capital gains taxIt is no secret that Congress is home to some of the wealthiest Americans. The average salary of a congressional member is $174,000 annually, and about 200 members are multimillionaires. Their salary alone puts every congressional member in the top 6 percent of earners in the U.S.

The vast majority of congressional members come from upper-middle class families, where connections to senior political members and other social and religious groups are plentiful.

In his State of the Union address, President Barack Obama addressed higher taxes on the wealthy, which are unpopular and unlikely to pass in Congress. His increase is substantial — raising it from 23.8 to 28 percent on couples making over $500,000. This bill in particular received backlash from Republicans.

“Taxes on capital income, such as the capital gains tax, are among the worst ways to raise revenue from the perspective of economic growth,” said Greg Mankiw, professor of economics at Harvard University.

Tax credits would go toward the middle class and the increase in taxes would raise around $200 billion in the next decade.

Former Rep. Tom Perriello wrote, “During the 2010 lame-duck session, Congress passed an $858 billion tax-cut extension, leaving in place generous [Bush-era] tax breaks for the wealthiest Americans. Why was such an opportunity to address inequality and spur economic growth via our tax code missed? … Most of those who prevented the bill from getting a vote before the election privately argued that the income threshold was too low.”

President Obama recently released a plan for a new tax strategy that would affect the rate of the capital gains tax and close lucrative loopholes that avoid the capital gains tax. In addition, he is proposing to close a loophole that allows heirs to avoid paying taxes on large estates.

The economy has recovered since the economic crisis of 2008, and much of this is due to Obama’s financial politics of raising taxes on the high-income earners in America. These tax increases do benefit the middle class by approximately $320 billion in tax credits that would be allotted.

The tax credits will go toward expanding higher education and providing greater support for child care. In addition, they provide substantial assistance to families in the middle-income classes. They provide about $500 for married couples to curb the cost of child care for working-class Americans.

– Maxine Gordon

Sources: NPR, The Atlantic, The Washington Post, Yahoo News

Social mobility in the U.S. played an extremely crucial role in President Barack Obama’s most recent State of the Union Address. He took the opportunity to comment on the furthering economic divide occuring between the lower middle and upper middle and upper classes in America.

“Will we accept an economy where only a few of us do spectacularly well,” the president asked, appealing to lower class Americans.

One of the stories he told pertained to a young couple who was negatively affected by the economic crisis of 2008. The story represents that of resilience and the couple was able to rebuild their lives.

In addition, Mr. Obama is sending a bill to Congress that would lower the cost of a community college education to zero. President Obama said that the measure will provide students without the means to go to college, an opportunity to attend without taking on large amounts of debt.

“Forty percent of our college students choose community college. Some are young and starting out. Some are older and looking for a better job. Some are veterans and single parents trying to transition back into the job market. Whoever you are, this plan is your chance to graduate ready for the new economy, without a load of debt,” Mr. Obama said.

College tuition is on the rise and inhibiting many from receiving graduate degrees that would allow them to get higher paying jobs. In addition he requested that companies start providing more benefits for their employees including higher wages even without a bachelors or masters degree. In general, Obama solicited companies to provide more benefits because currently 43 million workers in the U.S. do not get paid sick leave.

Smoothing over the vast inequality that is present in America is pertinent to developing a better life for many citizens. Another subject he focused on was that congress needs to impose higher taxes on wealthy Americans who can afford to take higher cuts. This is likely to fail especially in a full GOP congress.

Some have called President Obama’s economic approach “populist” as he is appealing to ordinary Americans, many of whom are still suffering from the 2008 economic crisis.

Bipartisanship in congress was another focal point of the address. He focused on issues that in the past had garnered bipartisan support such as creating jobs. Although job growth in the private sector has been relatively successful, there are other parts of the economy where job growth has been limited.

Although President Obama is faced with a GOP congress he seemed to try to appeal to Republicans on a number of issues. With a majority Republican congress, Obama has no other option if he wants to make headway on a number of issues in his agenda.

Maxine Gordon

Sources: Bloomberg, NPR, The Washington Post
Photo: TIME

With the end of one of its most unproductive sessions in history, the United States Congress began its five-week recess on August 1. The break – mandated by a 1970 law – means that many representatives will be returning to their home states to campaign and meet with locals.

Here are a few ways to take advantage of the next five weeks:

1. Try to Meet Your Congressmen

Today, many congressmen have a portal on their websites where constituents can request a meeting – usually two weeks in advance. It helps to focus on a specific issue and to meet the congressmen on behalf of, or with,  an organized group. Of course, this will be much more difficult if the congressman is up for election.

To maximize their outreach while on recess, politicians are finding other methods of meeting with voters, like Congresswoman Jackie Speier of California who will hold a town hall on August 16, or Congressman Kevin Yoder of Kansas who has held a series of telephone town hall forums.

2. Send an Email 

Depending on the issue, certain activist groups and charities have pre-written emails that require no more than the sender to fill in his or her name and address and click send. Groups like Amnesty International, Bread for the World and  The Borgen Project use the address information to determine the sender’s representatives and automatically connects the user to his/her congressional leaders’ contact information.

Senders can even personalize the message. The entire process can take 30 seconds or less. Send an email with The Borgen Project here.

3. Make a Quick Call

Congressional offices keep track of how many people call in and for what they request of the congressman. A 30-second phone call to an office, explaining you are a constituent and you wish the congressman to support a certain issue, will likely be filed under a call report.

If a congressman receives a high number of calls regarding an issue, he or she is likely to consider this in making a decision. Activists can program the phone number for the office in his or her phone and call on a weekly basis. It helps to know exactly what you plan to say before making the call. Encouraging friends and family to make the same call can increase support for a cause.

4. Advocate on Social Media

Following back-to-back presidential wins for President Barack Obama, many political experts pointed to the emergence of the social media presence as a major factor in the success of his campaigns. While several other factors also help explain his wins, the fact remains that one month out from the 2012 election, Obama led Governor Romney on Twitter by some 19 million followers and Facebook by over 21 million likes.

Similarly, members of Congress are attempting to use social media to their benefit, which provides constituents another venue through which to contact their congressmen. Sharing articles relating to your issue of choice not only informs your friends and followers, but also reminds your leaders to take action.

Even if you are not quite ready to start a movement, a small effort can spur big change.

Erica Lignell

Sources: Time, Facebook 1, Facebook 2, Amnesty USA, Bread for the World, Iowa Food Systems Council, NY Times
Photo: Wikimedia

representative schock
WASHINGTON – As the first member of Congress born in the 1980s, Representative Schock (R-Illinois) has proved that one is never too young to improve the world.

1. Representative Aaron Schock served in the Illinois legislature.

From 2005-2009, Representative Schock was the youngest member of the Illinois House of Representatives, where he was involved with many organizations as well as medical mission trips to Jamaica and Mexico.

2. Schock has set an precedent of young leaders in the Republican Party.

Elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 2009, he has built a name for himself, working tirelessly on bipartisan issues with other young elected officials at the federal, state and local levels.

3. He has become an ally to the world’s poor.

After only six years as representative of the 18th District of Illinois, Representative Schock already seems to be advocating on behalf of the world’s poorest. He has cosponsored Senator Paul Simon’s Water for the World Act of 2013, recently signed onto a resolution to support increasing access to vaccines around the world and cosponsored Betty McCollum’s Global Food Security Act. On the issue of malnutrition, Schock stated, “The United States has a strong history of leadership in providing assistance to developing nations, but a renewed focus and streamlined approach is needed to prevent more children and families from suffering the long-term consequences of malnutrition.”

4. A few months ago, Representative Schock’s congressional team created this video about his dedication to increasing access to water and sanitation.

In the video, he said even though all of our hometowns face challenges with homelessness and poverty, such obstacles are weak in comparison to those of the hundreds of millions of people around the world who do not have access to basic needs such as clean drinking water. He stated that is why he has introduced the Water for the World Act, which will ensure that United States foreign aid will go to the people around the world who need it most.

5. In July, Congressman Schock spoke on the House floor about the importance of nonprofits.

Representative Schock stated that he has worked with many organizations, such as Global Poverty Project, who strive to eradicate extreme poverty, provide developing countries with clean water and healthcare and encourage economic opportunities for women and children. He emphasized the importance of public charities and communities, churches and private foundations that work to alleviate global poverty.

– Colleen Moore

Sources: Global Citizen,, Congressman Aaron Schock, YouTube
Photo: ABCNews

Since its founding in 2003, The Borgen Project has worked with congressional leaders across the country to draw more attention to the extreme poverty that unfortunately exists in our world. Working with these leaders can be challenging yet exciting, and one of the best parts of this organization is that everyone from all walks of life can contribute to this worthy cause by contacting their congressional leaders.

The U.S. Congress in Washington D.C. is made up of two institutions with a total of 535 members. The House of Representatives and the Senate each have distinct yet equal roles in the function of the federal government as they make laws based on the opinions of the voters.

Perhaps the best part of this legislative branch is that the representatives and senators of Congress are chosen by the people. When these members of Congress support or reject a bill or issue, they are giving voters a voice in the federal government. Congressional leaders really do care about the opinions of voters, which is why it is so important to find and contact your congressman.

When a call is made to a congressional leader concerning a specific bill or issue, a staffer creates a ‘Call Report’ based on all the calls received each week. These Call Reports are then sent to the leaders so they can learn about the public’s opinions. It usually only takes a mere seven to 10 people to call about a poverty-reduction bill a week to get that bill noticed by the congressman.

Although communicating with congressional leaders may seem a little daunting at first, it is important to remember that they are there to represent you in Congress. However, they can only fully represent you if they know about the issues that matter to you.

To find your three representatives in Congress, clink on the link below and enter your zip code. It really is that simple!

We can all make a difference in the fight against global poverty, and it only takes 30 seconds of your time. The Borgen Project encourages everyone to find their congressman and make a quick call to bring about the change in the world that is so greatly needed.

 — Meghan Orner

Sources: U.S. Capital Visitor Center, The Borgen Project
Photo: The Borgen Project

reduce global poverty
The United States has one of the biggest economies in the world, yet spends only a small portion of its money on ending global poverty. As one of the most influential agenda-setters and biggest economic and military forces, the U.S. must accept its responsibility to the global project to reduce global poverty. There are several ways the U.S. is already tackling the issue, but it could certainly do more. These three specific methods are already in place, but need to be expanded upon in order to allow the U.S. to fulfill its potential in humanitarian aid. To play its role in reducing global poverty, the U.S. government must…

1. Pass bills.

Bills like the Electrify Africa Act and the Global Food Security Act are crucial to ending global poverty, and rely entirely on the U.S. people and government to be a success.

Take Electrify Africa for example. This bill would help provide electricity to 50 million people in Africa. This progress is essential for providing better security, health care and housing for families in need and is crucial for ending global poverty and inequality. The U.S. government is in an important role to make sure this step is taken. Luckily, the Electrify Africa Act has already seen huge success on the floor of the House of Representatives and was passed with overwhelming bipartisan support. Now it moves into the Senate, where it has already been read and referred to the Committee on Foreign Relations. The U.S. government has a responsibility to pass bills like this one in order to work toward ending global poverty.

2. Give more funding to foreign aid.

When it comes to the amount given as foreign aid, the U.S. ranks 19th in the world. This is simply unacceptable. The U.S. has one of the most powerful economies, yet it ranks 11th of 22 major donors for quality of foreign aid. Only 1.5 percent of the federal budget goes toward international affairs, as compared to 23.6 percent on social security or 18.4 percent on defense spending.

In order to effectively end global poverty, the U.S. must increase their foreign aid, specifically by increasing the budget of the U.S. Agency on International Development (USAID), which oversees all international humanitarian efforts the U.S. is involved in. This money is used to assist developing nations by fighting endemic disease, providing emergency aid after natural disasters and implementing agricultural programs to increase food security. The more aid that goes to these projects, the more successful they can be in ending global poverty and treating its side effects.

3. Work with other governments and international organizations.

The U.S. does have domestic issues to worry about, and as a result, cannot logically put all its energy into fighting global poverty. But it can work with and support international organizations that do just that. In the recent past, USAID, which is the U.S. powerhouse for international assistance projects, has worked with UNICEF and other international aid organizations on programs that tackle issues like poor nutrition in African countries and social development in Nigeria. U.S. collaboration with international organizations through the USAID allows the U.S. to have a role in reducing global poverty. The U.S. government should facilitate more of this type of partnership between USAID and other international aid organizations in order to live up to its obligation to work toward reducing poverty around the world.

Foreign aid and humanitarian assistance are complicated issues when taken in the context of the entire U.S. government, but it is crucial that the U.S. does not forget its responsibility to ending world poverty and continue to work toward this goal. The U.S., as one of the world’s most powerful nations, has the ability to make a significant difference in the world on extreme poverty through several methods and it is our job to ensure that our government stays on track toward achieving this mission.

– Caitlin Thompson

Sources: Leadership News, USAID, Center for Global Development, The concord Coalition, Oxfam America, The White House, Govtrack,, ONE, Vanguard
Photo: WPR

fight against global poverty
How many members of Congress are there, you ask? Fair question. The short answer is 535. That is, 100 Senators, two from each state, and 435 Representatives, which makes about one representative for every 700,000 people. But there’s more to it than that. All members contribute, positively or otherwise, to the fight against global poverty. Below is a quick guide to the most important groups and their key members for foreign policy decisions.

The most influential committees for major foreign policy decisions are the aptly named House Committee on Foreign Affairs and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. The House committee has 45 members and is chaired by Rep. Ed Royce. The committee’s recent efforts to fight against global poverty have included a hearing on the Boko Haram kidnapping victims and, more recently, legislation to combat international human trafficking, introduced by Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney. Meanwhile in the Senate, New Jersey Sen. Robert Menendez heads the Foreign Relations Committee. The committee’s recent efforts include a resolution urging a political solution to the ongoing humanitarian and refugee crisis in Syria.

Of course, among the most influential forces behind Congress are the parties themselves. In the House, Republicans outnumber Democrats by 33 members, while in the Senate there are 45 Republicans to 53 Democrats, along with two Independents. What does that mean for foreign aid? It is a popular belief that the left in America have a more vested interest in reducing global poverty than the right. Therefore, the Democrats would be more likely to favor measures to reduce global poverty.

Republican leadership under the Bush administration, in part as a response to 9/11, but also as part of Bush’s bid for a more “compassionate conservatism,” dramatically increased foreign aid. Republicans in the early 2000s renewed efforts to fight AIDS and malaria, and also tripled foreign aid to Africa. Under the Obama administration, aid increased further, now totaling about $30 billion.

It is The Borgen Project’s stance that the U.S. needs a far stronger commitment to foreign aid in order to address global poverty. But the good news is that under the control of both parties in recent years, the budget has moved in the right direction.

The key parties, key committees and key players of Congress all help shape American politics and the fight against global poverty. In Congress, reducing global poverty crosses party lines, which can lead to a better bipartisan consensus.

– Julian Mostachetti

Sources: Senate Foreign Relations Committee, House Committee on Foreign Affairs 1, House Committee on Foreign Affairs 2

Edward Wytkind’s new plan for foreign aid might hurt people. It’s probably not his intention to do so, but if he gets his way, lives will be lost. By inserting a destructive rider to H.R. 4005, the Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation Act of 2014, Wytkind has taken the first step to sidetrack millions of dollars of food aid. So who is Edward Wytkind and why does he want to move money away from food aid and into the shipping industry? Simple, he’s a lobbyist.

Wytkind is the president of the Transportation Trades Department, AFL-CIO (TTD), a labor organization based out of Washington, D.C.  This organization has been lobbying hard following a move by Congress to remove previous restrictions that required the majority of food aid to be shipped via American vessels. The move by Congress increased the amount of aid getting to the people who need it but removed an easy source of income from the shipping industry. It’s no wonder that Wytkind, who is transportation labor’s chief spokesman in Washington, worked so hard to get this measure put back.

One of the first and foremost duties for food aid is to feed people. This is a no-brainer. For all the benefits of food aid that the world enjoys, the mission remains to provide meals to people in need. This is most often achieved through short-term direct aid mixed with long-term build up of sustainability practices. Any modifications to a program that result in a net reduction in the amount of aid making it into the hands of the needy will need significant justification.

The rider inserted into H.R. 4005 does not have that justification.

The bill mostly concerns matters of shipping and Coast Guard activity. Readers who are curious about the upcoming budget for maintaining operations in the Coast Guard or who need clarification of what constitutes “high risk waters” when shipping goods by sea need look no further. Tucked away in the language of the bill is a small provision that mandates 75 percent of all food aid be shipped exclusively through American vessels. What this translates to is 2 million individuals throughout the world who will not be receiving food aid should the bill pass.

Let that sink in for a moment; 2 million people who would have received aid at a critical time in their lives might not because of one man working on behalf of special interests.

The money set aside for food aid is best spent buying from suppliers near where the aid is headed. Shipping goods becomes expensive, and by minimizing the logistical costs the dollar to aid value increases. This is basic business. If your goal is to deliver aid, as is the goal of the food aid programs in the U.S., it only makes sense to get the most value for money spent. Should H.R. 4005 pass, the American taxpayer is purchasing $75 million worth of overhead instead of the aid the money was originally slotted for.

Of course, taking money from other programs and cramming it into the shipping industry is exactly what Wytkind wants. In an article published in the Wall Street Journal, Wytkind is quoted as saying, “If you’re going to use public resources to engage in humanitarian aid, you should do so while maximizing the use of the U.S. industries and to create good jobs in this country.” In other words, why invest in humanitarian aid when we can simply give the money to U.S. shipping?

What Wytkind fails to mention is that there are other bills that do just that. H.R. 4105, the Maritime Goods Movement Act, specifically addresses American shipping without stealing money away from other programs. Legislation that address an issue directly, like the original H.R. Why Wytkind feels that humanitarian aid programs are less deserving than the shipping industry is anyone’s guess.

– Dylan Spohn

Sources: Congress, Gawker, GovTrack, McDermott, New York Times,

Photo: Oxfam America

Who is my Congressman
Have you ever wondered who speaks on behalf of the voters for the area you live in? There may be a number of issues that citizens are passionate about and even push for bills supporting their causes to be passed. So the real question, then, becomes who is my congressman? Who is designated to speak on behalf of myself and neighbors of those in power to change what is going on?

It is a question that should be asked by every young adult registering to vote and even veteran voters that may not be as conscious of the person currently representing them in office. Sure, we see their names on papers, maybe even in emails, but many times that is where it stops. So when you ask yourself who your congressman is, you may not be able to answer further than a name on a sheet of paper.

The Congress is made up of 100 U.S. Senators and 435 U.S. Representatives in the House of Representatives. The number of representatives for any state depends on the population, not the size. For example, there are 27 representatives for the state of Florida, compared to the 7 representatives for Alabama.

Congress makes up the federal government alongside the President. Both branches determine how much funding goes to programs ranging from healthcare to programs related to living conditions of the world’s poor. That means that members of the congress play a very important role in the lives of people around the world.

Members of the House of Representatives are commonly referred to as Congressmen or Congresswomen. Each representative is responsible for a district in your state depending on how many representatives you have. States with larger populations, like New York, will likely have different representatives for neighboring cities and areas.

It is important to educate yourself on who will be representing you in the federal government. Regardless of how we may feel about a particular representative, these individuals are selected to speak on behalf of “the people.” Not only do they represent the voters of their respective states, but they stand for whatever changes voters wish to enact and even stop.

Just as Congress has a heavy influence on U.S. funding, citizens have just as much influence on members of congress in their respectable districts. When asked who my Congressman is, I answer with confidence, Representative Ron Desantis, Republican.

Janelle Mills

Sources: The Borgen Project, EDHP
Photo: Wall Street Daily

Politics can be very confusing to follow, especially if one is unaware of the basics, but a quick description of the functions and structure of Congress can help advocates of poverty reduction get a brief overview of the complex size and scope of the United States Congress.

Let’s define Congress. The U.S. Congress makes up the legislative branch of the U.S. government, meaning it has the power to write and make laws. Additionally, it has the ability to approve all government spending, collect taxes, declare war, regulate commerce and provide for the general welfare. Under the American democratic system of checks and balances, it shares governing authority with the executive and judicial branches of the government.


Congress is made up of two parts, or chambers. The lower chamber, the House of Representatives, has 435 members. The amount of members per state varies by the state’s population, but currently each representative typically represents approximately 700,000 constituents. Each state must have at least one representative who serves two-year terms.

The upper chamber, the Senate, has 100 total members. Each state has two senators, regardless of its population. Senators face re-election every six years; however, elections are rotated so that no more than one senator per state is up for re-election in a single election cycle.

Making Laws

A “Congress” lasts two years and begins on January 3 of odd-numbered years. Each year is considered a “session” of Congress. As of 2014, the 113th Congress is serving its second session. At the end of this year, elections will be held to decide the 114th Congress, which will meet from 2015 to 2017. Unapproved bills remain alive between sessions of Congress but do not carry over into the next two-year congressional term.

After a bill’s introduction in either house, it goes for review to the legislative committee that covers the subject of the bill. The committee may refer the bill to a subcommittee, which may hold hearings on the bill and amend it before recommending it for approval in a new form to the greater committee. Once the bill clears the committee process, it goes to the House or Senate floor for debate.

The House and Senate must each approve the bill in identical form before the President has an opportunity to sign it into law. Therefore, should differences exist between the House and Senate versions, the two chambers of Congress will form a conference committee to hash out any discrepancies. The president then has ten days to sign or veto the bill.

Shared Authority

The Senate and the House of Representatives share identical legislative authority with a couple of exceptions. First, the House of Representatives originates all revenue-raising bills, initiates impeachment proceedings against federal officials and has the final authority to choose the president if no candidate wins in the electoral college.

The Senate has the authority to confirm federal and judicial branch appointments and also the authority to ratify treaties. The senate also conducts impeachment trials after the House of Representatives has initiated them.

Martin Levy

Sources: About, Congress Link, Census Data
Photo: OSG’s AP Gov. and Politics


Learn how to call Congress.



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