Washington Watch Roundtable: New Income Inequality Numbers, Jobs Bill, Occupy Wall Street, 2012 GOP Presidential Race (VIDEO)

Roland Martin and the Washington Watch “roundtable, ” political scientist and XM Sirius Radio talk show host Wilmer Leon; senior correspondent for “The Washington Times” Deborah Simmons; Washington editor-at-large for “The Atlantic,” Steve Clemons; joining us from New York, Columbia University political scientist Dorian Warren take on this weeks hot topics.


MR. MARTIN:  Folks, before we start, some numbers to set the conversation.  A new report from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office out this week found that, from 1979 to 2007, the growth in after-tax income for the top 1 percent in the country grew 275 percent – 275 percent.  For the 60 percent of folks in the middle-income scale, the growth was just 40 percent.  For the 20 percent with the lowest income, the growth was even lower, at 18 percent.

Now, when you look at the Occupy Wall Street movement, the latest CBS News-New York Times poll asked this question:  “From what you have heard or read, would you say you generally agree or disagree with the views of the Occupy Wall Street movement?”  Agree:  43 percent.  Disagree:  15 percent.  Don’t know:  30 percent.  And so it’s very interesting how this Occupy Wall Street movement has really raised the consciousness of this country when it comes to haves and have-nots.  And so what do you make of this i- — income ine- — income inequality and how that seems to be getting a lot more coverage, a lot more attention across the board?

DR. WILMER LEON:  Well, I think a lot of it starts with the premise of the American Dream and the fact that now the American Dream seems to be harder and harder to achieve for the average individual in this country.  And you can break it down, I think, into three categories.  You’ve got your – your recent and – and college – college graduates under 25  years old, where their unemployment rate, I think, is around 17.1 percent.  They spent all this time and money in college, and now they’re coming out of school, and there’s nothing for them to do.  You have your – your middle-age group, say, up to about 55, who’s been working hard and looking to retire, and now their 401(k)s are shrinking.  The values of their homes have gone away, and they’re wondering, “How much longer am I going to have to work?”  And then you have those who have retired, and they’re looking at their nest eggs.  Their investments have gone away.  Some of them are now having to come back into the working –

MR. MARTIN:  Right.

DR. LEON:  — workforce and they wonder what are they going to do.

MR. MARTIN:  Causing more competition for jobs.

DR. LEON:  Exactly.

MS. DEBORAH SIMMONS:  And then on the – o- — on – to add to what Wilmer just said, you have to look at what the issues are, because it’s not just the economy that’s – that’s plaguing these folks.  There’s no political camp that can claim – whether it’s the Tea Partiers, whether it’s the progressives and the liberals – that can claim, “That’s my group of folks out there.”  There is something boiling that has been boiling in the pressure cooker for a lo-o-ong time, and now you have all these folks together making a stew, because the Tea Partiers are raising cane just like –


MS. SIMMONS:  — the – the – the Occupy Wall Street.  And they’re mad as hell, but what they’re not doing is protesting where they need to be, and where they will make a key difference, and that’s in Washington, D.C.

fI – I think the big thing, Roland, is that – that –

MR. DORIAN WARREN:  Well, let me jump in here.

MR. STEVE CLEMONS:  — the social contract that we’ve had in this country –

MR. MARTIN:  Dorian, one second.  I’m going to Steve, and then I’ll come to, you, Dorian.

MR. CLEMONS:  — the –

MR. MARTIN:  Go – go ahead, Steve.

MR. CLEMONS:  — the social contract we’ve had in this country, where – where people thought if they go – if they go get training – they go to a community college, they go to – improve themselves – that there’s a deal that – that society provides, which is they can get ahead, that their children can get ahead; and that’s very much broken.  We know that we’ve been in a winner-takes-all society for a long time, which fundamentally is unfair.  These numbers that we see from CBO are not new.  They’ve been out for a long time.

DR. LEON:  Right.

MR. CLEMONS:  What is new and what’s really striking is the fact that, even in – in – in Barack Obama’s first term, in 2009, at the end of that year, bailed-out firms – taxpayer-bailed-out firms – were already giving million-dollar bonuses back to certain individuals.  We had over 5,000 people at bailed-out companies that year that had bonuses over a million dollars each, so that when people who were out there and seeing foreclosed homes, and they’d been out there, you know, doing what they thought was their fair share in the economy, and they’re being left behind – so, what’s happened now, as opposed to the inequality debate, say, ten years ago, is – is the – the participants in that debate have become huge.  This is the middle class

DR. LEON:  Exactly.


MR. CLEMONS:  — on the street.  The Occupy movement is us

MR. MARTIN:  Right.

MR. CLEMONS:  — and that’s what’s changed.

MR. MARTIN:  Dorian?

MR. CLEMONS:  Yeah, I just want to make the point that, unlike the invisible hand of the market, our rising inequality the last 30 years is a result of politics – not the market.  We have allowed both parties, frankly, to reduce tax rates.  We’ve had a problem trying to increase the minimum wage over the last 30 years.  So, in 1968, the minimum wage was worth             $10 an hour.  Now it’s [$]7.25.  So, these are policy choices that we’ve made that have resulted in what people are feeling – what the 99 percent are feeling today.  It’s not just the workings of the market, and people are not working hard, like Herman Cain would say.  It’s a result of our political decisions and our politicians, and that’s what people are upset about.  They feel the game is rigged against them, that if you have more money, you can buy what you want from Washington.

MR. MARTIN:  Now, Deborah, you made the point in terms of folks don’t feel there is one particular party looking out for their interests.

MS. SIMMONS:  Right.

MR. MARTIN:  This week, Congressman Paul Ryan gave a speech, and he really slammed Pres. Barack Obama on this whole issue of creating a class warfare.  Her3’s a bit of what he had to say.


REP. PAUL RYAN:  Instead of appealing to the hope and optimism that were the hallmarks to his first campaign, he has launched his second campaign by preying on the emotions of fear, envy and resentment.  This has the potential to be just as damaging as his misguided policies.  Sowing social and class resentment makes America weaker, not stronger.


MR. MARTIN:  Now, here’s what’s interesting about that.  The Republicans – and this is where I think the President’s gaining some traction.  The Republicans have positioned themselves as the fiercest advocates for folks who are making over a half a million dollars, a million dollars –

MS. SIMMONS:  Yeah, on tax credits, tax cuts –

MR. MARTIN:  When you w- — I mean just as – just as –

MS. SIMMONS:  — and that sort of –

MR. MARTIN:  — constantly

MS. SIMMONS:  — absolutely.

MR. MARTIN:  — and then fighting the ending of the subsidies to oil companies.

Is the GOP in a very difficult position now because the way the President is framing this [is] he is setting it up as, “You guys are working your butt[s] off for the rich, but you really aren’t as,” you know – you know, ‘focused on everybody else.”

MS. SIMMONS:  Right.

MR. MARTIN:  Does the GOP have a problem here?

MS. SIMMONS:  Yeah, absolutely they have a problem.  You know when they first heard the message?  In 2010, when the Tea Partiers got their candidates in.  Hello, Sen- — Senator Paul.  You understand what I’m saying?  The Republican Party itself is splintered.  You – you – you don’t have to look at the debates to know that Mitt, Herm and Rick – [chuckles] – are running the show, no ma- — and where people fall even within those three camps –

MR. MARTIN:  Right.

MS. SIMMONS:  — it’s not along ideology; it’s – it’s along “who can talk to me the plainest, and who’s actually talking to me instead of talking at me?”

MR. CLEMONS:  And where – Pres. Obama is weak on this – and I think it’s not often brought up – is that his administration has been complicit in the last several years in the better off in society continuing to do better off.  The plans we’re seeing roll out now – even the jobs bill, which I totally support – is three years too late.  And – and a- — to some degree, there’s got to be an accountability for that.  And I think that what’s happened is you have on the right this notion that they’re setting the terms, that they’re the pugnacious, angry-at- —

MR. MARTIN:  Right.

MR. CLEMONS:  — -the-system crowd, and it’s only been until the Occupy movement started that we began to see a much more effective, high-traction anger among other people –