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Is Jeff Fortenberry A FIscal Conservative?

On May 12, an Amtrak train crashed in Philadelphia killing eight people and injuring over 200.  After this tragic accident, a furious blame game broke out in Washington with the Republicans denying responsibility even though they had voted to cut funding for Amtrak for many years before the crash.  Instead, the Republicans chose to blame the train's engineer since the train was traveling more than 100 mph around a curve that was supposed to be taken at only 50 mph.

As it turned out, this tragic crash could have been prevented if the Republicans in the Congress had invested in positive train control technology which is designed to automatically slow or stop a train to prevent the kind of accident that occurred in Philadelphia.   Robert Sumwalt, a member of the National Transportation Safety Board, stated that positive train control was:  "not installed for this area where the accident occurred, where the derailment occurred. Based on what we know right now, we feel that had such a system been installed in this section of track, this accident would not have occurred.”

The Republicans compounded their penny wise, pound foolish approach the day after the accident when the GOP controlled House Appropriations Committee voted to cut Amtrak funding and other infrastructure investments over the objections of the Democrats on the committee.  As a matter of fact, these same Republicans even rejected an amendment to invest in expanded use of positive train control.

One of the Republicans in the majority on the House Appropriations committee who voted down these vital investments in our railroads was Representative Jeff Fortenberry.  The Nebraska CD1 Congressman justified his vote on so-called fiscal responsibility concerns.  Mr. Fortenberry told the Omaha World Herald that: "“There’s a balance between trying to get the fiscal house in order — reduce debt and eliminate deficits — with delivering smart, effective government. And that makes for hard decisions. Let’s just be honest about it.”

What Fortenberry didn't tell the World Herald or the voters is that he has no qualms about the debt and deficits when he is voting for tax cuts for special interests and the wealthiest Americans.   So far this year, Fortenberry has voted to add over $500 billion to the deficit in voting for measures that would benefit big corporations, special interests and the super wealthy.

Earlier this year, the Lincoln Congressman voted to repeal the estate tax.  This tax cut would only benefit the top .02% of income earners and would add $269 billion to the deficit.  In a recent World Herald article, the Republicans couldn't find one farmer who had to sell even a portion of his farm to pay the estate tax.  The Farm Bureau has also admitted that no farms have ever been sold to pay the estate tax.

The estate tax cut repeal which largely benefits wealthy heirs like Paris Hilton isn't the only deficit financed tax cut that Mr. Fortenberry supported in 2015.  In February, Fortenberry voted for a series of so-called "tax extenders" which will increase the deficit by $300 billion over the next ten years.  These cuts will benefit large corporations and other special interests.  Despite his so-called concern about the deficit, Fortenberry and his party bosses passed no spending or revenue offsets.

Congressman Fortenberry likes to tell us that he supposedly cares a lot about the deficit. However, his votes this year for tax cuts for the wealthy and the special interests indicates  those cares aren’t real.  Mr Fortenberry - like many Republicans - is a faux deficit hawk.

Fortenberry's lack of concern about spending and the deficit is shared by many other Republicans in Washington.  Every GOP President beginning with Nixon has left behind to his successor a larger deficit than the one he inherited. Ronald Reagan tripled the national debt and George W. Bush doubled it.   Eisenhower was the last Republican President to balance the budget back in 1955.

As always, there are two Jeff Fortenberrys.  The Nebraska version presents himself as some kind of moderate who is in tune with the interests of his constituents.  The D.C. Fortenberry - the real Fortenberry - is an extremist who votes with his party bosses and the special interests who finance his campaigns.  Simply stated, Fortenberry isn't working for Nebraska - he is working for the the special interests and the most extreme members of his party.   The people of Nebraska CD1 deserve better than Mr. Fortenberry. 

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If You Want to Live Like a Republican, Vote Democratic

Harry Truman said that: "If you want to live like a Republican, vote Democratic."  Why would Truman say such a thing? Does that hold true today? Those are good questions because the perceived conventional wisdom among many pundits in the mainstream media and the GOP is that Republicans are better for the overall economy than Democrats because they are allegedly more business friendly. However, as in many other instances, the conventional wisdom is wrong. The history of the American economy over the last 54 years demonstrates that the economy performs much better for all Americans when a Democrat occupies the White House.

A 2012 report from Bloomberg News Services shows that between the advent of the Kennedy Administration in January 1961 and April 2012, non-government payrolls in the U.S. increased by almost 42 million jobs under Democratic Presidents, compared with 24 million for Republican presidents, according to Labor Department figures. Bloomberg indicated that between January 1961 and April 2012, Democratic presidents accounted for an average of 150,000 additional private-sector jobs per month over that period, more than double the 71,000 average for Republicans. In other words, almost two-thirds of private-sector job growth in the past five decades occurred when we had Democratic Presidents.

What about the stock market? Has it performed better when we've had Republican Presidents since the Republicans promote themselves as the friendliest party for Wall Street? The answer to that question is a flat no. Many people will probably be surprised to find out that stock investors do much better when Democrats occupy the White House. From a dollars- and-cents standpoint, it's not even close.

Another 2012 survey by Bloomberg News service indicates that between January 1961 and February 2012, $1,000 invested in a hypothetical fund that tracks the Standard & Poor's 500 Index (SPX) only when Democrats are in the White House would have been worth $10,920 by early 2012. A $1,000 stake invested in a fund that followed the S&P 500 under Republican presidents, starting with Richard Nixon, would have grown to $2,087 on the day George W. Bush left office. 

These positive economic trends that occur during Democratic Presidencies have continued since Bloomberg issued these reports in 2012.   In 2013, the economy created 183,000 jobs per month.  That job growth accelerated in 2014 when the economy created 224,000 jobs per month - which was the best year for jobs gain since 1999.  That robust jobs growth has continued into 2015.  Thus far, the economy has created 200,000 jobs per month this year.

The accelerating growth in jobs since 2012 has been paralleled by the rise in the Dow Jones.  On February 1, 2012, the Dow Jones closed at 12,716.  By May 8, 2015, the Dow Jones had grown to 18,191 - an increase of nearly 50%.

Another way to compare the economic records of the two parties is simply to look at the job creation records of the last four Presidents.  They are as follows: Barack Obama - 7,400,000; George W. Bush – 1,282,000; Bill Clinton – 22,647,000; and George H.W. Bush – 2,637,000.  In other words, you will need 4 Bushes to match the job creation record of President Obama and 10 Bushes to match Clinton. 

What this means is that all of the silly predictions by the Republicans of economic doom and gloom have been wildly off the mark.  Lest we forget, in 2010, John Boehner predicted that President Obama's policies would cause "Armageddon" and "ruin our country."  When he announced for the U.S. Senate in 2013, Ben Sasse prognosticated that the ACA would cause America to "cease to exist."  It is incredible that the press still takes the Republicans seriously on the economy.  

The Republicans have continued to complain about the economy and have disparaged the recovery that they predicted would never happen.  The latest from the GOP is their lament that President Obama's policies have allegedly increased inequality and only assisted the top 1%.  As Bert Harris - one of my loyal readers -  said: "My favorite is the right's new focus on income inequality. Cut taxes for the super rich, fight against unions and minimum wage increases, eliminate programs that help low and middle income families,and then lament the growing income inequality that results from these policies. It's like clear cutting the forest and then complaining about the lack of trees. No shame. "

The Republicans running for President are all promising to bring back the failed policies of the Bush Administration that produced the worst jobs record since Herbert Hoover and crashed the economy in 2008.  Marco Rubio has proposed a huge tax cut that would largely eliminate taxes for the super wealthy and increase the deficit by $2.4 trillion.  Jeb Bush has said that he: "Never disagreed with his brother and he's not going to start now."  As Governor of Wisconsin, Scott Walker cut taxes for the wealthy and has left his state with a record $2 billion deficit.

The choice next year will be between the middle class economic strategy of the Democratic Presidents or the trickle down economics of the Republican Presidents. If you look at the evidence, the choice is clear. As Democrats, we need to tell the voters again and again about our economic successes and how they match up against the Republicans. Once we get that message out, I'm confident that we will win in 2016.

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If You Want to Live Like a Republican, Vote Democratic

Harry Truman said that: "If you want to live like a Republican, vote Democratic."  Why would Truman say such a thing? Does that hold true today? Those are good questions because the perceived conventional wisdom among many pundits in the mainstream media and the GOP is that Republicans are better for the overall economy than Democrats because they are allegedly more business friendly. However, as in many other instances, the conventional wisdom is wrong. The history of the American economy over the last 54 years demonstrates that the economy performs much better for all Americans when a Democrat occupies the White House.

A 2012 report from Bloomberg News Services shows that between the advent of the Kennedy Administration in January 1961 and April 2012, non-government payrolls in the U.S. increased by almost 42 million jobs under Democratic Presidents, compared with 24 million for Republican presidents, according to Labor Department figures. Bloomberg indicated that between January 1961 and April 2012, Democratic presidents accounted for an average of 150,000 additional private-sector jobs per month over that period, more than double the 71,000 average for Republicans. In other words, almost two-thirds of private-sector job growth in the past five decades occurred when we had Democratic Presidents.

What about the stock market? Has it performed better when we've had Republican Presidents since the Republicans promote themselves as the friendliest party for Wall Street? The answer to that question is a flat no. Many people will probably be surprised to find out that stock investors do much better when Democrats occupy the White House. From a dollars- and-cents standpoint, it's not even close.

Another 2012 survey by Bloomberg News service indicates that between January 1961 and February 2012, $1,000 invested in a hypothetical fund that tracks the Standard & Poor's 500 Index (SPX) only when Democrats are in the White House would have been worth $10,920 by early 2012. A $1,000 stake invested in a fund that followed the S&P 500 under Republican presidents, starting with Richard Nixon, would have grown to $2,087 on the day George W. Bush left office. 

These positive economic trends that occur during Democratic Presidencies have continued since Bloomberg issued these reports in 2012.   In 2013, the economy created 183,000 jobs per month.  That job growth accelerated in 2014 when the economy created 224,000 jobs per month - which was the best year for jobs gain since 1999.  That robust jobs growth has continued into 2015.  Thus far, the economy has created 200,000 jobs per month this year.

The accelerating growth in jobs since 2012 has been paralleled by the rise in the Dow Jones.  On February 1, 2012, the Dow Jones closed at 12,716.  By May 8, 2015, the Dow Jones had grown to 18,191 - an increase of nearly 50%.

Another way to compare the economic records of the two parties is simply to look at the job creation records of the last four Presidents.  They are as follows: Barack Obama - 7,400,000; George W. Bush – 1,282,000; Bill Clinton – 22,647,000; and George H.W. Bush – 2,637,000.  In other words, you will need 4 Bushes to match the job creation record of President Obama and 10 Bushes to match Clinton. 

What this means is that all of the silly predictions by the Republicans of economic doom and gloom have been wildly off the mark.  Lest we forget, in 2010, John Boehner predicted that President Obama's policies would cause "Armageddon" and "ruin our country."  When he announced for the U.S. Senate in 2013, Ben Sasse prognosticated that the ACA would cause America to "cease to exist."  It is incredible that the press still takes the Republicans seriously on the economy.  

The Republicans have continued to complain about the economy and have disparaged the recovery that they predicted would never happen.  The latest from the GOP is their lament that President Obama's policies have allegedly increased inequality and only assisted the top 1%.  As Bert Harris - one of my loyal readers -  said: "My favorite is the right's new focus on income inequality. Cut taxes for the super rich, fight against unions and minimum wage increases, eliminate programs that help low and middle income families,and then lament the growing income inequality that results from these policies. It's like clear cutting the forest and then complaining about the lack of trees. No shame. "

The Republicans running for President are all promising to bring back the failed policies of the Bush Administration that produced the worst jobs record since Herbert Hoover and crashed the economy in 2008.  Marco Rubio has proposed a huge tax cut that would largely eliminate taxes for the super wealthy and increase the deficit by $2.4 trillion.  Jeb Bush has said that he: "Never disagreed with his brother and he's not going to start now."  As Governor of Wisconsin, Scott Walker cut taxes for the wealthy and has left his state with a record $2 billion deficit.

The choice next year will be between the middle class economic strategy of the Democratic Presidents or the trickle down economics of the Republican Presidents. If you look at the evidence, the choice is clear. As Democrats, we need to tell the voters again and again about our economic successes and how they match up against the Republicans. Once we get that message out, I'm confident that we will win in 2016.

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Money and Politics

Mark Hanna was William McKinley's campaign manager in his two successful runs for the Presidency in 1896 and 1900.   It would be accurate to say that Hanna was the Karl Rove or the Jim Messina of that era.  Hanna said that:  "There are two things that are important in politics. The first is money and I can't remember the second."  Former California House Speaker Jesse Unruh - who ran unsuccessfully against Ronald Reagan for Governor in 1970 - said: "Money is the mother's milk of politics."   Studies indicate that the candidate with the most money wins 91% of the elections.  

The role of money in politics has only gotten more crucial since the Supreme Court's infamous 2010 decision in Citizens United which loosened many of the restrictions on the ability of the wealthy and the corporations to make political donations.  It is widely expected that the Roberts Court will soon throw out what few limitations currently exist on campaign contributions.

Unfortunately, the role of big money has had a major impact here in Nebraska in recent election cycles.  In 2014, Ben Sasse and Pete Ricketts greatly outspent Dave Domina and Chuck Hassebrook, respectively.  This funding edge gave these two severely conservative candidates the opportunity to falsely portray themselves as moderates to get elected.  

I have been asked several times how did the minimum wage petition pass by a 59% to 40% margin while two opponents of a minimum wage increase won by comfortable margins in the races for U.S. Senate and Governor.  The answer I gave is that Domina and Hassebrook simply lacked the financial resources to get the message out to Nebraska voters that they stood on the right side of the minimum wage issue.

In my own race for the U.S. House of Representatives against Jeff Fortenberry, I took on an incumbent who had $900,000.00 in campaign cash on hand.  I managed to raise and spend approximately $47,000.00 where the vast majority of the funds went to getting my message out.  (I had no paid staff. )  I'm convinced that if I had a more level playing field, I could've posed a much more formidable challenge to  Fortenberry once the voters found out that he voted to end Medicare as we know it and to shut down the government.  

Our outstanding Democratic ticket faced a similar funding gap in the recent elections in Lincoln.  Both Patte Newman and Meg Mikolajczyk lost excruciatingly close races for City Council in eminently winnable districts.  Perhaps the deciding factor in both of these races were that these excellent Democratic candidates were out spent by approximately a 4-1 ratio.  

Mayor Beutler was the best financed Democrat in the 2015 Lincoln elections and he managed to out spend challenger Andy Stebbing by a 2-1 margin   Due to that monetary advantage, Beutler was able to fend off relentless attacks from the Republicans and win an historic third term as mayor.

As Democrats, we're not only running against a well funded Republican candidate and machine, we're also running against Fox News and AM radio.  The Republicans get millions of dollars in free publicity every month thanks to the right wing media.  When I canvass for Democratic candidates, I frequently hear talking points from some of the voters  that are lifted directly from the right wing media. 

The answer to this problem is that we Democrats need to step up to the plate and contribute more money.  Increased donations will fund voter registration drives, get out the vote operations, mailers and other advertising.  Our lack of financial resources give us an all too small margin of error.  

My request to you my Democratic friends is that you contribute to the Nebraska Democratic Party, your local county party and strong candidates.  Good government isn't free.  It isn't cheap either.  This is a reality we just have to face.  We have no choice.

We have a very important election cycle coming up in 2016.  Pete Ricketts and his wealthy allies will be targeting several incumbent Democratic State Senators in an effort to shove the Unicameral to the right and enact the kind of radical agenda that ruined Kansas.  We can't let them get away with.  We must meet the challenge.  If not us, who?  If not now, when?  Our future depends upon it. 

As a postscript, I would like to thank each and every member of the Democratic ticket (and their families) for placing their names on the ballot this year.  I saw first hand how hard our candidates worked.   These are good people who were eminently well qualified for the offices they sought. We all owe them a debt of gratitude. 

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Stop LB599 - We Need A Minimum Wage Increase Now More Than Ever

One of the most disturbing trends in our country over the last three decades has been the eroding economic standing of the middle class and the soaring income gains of the wealthiest Americans.   This trend has caused the biggest gap between the wealthy and everybody else since 1928.  The middle class's share of the national income has declined from 53% of the nation's income in 1968 to 46% in 2010.  

At the same time,  the minimum wage - adjusted for inflation - has been steadily shrinking. In 1968, the federal minimum wage was $1.60 per hour but adjusted for inflation would be $10.34 in today's dollars.  As we all know, the federal minimum wage is currently stuck at $7.25 per hour.

Due to this erosion in the value of the minimum wage, it is imperative that it be boosted.   It also needs to be increased to $10.10 per hour  because it would lift nearly 5 million people out of poverty and save taxpayers billions of dollars.  For example, a boost in the minimum wage would significantly reduce the amount of money we spend on the SNAP program.  If large corporations such as McDonald's and WalMart were required to pay higher wages,  taxpayers on the national level would save approximately $4.6 billion on an annual basis, or $46 billion over ten years, in SNAP expenses.  

Last year, Nebraska voters took action and voted by a 59% to 40% margin to increase the minimum wage to $8 per hour as of January 1, 2015 and to $9 per hour by January 1, 2016.  This victory for working families was the result of a true grass roots effort.  Volunteers literally went all over the state to gather the necessary signatures to put this measure on the ballot.  

The opponents of this successful ballot initiative predicted that increasing the minimum wage would cause an increase in unemployment.  As usual, the conservative doom and gloomers have been proven wrong.  The unemployment rate in Nebraska has steadily declined since the higher minimum wage took effect.  It was recently announced that the unemployment rate for March has declined all the way to  2.6 % - which is currently the lowest in the U.S.A. for the second month in a row and the lowest for the state since 1998.  

Despite the necessity for an increased minimum wage and the resounding success of this ballot initiative, the special interests haven't given up.  They have already commenced efforts to reverse the will of the voters expressed last year.  Senator Laura Ebke has introduced LB599 which would allow corporations to maintain the minimum wage at $8 per hour for student workers under age 19 when the Nebraska's minimum wage is increased to $9 an hour in 2016.

Unfortunately, LB599 received first round approval by a 32-11 margin.  In order to become law, this regressive legislation will need 33 votes because the Nebraska Constitution requires a 2/3 majority of the Unicameral to change any law passed by public vote.

Senator Jeremy Nordquist - who spearheaded last year's effort to increase the minimum wage - correctly pointed out that LB599 would "unwind the will of the voters" and was an "affront to democracy."  Nordquist also contended that that gutting the new minimum wage law would give corporations an incentive to discriminate against older workers and may even cause high school students to drop out because employers would be allowed to pay the reduced minimum wage to those attending school.

This is an atrocious piece of legislation because it treats the voters with contempt and cuts the pay of poor people and students.  The biggest problem with the economy is a lack of consumer spending power and demand.  This pernicious legislation only perpetuates this negative trend.  The Unicameral shouldn't be voting to cut people's pay and take money out of the economy.

LB599 will soon come up for another vote.  All we have to do is flip two Senators to kill this bill.  Well informed sources in the legislature have told me that the Senators only heard from the special interests before the first round vote.  It's now time for the Senators to hear from the people.  Please contact your State Senator as soon as possible and urge them to vote against LB599.  

We have all learned an important lesson here.  No victory over the radical right and the special interests is ever final in nature.  Even if we win a victory, the forces of reaction never give up and will do everything they can to reverse the will of the people.  We need to be every bit as relentless as they are.  We must never give up.  Now, please call your State Senator as soon as possible and tell them to stand up for working families by voting no on LB599. 

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The U.S. Supreme Court Will Be On The Ballot in 2016

In recent blog posts, I've discussed the high stakes surrounding the 2016 Presidential election. As we know, the last time the GOP controlled the White House and the Congress, they cratered the economy and got the U.S. involved in two mismanaged and costly wars. If they win the 2016 elections, they will do it all over again since they have largely promised to bring back the disastrous policies that failed during the most recent Bush Administration.

Another factor that raises the stakes for the 2016 cycle is that the composition and future direction of the U.S. Supreme Court will be set by the next President. The current Roberts Court has proven to be a big disappointment as we've seen the five Republican appointees make significant changes to long existing precedents in important areas like voting rights and campaign finance. Well informed observers have contended that the Roberts court is the most conservative and pro-business Supreme Court in decades.

Just how did we get here in the first place? What Justices are most likely to retire? What would be the consequences of additional Republican appointees to the high court?

The genesis of the current conservative majority on the U.S. Supreme Court was the appointment of John Roberts and Samuel Alito in 2005. Those appointments changed the balance of power on the Court and moved it much further to the right. The replacement of the centrist Justice Sandra O'Connor by the staunchly conservative Samuel Alito has had profound effects on the law.

A big shift to the right on the Court was neither expected from nor promised by then D.C. Circuit Judge John Roberts in 2005. At his confirmation hearings, Roberts promised to be a moderate and honor existing precedent. As he told the Senators: “Judges are like umpires. Umpires don’t make the rules; they apply them. The role of an umpire and a judge is critical. They make sure everybody plays by the rules. But it is a limited role. Nobody ever went to a ball game to see the umpire... I will remember that it’s my job to call balls and strikes and not to pitch or bat.”

As it turned out, Roberts broke that promise and has since made several decisions that have tilted the playing field heavily in favor of the GOP and the wealthy. In the 2010 Citizens United decision, Roberts skillfully engineered a 5-4 straight party line majority that threw out decades of settled law on campaign finance. The Citizens United decision has made it possible for the wealthy to donate unlimited funds to so-called Super PACs and keep those donations secret.

There is nothing in the First Amendment to the Constitution that equates money with speech. Roberts and his four fellow Republican appointees on the Court simply invented this doctrine out of whole cloth. It is hard to imagine that the Founding Fathers ever intended for the wealthiest Americans to be able to put unlimited and secret funds into dishonest political advertising.

We all saw the effects of this infamous decision during the Nebraska Republican primaries in May 2014. A series of dishonest and secretly funded television advertisements poisoned the primary process and unfairly trashed some of the Republican contenders for the U.S. Senate and Governor. As Don Walton of the Journal Star aptly stated: "It seems increasingly clear that the old problem of the uninformed voter has transformed into the new problem of the misinformed voter, who has been manipulated and misled by a deluge of half-truths and mis-truths not only during this campaign, but has been subjected to a lot of that every day."

Another pernicious decision in 2013 by the five GOP appointees gutted the landmark Voting Rights Act of 1965. This decision gave the green light to numerous states to pass voter ID laws and to scrub their voter rolls of poor and minority voters. Obviously, this decision makes it harder for poor people and Democrats to vote and has further tilted the playing field in favor of the wealthy and the GOP.

The Roberts Court's favoritism to the GOP and the wealthy hasn't gone unnoticed. As Jeffrey Toobin said: "In every major case since he became the nation’s seventeenth Chief Justice, Roberts has sided with the prosecution over the defendant, the state over the condemned, the executive branch over the legislative, and the corporate defendant over the individual plaintiff. Even more than Scalia, who has embodied judicial conservatism during a generation of service on the Supreme Court, Roberts has served the interests, and reflected the values, of the contemporary Republican Party." In 2014, Atlantic magazine went so far as to label Roberts the "most accomplished Republican strategist of the day."

Given his obvious partisan leanings, Roberts would like to have some reinforcements to his majority after the 2016 election cycle. This is an older Supreme Court and it's composition will likely undergo a radical change during the next Presidency. The Justices most likely to retire are Anthony Kennedy - age 79, Antonin Scalia - age 79, Ruth Bader Ginsburg - age 82 and Stephen Breyer - age 77.

The consequences of a Republican President shaping the Supreme Court beginning in 2017 would be nothing short of disastrous. If Chief Justice Roberts gets a larger majority on the Court, it is most likely that the long standing precedent in Roe v. Wade would be overruled. Once again, politicians, unelected judges and bureaucrats would be in charge of womens' most intimate health care decisions.

We could also expect an enhanced conservative Republican majority on the Supreme Court to shred the last few remaining campaign finance limitations and even throw out the Affordable Care Act. As Senator Edward Kennedy forecast back in 1987, an extreme Supreme Court majority could bring back a country where: "women would be forced into back-alley abortions, rogue police could break down citizens' doors in midnight raids, schoolchildren could not be taught about evolution, and the doors of the Federal courts would be shut on the fingers of millions of citizens."

As Democrats we simply can't let that happen. We must educate the voters about the consequences of a radical right wing majority on the Supreme Court. For most people, the Supreme Court isn't on their radar screen and they have no idea what a run away Supreme Court could do. I would submit that most fair minded voters who don't regard themselves as staunch conservative Republicans would be absolutely appalled at the prospect of the appointment of additional justices like Roberts and Alito.

The stakes couldn't be any higher in 2016. The Republicans already have control of the Congress and they will do everything they can to win the White House and once again dominate Washington like they did during the last Bush Administration. We can't outspend the GOP and their billionaire allies but we can outwork them. Now let's get out there and do it before it is too late.

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Middle Class v. Trickle Down Economics: What Works?

There has been a raging debate in the country for decades between the Democratic and Republican parties about what economic approach works best to bring about prosperity for all Americans.  On the one hand, the GOP and the conservative movement have been telling us that if we just give the wealthy and corporations more money and power, that wealth will somehow trickle down and benefit all Americans.  We Democrats have taken the position that the path to prosperity for all lies in investing in the middle class.  We believe that all Americans will benefit and prosper if we make it easier and less expensive for middle class Americans to obtain health care, a good education, fair wages and family leave.

We have had several real world experiences in what economic approach is superior since 1993.  That year, President Clinton proposed to raise taxes on the wealthy and cut spending in order to reduce the huge budget deficits he inherited from the two previous Republican Administrations.  Ronald Reagan increased the national debt by 186% and the national debt grew an additional 54% during the Administration of George H.W. Bush.

Every Republican in 1993 fearlessly predicted that  President Clinton's economic plan would be a failure. Then House Minority Leader Newt Gingrich predicted: "I believe this will lead to a recession next year. This is the Democrat machine's recession. And each one of them will be held personally accountable."  John Kasich (then a Republican congressman from Ohio, now that state's governor) contended that: "I feel bad for the people who really are the working people in this country, people in my family, who are going to get the penalties from people who don't want to invest more, take any more risks. They're going to lose their jobs, and that's the tragedy of this program.  The proof will be in the pudding. We're going to come back here next year, there will be higher deficits, there will be more spending, we'll continue to have a very slow economy, people aren't going to go to work."

As Steve Kornacki wrote in 2011: "It’s important to note that this was not an isolated event — that Newt and his friends simply fell victim to some heat-of-the-moment hyperbole. This was the Republican Party’s line for all of 1993, one repeated by senators, congressmen, talk shows hosts, activists, and state and local officials at every level of the ballot."

Just how did those Republican predictions of doom and gloom play out? As we know, they were dead wrong.  What followed the passage of the 1993 Clinton budget package was the greatest peacetime economic boom in U.S. history.  During the Clinton Presidency, 22 million new jobs were created, unemployment declined from 7% to 3%, median family income rose, and poverty declined to its lowest rate in 20 years.  The Clinton budget also converted what was then the largest budget deficit in American history to the largest surplus.

After President Clinton left office in 2001, we got yet another real world experiment in the effectiveness of the two major, competing economic theories.  In 2001 and 2003, George W. Bush muscled through the GOP dominated Congress huge tax cuts that largely benefited the wealthiest Americans.  Something like 40% of the Bush tax cuts went to the the top 1% of income earners. The GOP predicted that those tax cuts would create 250,000 jobs per month and pay for themselves.  

Unfortunately for our country, those GOP predictions turned out to be wildly off the mark. According to the January 9, 2009, Wall Street Journal, Bush had the worst jobs creation record since Herbert Hoover. Only 3 million jobs were created during the Bush Presidency or around 31,000 jobs per month. By the end of 2008, the economy had collapsed and the U.S. was facing the prospect of another Great Depression. At the same time, the hard earned $238 billion surplus created by President Clinton had exploded into a $1.3 trillion deficit by the time President Obama took office in 2009.

At the time he was inaugurated on January 20, 2009, President Obama inherited the worst economic situation since Franklin Roosevelt took office in 1933.  The economy was losing 800,000 jobs per month, GDP had shrunk nearly 9% in the last quarter of 2008, and the Dow Jones had slumped to around 6,500.

In response to this economic crisis, President Obama proposed and passed the 2009 American Recovery Act.  This landmark legislation consisted of the biggest middle class tax cut in history, invested in infrastructure projects and kicked off a revolution in renewable energy.  Then Senator Ben Nelson played a crucial role in helping this vital legislation overcome a GOP filibuster and getting it passed into law.

Contrary to what you will hear on Fox News and AM radio, the Recovery Act was a big success.  According to the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office, this unfairly maligned stimulus bill: "added as many as 3.3 million jobs to the economy during the second quarter of 2010, and may have prevented the nation from lapsing back into recession."  

The next (and most recent) chapter in this long running debate occurred in late 2012 and early 2013.  Due to some budget gimmicks used by the GOP to hide the costs of the Bush tax cuts, these tax cuts were all due to expire by operation of law on December 31, 2012.  As a consequence, there was a raging debate in 2012 on whether to extend or repeal the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans.

As usual, the GOP predicted that raising taxes on the wealthy would hurt the economy.  For example, then House Majority Leader Eric Cantor predicted that the repeal of the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy would result in the loss of over 700,000 jobs.  Closer to home, Creighton University economist Ernie Goss prognosticated that the elimination of these tax breaks for the wealthy would  "adversely affect small-business owners, who, as a result, might hire fewer workers or lay off current employees."  Goss further contended that the wealthy would "respond by investing less in their enterprises. That means fewer jobs and spreads the misery to everyone."

As it turned out, the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy were repealed by the Fiscal Cliff bill that passed on January 1, 2013.  After this tax increase went into effect, all of the conservative prognostications of doom and gloom once again turned out to be wrong.  In 2013, the economy created 183,000 jobs per month.  That job growth accelerated in 2014 when the economy created 224,000 jobs per month - which was the best year for jobs gain since 1999.  That robust jobs growth has continued into 2015.  Thus far, the economy has created 200,000 jobs per month this year.

We have now had the last 22 years to evaluate what is the best approach to job creation and economic prosperity.  The evidence is in and middle class economics is the clear winner.  It isn't even close.  Yet the Republicans steadfastly adhere to their failed economic theories.

Once again, this approach to economic policy making will be on the ballot in 2016.  If the Republicans win the elections and gain control of the White House and the Congress, they will bring back the failed economic policies of George W. Bush.  The last time the GOP passed it's economic agenda during that Administration, they ruined the economy and exploded the deficit. We simply can't let them do that again.

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The Affordable Care Act Is More Popular Than You Think

Since it's passage in 2010, the conventional wisdom has been that the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is unpopular or controversial despite it's successes.  It's no wonder that the ACA is perceived as unpopular when you take into account that ACA opponents have out spent supporters of the health care law by a 5-1 ratio on the airwaves.  As we all know, many of the contentions made by the opponents of the ACA are simply lies - we've heard allegations about imaginary "death panels" and a mythical "government takeover" of the health care system.  Is the ACA really that controversial? Has the mainstream media and the GOP really given us the full story on the popularity of the ACA?  The answers may surprise you.

The top line numbers for the popularity of the ACA have rarely budged from around a 40% approval rating.  For example, a recent poll by the Kaiser Family Foundation indicated that the approval rating for the ACA was 41% and the disapproval rating was 43%.  Nevertheless, this kind of poll that simply measures approval and disapproval doesn't come anywhere close to telling the whole story.  One should disregard any poll that only offers this kind of facile analysis.

A poll on Obama Care isn't completely accurate if the voters  aren't asked why they disapprove of this landmark health care reform law.  A CNN poll in 2014 asked voters why they disapproved of the ACA.  Something like 12% of those who responded disapproved because they didn't think the ACA was "liberal enough."  Apparently those voters support a government option (also known as "Medicare Plus")  or even a single payer system.   When you combine that figure with the 39% who approve of the ACA, you get a finding that 51% of the public favors the concept of universal health coverage.  In this same poll, only 39% were of the opinion that the ACA was "too liberal."  

The kind of result found in this more sophisticated poll on approval and disapproval is mirrored by polling where voters are asked if they want to keep and fix the ACA or if they want to completely repeal the law.  A 2014 poll from the Kaiser Family Foundation indicated that 10% want to keep the ACA as it is and an additional 49% want to keep the law in place but work to improve it.   Only 29% of those polled agreed with the GOP position that Obama Care should be 100% repealed and replaced with a GOP sponsored alternative.

Not only is the ACA more popular than the conventional wisdom would lead you to believe but a 2013 poll from the Kaiser Family Foundation indicates that the component parts of the ACA are actually very popular. (Unfortunately, the same polling indicates the public is largely unaware of the many of the benefits in the law. )  Ending pre-existing conditions clauses has a 66% approval rating.  The health insurance exchanges are at 80% approval.  Ending the Medicare doughnut hole for senior citizens registers at 81% approval.  Allowing young adults to stay on their parents' policies clocks in at 76% approval.  Providing subsidies to help people purchase coverage enjoys a 76% approval rating and the Medicaid expansion has a 71% approval rating.

The only provision in the ACA that comes in at less than at less than 57% approval is the individual mandate - which had a 40% approval rating in this 2013 poll.  Unfortunately, the only unpopular provision of the ACA seems to have gotten most of the attention from the mainstream media and the GOP.  

What makes this disproportionate focus on the individual mandate so frustrating is that only 6% of the U.S. population is required to go out and purchase health insurance because of the individual mandate or face a penalty.  If you already have insurance through your employer, Medicare, Medicaid, a government retirement program or the Veterans Administration, this requirement won't affect you.

What has also gotten almost no coverage or attention is that those people who have actually purchased ACA policies on the exchanges are largely satisfied with those policies.  According to a 2014 Commonwealth Fund poll, 78% of those who purchased policies on the exchanges are very or somewhat satisfied with their new coverage.  Even 74% of Republicans polled were satisfied with their ACA insurance policies.  What this means is that the overwhelming majority of the people who actually had to deal with the controversial individual mandate approved of the end result. 

I predict that the continuing successes of the ACA will cause the popularity of the law to move from being hidden - as it is now - to being actually noticed and visible.  Recently, it was announced by the Obama Administration that 16 million people who used to be uninsured are now covered.  The rate of the uninsured has dropped by 35% since the implementation of the ACA in 2013.  That is the biggest decline in the number of the uninsured since the passage of Medicare and Medicaid during the 1960s.

The ACA isn't only improving the quality of life for millions of Americans, it's costing a lot less than was originally expected when the law passed in 2010.  According to a recent report from the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office,  the ACA will cost 20% less than was originally projected.  The reason for this new cost estimate is the recent and unprecedented decline in healthcare inflation.

What this means going forward is that we Democrats must defend the ACA and message the benefits.  If we run away from the ACA, voters will draw the conclusion that the Republicans are correct and the ACA is bad for the country.  My experience as a candidate for Congress last year is that the voters were largely ignorant of the many benefits in the ACA.  Once they learned about the benefits, they became much more supportive of the law.  

I predict a day will come when the GOP will claim that they were actually for the ACA all along - they just had a few, minor technical objections to portions of the law when it was debated in 2009-10.  They will point to the Heritage Foundation's former support of the individual mandate and the successful implementation of Romney Care in Massachusetts.  

We Democrats must constantly point out that if the GOP gets it's way and the ACA is completely repealed, 16 million people will be kicked off their insurance policies and that the insurance industry once again will be in charge of people's health care.  Nobody wants to see the return of pre-existing condition clauses or allow the insurance companies to cancel people's policies after they get sick or injured.   We can win this debate over the ACA and health care if we create this contrast.  The GOP position is simply untenable - they support the pre-ACA status quo.  The voters won't know that unless we tell them again and again.  Now let's do it!

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Nebraska Congressional Republicans Voted To End Medicare As We Know It

Last week, Fischer, Sasse, Fortenberry and Smith all voted for the Republican budget plan.  Their party bosses bragged that the GOP had produced a consensus budget and the mainstream press even went so far as to proclaim it to be a "good week" for beleaguered House Speaker John Boehner.

Just what is in the GOP budget?  What does it say about the values of the Nebraska Congressional Republicans? As Representative Bob Woodall (R-GA) said: “A budget is a moral document. It talks about where your values are." 

The values of the Nebraska Republicans who voted for this budget are troubling to say the least when you take a close look into what is actually in this taxing and spending blueprint.  The GOP budget makes deep cuts in Medicaid, student aid and food stamps.  Approximately 69 percent of the cuts to non-defense spending in both the House and Senate budget blueprints come out of programs that benefit the poor.

The GOP budget plan not only makes savage cuts in programs that benefit the most vulnerable members of our society, it also deregulates Wall Street.  Allowing the big banks to write their own rules again makes it possible we could face another economic collapse and bailout.  Moreover, this budget completely abolishes the estate tax - which would cut taxes for the wealthiest 0.12% of Americans.  

The GOP claims it will balance the budget in 10 years but it only balances because it relies upon the kinds of accounting tricks and gimmicks the GOP has used since the Reagan Administration.   The GOP budget claims it will cut $1 trillion in spending over the next 10 years but it provides no details where those cuts come from.  Jonathan Weisman of the New York Times asked House Budget Chairman Representative Tom  Price (R-GA)  if he would identify the $1 trillion in cuts that the budget doesn’t spell out.  In response, Price told Weisman to look at the budget and Weisman said: “I’m looking at it. It doesn’t specify.”

The most profound changes in the GOP budget come in the area of health care.  The GOP budget ends Medicare as we know it and turns it into a voucher program.  Senior citizens will no longer enjoy the promise and guarantee of Medicare.  Instead, they will be forced to purchase health insurance from private insurance companies with a voucher that doesn't keep pace with medical inflation.  The extreme GOP Medicare plan will cost the average senior citizen an additional $6,000.00 per year in out of pocket medical expenses.

The GOP budget doesn't only privatize Medicare, it also repeals - but doesn't replace - the Affordable Care Act (ACA).  The repeal of the ACA will have a significant and very negative effect on seniors.  They will be required to purchase private health insurance policies that bring back the old pre-existing condition clauses.  Nebraska's Republican members of Congress have supported this plan for years and they still haven't explained to our senior citizens how they will be able to find affordable and comprehensive insurance once the insurance industry is put back in charge. 

The complete repeal of the ACA would not only allow the private health insurance industry to discriminate against the sick again, it would also cancel 16 million insurance policies for people who used to be uninsured.  The chaos caused by the sudden cancellation of millions of insurance policies would be unimaginable and could very well push the private health insurance industry into a death spiral.  

Brad Ashford was the only member of the Nebraska Congressional delegation who voted against this regressive GOP budget plan.  Unlike his GOP colleagues, Congressman Ashford shares our values.  Most Nebraskans believe in a dignified retirement for our senior citizens.  In addition, we also believe the wealthy should pay their fair share of taxes and that we should protect the least fortunate members of our society.  Like just about every Nebraskan, Ashford is more concerned about keeping our promises to senior citizens than he is Paris Hilton's inheritance.  

We can count on President Obama to veto the GOP budget plan when it arrives on his desk.  At that point, Fischer, Sasse, Fortenberry and Smith will have to decide whether they want to pass a responsible budget that reflects Nebraska values or shutdown the government again.  The last government shutdown cost the economy $24 billion and 120,000 jobs.  Another irresponsible government shutdown could very well kill the recovery and send the economy back into recession.

The GOP budget tells all of us that the stakes in next year's elections will be very high.  If the Republicans should gain control of the White House and the Congress, this budget will be at the top of their priority list.  The last time the GOP controlled Washington, they got the U.S. involved in two wars and destroyed the economy.  If they get back in power, they will do it again.  

We must tell the voters again and again that the choice next year is between middle class economics that works and the GOP's failed trickle down theory.  The country is now enjoying the best jobs growth and stock market since the Clinton Administration during the late 1990s.  We can continue that progress or we can go back to where we were 8 years ago.  Why would we ever want to return to the dark days of 2008 when the economy collapsed?  That must be our message going forward in 2016. 

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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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