Rep. Pete Stauber wants to make sure that no one in northeastern Minnesota forgets about sulfide mining. Stauber is doing his best to keep the issue front and center in the minds of Eighth District residents, as a way to detract from the economic reality that is likely to dog GOP politicians over the next 18 months and possibly longer.
Economists around the world are suddenly agog at what they see as the potential for astonishing economic growth in the U.S., beginning this year and continuing right into 2023. It kicked off last month with the Labor Department’s announcement that the economy gained 916,000 jobs in March. While still nearly 8.4 million fewer people are working today than prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the job gains in March demonstrate the impact of the latest COVID relief package, as well as the Biden administration’s efforts to get the pandemic under control, which have combined to get the economy moving again.
The prospect of passage of President Biden’s infrastructure package will further boost economic activity. The International Monetary Fund now predicts the U.S. economy will grow at a China-like pace of 6.4 percent this year, and provisions in the Biden relief package will help ensure that more of that economic wealth winds up in the hands of low- and middle-income Americans. The next two years, barring an unexpected event, are likely to yield an exceptional economic boom.
A strong economy, that’s putting real money in the pockets of working Americans, is far from ideal for the party out of power, especially when elected officials from that party have voted unanimously to oppose the very policies that put that money there. Rep. Pete Stauber, after all, voted against the COVID relief bill that provided an additional $1,400 per person to folks in his district and he’s certain to oppose any infrastructure bill that comes close to the one proposed by President Biden.
Which is why Stauber is talking a lot about mining, or “our way of life,” as he likes to put it.
Let’s not mince words. Stauber’s focus on mining has nothing to do with jobs or the Eighth District’s way of life. Of the roughly 327,000 people employed in Stauber’s congressional district, about 4,500, or 1.3 percent, work in mining. If we’re defined by the jobs we hold, the Eighth District’s way of life centers around health care, education, professional services, non-mining manufacturing, recreation, and construction, which account for a total of more than 200,000 jobs combined. And the vast majority of those jobs support middle-class families.
Stauber talks sulfide mining (an issue over which he has little influence) as a means of stoking the cultural divide, which Republicans have exploited for years to hold political power despite pursuing economic policies that do virtually nothing for the people they supposedly represent. With Republicans in charge, the economic policies are always the same: deregulation and tax cuts for the rich. Yet, more dangerous workplaces, dirtier air and water, and fatter paychecks for corporate executives accomplish exactly nothing to advance the interests of working people in northeastern Minnesota. U.S. Steel wasn’t going to employ one extra person because of President Trump’s big corporate tax cut. If they can spend less on worker safety at Minntac, the savings certainly don’t go to the folks in the pit or the crusher. Those windfalls all go to the boys in the suites.
President Biden has put real money into the northeastern Minnesota economy, and, if Republicans don’t block him, he’ll direct even more money here, for expansion of broadband, improving transportation, housing, and energy efficiency. Rep. Stauber has or will oppose all of those investments, which would actually make life better here in northeastern Minnesota.
Which is why Stauber and his GOP media allies are talking about sulfide mining. It is simply a surrogate for other cultural dividers, like the spittle over a couple Dr. Seuss books, who can use which school bathroom, or sports stars taking a knee for the anthem. In terms of our actual lives here in the Eighth District, these issues matter not at all, but they are cultural wedges that Republicans employ to keep Americans who should have common cause, divided. And they have proven remarkably effective at convincing many rural Americans to vote against policies that could make their lives better, out of fear of making life better for someone “on the other side” of that cultural divide. What a shame.
The day that Americans really incorporate the late Paul Wellstone’s favorite axiom that “we all do better when we all do better,” Pete Stauber and the rest of his party are in trouble. Real trouble.