Thursday, May 7, 2020

Newly obtained documents show ALEC is playing a leading role in pushing Trump administration to reopen the economy amid wreckage of coronavirus

(from Center for Media and Democracy)

A nonprofit organization for conservative state legislators is leading the push to reopen the U.S. economy in the face of the coronavirus crisis -- even though experts tend to say the country is not ready for such a step -- according to a report at the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD). Write David Armiak and Alex Kotch:

Documents obtained by the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD) show that a powerful corporate lobby front group, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), is playing a leading role in the right-wing movement to push for early reopening of the economy amidst the coronavirus pandemic that has cost the United States 61,680 lives to date.

ALEC is a corporate pay-to-play operation where legislators and corporate lobbyists vote behind closed doors to adopt model legislation on a broad range of public policy issues.

At a time when many hard-hit states and medical experts are lamenting the lack of federal leadership in dealing with the health crisis, the ALEC documents call for action to “bring the economy back to life through a free market approach that gets big government out of the way.”

What do the documents reveal? The CMD report explains:

In an email to legislators obtained by CMD, ALEC touts that “your ALEC team has been value-pushing your ideas and solutions into the mainstream” with “9 across the States podcast episodes with guests such as Newt Gingrich,” “30 policy prescriptions,” and hosting of “9 calls with top government officials and policy experts.”

ALEC is also coordinating a sign-on letter from “policy leaders and elected officials” to President Trump and state leaders urging them to “reopen the economy and get people back to work.” The letter praises Trump for his “Opening Up America Again” plan and thanks him for a “disaster response [that] is locally executed, state managed and federally supported.”

Are ALEC's positions popular with everyday Americans as they alter their lives to battle a lethal virus? It doesn't look like it:

Recent polling shows ALEC’s aggressive position on resuming commercial activity to be outside the mainstream of public opinion. Three in four voters (73 percent) think we need to continue social distancing measures despite the impact on the economy, 80 percent want more testing before schools and restaurants reopen, and 65 percent said “they did not want to go back to work without more thorough testing.”

ALEC writes in the letter that, “It is possible and preferable for employers to implement best practices to protect the health of their customers and employees – without micromanagement from the government,” but industry practices during the pandemic suggest otherwise.

“Essential” businesses that have stayed open have repeatedly jeopardized the health of their workers, including “thousands of employees across the country” at meat processing plants and shift workers in over 55 of Amazon’s fulfillment centers who have contracted the coronavirus.

A number of governors and health experts have warned that reopening the economy too early could make the coronavirus pandemic worse.

ALEC -- surprise, surprise -- is looking beyond public-health issues, including an almost certain spike in COVID-19 cases and deaths to come with a premature reopening:

Meanwhile, ALEC is attempting to use the national crisis to leverage movement on its pro-corporate policy agenda. The sign-on letter states in ALEC fashion that a “proven formula of tax relief, deregulation, and lawsuit reform” are keys to rebuilding the economy.

ALEC and the Koch influence network pushed hard for the massive 2017 tax giveaway to corporations and the wealthy that not only has not paid for itself, as Secretary Mnuchin notoriously argued it would, but as of January had led to a national deficit that is 28 percent greater than the Congressional Budget Office projected before the tax cuts.

Exploiting the opportunity of the coronavirus crisis, ALEC has put together a “policy prescriptions” wish list on its site composed of model bills it has drafted and recommends legislative members push for.

Emails obtained through records requests by CMD show that ALEC has been working closely with the Trump administration to convince members that now is the time to reopen. ALEC’s CEO Lisa Nelson wrote in an email to legislators Tuesday that ALEC hosted a call with Vice President Mike Pence (who once quipped, “I can say I was for ALEC before it was cool”) and over 300 members of the “ALEC family” to discuss reopening the economy on April 22.

Pence said on the call that the country “will look much different — and much better — by Memorial Day.”

Nelson also stated that ALEC would be hosting calls about reopening the economy with Labor Secretary Eugene Scalia (April 29) and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos (May 5).

On March 30, ALEC hosted a conference call for its members and partners that featured National Federation of Independent Business‘s Senior Director of Government Relations Kevin Kuhlman and Job Creators Network‘s President and CEO Alfredo Ortiz to discuss how to help “businesses in their communities access capital and restart their businesses.”

ALEC legislators and lobbyists will have an opportunity to put their words into action in July, as ALEC announced this week that it will be going ahead with its plans for an in-person Annual meeting in Orlando Florida on July 15-17. Nelson wrote that the conference will “explore solutions that will empower our attendees with freedom-based policies as we rebuild our states.”

Florida ranks eighth in the country for the most COVID-19 cases.

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