowhere.

Finally, the rolling disaster of global warming is critical to all of us alive, especially in a Congressional District running entirely along a rising Gulf of Mexico. We must connect the dots between the pandemic, our environment, and broad-based economic prosperity. We must create a national mitigation and adaptation strategic plan addressing impacts of environmental challenges, pandemic response, and economic vitality. Jay Inslee’s 2019 “Climate Mission Agenda” has a fresh new iteration called “Evergreen” that he’s hoping Joe Biden and congressional hopefuls will adopt. There are new policies, like a new White House Office of Climate Mobilization and revising tax credits for carbon, that will be integral to addressing this existential threat. I will work tirelessly to institute these policies. I urge everyone to read Inslee’s plan–SWFL depends on bold change in how we address our environment.

These questions, though prudent, rest on America’s ability to vote in this upcoming election, and Congress’s ability to serve in a Democracy. Candidates now must inform themselves on mail-in ballots and early voting to ensure we have a safe, secure election that is not undermined by dubious threats by our current administration. We must do all we can now to ensure the institutions our democracy depends upon do not falter under crisis. And most importantly, we must preserve human life in the process. I pray that we follow Governor Andrew Cuomo’s advice on how to “reopen” America: “We must make decisions based on the science and the data. Human lives are at stake.”

Cindy Banyai:

04-07-20 Cindy Banyai
Cindy Banyai

Today we are sitting on 22 million new unemployment claims and by the time the 117th Congress gets to Washington we will be living in a much different world from where we were at the beginning of the 2020 campaign cycle. Millions of Americans will likely still be displaced with jobless rates of a least 10% leading into 2021 (Reuters) and an annual global economic contraction of up to 28% (CBO). This situation will leave development and tourist dependent economies like Southwest Florida mired in economic crisis.

The future Representative Dr. Cindy Banyai will continue to work, as she always has, for the people of Southwest Florida. Prioritizing individual and family safety nets over corporate welfare. I will advocate for a continuation of the individual household supports we are seeing now so people can have food in their belly and a roof over their heads. I would work to extend unemployment benefits and streamline processes to access these support payments, holding state governments accountable when they fail to meet the needs of the people.

I will work to pass a fiscal stimulus package that will provide employment opportunities and improve our country and its infrastructure overall, much like we saw after the Great Recession. I would prioritize improvements to our bridges and complete streets, drinking water systems, climate change mitigation and adaptation projects, and energy transformation projects. We will also need to provide support opportunities to revive small businesses, which make up 91% of the businesses in Southwest Florida. In such a stimulus package, I will advocate for the creation of locally administered block grants to revitalize main streets and support the return of small businesses (new or re-opened), encourage existing small businesses to make technology upgrades to improve their overall consumption rates and environmental impact, and support innovative new businesses. These grants also serve as an opportunity to diversify our local economy, instead of relying so heavily on tourism, building up more innovative small businesses, leaving people in Southwest Florida less vulnerable to economic shocks overall.

I will also advocate for education and training to help move displaced workers into needed areas in our economy, locally this includes healthcare, management, entrepreneurship, and digital technologies. I will work to ensure that any stimulus package prioritizes people’s lives and not corporations, as well as work to reduce inequalities. This means advocating for incentive funding family-friendly workplace policies, such as childcare support, remote-working, flexible scheduling, and job sharing. This will keep more women in Southwest Florida engaged in the workforce and enable more companies to build the necessary administrative capacity to be adaptive to social distancing protocols.

On top of these priorities, I would support the “green stimulus” proposed by economists and professors that includes a $2 Trillion commitment to living-wage jobs, public health, affordable housing, and moving away from fossil fuels. I would support continued efforts in oversight and accountability in the disbursement of stimulus funds and would require proof of concept for programs and demonstrable outcomes.

The IMF predicts there will be an addition half a billion people worldwide that will fall below the global poverty rate of $1.90 a day. This will exacerbate many problems around the world, including political instability and capacity for countries to continue the pandemic control strategies. It will be important for the US to regain its status as a global leader and fund international work on poverty alleviation and international public health to prevent the resurgence of the coronavirus and continued economic disruption.

We have a long road ahead, but the people of Southwest Florida can take comfort in knowing that they have someone representing them that is just as vulnerable to economic crisis as they are, truly understanding their everyday struggles, and has the knowledge and background to make policy that serves them.

Liberty lives in light

©2020 by David Silverberg


Trump tariff tantrum targets typical taxpayers—and tomatoes

06-03-19 Trump as tomato 2

June 3, 2019 by David Silverberg

Another day, another tariff and more pocketbook pain for the everyday people who play by the rules and pay their taxes.

This time it’s a 5 percent tariff on all Mexican goods that President Donald Trump is threatening to impose. He announced last Thursday, May 30, that the tariff would go into effect one week from today, on June 10. After that it’s 10 percent on July 1, 15 percent on Aug. 1, 20 percent on Sept. 1 and 25 percent on Oct. 1, after which the 25 percent rate becomes permanent.

The tariffs are intended to force Mexico to stop the movement of Central American migrants to the US border.

As was the case when he last threatened to close the U.S.-Mexican border, Trump may be lashing out at Mexicans and Central American migrants but it’s everyday Americans who will feel the lash.

Prices for everything are going to rise if this latest tariff goes into effect. Tariffs both disrupt international trading relations and serve as an effective tax on the American consumer.

This is the case for Southwest Florida as much as the rest of the country—and indeed, while much of the focus on the tariffs’ impact has been on the states directly adjacent to the southwestern border like California and Texas, Florida has a flourishing trade with the neighbor to the south that stands to take a big hit.

Florida’s trade with Mexico is substantial. In 2018 imports and exports of merchandise were worth $6.8 billion, according to Enterprise Florida, the state’s economic development organization. Top Florida exports to Mexico included civilian aircraft, engines and parts; pleasure boats and yachts; and cars. Top imports from Mexico included cars, trucks and gold. Mexico is the third largest export market for Florida companies after Brazil and Canada.

06-02-19 Florida-Mexico trade trends under NAFTAAlso, Mexicans have been investing in Florida real estate, particularly in the southern part of the state, according to the RealWealth Network.

06-02-19 Florida-Mexico trade as of 2017

As with all his tariffs, a chorus of voices, including many who are traditionally conservative, are speaking out against this latest round of unnecessary trade measures.

One of the most surprising critics was Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), a normally staunch conservative and chairman of the powerful Senate Finance Committee. “Trade policy and border security are separate issues. This is a misuse of presidential tariff authority and counter to congressional intent,” Grassley declared in a May 30 statement. “I support nearly every one of President Trump’s immigration policies, but this is not one of them. I urge the president to consider other options.”

Lawmakers, experts and officials are also worried that Trump’s arbitrary tariff imposition will threaten negotiation of the US Mexico Canada Agreement, the successor to the North American Free Trade Agreement, which Trump trumpeted as a vast improvement to its predecessor.

As with all tariffs, it’s consumers—in Southwest Florida and around the nation—who will suffer as prices rise. From fruits, nuts and vegetables to beer and tequila, to home appliances and cars, the cost of all Mexican imports will rise.

Fun interactive activity: Check the “Made in” labels of home appliances like washers and dryers and see how many are made in Mexico.

“Duties are harmful to the American consumers,” Lance Jungmeyer, president of the Fresh Produce Association of the Americas, told NPR. “It’s a tax on consumers. And that’s the wrong way to go with fruits and vegetables.”

Tomatoes are likely to be the first product that Trump’s tariffs will squeeze in the shopping cart. Florida tomato growers had been pushing for restrictions on Mexican tomatoes for some time, as riper Mexican tomatoes grabbed a larger share of the market. Now the growers may get their wish—but it’s everyday shoppers who will get juiced.

Liberty lives in light

© 2019 by David Silverberg

Analysis: Trump’s border shutdown will mean pain in the pocketbook for SWFL

04-03-19 surprised-grocery-shopping-woman

April 3, 2019 by David Silverberg

The big, immediate headline after President Donald Trump threatened to close the US border with Mexico was that the American avocado supply would dry up in three weeks.

That would certainly hit Southwest Florida, even though the state is a major avocado producer. Still, although an avocado shortage would hurt a lot of local restaurant menus, most Southwest Floridians could live a few weeks without guacamole.

But more seriously, the local impact of a border shutdown would depend on its extent and its duration.

For consumers, it would immediately be felt most keenly in the grocery shopping cart, later at the gas pump and possibly in a recession.

The closing

Trump announced the possible border closing during his visit to Lake Okeechobee on Friday, March 29, managing to divert national media attention from his supposedly great efforts on behalf of the Hoover Dike and the Everglades.

Since the offhand announcement, the administration, facing an uproar over its implications, has clarified that it would not apply to truck traffic (which is also one of the major means of drug smuggling into the United States).

Precise details of the closing remain sparse because the possible closing was hardly a carefully considered or vetted policy. Its nature and extent continue to rest on the whims and moods of Donald Trump. On Tuesday he reiterated his threat. “If they don’t stop them [migrants], we are closing the border. We’ll close it. And we’ll keep it closed for a long time. I’m not playing games,” Trump said.

Having lost the battle of the US government shutdown, it seems he’s seeking to shut down something new.

This prompted a rare dissent from even so staunch a Trump enabler as Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), the Senate majority leader. “Closing down the border would have potentially catastrophic economic impact on our country,” said McConnell on Tuesday. “I would hope we would not be doing that sort of thing.”

Even conservative economist Arthur Laffer, inventor of the “Laffer curve” during the administration of President Ronald Reagan, said that a border shutdown “will hurt us a lot.” US-Mexican trade is “a win-win game on trade,” he said during an interview on Fox News.

Pain in the produce aisle

Mexico is currently the US’ third largest goods trading partner, according to the US Trade Representative. As of 2017, the most recent year for which statistics are available, US and Mexican two-way goods trade totaled $557.6 billion. Goods exports totaled $243.3 billion; goods imports totaled $314.3 billion. The U.S. goods trade deficit with Mexico was $71 billion in 2017.

The primary goods imported from Mexico were vehicles, electrical machinery and machinery, optical and medical instruments and mineral fuels like oil.

Since Southwest Florida is not a center of commerce or immigration and has no cross-border transportation, a border shutdown would not initially be felt by businesses here.

But a border shutdown would be felt by every American consumer and Southwest Floridians are no exception. Costs would rise exponentially, particularly for foodstuffs.

Mexico is the largest supplier of agricultural imports to the United States. In 2017 that trade totaled $25 billion. Leading categories included fresh fruit ($6 billion), fresh vegetables ($5.5 billion), wine and beer ($3.3 billion), snack foods ($2.1 billion), and processed fruit and vegetables ($1.5 billion).

Suddenly, these goods would become scarcer and prices would rise for all foods, even those produced in Southwest Florida like tomatoes and strawberries. Southwest Floridians would be facing substantially higher food bills.

Pain at the pump

A border shutdown would have big implications for oil and gas, both for consumers and for Southwest Florida itself.

There would be substantial pain at the pump. The US imported $11 billion in mineral fuels from Mexico in 2017. A US-Mexico border closing, coming on top of sanctions placed on Venezuelan oil would drive up gas prices even further than the significant increases felt over the past month. Southwest Floridians would know that there’s a border shutdown every time they filled the gas tank.

But then, with oil prices rising, exploring, exploiting and extracting Florida’s oil, both in the Everglades and offshore, would become much more attractive and urgent to oil companies. The combination of oil industry profit-seeking and the Trump administration’s environmental indifference would nearly guarantee drilling off Southwest Florida’s coast and in the Everglades, although that would take several years to implement.

Southwest Florida would feel a double whammy from a border shutdown: both high gasoline prices in the short term and a degraded environment in the long term.

Pain in the pocketbook

As stated at the outset, the full impact of a Mexico border shutdown would depend on its extent and duration. The longer the shutdown, the greater the pain and expense and the deeper the effects would be.

What can be stated with certainty is that Trump is systematically impoverishing the United States just as he bankrupted his gambling casinos. The US national debt has now ballooned 77 percent in the first four months of fiscal year 2019 to $310 billion, up from $176 billion the previous year. Under Trump the trade deficit has reached over $100 billion, going from $502 billion in 2016 to $621 billion in 2018, an increase of 19 percent. Particularly hard hit is the once healthy and thriving US agriculture sector, with previously prosperous farmers now having to rely on government aid due to an unnecessary trade war with China.

A border shutdown would deliver a blow to the economy as a whole and consumers across the nation and would be particularly painful in Southwest Florida with its population of retirees, seniors and people on fixed incomes who would have difficulty coping with skyrocketing food and gas costs.

Even the threat of a shutdown is proving disruptive and disturbing to commerce and consumers.

The conclusion is clear: an unnecessary and absurd border shutdown is no way to make America great “again.”

Liberty lives in light

To read more about the impact of Trump trade policy on Mexican beer imports, see: “Farewell, my little Coronitas!”

©2019 by David Silverberg