Mike Siegel on America’s ‘New Deal’ moment

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On Wednesday, the Signal interviewed Mike Siegel, a former attorney for the city of Austin running to unseat Republican incumbent Rep. Michael McCaul (TX-10), one of the wealthiest members of Congress who has frequently voted in line with his donor interests and Trump.

Siegel is running a progressive campaign and hopes to unseat McCaul without the help of corporate PAC money. In the final few weeks of the race and the previous fundraising quarter, Siegel has outraised McCaul. Polling last month showed the two candidates about even.

Here’s what Siegel told the Signal about COVID-19, healthcare, taxes, and police reform.

The following interview has been condensed for length. 

It looks like a second COVID-19 relief package won’t come until after the November elections. What is the bare minimum Congress should be able to agree on to help Americans? What are some non-negotiable aspects of a second COVID-19 relief bill?

We need direct economic aid to the American people until the pandemic is over to make sure that people can be safe and support their family, even when they lose their job through no fault of their own or have diminished abilities to earn income.

So, I support direct economic stimulus payments to the American people. I think they should be $2,000 a month but at the very least $1,500 a month until the pandemic is over. 

It’s absolutely obscene that Congress has spent billions to prop up the stock market, hundreds of billions for well-protected businesses to keep those profits flowing, and they can’t be bothered to help the American people.

In addition to direct economic aid, we need to be expanding healthcare immediately so that every person who needs a COVID test can get one and every person who needs COVID treatment can get it. Because in this pandemic, it’s not enough for each of us might have healthcare on our own; if our neighbor doesn’t it puts the whole community at risk. Right now with the pandemic spreading again, it’s extremely urgent that we get expanded healthcare for every American. 

Beyond that, we need job site safety protections. We still don’t have increased OSHA standards to make sure that workplaces are safe. We also need a continued moratorium on evictions or a renewed moratorium to keep people in their homes, because again, homelessness is another one of those issues that makes us all less safe and people should be able to stay in their homes until the pandemic is over.

What is your campaign’s top issue?

Healthcare is the unifying issue right now. I’m fighting for universal healthcare at a time when access to a doctor and access to a hospital is life and death, not just for individuals and their families, but also for the entire community. 

My opponent Michael McCaul voted 46 times to cut the Affordable Care Act and to remove protections for pre-existing conditions. He took hundreds of thousands of dollars from pharmaceutical lobbyists and corporate PACs while keeping prescription drug prices high. He even refused to wear a mask on the floor of the House against the advice of the House-attending physician, and then again on a commercial plane despite being warned repeatedly by the flight attendant, and then continued to fly without a mask endangering fellow passengers and the crew. He’s completely on the wrong side of this issue endangering the lives of Texans and Americans.

And voters, fundamentally right now, health care is number one for them. Many of our children are not in school or have to learn virtually because schools are not fully opened because of the spread of COVID. Our economy is in shambles, whether you’re talking up to 50,000 Texas oil and gas workers who’ve lost their jobs since the pandemic started, hospitality workers, aviation workers, entertainment workers, it just goes down the line. So many people are suffering right now because we haven’t been able to stop the spread of COVID-19.

The starting point is universal healthcare but also safety protections for our community and following the advice of health and medical professionals to get back on track. 

Where would you like to see Democrats take tax policy in 2021? Biden recently released his tax plan. Biden is proposing raising the top federal tax rate from 37 percent to about 40 percent, its pre-Trump level. Biden said this would only affect those with taxable incomes above $400,000. What are your thoughts on that? Does it go too far or not far enough or is it just right?

Fair taxation is a social justice issue. If Jeff Bezos and the Walton family and the rest gain billions in personal wealth while the rest of suffer, that hurts our democracy. That means these people are going to have extreme wealth to be able to buy elections and distort our laws, and basically avoid the fundamental equality needed to have a functioning democracy.

And so I support fair taxation for the wealthy who have gotten for too long with tax breaks, loops holes, and all sorts of other benefits that others can’t take advantage of. 

But also I want to make clear that we need to fight for increased government spending in 2021 to benefit the American people. Now, for those people who are concerned about deficits, we can certainly talk about rolling back those Trump tax cuts which were essentially giveaways to the wealthiest companies, but we need to invest in the American people with healthcare, with good jobs, housing, and other social programs to get the country back on track and rebuild the middle class.

I think this essentially a New Deal moment for our country, just like in the 1930s and 1940s when we staved off massive unemployment and inequality when we invested in infrastructure programs and other job programs to put millions of people back to work. That laid the foundation for decades of growth of a strong middle class and even put this country in a position to defeat fascism in Europe and the Pacific. 

And so I don’t want this talk about taxes to obscure the absolute necessity to invest in the people. Our government has the resources; we’re in no danger of inflation (when you talk about the deficit that’s the main concern is that you have inflation) we have an immense productive capacity that’s not being used in this country because of failed government policies that have prioritized corporate bailouts over the American worker.

And speaking of those Trump tax cuts in 2017, the Tax Cut and Jobs Act reduced the top corporate income tax rate from 35 percent to 21 percent. Would you support legislation to revert or change the corporate income tax rate?

Yes.

The latest United Nations climate change report said the globe has a little more than a decade to address climate change before it causes irreversible damage. You support the Green New Deal, why is that the best policy plan to fight climate change?

A Green New Deal is a vision at this point. We need to write out the specific pieces of legislation. 

The goal I support is to create millions of good new union jobs to put the American people to work, rebuilding our country, fighting climate change, and creating the renewable economy of the future.

We’ll also prioritize front line communities, Black, Latino, and working-class communities that have been most affected by environmental pollution and climate change, prioritizing those communities for good jobs and investments.

Oil and gas workers are already losing their jobs because of a changing market and because of outside actors. Republicans for all their love of big oil money and big oil campaign contributions haven’t even bothered to protect Texas oil and gas workers who’ve lost their jobs during the pandemic. To me, that’s an amazing opportunity for the next Congress to show that we care about Texas fossil fuel workers because we’re going to guarantee them a just transition if they lose their job. We’re going to find them a new job and take care of them. That’s a first 100 days priority for 2021, to bring jobs home to Texans and put these workers who have lost their jobs back to work.

What actions would you like to see Congress take to address the police killings and police brutality of Black people? 

We need a national conversation that acknowledges that the legacy of slavery and Jim Crow persists in our society, at every level.

And so I support a broad array of national reforms to eradicate racism in our police departments, to get rid of policies that disproportionately impact Black and Latino communities, whether its cash bail which basically forces poor people who have not been convicted of a crime to stay in jail. 

And I support reform for qualified immunity, which allows officers to violate the constitutional rights of American citizens and still evade accountability, and other reforms, for example, to demilitarize the police. 

We also need a broader conversation about what public safety means. Public safety is not just an officer with a badge and gun. We also know community safety requires economic opportunities. Nothing stops a bullet like a job, as we say in the criminal justice community.

Photo: Mike Siegel campaign website

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