WASHINGTON -- Occupy Wall Street is finding a louder voice in Congress as lawmakers invoked its rhetoric repeatedly Wednesday in attempts to crack down on speculation, punish dangerous mine operators and pass a jobs bill.
Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) and Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) acknowledged that the Occupy movement could help advance legislation they rolled out designed to "squeeze ... volatility out of the market."
Joined by Rep. Bruce Braley (D-Iowa), the chairman of the Populist Caucus, Harkin and DeFazio introduced the Targeted Wall Street Trading Tax bill. It would levy a tax equivalent to three cents for every $100 on transactions like stock trades, credit swaps and derivatives that were largely blamed for the mortgage market meltdown and financial crisis of 2008 that plunged the economy into recession.
Harkin said the bill targets large-scale investors. "By setting the tax rate very low, the measure is not likely to impact the decision to engage in productive economic activity," he said at a press conference. But he said the amounts would add up for the big players, serving as both a check on reckless speculation and a deficit-cutting measure that could bring in hundreds of billions to help rebuild the country.
The tax, Harkin said, "is a matter of simple prudence, fairness, and fiscal sanity."
Further, DeFazio argued that economic recovery requires tamping down the most excessive activities on Wall Street. "Part of the recovery effort would be aimed toward squeezing out the most speculative of traders, those that are trading either derivatives, contracts, futures, stocks, [a] thousand times a second," he said at the presser. "We think it's about equity, we think it's about fairness, we think it's about making Wall Street pay for the recovery on Main Street."
House Republicans are adamantly opposed to all such tax measures, including on transactions, so the measure stands little chance of becoming law. But Harkin said that with Occupy Wall Street in the backdrop, "more and more people around the country are supporting what they're seeing. ...There's been a great groundswell of support there and I think once they find out about this I think they're going to be very supportive."
DeFazio added that perhaps the Occupiers have channeled progressive Democrats in Congress, saying the movement offers "a clear visual image of the policies the three of us have been advocating since the collapse of our economy in 2007. And we've been talking about fixes and talking about reining in speculation and they're basically giving a human voice to the policies and principles we've been advocating."
The lawmakers spoke after Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) again invoked the 99 percent in his push to move a $60 billion infrastructure and jobs bill, repeating his claim that the 1 percent now earn more than the other 99 percent combined. It is that 1 percent who would pay a 0.7 percent tax on income above $1 million to fund the jobs measure.
Reid was echoed by Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), who said there is only one group of Americans that has done well financially in the last few decades, and that is the wealthiest 1 percent. "The rest of Americans, middle-income Americans, have either lost ground or gotten nowhere," he said on the Senate floor.
And earlier, Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.) took to the House floor to hold up Massey Energy and the deadly Big Branch Mine explosion as an example of why the Occupy Wall Street movement is spreading. The methane explosion killed 29 people last year in a disaster that investigators found was entirely avoidable.
"If you wonder why people are talking about the 1 percent and the 99 percent, the 99 percent in the mine had their lives put in danger every day," Miller said in highlighting a new report on the catastrophe.
"But the 1 percent, the 1 percent walked away with $195 million for overseeing one of the most dangerous mining operations in the history of this country," he said, referring to the recent sale of Massey that generated those profits for the former company leaders.
"Now we understand the disparity, why people are occupying Wall Street, why people are occupying home towns all over the country," Miller said. "We understand this."