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Saturday, December 30, 2023

Five things that brought us together as a country in 2023

1. UAW, WGA, SAG-Aftra strikes

2023 was a historically positive year for labor. Workers won vital gains at the federal policy level and across the private sector. As a result of this worker advocacy, unionization has grown and become more popular. As a result of further unionization, workers have seen notable wage and benefit improvements. 

Nowhere was this worker power more publicized this year than in the saga of striking United Auto Workers (UAW), SAG-AFTRA, and WGA workers. Overwhelmingly, especially with regard to the auto workers, the public supported these striking workers. President Biden, who publicly supported these strikes, made the historic first visit of a sitting president to a picket line when he stood with UAW strikers. Even historically pro-managememt Republican Party politicians were loath to criticize the workers. They claimed solidarity with the workers as they used it as a way to (albeit deceptively, in my humble opinion) attack Biden’s environmental policies. But the big picture takeaway was remarkable: both major political parties and the vast majority of the American public at least *wanted to* be perceived as sympathetic with the workers. 

That is a remarkable social development. Just a decade ago, President Obama’s pro-labor moves, though woefully insufficient, were the subject of routine attacks from his GOP rivals. Today, the political tide winds have shifted in favor of labor. A stronger economy for workers, where employers are competing for workers rather than the other way around, is ultimately best for everyone. 

The gains this year made by labor are also significant as the National Labor Relations Board made it easier to unionize and to hold employers accountable for anti-union activities. At the specific level of UAW and WGA and SAG-AFTRA, these workers secured historic pay increases, better schedules, and more robust benefits. Their livelihoods will be richer because of it. The country is happy for it as well. 

2. Taking on junk fees 

A prevailing anti-corporate mindset from the public was also on display in the hatred of junk fees. This issue gained prominence after the Ticketmaster Taylor Swift tickets debacle online. The Biden administration has now taken several steps to rein in junk fees and to provide more transparency around company fees.

It’s hard to find anyone out there willing to defend these onerous, ridiculous fees. It is an easy issue we have come together on but for good reason. The baseline prices for so many goods and services are already so expensive. These companies, with record profits, don’t need to gobble up even more money. If anything, it turns off people from them. Consumer protection is a vital element of an economy where everyone is valued. The public overwhelmingly agrees. 

3. Taylor Swift 

Taylor Swift was Time’s Person of the Year for 2023 and it is not hard to see why. Swift is an international pop culture sensation. A hugely popular figure, Swift has firmly earned herself a place among music titans like The Beatles and The Rolling Stones. Her concerts in the Eras Tour broke all kinds of records and even boosted local economies. Her romance with Travis Kelce also continues to be a source of public fixation. Swift’s talents and charms continue to bring all kinds of people together in joy.

 4. Barbenheimer 

The dual release of “Barbie” and “Oppenheimer” in July was not only a smash box office success but it was also a significant cultural moment of the year. There were so many memes, fascinating takes, and discussions of which movie to see first as part of possible double features. These films also helped bring millions back to the theaters after COVID wreaked havoc on the movies. So little in media brings us together as part of a shared, collective experience. But Barbenheimer was a fleeting moment of millions experiencing monumental movies at the same time in a joyous way. 

5. Pandas

Everyone loves pandas. Therefore, people were quite upset when it was announced late in 2023 that the Chinese government was reclaiming pandas from zoos in Washington, D.C. and Atlanta. Panda diplomacy is a very real thing with its origins dating back to President Nixon’s initial thawing of relations with China. The videos too of pandas rolling around at the Smithsonian National Zoo are just so adorable. They are some of the most wholesome content online.

I personally have enjoyed seeing pandas in person at the National Zoo and I was disappointed at this news too. Then, President Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping met in San Francisco in November as part of an effort to improve relations. In the aftermath of it all, President Xi announced that “we are ready to continue our cooperation with the United States on panda conservation, and do our best to meet the wishes of the Californians so as to deepen the friendly ties between our two peoples.” Indeed, this means pandas may be coming back to San Diego (a wonderful zoo I visited in February) and so we may not be pandaless in the U.S. after all. People rejoiced at this news — and it was even depicted in a “Saturday Night Live” cold open this season — as we love a reason to celebrate cuteness in an often dark world. 

Tuesday, April 25, 2023

President Biden just announced his reelection campaign. It isn't his age that should worry fellow Democrats.


Left: Then-Vice President Joe Biden and I on April 17, 2012 at an Obama/Biden reelection campaign fundraiser at the Howard Theatre in Washington, D.C. 

President Biden just announced his 2024 campaign for reelection to the presidency. At the same time, coverage of the President's announcement has focused significantly on polling that shows that a majority of Americans, including many Democratic voters, do not want Biden to run again. When asked why they do not want Biden to run again, most voters (of those who say they don't want a second Biden run) cite the President's age

I do not doubt the sincerity of voters' concern about Biden's age and that that is central to voters' skepticism. At age 80, he is not only the oldest person ever elected and sworn in as president but he also (from day one of his presidency) is older than any president has ever been on any day of the presidency.

There is one problem with this simple explanation of voters' angst regarding a 2024 Biden campaign: Joe Biden was still historically old (for a president) when he won the Democratic nomination in 2020, against many younger rivals, and won the general election later that year.

He was 78 years old for the entire first seven months of 2021 in which his approval rating was still at or above 50% and above water. It is reasonable that one would say that they did not envision, when electing Biden in 2020, that he would run again in 2024 especially since he himself said he only saw himself as a "bridge" to a new generation.

But the reality is that, as with all presidential elections, this election will be defined by the national conditions of the country and perceptions about our economy. Concerns about Biden's age may be genuine, on the part of voters, but they would not be paramount if voters perceived things to be going well in the country. 

The truth is that the real concern for Biden is: prices, prices, prices. Inflation is still stubbornly high and that is why he is still unpopular, not because he is old. This would, as such, be a problem for any incumbent party nominee, not just Biden, because the incumbent party always gets tagged with the praise or blame for conditions. 

Recall that though John McCain was much more popular than George W. Bush in 2008, personal favorability was not enough to save McCain from the wrath of voters' anger at the GOP broadly. One difference though here is Biden is at a still-not-terrible-in-our-climate-45% approval among voters, as opposed to Bush's 27% in 2008, and it is just fine enough that it oddly helps make him seem like the indispensable nominee. He is after all the incumbent with all the advantages, prowess, and trappings of the office, something no other potential candidate can boast as he is a unifying figure for the party coalition and is at least not Bush-level toxic.

What's the clearest example of how the real issue is more inflation than age here though? Consider that when people felt like COVID was in the rearview mirror (it was the "summer of joy") and the economy appeared to be improving, President Biden was enjoying strong approval ratings in the spring and summer of 2021. Was he not still old at that time? Of course he was. 

But it did not matter as much to people because they felt like things were going well. Now, his lowest approval ratings are on the subjects of the economy and inflation and as prices have remained high, Biden's approval has remained low. During the optimistic times of early summer 2021, a majority of voters still thought Biden was handling the economy well and that hopefulness made Biden's overall approval rating solid.

It isn't to say that age is not a potential liability for Biden but rather that the liability is only magnified because people do not perceive things to be going well right now because, mainly, of prices and perceived instability in the markets. When things are perceived as going well on a president's watch, that president's unpopular personality traits and disfavored character qualities that are liabilities take a back seat for voters. When people perceive things as not going well, those liabilities are scrutinized in full force -- and seen as possible reasons why things are not good.

Therefore, fellow Democrats may want to consider that though there is not much the President could be able to do to shake off the public image of him as a classic grandfather, for better or for worse, some aspect of the inflation issue is within his control. What to do about this problem? Policywise, investments, like those Biden proposed in Build Back Better, would have a deflationary impact. But in terms of political messaging, Biden made a compelling theory of the case in the 2022 midterms that was strong enough to help produce impressive swing state Democratic performances last year. 

He ought to reiterate that same case in 2024 as well: 1) that inflation is his "top economic priority," 2) that it was a "global problem" caused by COVID supply chain issues, 3) that his American Rescue Plan had a negligble effect on inflation while it spurred job growth, poverty reduction, GDP growth, and got the virus under control, and 4) that a variety of legislative and executive actions he's taken -- the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, the Ocean Shipping Reform Act, the CHIPS and Science Act, the Inflation Reduction Act, tapping the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, antitrust efforts, regulations against junk fees -- have helped bring inflation down from its peak

In making this case, Biden is betting on voters giving him the benefit of the doubt, despite those doubts, because, as he says, it is a "choice, not a referendum" and that he should be compared not "to the Almighty but compare me to the alternative." Putting aside that, if we had followed their course of action, the GOP's 2020 clamor to "reopen" the economy in the midst of COVID may have exacerbated inflation more given the supply crunches, the "alternative" here is not just Donald Trump but also the forces he represents. 

Biden would be wise to harness on themes he laid out in the State of the Union of targeting larger powerful, negative external harms that he is taking on with his leadership as they are the forces that fueled inflation. One early sign that the midterms were going to be OK was that voters correctly blamed COVID, corporate greed, and Putin for high prices (and they knew it was a global problem, something Biden emphasized). Biden should emphasize repeatedly how strongly he is taking on these menaces; that he, though imperfect, is much prefereable to the forces who don't take the virus seriously, who coddle corporate power, and who embrace authoritarians

By reframing this more serious weakness (inflation) than his age this way, President Biden can inspire confidence in voters that he has this issue under control -- regardless of how old he is.

Tuesday, March 14, 2023

I'm a podcast host now! Check out Tax Justice Warriors.

   It should be noted that any views and opinions expressed in other posts on this blog are all my own individual views and opinions in my personal capacity and do not reflect the views or opinions of my employer. This post is intended to separately, on this convenient forum, promote this podcast and does not advance any view or opinion.

I recently had the honor of being asked to host the Tax Justice Warriors podcast. My colleague, William Schmidt asked me to take over this podcast after he left Legal Aid of Western Missouri to work at the IRS Office of Chief Counsel. I previously appeared on the podcast before as a guest and I enjoyed the podcast so much over the years as I learned much as a young, new tax practitioner.

I already recorded and published my first two episodes (a third episode is coming soon!) I could not have done this without my best friend, our podcast producer Zac Harvey, a digital media professional. Zac also took the picture seen here and designed our wonderful new logo. I am so grateful for Zac.

My first two episodes are both interviews that were originally recorded at tax conferences and are both interviews with National Taxpayer Advocates. The first episode is an interview with the current National Taxpayer Advocate, Erin Collins, at the Annual Low Income Taxpayer Clinic Conference in Phoenix in December 2022. Since Collins and I spoke at this conference, there are updates to some of the items we discussed.

Those updates include that President Biden has since signed into law legislation that temporarily increased the maximum low income taxpayer clinic grant to $200,000, from the $100,000 level the grant had been at for decades. Further, Lily Batchelder, the Assistant Secretary for Tax Policy at the U.S. Treausry Department, informed practitioners recently, at the ABA Tax Section conference in San Diego in February 2023, that we have now gone from roughly 85% of phone calls to live IRS agents being gone unanswered in 2022 to now 85% of such calls being answered. With the hiring of at least 5,000 new IRS employees due to $80 billion in additional funding for the IRS from the Inflation Reduction Act, the experiences of taxpayers and practitioners on the phone may improve. Overall though, this conversation between Collins and I included many topics that she utlimately addressed in her Annual Report to Congress she released shortly after this conversation.

The second episode I published here is an interview I did with former National Taxpayer Advocate Nina Olson and ABA Tax Section Christine A. Brunswick Public Service Fellow Anna Gooch, an attorney at the Center for Taxpayer Rights (CTR), an organization led by Olson. We discussed the work Olson and Gooch are doing at the CTR and about the focus of Anna's Brunswick fellowship.

I am so excited about this opportunity here to host this podcast. I hope you will subscribe to this podcast and I am eager to publish more episodes soon.

Friday, January 21, 2022

One Year of President Biden

President Biden took office a year ago this week. Just days after he was elected president, two prevailing expectations were that 1) the GOP would control the Senate and that 2) the pandemic would soon fade (the Pfizer vaccine announcement was two days after Joe Biden was projected winner). At the time, I also predicted that, because of these twin expectations, Biden would find political success in foreign policy, immigration, and COVID management – things he could control. With Mitch McConnell calling the shots on the Senate floor, I thought there’s no way anything happens in Congress. 

Life and events had a different plan. Democrats unexpectedly won the Georgia runoffs and thus the Senate. Despite hundreds of millions of vaccinations that have saved many lives, COVID variants rage on frustratingly. Foreign policy has proven to be a political weakness as Biden was faulted by voters for his handling of Afghanistan. Immigration has been Biden’s worst issue, in my view because he has continued some Trump-era anti-asylum policies. While Biden has fallen short on Build Back Better and voting rights, he’s had astonishing success on confirming judges and passing two pieces of landmark economic legislation – because Democrats control the Senate. 

Biden likes to say that he’s “a great respecter of fate” and that fate has “intervened” in ways he didn’t expect in his life. This theme has emerged in his presidential journey too. Life and events have often had different plans for him. 

If you had told me years ago that Biden would succeed in passing a $1.9 trillion COVID relief measure despite Joe Manchin being the 50th Senator he needed, I would’ve said you’re crazy. Oddly, President Trump signing the CARES Act helped to change the debate. Democrats felt like they could do things like the American Rescue Plan and not face electoral blowback. After COVID emerged, Biden reimagined his campaign to be bolder. He has delivered with ARP and the bipartisan infrastructure law. 

But fate intervened in the election itself to change just how bold Biden could be. I wrote in October 2020 that he could end up doing a bunch of stuff on wages and labor rights and climate that he just hasn’t been able to so far. That’s because the elections were far closer than expected and he didn’t win as many Senate seats as anticipated in June-October 2020. As such, he has been forced to tame his ambitions. 

To be honest, that he’s made as much progress on Capitol Hill as he has is incredible in it of itself. Manchin and Sinema have supported all of his judges, ARP, the infrastructure law, Juneteenth as a federal holiday, and are on the cusp of voting for much climate and education spending (yes, after they watered down the rest of BBB). The alternative, the one that again just 14 months ago was the expectation, was McConnell controlling the floor. None of these items would be even in consideration.

Life and events, fate as it will, have most intervened recently in ways that have damaged Biden’s approval rating. Variants got in the way of declaring independence from the virus. The Taliban seized control of Afghanistan despite predictions from Biden that they wouldn’t. Inflation took a toll on people’s finances. Voters don’t blame Biden for these problems and they largely agree with his underlying policies on these issues. But we’ve gone through an emotional whiplash, a roller coaster as we thought we could breathe easy in spring and summer 2021 but now we’re exhausted all over again.

It doesn’t matter politically that voters correctly think supply chain issues and the pandemic have caused inflation, not Biden’s COVID relief spending. As long as inflation remains elevated, he’ll suffer – even as he takes concrete steps now to lower it. It doesn’t matter politically that voters don’t blame him for variants or that they support many of his wise mitigation measures. As long as the pandemic rages, he suffers because of the pandemic fatigue we feel. It doesn’t matter politically that voters correctly think he was right to withdraw from Afghanistan or that they think the situation there would’ve been almost impossible for any administration to control. As long as those images from the withdrawal remain in the public’s mind, he’ll suffer in his popularity.

However, fate and life and events can intervene soon in positive ways. ARP made it so many people this tax season can expect much more generous credits. Those refunds should soon hit people’s pockets. Antiviral pills will become more widely available soon. That’ll hasten the pandemic’s end, as Dr. Scott Gottlieb said recently. Impressive antitrust policies from Biden’s DOJ and FTC may soon yield results in reducing prices.

Where that leaves us within a year in is that things are in flux. Biden is in a rough political position now. It may not always be that way. Fate has a way of intervening. To the extent Biden can control things, of course he should. He should cancel student loan debt, mandate vaccines for air and train travel, and enact more aggressive climate regulations. 

When President Obama showed higher energy in December 2014 after lower approval ratings in much of the year,  he bounced back as he took action of his own on immigration and climate. At the same time, much as we have learned as a country there are things we cannot control, the President has learned the same. What happens next is anyone guess. Perhaps the last couple of years has taught us, more than anything, that a few days or weeks even can be a lifetime where matters radically alter. Stay tuned. 


Wednesday, December 29, 2021

Harry Reid was an American political icon

Rest in peace, former Senate majority leader Harry Reid. I really admired Reid.

He was first elected in the ‘86 midterms, part of Dems’ strong year in Reagan’s 2nd midterm when they took back the Senate. He grew up poor in Searchlight, became a boxer, and stared down the mafia famously as Nevada gambling commissioner (it got physical!) 

He went on to become Senate Democratic Leader at a critical time. After 2004, Dems were dispirited when Bush was reelected and the GOP not only grew their congressional majorities but also knocked out the Senate Dem leader himself: Tom Daschle in his own seat. Reid stepped into the void and he and Pelosi helped Dems recapture majorities in 2006. Reid then began a remarkable 8 years as majority leader.

Reid was no-holds-barred. He wasn’t afraid to speak his mind. He called Bush a loser (though they worked together on TARP), he revealed Romney paid no taxes at one point (Jon Huntsman’s dad told him this apparently), he called Boehner a dictator in the House (Boehner then told him to go fuck yourself, in the White House no less). But most notably in speaking his mind, albeit privately here, he told Barack Obama in 2006 to run for president. He came to “love the man,” as he told David Axelrod.

They worked together to achieve great things, starting with the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act and the Recovery Act. The ACA is here to stay because Reid got all 60 Senate Dems on Christmas Eve 2009 to pass the legislation. He held his fragile coalition together again for Dodd-Frank, the new START treaty, and, to his everlasting personal credit because he brought it to the floor without full White House certainty it’d pass: the repeal of Don’t Ask/Don’t Tell.

He did all of this and more while weathering sometimes brutal political fights at home. He won more comfortably in years good for Dems (‘86 and ‘92) but also survived very narrowly in 1998, won in 2004 despite Bush winning Nevada the same day, and in his final electoral triumph, he won in a somewhat upset fashion in 2010 against Tea Partier Sharron Angle. In that final campaign, he wasn’t afraid to deploy Obama even though Obama was unpopular at the time. He rallied the base and he didn’t take anything for granted.

Even after Democrats lost control of the House and thus no longer had a trifecta, Reid ensured from 2011-2015 that a Democratic Senate could get progress done. He got the votes finally for comprehensive immigration reform in 2013 in the Senate but alas was stopped by Boehner in the House. In other areas, where he could truly make things happen, he did; most importantly, that happened on presidential appointments. Reid hastened the end of the filibuster as he and Obama and Biden got filibuster reform done to make an exception for non-SCOTUS judicial nominees and executive appointments. Consequently, Obama got some great CFPB, EPA, NLRB, Labor Department appointees, Surgeon General, and more confirmed. He also got many federal judges confirmed in this crucial period.

As he left office in 2016, Reid ensured his mark would be felt politically still. He helped pave the way for his successor Catherine Cortez-Masto win a hotly contested race. He organized to turn out voters for Hillary Clinton in that year’s critical Nevada caucus. Four years later, he endorsed Joe Biden, despite their differences on the fiscal cliff deal, right before Super Tuesday in a flurry of endorsements Biden got. In some small way, Reid ensured his impact was still felt four years after retiring. 

With millions more insured, consumers armed with more rights, and people able to serve openly, our country is a better place because of Harry Reid.

Sunday, August 1, 2021

Mr. Popular, At an Inflection Point

So far, President Biden – a little more than six months into his tenure – has managed to stay popular and pursue mostly popular policies. His job approval rating on average has consistently hovered between 51 to 55 percent. Recent public opinion polling in crucial swing states show his approval is roughly around the same level in those states as well.

As for his programs, the American Rescue Plan Act, the infrastructure agreement, and his handling of COVID all poll well. Other pursuits, such as the withdrawal from Afghanistan and the American Families Plan proposals, also are popular. As various journalists and pundits have observed, Biden, with some notable exceptions, has heavily invested in appealing to the median voter. The President is focused on doing popular, populist things to keep his popularity afloat and thus long-term help his party and the larger progressive agenda. 

The effects of this governing are mostly positive from a policy standpoint. The $1.9 trillion Rescue Plan was ambitious legislation. The law represented the single most significant first-round economic policy of a Democratic president since Franklin D. Roosevelt. On that front, Biden is clearly learning from his predecessors and getting great advice, including from his left-leaning Council of Economic Advisers. In this realm, popular policies also happen to be good policy. My former boss, state Rep. Phyllis Mundy, said as much all the time, in the reverse that is (“good policy is good politics”). It applies all the same here as Americans embrace the stimulus checks, money for vaccines and testing, the Child Tax Credit expansion, and anti-trust policies. The same can be said about Biden’s proposals on infrastructure and climate, education, and family support. These policies are anti-poverty and justice-oriented and also are popular. It is a win-win. 

Similarly, on his handling of COVID, Biden has been competent and strategic. His administration’s vaccine rollout has been impressive; it hit a snag earlier this month because of the hold out unvaccinated but now, numbers are picking up again. The administration has earned high support from the public for working to get the virus under control. The decision to require vaccination of federal employees is a strong move too that demonstrates decisive leadership. 

However, within these areas somewhat but mostly in other realms, Biden now is facing possible crises that could put his popularity at risk but where he has the potential to be courageous, polls be damned. Biden himself often lauds his former boss, President Obama for taking bold action that was unpopular at the time but paid off in the long run (such as, the ACA and the auto rescue).   It is these moments forthcoming that will truly test the leadership potential of Biden and his principles.

For instance, just hours ago, the CDC eviction moratorium expired. Biden has said he won’t extend it (he did extend moratoriums on federally backed housing days ago). He blamed it on Justice Kavanaugh’s concurrence in a Supreme Court decision that allowed the moratorium to stay until Biden’s precious extension until July 31. Kavanaugh wrote that, as the pivotal fifth vote there, he believes a further extension warrants an act of Congress. Biden has called on Congress to extend the moratorium now but the ask was remarkably last-minute. Congress spectacularly failed to do so too. There is blame to go around here, including on states and localities that haven’t distributed this aid, but Biden could certainly be more forceful here. If he truly was invested in protecting people from hardship, he would call on the House to reconvene now. He would urge the Senate Democrats to create an emergency exception to the filibuster for this moratorium to allow this to go forward now. He may get blowback from landlords and it is uncertain how it’ll all play politically. But it’s the right thing to do and even long term it may pay off politically.

With regard to the Delta variant specifically, Biden could go even further and require proof of vaccination to enter federal buildings or get on an airplane abroad. That decision may risk some anger but it would be worthwhile for public safety – so, again, something that long-term could pay off politically.

On foreign policy, Biden has struggled to reenter the Iran Deal. The administration may be worried about angering moderate Democrats in Congress and/or the effects politically of a deal the GOP is sure to eagerly attack if it happens before the midterms. But the price of inaction is greater as it means potential conflict which would be undesirable. Long-term, the goal of prosperity at home and peace abroad would pay off politically too.

On voting rights, Biden is trying to be delicate on the filibuster as he moves his domestic agenda on economic matters through Congress. He may be resistant to pushing too strong for the For the People Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Act now and for pushing for a filibuster exception there. He may worry about how that’ll affect his perception among Senators Manchin and Sinema and if the Democrats will appear to be “power grabbing,” or whatever it is the conservative media will say. But there is no better example here of how a certain action will be both good policy and good long term politics. Passing this legislation would ensure that we can go after partisan gerrymandering and regressive laws. If we don’t do it all, as Ari Berman recently pointed out, the GOP, through these measures alone, could regain political power.

On immigration, Biden is facing the most headwinds politically because his refugee admissions policy is unpopular and there is a false perception that the border is “insecure.” The reality sadly is that the administration has continued to invoke public health authority, on shaky grounds, to expel migrant families and single adults. At some point, Biden will have to, on these fronts, actually show leadership in bringing forth 125,000 refugees a year – as he initially stated – and in welcoming asylum seekers. He can make the forceful case to the public that these policies are for the benefit of all of us. As an old, white, moderate seeming man, he can help shape public opinion here as he is not seen by many voters as particularly threatening. He has a prime chance to use his privilege for good. 

So far, Biden has overall performed well politically and in policy, especially on the economy and COVID on the whole. Moving forward though, he’ll have to make more difficult decisions that may momentarily put his popularity at risk but would be good for the country and even still be advantageous politically. How he proceeds in the future will determine the fate of his presidency.


Sunday, October 25, 2020

The case for Joe Biden and the future liberals want

"This is the future that liberals want" has circulated for years as an Internet joke that liberals embraced. What is the future liberals want or that we can hope for in the best case of a Biden presidency? 

Think that it is late 2021: COVID-19 is under control, President Trump's harmful executive actions (particularly on immigration) have been reversed, and a range of progressive legislation has been signed into law. That is the future we can envision with a Joe Biden administration and a Democratic Congress.

Imagine the bill-signing ceremonies where a President Biden is signing into law: the HEROES Act and  giving the pens to essential workers, a $15 minimum wage (indexed to inflation with an end to the tipped minimum wage) and giving the pens to Fight for 15 activists, the PRO Act and giving the pens to labor organizers, the Domestic Workers' Bill of Rights and giving the pens to domestic workers and their allies in the National Domestic Workers Alliance, the John Lewis Voting Rights Act and giving the pens to voting rights advocates, the Justice in Policing Act and giving the pens to Black Lives Matter leaders, the DREAM Act and giving the pens to immigration activists, the Equality Act and giving the pens to LGBTQ rights activists, universal background checks and an assault weapons ban and other gun safety provisions while giving the pens to the Parkland kids and Gabby Giffords and Sandy Hook families, expansion of health insurance through a public option and lowering the Medicare age to 60 and giving the pens to patient advocates and other reformers, 12 weeks of paid family leave and giving the pens to family leave activists, a massive infrastructure package and giving the pens to public transportation advocates, and a $2 trillion clean energy plan and giving the pens to Sunrise Movement leaders.

Before Biden does any of these things, he will hopefully do as promised on two key emergency fronts: 1) call Dr. Fauci, implement his recommendations, and institute a national mask mandate to the extent possible and 2) immediately pass legislation that either institutes a nominal $1 penalty for lack of insurance under the Affordable Care Act or fully repeals the technically-still-in-place individual mandate so that the current suit against the ACA becomes moot.

Think of it all as LBJ 2.0 (without a Vietnam War-like quagmire); I'm hardly the first person to make the comparison. Biden could very well likely emerge, like Lyndon B. Johnson, as an unlikely face and vessel through which major change happens. Dr. King and John Lewis helped convince LBJ to get the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act done despite Johnson's past record on civil rights after all. Since the summer, Vice President Biden has increasingly met the moment in taking on a more listening-based, somber, serious approach to our nation's various inequities. We saw such leadership on display in his criminal justice reform speech in Philadelphia, in his COVID-19 roundtables, and in his defense in the last debate of higher wages and spending to boost social services and the economy.

If you are doubtful that Biden will follow through on these promises, consider that presidents often carry out or try to carry out policies that they campaign on in their elections. We can expect activists to hold his feet to the fire as well. 

That is what happened under Biden's former running mate, Barack Obama, who delivered on economic stimulus, health care, financial regulation, LGBTQ rights, relief for the Dreamers, and diplomacy with Cuba and Iran -- but not until after activists prodded him to do so on many fronts. We can and should expect such a relationship between activists and a Biden administration because we've already seen such a dynamic in Biden's own general election campaign. His policies on items like climate action have already been shaped by activists; there is no reason to expect this will not also be the case in a Biden presidency.

The point of all of this focus on activists is that, as Biden himself has said, it is not about Joe Biden. There are negative aspects of his career and personal behavior that are troubling. I should note too at the same time there are uniquely positive aspects of his career that speak well to how he'll handle this particular moment.

Ultimately, it is not Biden's past that is most important here. It is the future liberals want, that we should all want, that is at stake. With Joe Biden in the White House (and let's be real, this is a binary choice between either Biden or Trump) and Democrats in control of Congress, the future can be written by progressive activists, by civil rights advocates, by frontline workers, and by all of us. 

**So how do you get involved and what do you need to know?**  (Updated 10/29/20)

IN PENNSYLVANIA: You had until (up to and including) Tuesday, October 27 to either apply for a mail ballot (here) or go to an early in person voting site (such as your county elections office) to vote on a mail ballot right there and then.

But: if you have applied for but haven't received your mail ballot yet and you're nervous it won't arrive by or before Election Day, you may be able to cancel your existing mail ballot that is technically on its way and instead go in and vote on a replacement ballot at your county elections office or, at least in Philadelphia, at a satellite office up to and including Monday, November 2.

If you have your mail ballot in hand already, please return it promptly to an official county election drop box or at your county elections office on or before Election Day, November 3. 

Make sure your ballot is filled out in blue or black ink consistently throughout, that it is sealed in the "official election ballot" secrecy envelope, and that that envelope is then sealed in the larger declaration envelope and that you sign and date (with the date you signed it!) the back of the declaration envelope before you return it!

Your mail ballot must be postmarked on or before Election Day! Ideally, it also should be received by then by your county elections office though the U.S. Supreme Court so far has let stand a Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruling that stated that your mail ballot will count if it's postmarked by Election Day so long as it is received by 5 PM on Friday, November 6. For now though, please just get it done ASAP.

If you wish to forfeit your mail ballot and vote in person instead, please bring your mail ballot package with you on Election Day to your polling place and ask that they spoil your mail ballot and you can vote in person on a traditional machine. 

If you do not get your mail ballot by Election Day (or you lose or forget it for whatever reason before November 3), you can go to your polling place (check where it will be here!) and vote on a provisional ballot. There is no reason it will not count. 

Of course, if you just wish to vote in person on Election Day regardless of all of this, you can do so on November 3 between 7 am and 8 pm. You have the right to vote if you are in line at 8 PM. You do not need to show ID unless it's your first time voting in that election district (your voter card or photo ID or driver's license are among acceptable forms of ID). Make sure to check where your polling place is here as it may have changed.

If you live anywhere else, please go to to find out how and where you can vote!

HOW TO GET INVOLVED: Go to to find out how you can volunteer in these final days to help get the Biden/Harris ticket over the finish line. In Pennsylvania specifically, if you want to join me in phone banking in what is arguably the most important state in the whole election, you can sign up to phone bank during the week here or during the final weekend here.