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The GOP Gins Up Phony Scandals To Distract From Its Bad Record And Extreme Agenda

Over the last 25 years, the GOP has tried to generate phony scandals about prominent Democrats to win elections and discredit Democratic Presidents.  The Republicans do this because they know that if the public becomes more aware of its record in office and extreme agenda, they are unlikely to win Presidential elections.  As it has turned out, the Democrats have won the popular vote in 5 out of the last 6 elections since the GOP has adopted this strategy.

Between 1968 and 1988, the general GOP election theme was that the Democratic Presidential nominee was too liberal and outside of the mainstream.  Since the advent of the right wing media in the early 1990s, the GOP has been pushed pretty far to the right and it's stands on economic, social and health care issues are simply toxic outside of the hardcore red states.  As a result, the GOP has to do everything it can to distract the voters from this difficult reality (for them) and attempt to convince the voters that the Democratic Presidential nominee and President - once elected - is some kind of a crook.

We saw the inception of this new GOP strategy in 1992 and during the Clinton Presidency.  The GOP and the mainstream media relentlessly pushed a narrative for over eight years that Bill and Hillary Clinton were unethical and potentially guilty of criminal behavior.  Even so-called bastions of the "liberal media" like the New York Times and the Washington Post fell hook, line and sinker for these bogus allegations.

During the Clinton Presidency, no less than three special prosecutors spent $80 million of the taxpayer's money investigating allegations regarding the travel office firings, Whitewater, the tragic suicide of Vince Foster, the Rose law firm files, the FBI files and Monica Lewinsky.  During these investigations we were treated to breathless allegations and speculation that the Clintons were going to be indicted.  However, we all learned when Ken Starr issued his salacious report in 1998 that virtually all of these allegations were groundless and Hillary Clinton was never charged with anything.  

The GOP has perpetuated this strategy of making false allegations of corruption during the Obama Presidency.  They don't want the voters to remember how they destroyed the economy during the Bush Presidency.  The movement conservatives would like the voters to forget that the economy was losing 800,000 jobs per month in December 2008 and that 8 million Americans lost their insurance coverage during the Bush Presidency.  They also don't want you to know that the economy has been creating over 200,000 jobs per month since 2013 and that 16 formerly uninsured Americans are now covered. 

Instead, the GOP would prefer that the voters focus on the phony scandals that they have ginned up around the so-called IRS "targeting" controversy and the tragic deaths of four American diplomats at the U.S. consulate in Benghazi in 2012.  These allegations are reminiscent of what occurred during the Clinton Administration since they are equally groundless.  

A recent report by the GOP led Senate Finance committee recently concluded after a two year investigation that there was no wrongdoing in connection with the so-called IRS "targeting" controversy.   The report by this committee did not suggest or otherwise prove that any laws were broken by the I.R.S.  Moreover, as Senator Ron Wyden (D-Oregon) said: "(T)he inquiry had found pure bureaucratic mismanagement without any evidence of political interference. Groups on both sides of the political spectrum were treated equally in their efforts to secure tax-exempt status.” 

Another unanimous finding by a GOP controlled Committee concluded that the GOP's allegations about the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi in 2012 were largely phony.  Shortly after election day 2014, the House Intelligence Committee quietly released a little noticed report that contradicted just about all of the GOP conspiracy theories about Benghazi.  This investigation concluded that there was no "stand down" order and no intimidation of witnesses by superiors.  Perhaps the most significant finding was that then National Security Adviser Susan Rice's "talking points" about the cause of  the attack were not part of an Obama  Administration cover up.  Instead, the Committee reported that that: "(T)he process that produced Rice's s talking points was flawed, resulting in errors rather than deliberate lies. "

One of the many reasons for the GOP and right wing media's obsession with Benghazi is that is also part of an effort to discredit former Secretary of State and current Presidential front runner Hillary Clinton.  One of the things that isn't mentioned by the GOP or the mainstream media is that the House Republicans voted to cut funding for embassy security after they regained control of the House in the 2010 elections.  Well before the attack in Benghazi, then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton criticized the Republican cuts to the State Department budget, warning they "will be detrimental to America's national security."  

The effort to diminish Clinton's front runner status by the GOP has now extended into a bogus controversy about Clinton's decision to use a private email server while she was Secretary of State.  Clinton's use of a private email server as Secretary of State was legal and permissible under the State Department regulations during President Obama's first term. (Moreover, Colin Powell used a private email account when he served as Secretary of State during George W. Bush's first term.)

Clinton chose to use a private email server because the State Department email account outside the building involved what one State Department official termed:  “incredibly unreliable software.” As one former senior official told the New York Times:  “If you had to write a priority message that was more than a paragraph long, it could leave you streaming sweat and screaming at the screen. And that’s when people would turn to their private accounts out of desperation.”

Currently, this controversy regarding Clinton's use of a private email server is proving to be every bit as groundless as all of the other phony "scandals" ginned up by the GOP over the last 25 years.  At  this point in time, any security breaches are pure speculation.  In any event, even if this controversy comes down to a a security issue, and the concern that Clinton put classified information in jeopardy by going outside the State Department’s classified email system, the Associated Press recently reported that there was no real difference between the department’s system and her home server: “Neither would have been secure from hackers or foreign intelligence agencies, so it would be equally problematic whether classified information was carried over the government system or a private server, experts say.”

Despite all of the scary headlines coming out of both the mainstream and right wing media,  law enforcement officials speaking on background to the New York Times have said that the former Secretary of State  is not a target of any investigations, and there is no proof that her private email  account was hacked.  There has also been no evidence that she broke any laws, and many experts are of the opinion that  the occasional appearance of classified information in her account was probably of marginal consequence.  In addition, several knowledgeable attorneys have contended that this “scandal” is over blown.  These lawyers told David Ignatius of the Washington Post that this is not something a prosecutor would take to court.

Despite all of these groundless allegations regarding Clinton's use of a private email server, she still  holds a lead outside of the margin of error over her Republican opponents.  Depending upon what poll you look at and what candidate you look at, Clinton's lead over any potential Republican nominee is anywhere from four to eight percentage points.  In other words, if the election were today, Clinton would win by a marginal similar to President Obama's in the Presidential elections of 2008 and 2012.

The Republicans will continue to pursue this phony scandal narrative until Election Day 2016 and even after that - if a Democrat is elected President.  The GOP doesn't want an election comparing the visions and platforms of the respective parties.  Just about every Republican candidate has come out in favor of largely exempting the wealthy from all federal taxation, Social Security privatization, turning Medicare into a voucher program and sending U.S. troops back to the Middle East.  The last thing the GOP wants is for the election to be about real issues.  

As Democrats, we can't be fooled or alarmed by these GOP allegations.  We've been seeing this game plan since 1992 and it has always turned out to be false and not grounded in reality.  We need to keep the focus on the issues and the GOP's record in office.  If we can do that, we will win the 2016 elections.

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The Nebraska Democratic Presidential Caucus Will Make A Difference In 2016

We keep hearing from the mainstream media about the Republican party's alleged "deep bench" of contenders who are vying for the Presidency in the 2016. In reality, the GOP Presidential field resembles the motley crew found in the bar room scene in the original Star Wars movie that was shot in 1977.  One can find a deep bench of Presidential contenders over on the Democratic side.  All of our candidates are serious people with very genuine accomplishments.  Anyone of them could be a successful nominee and President.

The front runner and prohibitive favorite to win both the nomination and the Presidency is Hillary Clinton.  She brings to the table a wealth of experience and a whole host of accomplishments as First Lady, U.S. Senator and Secretary of State.  Clinton has one of the most impressive resumes of any Presidential contender in American history.  

As First Lady for Bill Clinton, she played an instrumental role in the passage of SCHIP legislation which provided health insurance to 6 million children.  When Clinton served as Secretary of State during President Obama's first term, she led the way in establishing the tough international sanctions against Iran that led to the recently signed nuclear agreement which will for the first time ever place limits on that country's nuclear program.   Moreover, Clinton rebuilt America's relations with our allies around the world after they were torn asunder during the Bush Presidency.  

Due to Clinton's accomplishments and front runner status in head to head matchups with all of the GOP candidates, the Republicans (and the mainstream press) have cooked up a bogus scandal relying upon on all kinds of speculation and innuendo regarding the private email server that Clinton used as Secretary of State.   What we do know for sure is that there is no evidence that Clinton violated any law or State Department regulation in her use of a private email server. Moreover, there is no proof that she knowingly sent any previously classified information to anyone at any time. There is also no evidence whatsoever that any national security breach occurred in her private email server.

What hasn't been discussed by the GOP and the mainstream press is that Colin Powell used a private email account to conduct official business when he was Secretary of State in the Bush Administration.  In addition, there has been almost no mention of the fact that Jeb Bush, Scott Walker, Marco Rubio, Bobby Jindal and Mike Huckabee all used private email accounts to conduct government business when they were in public service.  Where is the outrage from the press and the GOP about this?  Why the double standard?   

At the present time, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders has posed the most serious challenge to Clinton's front runner status.  Sanders' populist message confronting the political and economic power of the top 1% has resonated with Democratic voters and attracted huge crowds to his rallies.  I would recommend to anybody who has a social media account to follow Senator Sanders.  On a daily basis, Sanders comes out with a powerful message regarding the trend of growing inequality in the U.S.  That message has allowed him to close the gap with Clinton in New Hampshire and to actually lead her in one poll in the Granite state.

Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley has also come out with a strong message.  For example, he recently came out with an innovative proposal to expand Social Security benefits.  Governor O'Malley is no stranger to Nebraska Democrats.  He addressed the Nebraska Democratic Party's Morrison-Exon dinner in 2014 and he will be returning to Omaha in October to headline our Omaha's Finest fundraiser.  He will be the first Democratic Presidential candidate to campaign in Nebraska.  We will provide the details once they are available.

O'Malley isn't the only Democratic Presidential candidate who has come to Nebraska. In 2012, former Virginia Senator Jim Webb was the featured speaker at the Morrison-Exon dinner.   Senator Webb is a distinguished American who served in combat in Vietnam and is a prolific author of both fiction and non-fiction books.  Webb's 2008 book "A Time To Fight" was one of the first works that recognized the troubling trends of rising inequality and mass incarceration in America.  Despite his strong record as a combat veteran, Secretary of the Navy and U.S. Senator, Webb is a long shot contender.

Former Rhode Island Governor and U.S. Senator Lincoln Chafee is also a heavy underdog who is given little chance to win the nomination.   Chafee was the only Republican who voted against the Iraq war resolution in 2002.  (Since then, Chafee has switched his party registration.  We Democrats are accepting converts.  In contrast, the GOP is purging heretics.)  As Governor of Rhode Island, Chafee pushed through measures legalizing marriage equality and allowing aspiring Americans to pay in-state tuition rates at Rhode Island's public colleges.

There may soon be a prominent addition to the already deep field of Democratic Presidential contenders.  At the present time, Vice President Joe Biden is seriously considering throwing his hat in the ring.  If he were to jump in the race, Biden would immediately be a top tier contender.  As Vice-President, Biden has been a major contributor to the successes of the Obama Administration.   He was instrumental in passing several pieces of crucial legislation through the Congress due to his long standing ties with members of Congress in both parties.  Biden is a genuinely warm person as well as a very good public speaker.  

All of these developments in the Democratic nominating process means that there will be most likely be a contested race by the time the Nebraska Democratic Party holds it caucuses on March 5, 2016.  Like we did in 2008, Nebraska will be going relatively early in the nominating process.  We urge every Nebraska Democrat to participate in our caucus and make history again - just like we did in 2008.

Already efforts are being made by our party officers and activists to prepare for the caucuses.  A website has already been set up at:  The Nebraska Democratic Party is also working to establish a speakers bureau to appear before groups and other events as needed to provide information regarding the delegate selection process.   We will also be contacting constituency organizations and holding outreach seminars and workshops.   Please continue to consult this website for more information and developments regarding our Presidential caucuses. 

We look forward to working with all registered Democrats to make our caucuses a big success.  If you aren't registered to vote, you can still fully participate in our caucuses by registering to vote as a Democrat at the caucus in your county or precinct.   We here at the Nebraska Democratic Party look forward to working with you in selecting the next President of the U.S.! 

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The Affordable Care Is Working - Ben Sasse Can Come Out Of His Survivalist Bunker

When he announced his candidacy for the U.S. Senate in October 2013, Ben Sasse made the ridiculous prediction that: "If the Affordable Care Act (ACA) survives, America will cease to exist."  Sasse's prognostication followed upon the heels of a whole string of apocalyptic predictions from his fellow Republicans - mostly notable John Boehner's prediction that the ACA will cause "Armageddon" and "ruin our country."  

I have good news for Sasse and Boehner.  New evidence has further confirmed that the ACA is working and improving the lives of millions of Americans.  It's now safe for Senator Sasse to emerge from his survivalist bunker because it looks like the U.S. will not only survive - it will continue to thrive and be the greatest country in the world.

An important piece of that evidence came from a report from Journal of the American Medical Association which indicates that the ACA has improved access to health care.  This study shows that the ACA's open enrollment periods - when millions of Americans signed up for health insurance for the first time - were "associated with significantly improved trends in self-reported coverage, access to primary care and medications, affordability, and health."  This study flies in the face of all of the GOP allegations that the ACA has reduced access to care due to high out of pocket health care costs and the difficulty in finding doctors who can provide timely consultations.  

Yet another new report - this one from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) - proves that the ACA has delivered on it's primary goal of reducing the number of uninsured Americans.  This CDC report indicates that the number of uninsured Americans has been reduced to 9.2% - the lowest level in American history.  Until now, no reputable study had ever found that the uninsured rate in the U.S. dropped below 10% into the single digits.  What this means is that the level of the uninsured has been cut in half since 2008 - that rate has been reduced from 18% in 2008 to 9.2% in 2015.  That is a monumental accomplishment.  

Since the implementation of the ACA in late 2013, approximately 16 million additional Americans have become insured.  Moreover, if current trends should continue,  the uninsured rate will continue to decline as enrollment in the ACA exchanges and Medicaid keeps going up.

In addition to evidence showing that the ACA is helping millions of Americans, there are also new studies which have rebutted the tired and inaccurate GOP contentions that Obama Care is a job killer and that insurance premiums are rising at an excessive rate.  

For years, the detractors of health care reform have been telling us that the ACA is a "job killer" and that the employer mandate would cause employers to lay people off or give employees fewer hours to work.  However, no less than three recent reports indicate that businesses have not changed how they hire and schedule their employees in response to the ACA.  According to Chris Ryan, a vice president at the payroll-management firm ADP: "Shifts in scheduling were trivial in every sector of the economy, even in industries that rely heavily on part-time work, such as leisure and hospitality."

ADP's findings were confirmed in another study by two professors at George Mason University and Michael Strain of the right wing American Enterprise Institute (AEI.) The paper from the AEI concluded that: "There was no statistically significant change in the proportion of part-time workers in the sectors most likely to be affected by Obamacare, such as janitorial and restaurant work."

Another dog that didn't bark was the Obama Care premium "rate shock" allegation that is breathlessly reported by Fox News on a regular basis. (Remember how cheap insurance was during the Bush Administration? I don't.)  According to a report from the non-partisan Commonwealth Fund, employer-sponsored health insurance premiums grew more slowly in 31 states and the District of Columbia after the passage of the ACA in 2010.  

Insurance premiums have risen more slowly in the states that have cooperated in the implementation of Obama Care as opposed to the ones - like Nebraska - that have resisted it.  For example, insurance premiums will only increase 4% in California in 2016 because they have passed the Medicaid expansion and have a Department of Insurance that protects consumers rather than insurance companies.  

The totality of the evidence proves that the ACA has been a big success.  Many more Americans have become insured and health care costs have grown at their slowest rate since the 1960s.  Moreover, the ACA has resulted in the greatest expansion of insurance coverage since the passage of Medicare and Medicaid in 1965.  All of the predictions of doom and gloom from the likes of Ben Sasse and John Boehner have proven to be wildly inaccurate. 

We can't take these accomplishments for granted.  All of the Republican running for President and Congress are committed to the total repeal of the ACA.  Moreover, the GOP after more than six years still hasn't come up with a consensus replacement plan.  Perhaps the "best" plan they have come up with is Donald Trump's promise to replace the ACA with "something terrific."  

If we are to preserve the ACA and allow it to continue insure more Americans, we must work hard to elect a Democratic President and Congress in 2016.  Only by winning next year's election can we guarantee continued progress.  The last thing we can afford to let occur would be to allow the Republicans to return to power.  The last time the GOP was in charge in Washington, they did nothing when 8 million Americans lost their insurance coverage and ruined the economy.  

We Democrats have a good record to run on in 2016  Like I said, we have succeeded in insuring 16 million Americans and reducing the uninsured rate to the lowest level in U.S. history.  Moreover, the economy is now creating more jobs than at anytime since the late 1990s.  We need to remind the American people about our accomplishments and the GOP failures again and again.  If we don't do it, nobody else will. 

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Is Ben Sasse A Radical?

Nebraska's Congressional Republicans have long been very conservative and responsive to the demands of their party bosses and the out of state special interests who fund their campaigns.  Moreover, since the rise of the Tea Party in 2009, those same Nebraska Republicans have generally given into the demands of this group and done things such as vote for the misguided 2013 government shutdown.  

What is truly new and different is Ben Sasse's descent into sheer radicalism.  Some of the positions he took during campaign 2014 and some of the votes he has made this year can certainly lead a fair observer to draw the conclusion that Sasse isn't just an ordinary, garden variety right wing Republican.  He is a radical and an extremist.

We began to see some hints of Sasse's radicalism during the 2013-14 campaign cycle.   When Sasse announced his Senate bid in early October 2013, he made the silly prediction that: "If the Affordable Care Act survives, America will cease to exist."  Since Mr. Sasse made that ridiculous prognostication, the U.S. economy has created an average of 237,000 new jobs every month.  This is the best job growth in the U.S. since the economic boom during the second term of the Clinton Administration.

Sasse doubled down on his fierce opposition to the Affordable Care Act (ACA), when he came out against ending the harmful government shutdown aimed at repealing the ACA and cancelling millions of insurance policies.  (The GOP government shutdown cost the economy $24 billion and 120,000 jobs.)  Sasse told the Omaha World Herald that he would have voted against the compromise funding bill that reopened the government.  In other words, if Sasse had gotten his way, the government would still be shutdown or 17 million Americans would have been deprived of health insurance coverage.  

During the 2014 primary cycle, Sasse was endorsed by some of the most extreme and contentious Republicans.  Former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin and Senator Ted Cruz both provided Sasse with crucial endorsements before the primary.  Palin is known for - among other things - perpetrating the lie that the ACA contained death panels.  This allegation by Palin was deemed by the non-partisan fact checker to be the "lie of the year" in 2009.

Cruz's support of Sasse's Senate bid was equally troubling.  It was Senator Cruz who convinced the radicals in the House of Representatives to shut down the government in 2013 over the ACA.  Moreover, Cruz once said: "I don’t think what Washington needs is more compromise."  

Shortly after his inauguration as a U.S. Senator, Sasse began to demonstrate that he shares Cruz's disdain for compromise.  As early as March, Sasse joined his fellow Nebraska Republicans in voting to shutdown the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) during a time of war and when the U.S. was being threatened by terrorist attacks.  This was a deeply irresponsible vote because counter-terrorism experts contended that a shutdown of DHS would result in a slower and weaker response to a terrorist attack - if one were to occur.

Shortly upon the heels of Sasse's vote to weaken the U.S. response to terrorism, Nebraska's junior Senator joined Deb Fischer and 45 other Senate Republicans in writing a letter directly to Iran's Mullahs in an attempt to sabotage the efforts of the U.S. and five other world powers to negotiate an agreement placing limits on Iran's nuclear program.  If Sasse had succeeded in this attempt, the international sanctions regime against Iran would have collapsed and it would have accelerated Iran's quest to develop a nuclear weapon.  Moreover, this kind of result would've made war with Iran all but inevitable.  

Sasse isn't just a threat to stability in the Middle East, he also poses a threat to the ability of Nebraska's senior citizens to see their doctors.  This is because in April Sasse voted against the Medicare doctor fix - which passed the Senate by a 92-8 margin.  This bill passed less than three hours before federal officials would have reduced payments to health-care providers by 21%.  If that had occurred, many doctors and health care providers would've refused to treat senior citizens.  Moreover, the passage of this legislation was hailed by members of Congress in both parties as a bi-partisan triumph.  Yet Sasse rejected this important compromise and sided with some of the most extreme members of the U.S. Senate including Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio.

Sasse hasn't only opposed health care for senior citizens, he has even voted against health care for our veterans.  Just last month, Sasse voted with 3 other extreme Senators against a bill that would have kept Veterans' hospitals open.  The bill to provide health care to our veterans passed by a 91-4 margin.  Even Senator Fischer voted for it. The Veterans Administration had indicated that it might have to start closing hospitals if Congress had refused to pass this bill.  Despite the high stakes involved in this legislation, Sasse voted to close down Veterans' hospitals.   The Omaha World Herald reported that a "Sasse spokesman declined comment on what the senator would have preferred Congress to do."

It is evident that Ben Sasse is a radical and doesn't share Nebraska values.  He has rejected compromise and aligned himself with the most extreme members of the Republican Party.  These extremists that Sasse associates with reject the Progressive accomplishments of the 20th century.   These radicals are willing to blow up Washington, D.C,  to achieve their goals of repealing Social Security, Medicare and even veterans' health programs.  

We as Democrats need to spread the word that Ben Sasse simply isn't one of us.  He is a dangerous extremist who will resort to just about any tactic to achieve his ends.  What makes him especially dangerous is that he comes across as a pleasant and reasonable person.  Don't be fooled.  And don't let your friends and neighbors be fooled either.  Sasse is a very different kind of Republican.   And that's not good. 

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Is This The Worst Congress Ever?

The current GOP led Congress is off to a horrendous start and things may get a lot worse before they get better.   This awful performance wasn't what the Republicans promised during campaign 2014.  Many Republicans ran on the platform that electing a GOP controlled Congress would end the gridlock.  Shortly after the Republicans won the election, Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell said that: "I don't want the American people to think if they add a Republican president to a Republican Congress, that's going to be a scary outcome.  I want the American people to be comfortable with the fact that the Republican House and Senate is a responsible, right of center, governing majority." 

Unfortunately, the performance of the GOP-led Congress and the Nebraska Congressional Republicans could lead to a scary outcome as early as September if present trends continue.  Since the new Congress took office in January, the American people have been subjected to the extraordinary level of dysfunction and gridlock that have characterized Republican members of Congress since 2009.  

The gridlock and dysfunction in the current session of Congress began as early as February when the Republican members of Congress tried to shutdown the Department of Homeland Security when the Mall of America in Bloomington, Minnesota was threatened with a terrorist attack.  Despite that threat to our neighboring state, Fischer, Sasse, Fortenberry and Smith all went on record in favor of a shutdown of the Department of Homeland Security.  These were deeply irresponsible and reckless votes.

Nebraska's Congressional Republicans made a similarly reckless vote when all of them voted for the GOP budget which ends Medicare as we know it and turns it into a voucher program.  This GOP Medicare scheme that would force senior citizens to purchase private health insurance would also bring back the pre-existing condition clauses that were banned in the Affordable Care Act.  The GOP Medicare scheme would cost the average senior citizen thousands of dollars in additional out of pocket medical expenses and largely benefit the private health insurance industry.

Fischer, Sasse, Fortenberry and Smith voted for yet another gift for the special interests when they voted to repeal the estate tax.  This tax cut would only benefit the top 0.2% of Americans and add $269 billion to the deficit.  There has yet to be any evidence that any farm has ever been sold off to pay the estate tax in recent history.

When Nebraska's Congressional Republicans aren't voting to comfort the already comfortable, they are voting to support the latest fad from the Tea Party.  Both Sasse and Fischer voted against re-authorizing the Export-Import Bank.  This once obscure agency suddenly became a Tea Party target due to pressure from the Koch brothers.  The Export-Import Bank provides necessary financing to agricultural exports and earned the Treasury Department $675 million in it's last fiscal year. 

Senator Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND) - who spoke to the Douglas County Democrats earlier this year - responded to this effort to shut down the Export-Import Bank by simply saying: "Idiotic.  Mind-boggyling idiotic."  House SpeakerJohn Boehner thus far has refused to allow an up or down vote in the House on the Export-Import Bank.  (As of the time of this writing, the Export-Import Bank hasn't been re-authorized.)

This abject failure of the GOP led Congress simply isn't confined to the irresponsible Republican leadership in the Senate and the House.  This failure extends to all Republican members including Fischer, Sasse, Fortenberry and Smith.  As Doug Muzzio, a political science professor from New York's Baruch College said: "The Republican Congress has shown itself to be, almost without exception, incapable of doing the people's business, at least when it it comes to important business.  There is a real failure, not just of the party leaders, but of the membership."

Despite this disgraceful performance, the House began a vacation on July 31 and won't return to Washington until September 8.  Representative Brad Ashford - the lone voice of reason in the Nebraska delegation - called on the House to cancel its undeserved vacation and to stay in Washington to work on a vast pile of unfinished business.

When the House goes back into session on September 8, they will only have twelve legislative days to fund the government and raise the debt ceiling.   Already there has been a lot of loose talk about shutting down the government over an attempt to defund Planned Parenthood.  In a recent conversation, Congressman Ashford told me that he was very concerned about the prospect of another government shutdown.

Nebraska's current set of Congressional Republicans all supported the deeply misguided government shutdown in 2013 which cost the economy $24 billion and 120,000 jobs.  In order to avoid another unnecessary self inflicted wound to the economy, Nebraska's Congressional Republicans should publicly take a pledge to oppose any government shutdown or attempt to default on the national debt.  Any attempt to sabotage the economy in order to gain policy concessions should be simply declared off limits by all members of Congress, regardless of party affiliation.

Congressman Brad Ashford ran against the government shutdown of 2013 and has been working hard to create bi-partisan solutions.  He has been the lone responsible voice in the Nebraska Congressional delegation.  Among other things, Representative Ashford has stood up to radical Republican efforts to gut Medicare and to kick 16 million off their insurance policies by repealing the Affordable Care Act.  Moreover, Ashford has been the champion for America's veterans who have done so much for our country.  

As Nebraska Democrats we can remedy this problem by working hard for the re-election of Brad Ashford.  Nebraska CD-02 is one of the few true swing districts in the U.S.  I'm confident that Ashford will be re-elected because he is popular in the district and there should be a strong Democratic turnout in the Presidential election year.  A well placed Republican insider told me on background that it will be hard for the Republicans to take back Nebraska CD-02 next year.

We also can't neglect Nebraska CD-01 and CD-03.  I realize these districts are pretty red but if the Republican Congress shuts down the government and/or defaults on the national debt, they could set off a wave election that would heavily benefit Democratic candidates across the nation.  In every wave election, there are always a handful of under dog candidates who get swept into office against the odds. 

I like our chances in the Congressional elections in 2016.  Like I said, there will be a strong Democratic turnout due to the Presidential election.  In addition, the GOP is likely to select a wounded Presidential nominee who will be well outside the mainstream.   In order to win the GOP Presidential nomination, a candidate has to excessively pander to the Tea Party and the other extreme factions in the GOP.  

The only way to end the gridlock and dysfunction in Washington is to elect a Democratic President and Congress in 2016.  Our party is committed to ending the gridlock and putting the middle class first.  Now let's get to work! 

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We Need Common Sense Gun Safety Reform Now More Than Ever

The U.S. is the only industrialized first world country that is plagued by a wave of gun violence.   Our country's loose gun laws are truly exceptional among first world countries and they even allow deranged individuals to obtain military style assault weapons.  Recently, there have been massing shootings by mentally disturbed individuals in Charleston, Chattanooga and Lafayette, Louisiana.  

The Republican response to this spate of gun violence and killings is to simply refuse to discuss the issue.  Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal's reaction to the recent Lafayette shootings is fairly common among Republicans.  Shortly after those tragic shootings in his state, Jindal said that now was not the time to talk about guns.  Instead, he said we should simply focus on mourning for the ones who lost their lives

Under Jindal's standard, the high frequency of mass shootings makes it virtually impossible to ever address the issue of common sense gun safety.  As the Washington Post recently reported, there were 204 mass shootings in the U.S. in the first 204 days of 2015.   When are we ever supposed to discuss common sense gun safety reforms when shootings happen on a daily basis?  

The other Republican response to gun violence is what I would call the ostrich approach.  The GOP simply puts their heads in the sand and denies any connection between our country's ludicrous gun laws and the wave of mass killings that we continue to endure.

Shortly after the Charleston shootings,  the House Appropriations Committee perpetuated the GOP's strategy of ignorance by voting to bar the Centers for Disease Control from funding any research on gun violence and make recommendations. This ban was supported by Representative Jeff Fortenberry and passed on a straight party line vote. In response to this vote, Representative Nita Lowey ((D-NY) stated: “Preventing research because you worry about the outcome is cowardly. When it comes to gun violence, my friends, this committee won’t give one dime for the CDC to conduct research on something that is killing Americans by the thousands.”

Fortenberry's vote against basic research on gun violence provides a good example of how he operates when he is Washington, D.C. While he is out of Nebraska, his party bosses and the most extreme elements in the GOP can count on his support. In contrast, when he is in Nebraska he falsely portrays himself as some kind of thoughtful moderate.

The Republican Party hasn't always been this radical and ignorant regarding common sense gun safety. As recently as the early 1990s, conservative icon Ronald Reagan supported the Brady Bill which included a ban on military style assault weapons and a seven day waiting period for gun buyers. In a New York Times editorial piece in support of the Brady bill, Reagan wrote: ""Every year, an average of 9,200 Americans are murdered by handguns, according to Department of Justice statistics... If the passage of the Brady bill were to result in a reduction of only 10 or 15 percent of those numbers (and it could be a good deal greater), it would be well worth making it the law of the land."

More recently, shortly after the senseless murder of 26 people at an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut in 2012, Senate Republicans voted to deny an up or down vote to a bill with overwhelming public support that would have required background checks for all gun purchases. Both Mike Johanns and Deb Fischer prioritized the interests of gun manufacturers over Nebraskans when they voted with the most radical members of the GOP to reject an up or down vote on this life or death issue.  

The so-called Republican "solution" to this epidemic of gun violence has been to demand more money for mental health care. However, those very same Republicans have voted to deny mental health care to millions of Americans by voting to repeal the Affordable Care Act over 50 times in Washington and to block the Medicaid expansion here in Nebraska (and other states.)

In a recent interview, President Obama pledged to continue to work on solutions to this mass wave of gun violence during the last 18 months of his Presidency. In that same interview, Obama correctly pointed out that: "If you look at the number of Americans killed since 9/11 by terrorism, it's less than 100. If you look at the number that have been killed by gun violence, it's in the tens of thousands."

I believe we Nebraska Democrats need to follow President Obama's lead and do everything we can to save lives by pressuring our elected representatives to pass common sense gun safety measures. Unfortunately, we probably won't get far trying to lobby the current Nebraska Republicans who serve in Congress. Instead, we need to work hard to elect new members of Congress who will pay attention to the public and reject the out of state special interests who profit from this needless and tragic wave of killings in our country.

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Don't Let The GOP Disparage Our Economic Achievements

When President Obama took office, the economy was on the verge of collapse and losing 800,000 jobs per month.  By the time of the general election in 2012, the economy was creating 100,000 jobs per month and the unemployment rate dipped just below 8%.  When that occurred, many prominent Republicans were in denial and alleged that the Obama Administration was "cooking the books." 

During the 2012 campaign, Mitt Romney promised to reduce the unemployment rate to 6% by the end of his first term.  Since his defeat, the unemployment rate has fallen below Romney's stated goal and is now 5.3%.  In addition, the economy has been creating over 200,000 jobs per month over the last 1.5 years.  If this kind of economic growth had occurred during a Romney Presidency, the GOP would be holding ticker tape parades for him.  

Now that President Obama has met and exceeded Romney's goal of a 6% unemployment rate, the GOP has begun to disparage the clear economic progress this country has made since the dark days of 2008-09.  The Republicans have cherry picked two obscure statistics never mentioned before January 20, 2009 in an attempt to convince the American people that the U.S. economy is still in poor shape.

As a starting point, the GOP has moved the goal posts on the unemployment rate.  The 6% unemployment rate promised by Romney is the one measured by what is called U3.  This measure - which has been in place since 1994- doesn't count so-called "discouraged workers" who have been out of the labor force for over 6 months.

Before Obama was elected, the GOP touted the U3 measure as the gold standard for measuring unemployment.  During the Bush years, former Reagan Administration Treasury Department official Lawrence Kudlow wrote columns celebrating the so-called "Bush boom" and and would cite the U3 measure of unemployment in his columns.  As we know, Romney relied upon the U3 measure when he promised to reduce unemployment to 6% by January 2017. 

Now that the economy is creating the most jobs since the Clinton Administration, the GOP has suddenly begun to talk about the U6 measure of unemployment.   This statistic includes so-called "discouraged workers" in it's calculation and the U6 unemployment rate is currently 10.5%.  What the GOP doesn't mention is that U6 unemployment has steadily declined since it peaked at 17% in 2009.  

The U6 unemployment measuring stick isn't the only obscure economic statistic that the GOP  became obsessed with beginning at high noon on January 20, 2009.  We've also been hearing from them about the labor participation rate (LPR.)  The GOP likes to tell us that Obama is a failure and the economy is doing poorly because the LPR is at it's lowest rate since 1978.

The Republicans' talking point on the LPR is disingenuous because they don't give us any of the historical and demographic context regarding the LPR.  The LPR steadily increased between the 1970s and 2000 due to the entry of women into the labor force.  

The LPR peaked at 67% in 2000 and began to decline that year largely due to the retirement of the baby boom generation.  By the time Bush left office in 2009, the LPR had been reduced to 65%.

Since Obama took office, the LPR has continued it's decline.  At the present time, the LPR is around 63%.  What this means is that the LPR has declined at the same rate during the Obama Administration as it did during the Bush Administration.  

According to government economists at the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the LPR would have declined  no matter who was president, and independent of the state of the economy.  You won't hear about that on Fox News and AM radio!

The Republicans' discovery of these heretofore obscure economic statistics is part of a P.R. campaign aimed at winning the next election.  The GOP wants to convince the American people that the economy is worse now than it was in 2009 so they can be returned to power.

Our opponents also don't want the American people to remember their own terrible record on the economy the last time they held all of the levers of power in Washington, D.C.  The GOP is counting on collective amnesia - they hope the American people will forget that President Obama inherited the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression and had to pull us out of the ditch. 

Our job as Democrats is to refresh those hazy memories because the propaganda of the GOP depends upon the voters having bad memories.  We need to be proud of our record and run hard on it. If we don't mention it, nobody else will.

The stakes next year couldn't be any higher.  Are we going to hand over the country  once again to the GOP and its policies that ruined our economy before and that will destroy the hard earned progress that we've made since 2009?  I'm confident that if we do our job, the voters will make the right choice and vote for continued progress by electing a Democratic President and Congress.  

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Ricketts' Lavish Funding Of Death Penalty Referendum Sets A Troubling Precedent

Governor Ricketts faced a difficult first legislative session in which most of his major policy priorities were simply ignored and where three high profile vetoes were overridden by bi-partisan majorities.  Ricketts was criticized by members of his own party for failing to engage the Unicameral in the early stages of the session and for hiring an inexperienced legislative liaison staff.

The Governor's most visible and embarrassing defeat was when the Senators voted to repeal the death penalty over his veto by a 30-19 margin.  This development provided further evidence that the death penalty is on it's way out in the U.S. and even garnered international attention.  It's not every day that a red state legislature votes to abolish capital punishment.

The death penalty was abolished in Nebraska because it is an expensive and wasteful government program that simply doesn't work.  The Lincoln Journal Star recent reported that the cost to prosecute a death penalty case in Kansas is more than three times as expensive to pursue as a non-capital case.  This same article also found: "Between 1973 and 2007, Nebraska taxpayers paid for 103 cases in which the prosecution sought the death penalty. Thirty-one of those cases led to a death sentence, more than half of those were reversed, and three have ended in an execution, none since 1997."

Governor Ricketts responded to this embarrassing political defeat by heavily funding Nebraskans for the Death Penalty, which is pursuing a petition campaign to put capital punishment on the ballot next year and to restore this archaic and useless government program.  Thus far, Ricketts and his billionaire father have contributed $200,000.00 out of the $244,000.00 this group has raised to date.  

The lavish funding of this death penalty ballot campaign sets a troubling precedent because we have a situation where a billionaire Governor and his super wealthy father are funding a referendum to undo an historic vote in the Unicameral - including the votes of 16 Senators from his own party.  Apparently, if Ricketts can't get what he wants out of the legislature, he and his father will drop hundreds of thousands of dollars into this campaign (or a future campaign.)

I fully expect the Ricketts family to spend whatever takes to restore the failed capital punishment system and attempt to win a political victory for the Governor.  The television ads will be slickly produced and most likely deceptive in nature.  I fully expect to see images of the likes of Nikko Jenkins and other heinous criminals in a shameless attempt to scare Nebraskans into bringing back the death penalty.

These huge donations from the Ricketts family are also troubling because they are not for middle class tax relief, a better health care system, better roads, and a better education system.  Instead, the money is being spent to restore a failed and immoral  government program.

What we need to do as Democrats is to volunteer for campaigns and if we can afford it, make some financial contributions.   It's not enough anymore to simply show up and vote in every election cycle.  Good government isn't free and doesn't come easy.  That means we need to get involved in the political process or even step up our already existing activism.    

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Would The Founding Fathers Be Tea Party Republicans Today?

Since the July 4 holiday is approaching, I've been reflecting on the Founding Fathers and their monumental contributions to this great country.  That made me begin to think about the right wing Republican claim that the Founding Fathers would be Tea Party conservatives in the 21st century.  

I can tell you from my historical research that claim is flatly wrong and is quite frankly an insult to the Founding Fathers.  I don't think those great men would want to have anything to do with today's Republican party which in the words of prominent political scientist Norm Ornstein is “an insurgent outlier—ideologically extreme, contemptuous of the inherited and social and economic policy regime; scornful of compromise, unpersuaded by conventional  understanding of facts, evidence, and science; and dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition.”

Just how accurate are the Republican claims about the Founding Fathers? Did they truly believe in limited or smaller government?  Were they scornful of compromise and unpersuaded by empirical evidence?  I think the answers will surprise our conservative Republican friends.

One of the greatest Americans - if not the greatest - was George Washington - our first President.   Washington was very close to Alexander Hamilton and Hamilton was Washington's most influential adviser.  Hamilton was a delegate to the Constitutional Convention, one of the authors of the Federalist Papers and the first Treasury Secretary.

The historical record indicates that Hamilton was no advocate of limited government and would be rejected with contempt by right wing Republicans if they were  familiar with his actual record and views.   As Treasury Secretary, Hamilton clashed with the small government conservatives of his day in advocating for a national bank, government assistance to manufacturers and the encouragement of immigration.  

Washington's successor - John Adams - was certainly no advocate of small or limited government.  While he was President, Adams signed into law the infamous Alien and Sedition Act which among other things restricted speech that was critical of the government.  Under this act, the Adams Administration criminally prosecuted several journalists and a member of the U.S. House of Representatives.  

During the Adams Administration, Jefferson and Madison were very critical of the Alien and Sedition Act and wrote several pieces in response to that law which extolled the virtues of small and limited government.  That's where one will find many of the passages cited by present day conservatives when they make the case the Founding Fathers would be Tea Party Republicans today.

Once Jefferson and Madison took power, they were not hesitant to use the power of big government to achieve their ends. (Madison served all eight years of the Jefferson Administration as Secretary of State and was Jefferson's hand picked successor.)

During the debate over the Louisiana Purchase, the advocates of smaller government took the position that the federal government lacked the power to acquire land and demanded that the Constitution be amended to give the federal government that power.  Jefferson and Madison liberally construed the Constitution and took the position that the Louisiana Purchase fell under the treaty powers of the Constitution and submitted the Louisiana Purchase for it's eventual ratification by the U.S. Senate.  

Jefferson and Madison were responsible for one of the greatest power grabs in U.S. history during Jefferson's second term.  At that time, the Napoleonic Wars were raging in Europe and both the British and the French navies were seizing U.S. ships in the Atlantic Ocean.  Both the British and the French wanted to deprive each other of the benefits of trade with the U.S.

In response, Jefferson and Madison convinced the Congress to pass the Embargo Act of 1807 - which made illegal any and all exports from the U.S.  In other words, during Jefferson's second term, the federal government banned businesses from selling goods to foreign countries.  This exercise of federal power pales in comparison to any exercise of power by the federal government since President Obama was inaugurated.  If today's conservatives had been around in 1807, they would have called Jefferson and Madison "communists" and "socialists."

The embargo on foreign trade ultimately proved to be a failure and did immense damage to the U.S. economy.  It was eventually lifted in 1809 shortly after Madison became our nation's fourth President.

These episodes from early American history that I cite here aren't exhaustive.  There are many other examples that would clearly indicate that the Founding Fathers wouldn't be right wing ideologues today.  Instead, the Founding Fathers were intelligent, practical, realistic and willing to compromise to get things done.  They wouldn't be right wing, Tea Party Republicans in the 21st century.

I think you can say the same things about modern day Democrats that I've said here about the Founding Fathers.  We Democrats are willing to consider all practical measure to create a better country.  We are more than willing to compromise to achieve our goals.  For example, the ACA is based upon a Republican health care plan that was hatched by the Heritage Foundation and first implemented by Mitt Romney in Massachusetts.

As Democrats, we need to re-claim the Founding Fathers.  We can't allow the Republicans to claim some kind of monopoly on the great men who founded and established our country against great odds.  This attempt by the radical right to appropriate the Founding Fathers is merely a public relations attempt to give political cover and legitimacy to their extreme policies. 

On a final note, we here at the Nebraska Democratic Party wish everybody a happy and safe 4th of July holiday as we celebrate the 239th anniversary of our great country's independence.

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Will Ricketts Stand By And Do Nothing If The Supreme Court Blows Up Obama Care?

Currently pending before the U.S. Supreme Court (SCOTUS) is a case that could potentially blow up the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and cause more than 6 million people to lose their health insurance policies.  A group of radical right wing libertarians have filed a challenge to the ACA based upon an alleged drafting error in the law.  These radicals claim that subsidies for the purchase of health insurance are only legal in the 16 states that have set up their own exchanges.   If the five Republican appointees on the SCOTUS - who enjoy the benefit of taxpayer financed health insurance - invalidate the subsidies being paid out to those who purchase insurance on the federally established exchanges in the other 34 states, the consequences for millions of newly insured people and the overall economy would be catastrophic in nature.

The radicals who have threatened to cripple the U.S. health care system by judicial fiat have advanced the novel theory that Congress deliberately agreed to withhold subsidies for the purchase of health insurance from people living in states that refused to set up a state-run health-insurance exchange and currently have a federally run insurance exchange.  When Dave Heineman was Governor, he refused to set up an insurance exchange even though the stakeholders in Nebraska wanted a state based exchange  As a result of Heineman's lack of leadership, Nebraska currently has a federal insurance exchange.

The lawyers for the plaintiffs in the King case argued that Senator Ben Nelson insisted that tax subsidies be withheld in states that refused to set up their own exchanges.   The former Nebraska Senator rejected those claims in a letter filed with the Supreme Court which stated:  "I always believed that tax credits should be available in all 50 states regardless of who built the exchange, and the final law also reflects that belief as well." In other words, one of the most important arguments made by the challengers to the ACA  has been called incorrect by the very same senator relied upon by these litigants.

If the five most conservative members of the SCOTUS adopt a fraudulent reading of the legislative history of the ACA, the consequences for millions of Americans would be disastrous.  Approximately 6.4 million people would lose their tax credits and could experience an average increase of 255% in their health insurance premiums.  Most of those effected would have no choice but to drop their insurance coverage.

The damage from an adverse SCOTUS decision would not be limited to those losing their insurance policies - it  would also cause serious damage to the health care industry and even the overall economy.  According to experts at the non-partisan Kaiser Family Foundation: "A reasonable assumption is that (spending on) healthcare by people who lose their existing subsidies will drop by at least half. That would represent about $7.5 billion in spending on hospitalizations, doctor visits and prescriptions, depending on the baseline estimate."   Some experts have even said that a decision withholding subsidies from millions of Americans could cause a death spiral in the health insurance industry and much higher premiums for all Americans.  

A "victory" by the plaintiffs in the King case would have an equally harsh impact in Nebraska.  According to the Kaiser Foundation, approximately 57,000 Nebraskans would see their premiums soar and most likely be forced to drop their coverage.  Consumers in Nebraska who would lose their subsidies would see their premiums increase about 265% according to this report.  As Brad Ashford chief of staff Jeremy Nordquist said: "If the Supreme Court does strike the insurance subsidies, it’s a significant loss for Nebraska families.”

Governor Pete Ricketts could avoid harming thousands of Nebraskans by committing to setting up a state based insurance exchange in the event the five Republicans on the SCOTUS gut the ACA.  Unfortunately, Mr. Ricketts is showing his usual lack of leadership and has said that that it would be “premature” to discuss how the state might respond if health insurance tax credits for working families are struck down by the court.   

Nebraska State Democratic Party Chair Vince Powers responded to Ricketts in a strongly worded statement that said: “That is a dereliction of his duty. It is the Governor who is “premature” in supporting the end to tax credits, without any plan in place for families to keep their insurance. It is the job of the Governor to lead with solutions, not jeopardize families by making them more vulnerable with no alternative plan.” 

On the federal level, the Republicans in Congress - like Ricketts - lack an alternative plan in the event the SCOTUS destroys the American health care system.  This is because the Republicans in Congress are are deeply divided on how to respond to an adverse SCOTUS decision.  Many Republicans are being pressured by the Koch brothers to oppose any ACA fix and just allow the U.S. health care system to collapse.  Other Republicans like Ben Sassehave proposed plans that would continue the subsidies through the 2016 elections and then would completely repeal the ACA in January 2017.  

The reality is that a bad ruling by 5 unelected justices could be rectified with a one sentence bill that mandated that all qualified consumers could qualify for a subsidy regardless of whether insurance was purchased from a state or federal exchange.

The five Republicans on SCOTUS would be utterly reckless and irresponsible if they threw out the ACA after it has provided coverage to 17 million formerly uninsured Americans and reduced medical inflation to it's lowest level since the 1960s.  The very legitimacy of the SCOTUS would be destroyed and it would go down as one of the most infamous judicial decisions in American history.

Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne said it best: "Here’s a hypothetical for you: First, the Supreme Court issues a ruling that installs a conservative president. Then, he appoints two conservative Supreme Court justices who then join with three of their colleagues to make mincemeat of the greatest achievement of a progressive president elected by a clear majority. If such a thing happened in any other country, would we still call it a democratic republic?"

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