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Nebraska Democrats Leading The Way In The Unicameral

For several years before the 2014 election cycle, an informal coalition of Democrats and moderate Republicans held the balance of power in the officially non-partisan Unicameral.  That informal coalition was able to stop bad legislation such as then Governor Dave Heineman's effort to finance the elimination of the state income tax by raising taxes on farmers, students, senior citizens, the ill and small businesses.   On the other hand, that same coalition - over Heineman's veto - was able to pass good legislation such as providing Medicaid benefits to pregnant mothers who happened to be aspiring citizens.  

There were concerns after the Republicans picked up five legislative seats in the 2014 election cycle, that this moderate coalition would be fractured and that a more conservative legislative majority would be successfully pursue a partisan and fiscally irresponsible agenda that most voters didn't vote for and wouldn't approve.  Fortunately, those concerns (thus far) appear to be misplaced.  The Democratic Senators in the Unicameral have played a key role in maintaining that chamber's long standing moderate, non-partisan tradition.  (In addition, some of the Republicans who were elected last fall have also turned out to be more moderate than expected.)

The first effort by the Unicameral's most conservative members to impose a narrow, partisan agenda was an attempt to end secret ballots on the election of committee chairs.  Thanks in part to the leadership of Senators Sue Crawford and Patty Pansing Brooks, this misguided idea was rejected by a margin of 33-12.

The next attempt by right wing Senators to blow up the Unicameral was a bill to require voters in Nebraska to show a government I.D. card when they vote - even though proponents of the bill failed to provide a single example of fraud that would have been prevented by the proposed law.  As it turned out, a filibuster led by Adam Morfeld stopped this expensive and unnecessary legislation.  A coalition of 14 Democrats and 11 Republicans voted to successfully kill the bill. 

After killing the voter I.D. bill, a coalition of Democrats and moderate Republicans successfully filibustered a change to the state's fairly unique electoral vote law.  The extreme  Republicans in the legislature wanted the state to return to the winner take all system of the past which made Nebraska irrelevant and merely fly over country in many past Presidential elections.  Thanks to this successful filibuster, it is very likely that the electoral vote in CD2 will be in play in 2016 and Nebraska will receive visits from Presidential candidates and their surrogates in next year's election cycle.

On the fiscal front, the Revenue Committee rejected by a 5-2 vote, a bill to reduce property taxes on agricultural land.  This was a stinging defeat for Governor Ricketts since this was his top legislative priority for the session.  The bill failed largely due to concerns that it would result in deep cuts to school funding and higher property taxes for many Nebraskans.  

Nebraska Democrats didn't only achieve defensive victories in this year's session.  They have also been instrumental in advancing positive legislation out of committee that would help thousands of Nebraskans.

Senator Morfeld introduced LB 586 which would would ban job discrimination against gay, lesbian and transgender Nebraskans, and is modeled after an ordinance that has been on the books in Omaha for around three years.  Interestingly enough, this bill was endorsed by the Greater Omaha Chamber of Commerce and the Lincoln Chamber of Commerce.  The bill passed out of the Judiciary Committee by a 5-2 vote where it faces a possible right wing filibuster on the floor and a veto by Governor Ricketts.

Another positive piece of legislation that recently advanced out of committee was the Medicaid expansion.   The Health and Human Services Committee voted by a 5-2 margin to advance the Medicaid expansion to the floor of the legislature for a full debate.  This vital piece of legislation was supported in committee by Senators Howard, Cook and Crawford.  The Medicaid expansion would insure 54,000 additional Nebraskans and save taxpayers millions of dollars.  As in the past, this bill will most likely face a filibuster from the most conservative Senators and opposition from the Governor.

There are no guarantees that this moderate coalition led by the Democratic Senators will continue in the future.  This is because Ricketts and his wealthy allies plan to recruit right wing candidates and sink a lot of money into the 2016 legislative races.  Well informed sources in the legislature have advised me that if Ricketts succeeds in electing a Tea Party legislative majority, he will swing for the fences in 2017 and 2018 and try to pass the kind tax and spending legislation that has killed the Kansas economy. 

What this means is that once again the stakes will be very high in the 2016 election cycle.  Nebraska's term limits laws have turned every election cycle into a potential turning point where Nebraska's future is on the line.  As Democrats, we need to do everything we can to help elect more Democrats to the legislature next year.  Please go door to door for you local candidate or if you can afford it, make a financial contribution.  

Nebraska's economy and budget has been the envy of the country for years because our legislature has pursued a moderate, common sense course.   We need to stay active and vigilant lest the forces of privilege and reaction take power and destroy all of this progress. 

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Are Fischer And Sasse Interested In The Security Of The American People?

The new GOP led Congress is off to an awful start.  There is no other way to describe it. The continuing gridlock and dysfunction I predicted last year as a candidate for Congress has materialized in ways that nobody anticipated.  One of the most disturbing trends has been the seeming indifference to national security on the part of the new GOP majority.

Earlier this month, all of the Nebraska Republican members of Congress voted to shutdown the Department of Homeland Security during a time when terrorists were threatening to attack the U.S.  Experts contended that a shutdown of DHS would result in a slower and weaker response to a terrorist attack - if one were to occur.

Fischer and Sasse doubled down on jeopardizing national security for the sake of partisan politics when they signed on to a letter along with 45 other Senate Republicans that was sent to the depots who rule Iran with an iron fist.  The purpose of that "mutinous" letter was to sabotage international negotiations with Iran aimed at ending it's nuclear program.  This letter was unprecedented and sent the signal to the international community that the U.S. is no longer a reliable negotiating partner that can keep it's word or maintain agreements that it has signed. 

Fischer and Sasse's letter to Iran makes war with that country more likely.  If they succeed in sabotaging an agreement with Iran, the pressure to go to war with that country will be relentless.   Already, the war drums are beating in neo-conservative circles.  In a recent opinion piece in the Washington Post, Joshua Muravchik of John Hopkins University argued that:  "War with Iran is probably our best option."   Moreover, such prominent and influential Republicans as Dick Cheney, John McCain and Mitt Romney at one or time or another in the recent past have come out in favor of launching airstrikes on Iran.

The response to Fischer and Sasse's letter was (justifiably) harsh.  Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said that:  "Either these senators were trying to be helpful to the Iranians or harmful to the commander-in-chief in the midst of high-stakes international diplomacy. Either answer does discredit to the letter's signatories."  Harry Reid stated:  "The Republicans are undermining our commander in chief while empowering the ayatollahs.”  Maine Senator Angus King probably said it best: “I cannot imagine the Congress of the United States writing a letter to Khrushchev in the midst of those discussions (during the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis) and saying, ‘Don’t worry about this guy Kennedy, he doesn’t speak for our country. And yet that essentially is what took place (Monday).”

The Nebraska Senators and their GOP colleagues were visibly surprised by the firestorm they created.  At first they told us the letter was a bit of a joke - calling it "cheeky" - and contended that the "Administration has no sense of humor."  McCain confessed that the letter to the Mullahs was drafted in haste because:"Everybody was looking forward to getting out of town because of the snowstorm.” 

Fischer and Sasse's attempted explanations for this reckless letter were equally unsatisfying and disingenuous.  Fischer claimed that: "And it in no way was trying to get into the negotiations.”  Sasse's response was even worse and insulted Nebraskans.  The normally GOP friendly Omaha World reported: "Pressed as to his reason for signing the letter, Sasse said that shouldn’t be the issue."

The letter sent to Iran by Nebraska's GOP Senators may not have only been stupid - it may have been illegal.  A very good argument could be made that this letter was in violation of the Logan Act - which forbids interference with U.S. foreign policy.  The relevant portion of the Logan Act reads as follows: "Any citizen of the United States, wherever he may be, who, without authority of the United States, directly or indirectly commences or carries on any correspondence or intercourse with any foreign government or any officer or agent thereof, with intent to influence the measures or conduct of any foreign government or of any officer or agent thereof, in relation to any disputes or controversies with the United States, or to defeat the measures of the United States, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than three years, or both."

All of these antics by Fischer, Sasse (and the rest of the Republicans in the Nebraska Congressional delegation) send the signal that the Republican majority in Congress is simply incapable of governing.  This is a disturbing development because the Congress must soon get to work and meet a number of deadlines to keep the government funded and avoid sending the country into another recession.   Before this fall, the Highway Trust Fund must be replenished and the debt ceiling must be raised.  A failure to pass what used to be routine legislation could sabotage what is turning out to be a strengthening economic recovery and send the country back into a recession.

Earlier this year, Mitch McConnell set a very modest goal for his new majority:  “I don’t want the American people to think that if they add a Republican president to a Republican Congress, that’s going to be a scary outcome."  Unfortunately, the Congressional GOP has failed to meet that goal and as it turns out, just having a Republican majority in Congress is a "scary outcome."  The biggest obstacle to the safety of the country and a promising economic recovery is the incompetence and dysfunction of the Republicans in Congress. 

All of us Nebraska Democrats must do everything we can next year to prevent the scary combination of a Republican President and Congress.  The last time the country had an all GOP government, they destroyed the economy and involved the country in two losing wars.  We can't let that happen again.  

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Blog Post from Preston Love Jr.

Disenfranchisement has residuals: Hopelessness, crime, violence and reduced tax contribution. North Omaha is a community of vast disenfranchised poverty. If you reduce poverty in north Omaha you will increase the hopes of many, reduce crime and violence, reduce the cost related to policing the community and increase the flow of taxes among many other positive effects to north Omaha stakeholders.

For over two decades now, deep storage tunnels, and what the tunneling industry calls combined sewer overflow (CSO) interceptor systems have formed the backbone of an industry with projects that many of the largest cities in America and sewer districts have been obliged to adopt as part of a nationwide program to reduce overflows of foul and polluted water into the rivers, creeks and harbors of the nation. 

Since 1990s, a total of 772 cities and districts have been identified by the Federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), as needing urgent action to tackle problems associated with operating outdated combined sewer overflow (CSO) systems incapable of dealing with modern demand requirements. Omaha, Nebraska is one of those cities.This Project offers a unique and significant opportunity to be inclusive and create a sustainable middle class founded on business ownership(and the employees of these businesses) in the poverty stricken area of North Omaha.

The number of high-profile tunnels designed in the 1990s and 2000s, now under construction in Indianapolis (Deep Rock Connector Tunnel in 2012), Washington DC (first launched on 4.5 mile Blue Plains Tunnel in July 2013), North East Ohio (Cleveland Euclid Creek Tunnel in 2012) and Columbus ( 2011 Tunnel). The much-lauded and ongoing TARP deep tunnel system for Chicago as an early blueprint, CSO tunnels have also been completed in Seattle for King County (2005, US$165 million), Portland (2005 to 2010, US$650 million), and a long program of construction industry of all large-scale deep storage and CSO tunnel projects that are either completed, in construction, or cost estimated since 1998, is in the region of US$4 billion.

Within the industry as well as municipalities, there is wavering on the construction time commitment as well as expense of these projects. For example, the DC Water Authority is one of several water authorities looking at green infrastructure as a natural way to manage stormwater by absorbing rain before it enters the sewer or stormwater system. DC Water awarded US$1 million in prize money to seven local design teams at its specially-convened Green Infrastructure Summit. 

This technology phase shift is viewed as an opportunity. In spite of these potential phase shifts, the investment amounts are significant, the need is clear. The development commitment remains clear in the face of the move to green technologies. What is consistently especially here in Omaha is the need for the increased involvement of the Omaha small business community in both the technology change, as well as the implementation. 

The language of the Long Term Control Plan(LTCP) states; “To foster an understanding of the CSO Program within minority and emerging community groups and develop a collaborative relationship with neighborhoods.”

“It will be necessary to make sure that the public is aware of how its fees are being spent, the benefits of the Program, details on the ratepayer assistance program, local job creation, what construction impacts will occur and when.....” 

These words, issued in potentially 772 city project cannot be allowed to ring hollow in the face of an ever widening economic divide, and herein Omaha, the outright destruction of established, working solutions to train, certify, and ensure the success of local minority construction businesses. This destruction took place without thought for an alternative working solution. This malicious intent cannot be tolerated.

With that said the Nebraska Democratic Party supports efforts by north Omaha contractors, clergy, neighborhood associations and other stakeholders challenging the City of Omaha to clearly define a working solution for north Omaha contractor inclusion,associated with the 3.2 Billion CSO Project. Without this program, the city has clearly defined its plan to ignore north Omaha contractors and businesses, and in turn destroy a viable mechanism for business ownership, local business growth, wage growth, and sustainable economic growth for this local community.

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Nebraska Democrats Will Make History Again On March 5, 2016

The State Central Committee of the Nebraska Democratic Party (NDP) has voted to hold Presidential nominating caucuses on March 5, 2016.  This decision will once again make Nebraska Democrats relevant in the Presidential nominating process.  The caucus date that was selected was the earliest possible date that could've been selected by the NDP.  Our caucuses will follow on the heels of the first four nominating contests in Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina.

Nebraska Democrats made history when they held caucuses for the first time in February 2008.  As we all know, there was a highly spirited contest for the nomination that year between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.  Due to that contest and the early caucus date, Nebraska got some needed attention that year.  Barack Obama, Michelle Obama and Chelsea Clinton all campaigned in our state before the balloting in the caucuses began.  

Obama's decisive victory in the 2008 caucuses here set the stage for his campaign contesting Nebraska CD-02 that fall.  For the first time in decades, Nebraska was relevant in the general election and both Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin campaigned in Omaha. As it turned out, those efforts paid off and Obama carried CD-02 in November.   It was the first time a Democrat had picked up an electoral vote in Nebraska since the LBJ sweep in 1964 when he carried the state.  

The Presidential caucus next year once again gives Nebraska Democrats an opportunity to make a difference in a Presidential election.  At the present time, Clinton is the overwhelming favorite but a series of mistakes and gaffes have given some Democrats pause and have caused some to wonder whether Clinton is ready for the heat of a Presidential campaign.  Clinton's early stumbles certainly could set the stage for a contested nominating contest.

Former Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley has already made it clear that he will throw his hat in the ring.  O'Malley compiled an impressive string of accomplishments in Maryland: the minimum wage was increased, gay couples can get married, the death penalty was abolished,  and aspiring Americans now qualify for in-state college tuition rates.   (O'Malley delivered a very impressive speech last year in Omaha at the Morrison-Exon dinner.) O'Malley has already taken a jab at Clinton by criticizing the politics of “triangulation” that have been associated with the Bill and Hillary Clinton.  

Pressure is growing for Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren to make a run.  The Progressive wing of the Democratic Party is (justifiably) impressed by Warren's criticism of excessive corporate power in American politics, Wall Street and growing inequality.  Like O'Malley, Warren has been critical of Clinton's centrism and caution as a potential candidate.  A Warren run - even if she didn't win - could toughen up Clinton and get her better prepared to take on the GOP nominee in what will be a brutal general election campaign. 

There is a potentially very good candidate has been largely overlooked.  Joe Biden has loyally served as Vice President in a very successful Presidency that has turned around the economy, insured 10 million more Americans and significantly scaled back U.S. involvement in two wars.  Biden is a very good speaker and a strong campaigner.  The Vice President has been of great assistance to President Obama in negotiating several budget deals with the recalcitrant Republicans on Capitol Hill.  Historically, sitting Vice Presidents in successful Administrations have been serious contenders for the Presidency.

None of this discussion is meant to minimize Hillary Clinton's accomplishments and political skills.  Mrs. Clinton was the chief adviser to Bill Clinton's successful Presidency that gave the U.S. eight years of peace and prosperity.  That is a rare accomplishment in U.S. history.  Clinton followed up her admirable service as First Lady with successful stints as a U.S. Senator and Secretary of State.  She brings to the table one of the most impressive resumes of any Presidential contender in American history.  

What all of this means is that the Democratic Party is likely to have a contested nominating contest next year that won't be resolved before we hold our caucuses.  Once again, we can expect visits from the leading candidates and their supporters.  Like we did in 2008, Nebraska Democrats will have a significant say in who will be the next President of the U.S.  Once again, we will make history.

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Fischer And Sasse Jeopardized Our Safety From Terrorist Attacks

When the Republicans asked voters for control of the Congress in the 2014 campaign, they claimed they would keep America safe and end the gridlock in Washington.  Mitch McConnell told the voters that if the GOP were to obtain control of Congress: “There is no possibility of a government shutdown.”  Shortly after the election the incoming Senate Majority Leader laid out the prime goal of the new GOP led Congress:   “I don’t want the American people to think that if they add a Republican president to a Republican Congress, that’s going to be a scary outcome."

Unfortunately, recent events clearly indicate that the new GOP controlled Congress is a failure and has fallen far short of its promises and goals.  Last week, the American people were treated to a spectacle where the GOP majority in the U.S. House of Representatives simply refused to finance the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) when the U.S. is being threatened by terrorists hell bent on killing Americans.  Finally, after several days of chaos and dysfunction in the House, the Democrats bailed out House Speaker John Boehner and voted with some of the Republicans to extend the funding of DHS until March 6.  

The failure of the GOP House to fund DHS for more than seven days sets up another showdown in the House this week that could leave the U.S. more vulnerable to a terrorist attack.  In the event of shutdown, experts have indicated that if a terrorist attack or natural disaster occurred, the effect would be magnified and the government’s response would be slowed.  

If the Congressional Republicans fail in their primary duty of keeping the country safe and shutdown DHS, 80% of that department's employees would still have to go to work but they would be working without a paycheck.  Moreover, a DHS shutdown would have no effect on President Obama's executive order granting deportation relief to 5 million aspiring Americans.

The only Nebraska Congressional member who wasn't part of the risky dysfunction that endangered the lives of their constituents was Representative Brad Ashford.  He took the position that it was "critically important that we pass a clean Homeland Security Funding bill." Ashford stated: "The safety of our citizens is our first priority."  Congressman Ashford was only member of the Nebraska delegation who consistently supported funding DHS during last week's drama. 

In addition to prioritizing the safety of the American people, Ashford introduced a bill that would would withhold Congressional members' pay if DHS is shut down.  The Omaha lawmaker said:  "All across the country, folks live by the idea that if you don't do your job, you shouldn't get paid. The same should hold true for members of Congress, and this bill simply codifies that belief."

In sharp contrast to Ashford's leadership, Senators Fischer and Sasse caved to the extreme Tea Party faction of the GOP and voted to deny funding to DHS.  They took this reckless and irresponsible action even though Bush Administration DHS head Tom Ridge recently said that the U.S. currently faces a greater threat to its national security today than when he served as the first Director of DHS in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks.

The actions of Fischer and Sasse are simply unacceptable since a DHS shutdown would make the country less safe at a time where terrorists - among other things - have recently released a video threatening to attack The Mall of America in Minneapolis.  This reckless vote by Nebraska's Republican Senators follows on the heels of Fischer's promise in 2012 that: "In the Senate, I will not play politics with our security. "  There is simply no excuse for this risky vote that hurts the country.

The actions of the GOP led Congress doesn't bode well for the immediate future.  Congress faces several crucial deadlines before the end of the year.  Funding for DHS runs out on March 6 and the nation's debt ceiling must be raised sometime this summer.  A failure to act on these crucial deadlines could literally have catastrophic consequences for this country.

It is obvious that the House Republican majority can't govern and keep the country safe.  As Harry Reid said: "Two months into the Republican Congress, we are already staring a Homeland Security shutdown square in the face, even as terrorists around the world threaten to strike America." The cold, hard reality is that the GOP controlled Congress is bad for the country and must be replaced.  

We can begin working on our goal of replacing the dangerous and dysfunctional Republican majority in Congress by re-electing Representative Brad Ashford in Nebraska CD-2.  Alone among Nebraska's Congressional representatives, Ashford has shown independence and leadership.  His thoughtful and mature approach to legislating is just what the country need right now.

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Returning The GOP TO Power To Reduce Inequality Would Be Like Bringing Back Bill Callahan To Coach The Nebraska Football Team

For years, the Republicans have been predicting that President Obama's policies will cause "Armageddon" and even make the U.S. "cease to exist."  However, the economy took off in 2014 and had it's best performance since 1999.  Over 3 million jobs were created and the economy seems poised for even better gains in 2015 and 2016.

The Republicans initially responded to this good news by trying to claim credit for the improved economic performance.  Those claims were laughable since the GOP did everything they could to obstruct Obama's economic policies and even tried to sabotage the economy with a reckless default threat in 2011 and a harmful government shutdown in 2013.

After the GOP's attempt to claim credit for the economic recovery fell flat, they shifted gears and began to complain that President Obama is to blame for the increased economic inequality in America. This apparent concern for inequality from the GOP came as a shock to most people.   As recently as 2012,  Mitt Romney contended that voters' concerns about inequality were all about "envy" and "class warfare," and should only be discussed in "quiet rooms."  

The GOP's new found "concern" about inequality strains credulity when you take into account the economic policies that the GOP has pursued since the Reagan Administration.  Once again, the GOP doesn't think we have discovered google and that history begins when they take the podium.

Since 1981, the GOP has steadfastly pursued policies that have exacerbated - if not  created - the greatest disparity in wealth in America since the Hoover Administration.  The GOP's economic doctrine has consisted of a combination of tax cuts for the wealthy, cuts in programs that benefit the poor and middle class, the deregulation of big business and an all out assault on unions.  Thanks to those regressive policies, most of the economic gains since the early 1980s have gone to the top 1% of income earners.  

Despite their recent rhetoric, the GOP's current economic policies have not changed.  The centerpiece of the GOP economic platform since 2009 has been the regressive budget plan authored by Representative Paul Ryan.   The GOP budget plan would reduce the top marginal tax rate on the wealthy to it's lowest level since the Coolidge Administration.  At the same time, this plan would drastically slash spending for programs that benefit the poor - approximately 69% of the budget cuts in the GOP budget plan would come from programs for the poor.

At the same time the GOP has pushed for regressive policies, they have bitterly opposed President Obama's policies which have had the effect of reducing inequality. The 2009 Recovery Act - which according to most economists ended the recession - contained the largest middle class tax cut in history. The Affordable Care Act increased taxes on the wealthiest Americans to finance an expansion of health care for middle class and poor Americans. That feature of the ACA would account (in part) for the GOP's virulent opposition to the ACA.

All of this time, Nebraska's Congressional Republicans have stood shoulder to shoulder with their party bosses on issues of inequality. Fischer, Fortenberry and Smith have all voted for the Ryan plan. During his campaign, Sasse came out in favor of the Ryan budget plan. These same Republican members of Congress also support the complete repeal of the ACA - while at the same time they enjoy the benefits of taxpayer subsidized health insurance.

At the state level, Governor Pete Ricketts also favors policies that would further increase the already wide gap between the wealthy and everybody else. Ricketts opposes the ACA Medicaid expansion which would provide needed insurance coverage to approximately 54,000 Nebraskans.

Similarly, Ricketts has said he will take no action to help those who lose insurance coverage if the five Republican appointees on the U.S. Supreme Court gut the ACA and ends subsidies for those purchasing insurance policies on the federal insurance exchanges. A refusal by Ricketts to set up a state insurance exchange in the event of an adverse decision by the Supreme Court would cause 74,000 Nebraskans to lose insurance coverage.

It's pretty obvious to anybody who is paying attention that the GOP's recent "concern" for the middle class and the poor is just spin. As President Obama said: “You can’t just talk the talk. You’ve got to do what? You’ve got to walk the walk. We’ve been walking the walk.”  There is nothing in the GOP's modern history to suggest that they will propose anything that will help anybody but their wealthy donors.  

Returning the Republicans to power to help the middle class and the poor would be like Nebraska hiring Bill Callahan to coach it's football team.  Callahan was the worst Nebraska football coach since the late 1950s and early 1960s.  There is nothing in Callahan's coaching record that would lead anybody to believe that he could be a successful college head football coach.

We as Democrats must constantly remind the voters that we are the party of the people.  We are the party of Social Security, Medicare and expanded health insurance.  The GOP is the party of the wealthy and the well connected.  The GOP stands for pessimism, fear and failure.  We stand for optimism, hope and progress.  That must be our message as we go forward.

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The Affordable Care Act is Working

At the time the Affordable Care Act passed in 2010, John Boehner contended that passage of health reform was "Armageddon" because the law will “ruin our country.”  More recently and closer to home, Ben Sasse in his campaign announcement in 2013 predicted that: "If the Affordable Care Act survives, America will cease to exist."  How have those apocalyptic predictions of doom held up?  Has the Affordable Care Act ruined our great country or is it actually working?

The verdict is in and the Affordable Care is actually working very well - contrary to what you might hear on Fox News and AM radio.  When you look at every relevant metric, the ACA is meeting it's most important goals and improving the quality of life for millions of Americans.

The ACA is doing a very good job of achieving it's primary goal of insuring more Americans.  Since the implementation of the ACA in 2013, 10 million people who used to be uninsured now have coverage.  According to the Gallup organization, the percentage of Americans who are uninsured has declined from 18% of the population to 13% - the lowest level since 2008.  In contrast, 8 million Americans lost their insurance coverage during the Bush Administration.

The actual quality of health insurance policies sold to consumers has significantly improved thanks to the ACA.  Pre-existing condtion clauses and life time limits on policies have been banned.  In addition, the insurance industry is no longer allowed to sell skimpy, junk policies that don't cover major illnesses and injuries.  What that means is that the health insurance industry's control over our health care choices has been greatly diminished.

Senior citizens have benefited from the ACA.  The landmark 2010 health care law has extended the life of the Medicare trust fund through 2030, four more years than the last projection in 2013.  Just a few years ago, the Medicare Trust Fund was projected to run out of money by 2017.

The ACA also helped senior citizens by closing the Medicare Part D doughnut hole.  Thanks to the closure of this coverage gap, more than 7.3 million seniors and people with disabilities have saved nearly $9 billion on their prescription drugs - an average of $1,200 per person since 2010.

In addition to helping millions of Americans, the ACA is putting a significant dent in the federal budget deficit.   The ACA will reduce the deficit by over $200 billion during the first 10 years after passage of the law, and more than $1 trillion in the second decade.  

The ACA is also a factor in the encouraging trend of reduced health care spending.  According to a recent study from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services,  the growth in health care spending was 3.6% in 2013 — the lowest yearly increase since 1960.

This dramatic reduction in medical inflation will save taxpayers billions of dollars in future Medicare and Medicaid costs.  As a matter of fact, these health care cost savings will reduce the deficit more than any potential "grand bargain" on the federal budget.

The reduced growth in medical spending has also had the salutary effect of slowing the growth in health insurance premiums for consumers.  According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, premiums have grown at a much slower rate since the passage of the ACA:  "Premiums increased more slowly over the past five years than the preceding five years (26 percent vs. 34 percent) and well below the annual double-digit increases recorded in the late 1990s and early 2000s. "

Unfortunately, Nebraska consumers haven't benefited from the trend in slower health insurance premium inflation due to the partisan obstruction of Nebraska Republicans. States that have adopted the Medicaid expansion and have set up their own insurance exchanges have cheaper health insurance than the states - like Nebraska - that have refused to cooperate with the implementation of the ACA.

The Nebraska GOP's partisan resistance to the ACA mirrors the actions of the GOP in Washington. The Republicans in Congress have voted no less than 56 times to repeal the ACA. In addition to that, those same Republicans have voted several times for the regressive Ryan budget plan which repeals but doesn't replace Obama Care.

The GOP has promised 20 times since 2009 to come up with a consensus GOP health care replacement plan. On June 17, 2009, then-Rep. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) promised that:   “I guarantee you we will provide you with a bill.” Subsequently, on October 27, 2009, then-Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.) told reporters that the official Republican version of Obama Care was just "weeks away."

Even though prominent Republicans made these bold promises, the GOP still didn't have an ACA replacement plan over four years later which prompted Cantor to make another promise on January 30, 2014: "This year, we will rally around an alternative to Obama Care and pass it on the floor of the House.” 

The Republicans began to make promises to come up with a GOP plan nearly six years ago and they still haven't come up with a plan. What that means is that the GOP wants to repeal the ACA and return to the dysfunctional, pre-ACA status quo where insurance companies could discriminate against sick people and cancel policies after you got sick or hurt. The GOP has made no effort to expand health care since the Nixon Administration in the early 1970s. Actions speak louder than words.

The success of the ACA tells voters something important about our values.  The Democratic Party is ready to govern and to improve the lives of all Americans. We are the party of the people because the wealthy are already represented by the GOP and the conservative movement.

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Is President Obama a Socialist?

President Obama has been subject to an unprecedented torrent of abuse from his detractors since he emerged on the national scene.  His enemies have called him every name in the book and they (at times) have even stooped to attack his children.  One of the most misleading (and ignorant) epithets that has been hurled at Obama is that he is a "socialist."  Just what is socialism?  What do real socialists make of President Obama?  And what do the President's own policies say about this line of attack?

Socialism is a system where the government actually controls many of the major industries.  For example, in Britain between 1945-1979, the government acquired control (total or partial) of the following industries: auto manufacturing, coal mining, shipbuilding, freight rail lines, airlines and the health industry.  (Most of these industries were sold off to private investors during the Thatcher Administration in the 1980s.) 

Unlike the radical right, the Socialist Party USA is familiar with genuine socialism and they have firmly rejected the notion that Obama is one of them.  Burt Wharton - the co-chair of the Socialist Party USA  - stated that: "We didn't see a great victory with the election of Barack Obama, and we certainly didn't see our agenda move from the streets to the White House...(T)he assertion that Obama is a socialist is absurd...It makes no rational sense. It clearly means that people don't understand what socialism is."

President Obama's policies certainly rebut the notion that he is some kind of socialist.  In the fall of 2008, the Congress passed the TARP bill which partially nationalized the banking, insurance and auto industries in an effort to stave off a total economic collapse.  At the time, the right wing detractors of this legislation derisively labeled General Motors "Government Motors" and issued apocalyptic predictions that the auto industry was doomed to fail.  Mitt Romney even wrote an editorial at that time titled: "Let Detroit Go Bankrupt."

As it turned out, the government rescue of these industries turned out to be a success and these companies returned to profitability.  Once these companies became viable again, the Obama Administration sold off the government owned stock to private investors and earned the taxpayers a tidy sum of $53 billion.  If Obama had been a socialist, these stock shares would still be in government hands.  

Perhaps the most most dishonest lies told about Obama's alleged socialist leanings have been in connection with the Affordable Care Act or Obama Care.  In 2009, long time GOP spin doctor Frank Luntz advised Republicans to falsely describe Obama Care as a "government takeover" of the health care system.   As Luntz said: "'Takeovers are like coups. They both lead to dictators and a loss of freedom."  And GOP members of Congress repeatedly used that false buzz phrase and were rarely called on it by the so-called "liberal mainstream media."  

As it turned out, Luntz's phony "government takeover" allegation was named the 2010 "Lie of the Year" award by the non-partisan site Politifact.com. Luntz's allegation was clearly false since the ACA largely relies upon the private health insurance industry to provide most of the new coverage.  In addition, the law doesn't nationalize the hospital industry or make doctors government employees.  

The dishonesty of the charge that Obama is a socialist can be found in the performance of the economy since he took office in early 2009. When President Obama took office, the economy was losing 800,000 jobs per month.  In 2014, the economy created 250,000 new jobs per month and approximately 1 million jobs have been created in the last 3 months alone!  That is the best jobs growth since 1999.

The improvement in the stock market has been equally dramatic.  In early 2009, the Dow Jones Industrial average reached a low of 6,500. At that time, the entertainers in the right wing media blamed Obama for the deep decline in the stock market.  Currently, the Dow is hovering around 18,000.  

The conventional wisdom is that socialism is bad for business and will tank the economy.  That's why the Republicans combined their disingenuous charges of socialism with apocalyptic predictions that Obama's economic and health care policies would bring about "Armageddon" or cause America to "cease to exist."  Obviously, the strong performance of the economy should put to rest any notion that President Obama is a socialist.

The big picture here is that President Obama is a successful and effective President who is well within the mainstream of contemporary American political thought.  It is his opponents who are the extremists.

The Republican Party is the party of pessimism and fear.  The Democratic Party stands for optimism and hope.  Let's not let the voters forget that in 2016!

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Is Ricketts Up To The Job?

While many State Senators in both parties are praising Governor Ricketts' out reach and interpersonal skills, there have been many disturbing developments that call into question his very competence to do his job.  Already, Ricketts has provided misleading information regarding state taxes in his State of the State speech, blown up the budget for his own office and is paying a senior adviser out of his own pocket to avoid the open records law.   

Ricketts got off to an early, poor start with his State of the State speech.  In that address, he cited an obscure website nobody had ever heard of to make the unfounded claim that Nebraska has the third heaviest tax load out of all 50 states.  For years the consensus has been that Nebraska's tax load is squarely in the middle of the pack.

This grossly erroneous misstatement in Ricketts' speech to the State Senators indicates that he doesn't understand the magnitude of his new job and it also undermines his credibility with the Senators.  He wasn't addressing a meeting of the party faithful or the Platte Institute.  In addition, Ricketts' remarks hurt Nebraska's good reputation as a place to live and do business.  Any CEO would be fired if he ran down and trashed his company shortly after he was hired.

The new Governor doubled down on this blunder by increasing the budget for the Governor's office by 22% - while proposing a spending increase of only 3% for the rest of the state government.   This huge increase in the budget for the Governor's office is intended  to pay for two new positions that Ricketts created - a personnel director and a chief operating officer.  Apparently, Ricketts is hiring two people to do his own job for him after he spent over $7 million campaigning for the job in the first place.  

The person Ricketts hired to serve as chief operating officer - Felix Davidson - worked for the Governor at TD Ameritrade.  When Ricketts and Davidson worked together at that Omaha company, they oversaw a massive layoff of employees and outsourced the jobs to India.  If this past experience is any indication, don't be surprised if state jobs are out sourced to India or some other third world country.  

Ricketts then further compounded these mistakes when he hired long time GOP political operative and lobbyist Jessica Moenning as a senior adviser.   Ricketts' plan is to pay Moenning's salary out of his own pocket and not have her be a state employee.  This radical arrangement raises many troubling legal and ethical issues. 

Ricketts' & Moenning's scheme will shield Moenning from the state's open record laws.  As state party chair Vince Powers said: ""Nebraska has a very strong history of open records and transparency in government. What the governor has done goes against the entire history of this state." 

The need for transparency in government was neatly summed up by the Omaha World Herald in connection with the attempted secret hiring of a CEO by OPPD: “It’s always unfortunate when a public agency shirks its duty to operate in public,” said Mike Reilly, executive editor of The World-Herald and president of Media of Nebraska, a coalition of Nebraska newspapers and broadcasters.

Because this bizarre deal allows Moenning to operate in secret, the taxpayers will never know for certain what is occurring behind closed doors.   This sets up a potentially explosive conflict of interest that will hurt Nebraska's citizens.  

The Governor could eliminate this grotesque conflict of  interest by having Moenning go on the state payroll and serve as a public servant.  Ricketts could then make a donation to the State Treasury to make up the added cost of her salary.  Apparently, Ms. Moenning wants to have it both ways.  She wants to serve as a senior adviser to the Governor but she has forgotten why it is called public service.  

It's unfortunate that Mr. Ricketts is off to such a poor state.  Nebraska's economy and budget are in good shape but there are still many challenges that need to be met.  Heineman left the behind to his successor a government in a state of disarray.  His ineptitude caused the disintegration of the Departments of Corrections and HHS.  

We now need a competent Governor who can step up to the plate and clean up these messes.  Unfortunately, Ricketts' early mistakes call into question his very competence to do the job he campaigned so hard for.  

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So-Called "Small Government" Conservative Republicans Propose To Use Big Government To Take Away Peoples' Freedom And Liberty

One thing we commonly hear from conservative Republicans are claims that they support freedom, liberty and smaller government.  As usual, there is a vast gap between the claims made by conservatives and reality.  A good example of this vast gap can be found in several bills in the Unicameral that have been proposed by so-called "small government" conservatives that would actually take away freedom from thousands of Nebraskans. 

One of the most egregious big government bills being proposed by extreme Republicans is one requiring voters to show a driver's license or a valid state ID card before voting at a polling place.   This bill is being sponsored by several Senators who have (falsely) postured as advocates of freedom and liberty: Lydia Brasch,  Laura Ebke, Bill Kintner, and Ken Schilz.   Apparently, what they haven't told the voters is that they favor using the power of big government to infringe upon the peoples' sacred right to vote.

The reality is that voter ID laws reduce turnout and make it harder for minorities, the poor, young people and senior citizens to exercise their right to vote.  For example in Texas, in 2014, approximately 600,000 voters statewide were denied the right to vote because they lacked the required documents.   In neighboring Kansas, no less than 22,000 people were stopped from registering to vote because they lacked proof of citizenship.  The strict voter ID law in the Sunflower state altogether reduced turnout  there by about 2 percent in 2014.

The rationale given by sponsors of voter ID laws is that in person voter fraud is rampant in the U.S.  The reality is that voter fraud is extremely rare - almost to the point of being non-existent.  According to a Loyola University law school professor, there have been about 31 credible allegations of voter fraud in the entire U.S.  since 2000.   The Bush Administration conducted a 5 year investigation of alleged voter fraud and charged only about 120 people and of those, only 86 were actually convicted.

The real (as opposed to the stated) rationale for voter ID laws is deeply partisan - the GOP simply wants to make it harder for Democrats to win elections.  For example, in 2012, a Republican legislator in Pennsylvania candidly explained why he wanted a voter ID law in that state: "Voter ID, which is gonna allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania, done.”   After the 2012 election cycle, Florida GOP Party Chair Jim Greer admitted that the goal of the state's voter ID law was to suppress Democratic voters. 

The voter ID bill isn't the only legislation being introduced by radical Republicans that would take away peoples' freedom.  Senator Ebke has sponsored legislation that would  make it so that public employers couldn't deduct union dues from employees’ paychecks. In addition, Ebke's bill would prohibit collective bargaining agreements that call for such deductions.

Ebke's intrusive, anti-union bill would greatly impair what Ronald Reagan once called "one of the most elemental human rights - the right to belong to a trade union."  Thousands of middle class voters exercise their right to participate in the political process in Nebraska by being a union member.  Unions turn out voters and contribute to candidates who support working families. This bill - if passed - would cause a big decline in union budgets and membership.  

If it were to become law, Ebke's anti-union legislation would reduce the influence of the middle class in elections and cause a further erosion in middle class earning power.  Unions are the only remaining check and balance to corporate influence in elections.   

When it comes to freedom, former Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm correctly stated that: "The Republican Party has a major credibility gap on that issue. Why? The Republicans are for free enterprise, but not free people. And that is their fundamental problem....(T)heir freedom only applies to businesses, not individuals."  

Granholm's perceptive statement tells us a lot about what many contemporary conservative Republicans believe about freedom and liberty. (I would submit that these so-called conservatives aren't conservative - they're radical.)  As Democrats, we need to let the voters know that we are the true party of freedom and liberty. We can't surrender this issue to the Republicans.   That is because we are the party of the people - not the powerful.  We can begin by calling our State Senators and urging them to oppose these bills that would violate our sacred rights to vote and belong to a trade union.  

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