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A Winning Team?

Do you remember this picture?

Yep, it's the same Dick Cheney who's being grilled by the press over Independent Counsel Fitzgerald's report of the outing of CIA agent Valarie Plame. And he's with…Congressman Jeff Fortenberry!

The same Jeff Fortenberry who voted to slash funding for the USDA, accepted $20,000 from Tom DeLay, and said he'd support privatizing Social Security.

Why start publicizing this picture now?

Well, maybe because a majority of voters in Fortenberry's district can't stand Dick Cheney. You heard me right…Vice President Dick Cheney's approval rating in Nebraska is at a whopping 41%. It's pretty obvious that this poll and last month's poll of President Bush are evidence that the Nebraska Republicans are being squeezed for their lack governing.

Let's see if Fortenberry will extend an invitation to the VP to come back to the district, now that Cheney has a lower approval rating than he does.

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Achelpohl: Omaha Party a Success

Last evening I attended the Organizing Party hosted by Frank Barrett in Omaha. I was very pleased to see all the new faces at the event. About 40-45 people showed up to share their concerns about the way our State and federal governments are being led. Like I said, there were several people I have never seen at NDP events, who expressed interest in getting Democrats elected in 2006, and doing what they can to help out.

State Senator Gwen Howard, Second Congressional District Candidate Jim Esch, Board of Regents Candidate Lawrence Bradley and other Democratic candidates were present for the event.

Before the 6:30 p.m. conference call with Governor Dean, I explained what the DNC's "50 State Strategy" is doing for states like Nebraska and how this strategy is translating to our own "93 County Strategy." We also talked about the opportunities for 2006, including State legislative races, defending Sen. Ben Nelson's seat, promoting and electing our other great candidates, and building the NDP. After the call, we held a 30 minute interactive session so that folks could learn more about what the NDP is working on and how they can contribute, and we learned about some of their ideas on how collectively we can elect Democrats.

The rest of the evening was spent watching the new Wal-Mart movie, courtesy of Chris Jerram and the Douglas County Democratic Party. Overall, the party was a great success and I am delighted to hear similar reports from around the state.

Finally, many thanks to my dear friend Frank Barrett for opening up the best place in town, Castle Barrett, for our get-together. Frank reported his eighth grandchild was born yesterday. Best to you Frank.

-Steve Achelpohl
Nebraska Democratic Party Chair

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Last Night Began With You

Last night, Democrats braved the cold and snow to attend one of the Nebraska Democratic Party's National Organizing Kickoff Events.

Many of our events were held in Democratic homes, where hosts spoke of their hopes for the Democratic party and our candidates in 2006. Tom McFarland set up a power point presentation at his home with information on voter turnout. He remarked that if his precinct had turned out 18 more Connealy voters, he would have carried that precinct. Imagine if we had done that in every precinct for every election, how many more Democrats we would have elected?

Other events were held at coffee shops and meeting rooms across the state. One such event had a tremendous turnout and featured our State Chair, Steve Achelpohl. Another event in Omaha discussed the importance of contacting voters door-to-door and shared stories of work in previous campaigns. Later, they listened into a conference call with Governor Howard Dean, DNC Chair. You can read Kyle's thoughts on the call here.

Michael, a host in Lincoln, was hesitant at first when asked to host a party. He opened his home and was pleasantly surprised by what he received -- two State Senators, neighbors, and even a few new faces. After the success of his event, he mentioned hosting another party next month!

Grassroots, neighborhood organizing is going to be the key to our victory here in Nebraska in 2006. If we want our candidates to be successful, it is up to each one of us to start talking to our friends, co-workers, and neighbors about the values and issues that make us Nebraska Democrats. We are asking for people to take the energy from our Kickoff Events last night and continue to host informal coffees in your home or other meeting place. Take Michaels advice do not wait for someone else to host a coffee when you can host your own. Sign up on our Event Center and contact me so we can help make your event a success.

Thanks to all of our hosts who gave their time and hard work. Thanks also to each of you who attended these events.

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See You Tonight!

In case you haven't received an email about tonight's National Organizing Kickoff, go right now to the Event Center and check out and see if there are any events in your neighborhood.

With the kickoff of the 93 County Strategy and our statewide candidate recruitment efforts--tonight should be a great time to further our ongoing efforts to build a grassroots infrastructure throughout our state.

Please check back as guest bloggers post from various house parties across the state.

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Medicare Prescription Drug Plan Enrollment Begins Today

Today is the first day of enrollment for the new Medicare Prescription Drug Plan. Folks have until May 15, 2006 to select which plan is more appropriate for their lives. Unfortunately, with over 40 plans to choose from, many seniors feel like it will take them until May to figure out which one they should sign up for. This quote from yesterday's Omaha World Herald says it all:

"I have a Ph.D., and it's too complicated to suit me," said William Q. Beard, 73, a retired chemist in Wichita, Kan., who takes eight prescription drugs, including several heart medicines. "I fervently wish that members of Congress had to deal with the same health care program we do."

While there is a lot of controversy surrounding the new Medicare Plan (and I would love for you to comment with your own thoughts), I want to provide folks with information they need to learn more about what plan is best for them.

Around 9:30am, I tried logging on to the Medicare website this morning, and I was discouraged when it was inaccessible because of "high traffic." A little later, I tried again, and was able to get on. Hopefully, it will remain available the rest of the day, but I suspect there will be more problems.

You can also visit AARP Nebraska where they have information to help you sort through the plans.

There are also a lot of meetings being held across the state by the Nebraska Medicare Prescription Drug Coalition where you can go to learn more about each plan. You can find a meeting in your town by clicking here.

I have also collected a list of news stories and informational sites that might shed some light on the plans and the politics surrounding them.

Medicare benefit sessions a bitter pill for many -- OWH

Medicare drug program enrollment to start -- Kearney Hub

Medicare bill could help rural areas -- Fremont Tribune

Groups sue over Medicare drug benefit -- cnn.com

Here is a recap of the important informational websites:
www.Medicare.gov 1-800-MEDICARE
AARP Nebraska
Access to Benefits Coalition
Nebraska Medicare Prescription Drug Coalition

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Esch: Addressing Health Care's Ailments

My priority in the race to become the Representative from the 2nd District of Nebraska is to lead the effort to reform our beleaguered medical-insurance-hospital system.

Affordable, accessible health care is a fundamental human right. Our aging population makes these programs all the more important. In 25 years, without major changes to our current entitlement programs, the cost of Medicaid, Medicare and Social Security will equal roughly the amount spent on the entire federal government today.

Earlier this year, the National Coalition on Health Care (NCHC) issued a report entitled "Building a Better Health Care System." This non-partisan coalition of 90 organizations ranges from the AFL-CIO and the AARP to Blue Shield of California, AT&T, and the Principal Financial Group. These organizations were united by their commitment to the pursuit of a reformed health-care system.

The NCHC priorities:

1. Health Care Coverage for All
2. Cost Management
3. Improvement of Health Care Quality and Safety
4. Equitable Financing
5. Simplified Administration

The coalition laid out 4 scenarios to improve our health care system. One built on the existing employer-financed system, supplemented by requirements for individuals to self-insure. A second expanded Medicare, Medicaid and other public programs. A third was a new program, with a variety of insurance options modeled on the current federal employees' health benefits plan. And, the last was a single-payer, government-financed plan, similar to Canada's or Britain's. It was projected that a change from the current system to any one of these resulted in enormous savings and better health care coverage.

The findings offer real, possible solutions through both proactive programs and mitigating the costs and problems caused by the current state of the system. One of the findings recommended that universal coverage will in itself result in savings when compared to the current system. By providing universal coverage, many health problems and potential health problems will be detected early enough to either prevent the problem all together or greatly reduce the costs by providing early treatment. This proactive care will serve to shorten the overall length and expense of treatment. This is not only beneficial to the patient; but also serves the purpose of reducing administrative costs involved with health care delivery. Kenneth Thorpe, the former top economist at the Department of Health and Human Services, concluded that these systems can result in projected savings of anywhere from $320 billion to $1.1 trillion in the first 10 years.

The two scenarios of this study that would benefit Nebraskans the most would also create the greatest reductions in spending on healthcare. The first scenario, an expansion of Medicare and Medicaid, is projected to result in universal coverage and the greatest projected reduction in spending. The second scenario is modeled on the federal employee's health benefits plan with a variety of benefits and insurance options. Although not projected to result in the same amount of savings as the plan based on the expansion of Medicaid and Medicare, this program would also create a more affordable health care system by efficient, earlier treatment for uninsured Nebraskans.

While there would certainly be upfront costs, the long-term savings in terms of dollars and human suffering are incredible. Furthermore, inaction is not an option as nearly 46 million Americans are currently without health care. I offer that a change to either one of these systems would greatly reduce spending compared to the current system and would go farther to achieve what the current system has failed to in the form of universal coverage

Health care reform must be a national priority and it cannot be done piece by piece. A complete overhaul will not only serve to reach the goal of universal coverage, it will also result in a more efficient and effective use of Nebraskan's tax dollars. Action and accountability in government goes a long way to curing what ails the current health care system.

-Jim Esch
www.jimesch.org

This is the third in a series of guest blog posts touching on various aspects of health care. Jim Esch is running for Congress in Nebraska's 2rd District.

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Kids for Democracy

Hello Fellow Nebraska Democrats,

My name is Jamila Quarles. I am twelve years old. I am a sixth-grader at St. Patrick's Elementary in Elkhorn. I am also one of the Co-Founders for the Nebraska Chapter of Kids For Democracy.

Kids for Democracy is a new group created by kids all across the country. Many of us started as Kids for Kerry/Edwards during John Kerry and John Edwards' campaign during the 2004 Presidential Election. We are now Kids for Democracy, and we support all Democratic nominees in all elections whether local or nationwide. Our major goals as Kids for Democracy are to give kids the opportunity to meet Democratic candidates and leaders, support Democratic ideals, develop leadership skills, and most importantly let kids know that even though they can't vote they can still have a voice in the politics of our country.

Our mission statement is made up of three parts, Education, Involvement, and Advocacy.

Education

We, as part of Kids for Democracy, want every member of our organization to be educated about politics and the Democratic Party. Every kid should try their hardest to make sure that they are fully informed about the political system in our country.

Involvement

As part of Kids for Democracy, we hope you participate in politics to your best ability, and thrive to understand the basic ideas of the democratic process. Also, it is very important that kids are involved in political campaigns, and learn what it means to be a part of an ongoing, spirited, excited, and vital team racing toward a big goal--to win! In any way, as a member of Kids for Democracy, it is essential to be committed to a cause within the Democratic Party--and act on it and get involved!

Advocacy

Within Kids for Democracy, every member should have one main goal: to work on behalf of Democratic youth. We hope that you will help ensure that the voices of kid Democrats are being heard throughout the country. All kids that participate in Kids for Democracy should support issues and ideas that are committed to fairness and justice. Your job as a member of Kids for Democracy is to make America a safer, healthier, and overall better place for children.

I am inviting all children ages 8-13 years to become involved in Kids For Democracy. Why wait until you are old enough to vote to make a difference in Politics? It is my goal to have a chapter in every elementary and Junior High School in Nebraska. We are currently looking for members for what my mom says is the 3rd and 1st CD. Of course more people from the 2nd are welcome.

If you are a parent and have further Questions check out the Kids for Democracy website.

Sincerely,
Jamila Quarles
Co-founder Nebraska Chapter of Kids For Democracy

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Veteran Health Care Facts

I hope everyone has taken time today to think about the men and women who have risked their lives serving our country as well as those who have given their lives. So far, 24 Nebraskans have lost their lives in Iraq and Afghanistan, including three in the last week. You can read a statement made from NDP State Chair Steve Achelpohl in the Press Release section of the Communications Center.

In honor of Veterans Day, we have focused our attention on veterans' health care. Hopefully you have already read the blog post from Senator Nelson who is one of the nation's staunchest supporters of veterans benefits.

I have also posted two new talking points memos focusing on veterans that can be found in the Communications Center and on the Health Care page. Senate Republicans voted five times this year against adequate funding for veterans' health care. Yet at the same time, 25,000 veterans of the Iraq war have returned home and are forced to sit on waiting lists to get medical attention in VA hospitals. On top of that, veterans are forced to wait six months to two years to receive disability compensation. Read more facts in the talking points Chuck Hagel and the Senate GOP Get Failing Grade on Vets Issues and Republicans Break Their Promise to Nebraska's Men and Women in Uniform.

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Senator Nelson: Veterans' Health Care

Since coming to Washington I have taken a special interest in issues affecting health care for our veterans. Combat in Iraq and Afghanistan has only served to increase my involvement in these issues. When a country sends its young into harms way, they deserve the best of medical care.

One of the heartbreaking health issues that we recently dealt with in the U.S. Senate had to do with Americans who have been wounded in action. When those who are injured return home many will require modifications to their houses to accommodate their physical limitations. Until recently the government would pay for such modifications only if the wounded person owned a home. The sad reality is that many of todays wounded are young enough never to have owned a home. They may return to their parent

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Health Care Kick-Off

Today is the official kick-off of our in-depth focus on health care. We will be posting new information everyday on the blog and will cross-post and archive the information on a new section of our site devoted to health care. You can access that page by clicking here.

3rd District Congressional Candidate Scott Kleeb is our first guest blogger. Tomorrow, Senator Ben Nelson will post about veterans' health care.

The Center for American Progress released new talking points on health care today based on two new studies comparing America's health care system to those in other countries. Former Senator Tom Daschle conducted one study and the other is from the Commonwealth Institute. According to the findings, the U.S. health care system ranks 37th in the world, and the U.S. has a higher infant mortality rate then 41 other countries. I was particularly enlightened by the Daschle study which debunked several myths about the American health care system. I also appreciated that he did not ignore some of the good things the American system has to offer.

You can also find talking points about the 46 million Americans living without health insurance by clicking here.

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