The View Beyond the Beltway
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because Oakland’s small businesses matter to more than just hipsters. Oh, and because McCain is back.
By Nathan Siegel
With a remarkably low voter turnout, even for a midterm election, this week’s Republican sweep was about as engaging as the World Cup for some. Not for 36-year-old Roger Zakheim, who’s thrilled to see defense hawks like him back in charge of the military’s purse strings and game plan. “It’s a real opportunity to counter some of the policies that have hurt the Pentagon in the past six years,” he said.
Indeed, for a bevy of leaders, the midterms — which saw the GOP wrest complete control of Congress for the first time since 1946 — have serious stakes, and they’re not even running for anything. Zakheim, who was presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s go-to defense adviser, sees the Republican rout as the first step to getting the U.S. back on a war footing. (He also has a better shot at landing a high-level role in a Republican administration come 2016.) Here, a handful of OZY Rising Stars — from a prominent disability advocate to a Detroit civic leader — tell you why you should care about Louisiana’s runoff and Oakland’s small businesses:
It should be no surprise: Those who’ve been bemoaning the downfall of American military prowess are in party mode. With heavyweights like John McCain as the probable pick for chairman of the Senate Armed Service Committee and Mac Thornberry as his counterpart in the House, expect Obama’s boat to be rocked, says Roger Zakheim, Romney’s former go-to on defense and a lawyer at Covington & Burling LLC. The big-ticket items will be fighting sequestration (the Budget Control Act) — which has stripped $489 million from the military since 2011, according to Zakheim — and challenging Obama’s policies in Iraq and Syria against IS and in Ukraine. McCain and Co.’s weapons? The annual defense authorization budget, hearings for administration officials, and investigations into questionable decisions, says Zakheim. McCain has always had a lot of questions. The stakes are huge, Zakheim says, because “how the Republicans deal with defense will greatly influence the 2016 presidential race.”
Then again, McCain has worked closely with current chairman Democrat Carl Levin throughout the period of cuts. So, there may be more hoopla with extra briefings and hearings, but not necessarily tectonic shifts right away, even with a Republican chamber. Read OZY’s Aug. 25, 2014, profile of Zakheim here.
A week away from celebrating Detroit’s official emergence from bankruptcy, Sandy Baruah fretted that all might be lost. Baruah, CEO of the beleaguered city’s Chamber of Commerce, worried that insurgent gubernatorial candidate Mark Schauer might pull out an upset. (Incumbent Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder held on by a 4 percent margin.) “With the city on the precipice of surviving bankruptcy on a very delicate balance, a change in governor would have been very bad for business,” Baruah says.
Though he says he’s politically independent, Baruah is all for a Republican-run Congress if it means legislative wheels start to turn again. Make no mistake, Michigan is manufacturing. And a long-term energy strategy, featuring the Keystone XL pipeline and a healthy mix of renewables, is crucial for the city’s continued recovery — “one of the great modern public policy success stories,” Baruah says. Then there’s the skills gap. Ford and Co. are in serious need of talent, and H-1B visas run out like gravy on Thanksgiving. Taxes, the GOP’s mortal enemy, are hurting Michigan companies abroad who are unwilling to send revenue back home because of a backward tax code. Still, the Republican party isn’t exactly a well-oiled machine. Baruah is among many who fear that extremists (tea partiers) will ruin its historic majority. Read OZY’s Aug. 4, 2014, profile of Baruah here.
“We can’t pretend like a Republican-controlled Senate is anything but bad for labor rights,” says Saket Soni, director of the National Guestworker Alliance. Then again, a Democratic-controlled Senate wasn’t much better. Income inequality has been on the rise for decades, no matter the ruling party. Still, the incoming Congress makes Soni particularly uneasy. At the same time Congress will do everything in its power to block Obama’s likely executive order providing protection for approximately 11 million undocumented immigrants, Soni fears it will also ramp up programs for guest workers, who have far fewer rights under the law, he told OZY.
Yet, there is light. Minimum wage hikes in four red states, Alaska, Arkansas, Nebraska and South Dakota have shown that income inequality has bipartisan appeal, Soni says. But whether winners who ran on populist platforms in states like Louisiana and Georgia follow through on their promises remains to be seen. Read OZY’s May 5, 2014, profile of Soni here.
While minimum wage hikes were all the rage in red states last night, some in liberal hubs like Oakland, Calif., have met the trend with a cold shoulder. Once known for extreme poverty and crime, the city is in the middle of a renaissance, with Alfonso Dominguez on the front line. Stores in the community are mostly mom-and-pop, where small margins are as common as flannel. He stresses that the drastic minimum wage increase (from $9 to $12.25 by March) will put many out of business. For the survivors, customers are going to pay the price to buoy bottom lines: “Prices have to rise. It’s just math,” he said.
Naturally, labor activists like Soni couldn’t agree less. With the skyrocketing cost of living in the Bay Area, even $15/hour for a family of three is “virtually impossible,” says Soni. Read OZY’s Sept. 27, 2014, profile of Dominguez here.
The historic headlines betray that for some, what flag flies over the two chambers doesn’t matter so much. For Sara Wolff and Sara Weir, lobbyists for the National Down Syndrome Society, their cornerstone piece of legislation, the ABLE Act, is all but a done deal. With more than 400 co-sponsors in Congress, including now-Senate majority leader Harry Reid and soon-to-be majority leader Mitch McConnell, the bill is slated to pass a few weeks after Congress returns, according to Weir and Wolff. Post-ABLE, disability-rights champions, including North Carolina Republican Senator Richard Burr and Pennsylvania Democrat Senator Bob Casey, were exempt from this year’s midterms.
Nonetheless, the Republican bogeyman, Obamacare, will surely be under threat. And the president’s cornerstone legislation includes a provision prohibiting pre-existing conditions to determine coverage. Certain aspects of Obamacare may be in jeopardy, including Medicaid, but Weir and Wolff say the discrimination provision is popular on both sides of the aisle and even if the Affordable Care Act were scrapped entirely, it’d be included in the GOP’s version. Read OZY’s May 8, 2014, profile of Wolff here.
- Nathan Siegel, Nathan covers global business, sports and culture for OZY, where he landed after putting his dreams of basketball stardom on hold ... for now. After a childhood of jumping from country to country, Nathan is used to feeling like a tourist everywhere he goes. Follow Nathan Siegel on Twitter Follow Nathan Siegel on FacebookContact Nathan Siegel