House

Pelosi picks Democrats for special panel tackling inequality

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) this week tapped the Democrats who will lead a special committee designed to tackle the yawning disparity between the wealthiest Americans and the nation's working classes.

The panel was created in January, as part of the House rules governing the 117th Congress, but has sat idle and unoccupied through the first five months of the session.

Pelosi on Tuesday changed that by naming the eight Democrats who will sit on the panel, which will be chaired by Rep. Jim Himes (D-Conn.), former head of the centrist New Democrats and a onetime Goldman Sachs executive.

The other Democratic members represent a mix of staunch liberals - like Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (N.Y.), Pramila Jayapal (Wash.), Gwen Moore (Wis.) and Sara Jacobs (Calif.) - and more moderate lawmakers, including Reps. Marcy Kaptur (Ohio), Angie Craig (Minn.) and Vicente Gonzalez, a Texas Blue Dog.

In a letter sent Tuesday to members of her caucus, Pelosi said the committee is crucial given the historic divide between the nation's top earners and everyone else in the country - a gap that's been only exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic.

"The widening chasm between CEO compensation and worker pay has gone from unfair to immoral," she wrote. "There is recognition that our economy, which is based on free market capitalism, has not served many Americans well. And it has become clear that the stagnation of workers' pay is an historic picture of injustice."

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) soon intends to fill out the remaining roster with Republican lawmakers of his choosing.

"Names will be announced in the near future," a McCarthy spokesman said Wednesday.

The new committee is modeled on a similar concept adopted by former President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who launched the Temporary National Economic Committee amid the Great Depression. Pelosi cited that historic precedent in arguing the need for a special focus on how federal policy makers can curb the growing concentration of wealth at the highest reaches of the income scale.

That issue has been under the spotlight throughout the COVID-19 crisis, as wealthier Americans have seen historic gains from a surging stock market while lower-income workers, particularly minorities, have suffered the brunt of the resulting economic turmoil, including a spike in unemployment.

A recent ProPublica report finding that the wealthiest Americans paid a fraction of the taxes owed by working Americans has only fueled the Democrats' appetite for addressing what they see as structural injustices in the tax code and other federal institutions that favor well-heeled interests.

President Biden is aiming to tackle some of those issues with his two-pronged plan for job creation through infrastructure spending, and an accompanying proposal designed to ease the financial burdens on working families.

Pelosi's new committee is designed to expand on those efforts. It would not craft legislation, but would offer recommendations to the relevant sitting committees to do so.

Pelosi rattled off several reform concepts that have emerged as a part of income disparity conversation, suggesting they would be on the radar of the select committee. They include proposals creating economic hubs in depressed geographic regions, forming a system of guaranteed income for everyone and empowering workers with a greater ownership role in their companies.

"The devaluing of work has had a negative impact on consumer confidence, job creation and economic growth," Pelosi wrote in her letter. "And the situation of families no longer believing that their children will have a brighter future than they is seriously damaging and demoralizing to our society.

"We must end the health, economic and environmental injustice that affects people's lives, and it must be done soon."

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