One of the most unfairly maligned institutions today are labor unions. We constantly hear the right wing say that they aren't necessary anymore and many of them even go so far as to describe union members as "thugs." In reality, unions are the only check and balance on the political and economic power of the corporations and the wealthy. Among other things, union members are policemen, firefighters, teachers, nurses, construction workers, hotel workers, professional athletes, and autoworkers. Union members are our family members, friends, and neighbors. How have unions helped the middle class and our country? Just who is attacking unions? What have been the real world consequences of the decline in union membership?
If you have enjoyed your most recent weekend or paid day off, you can thank a union. We can all thank unions for things we enjoy:
-The five-day work week.
- Fair wages and relative economic equality - unions raise average wages for their members and they also indirectly raise wages for similar non-union workers.
- The minimum wage.
- The end of child labor.
- Widespread employer based health coverage.
- Occupational safety.
- Workers compensation.
- Overtime pay.
- Retirement pension plans.
- Maternity Leave.
A study of history teaches us that the workplace was not always fair or safe. Thanks to organized labor, workers were able to come together as a cohesive group and convince previous Congresses to pass laws that benefited all workers. Unions also play a pivotal role in organizing and turning out working class voters who will support candidates who will protect the middle class. Unions also make significant political contributions to candidates who prioritize the interests of working Americans rather than the wealthy and corporations.
Unfortunately, these hard won gains by the unions have been under assault for over thirty years by the corporations, the wealthy and the Republican Party. Beginning in the 1970s, big business began to play a larger role in American politics. Since that time, the corporations and the wealthy have literally contributed billions of dollars to candidates who are committed to destroying unions and reducing the rights and earning power of middle class Americans. Union membership has declined from a peak of 30% in 1960 to approximately 11% today.
These rights won by organized labor - which many Americans take for granted - are constantly being challenged by the GOP. Just a few months ago, the House of Representatives passed a bill on a straight party line vote that would relax rules requiring businesses to pay their employees overtime when they work more than 40 hours in a week. Unsurprisingly, all three Nebraska House Republicans voted for it. This legislation would weaken federal overtime laws, allowing for "comp" time instead of pay for private sector employees who work more than 40 hours in a week. The House Democrats labeled it the "More Work, Less Pay Act."
This all-out assault on the middle class by the wealthy and the GOP has had negative consequences for the middle class and all Americans. The economic impact of this decline in the political influence of the middle class is disturbing. We have seen an economically stagnant middle class, a steady reduction of job-related health and retirement benefits and ever rising economic inequality. When labor was at its numerical peak around 1960, the wealthiest 10% earned 33% of the nation's income. By 2007, with the labor movement greatly diminished, the wealthiest 10% grabbed 50% of the nation's income. Today, wages account for the lowest share of both GDP and corporate revenue since 1945 and that share continues to decline.
A rising ride is said to raise all boats but because of the right wing’s assault on organized labor, our country now has the highest level of inequality since 1928. It was no coincidence that our nation experienced its most severe economic downturn since the Great Depression at the same time we had high levels of economic inequality. Former Labor Secretary Robert Reich has contended that that there are three causal connections between inequality and crashes: "First, the rich spend a smaller proportion of their wealth than the less affluent, and so when more and more wealth becomes concentrated in the hands of the wealthy, there is less overall spending and less overall manufacturing to meet consumer needs. Second, in both the Roaring 20s and 2000-2007 period, the middle class incurred a lot of debt to pay for the things they wanted, as their real wages were stagnating and they were getting a smaller and smaller piece of the pie. In other words, they had less and less wealth, and so they borrowed more and more to make up the difference. And third, since the wealthy accumulated more, they wanted to invest more, so a lot of money poured into speculative investments, leading to huge bubbles, which eventually burst."
The key to a dynamic and growing economy is a confident middle class with money to spend. The consumers of the middle class are the job creators - it is not the top 1% that is lionized by the GOP. This is because consumer spending generates approximately 70% of economic activity. One of the leading causes of our current slow economic growth is the diminished earning power of the middle class. The best way to improve economic growth is for the middle class to have higher incomes and more spending power. America needs unions now more than ever. The key to a prosperous middle class is a re-vitalized union movement. We need to grow from the middle class out.
We Democrats must get the message out to our family, friends and civic groups to which we belong that unions are good for the middle class and good for America. We must do everything we can to counter the pervasive and false propaganda about unions coming from the corporations and their allies in the GOP and the right wing media. We must also continue to work for candidates who support the middle class. If the union movement dies out, America's middle class dies with it. The stakes are that high.
One of the more pernicious talking points from the GOP over the years has been their claim that Social Security and Medicare are going broke, and we can't afford these programs. The
right wing has been perpetrating this
myth for years because they oppose these successful and popular programs. The GOP and their wealthy
benefactors don't want the American
people to realize that government can help people and be a force for good. Just what kinds of predictions
have the GOP been making about the future
of Social Security and Medicare? Just how solvent are these programs?
What we can do to make sure these programs will continue to be secure?
Just one year after the passage of Social Security - during the heat of the 1936 Presidential campaign - GOP Presidential nominee Alf Landon said that: "If the present compulsory insurance plan remains in force, our old people are only too apt to find the cupboard bare." George W. Bush predicted in 1978 that Social Security would go broke in 1988 unless Congress privatized the system. Closer to home and more recently, GOP Senate hopeful Ben Sasse claimed that: "entitlement reform must be addressed now before those programs, if not restructured, collapse of their own weight."
The Republicans' predictions on the future solvency of Medicare have been equally wrong. In 1983, Senator Pete Domenici (R-NM) alleged that: "Medicare can be bankrupt in 2 1/2 years unless some way is found to put the brakes on its burgeoning costs." In his 1986 memoirs, former U.S. Senator Carl Curtis (R-NE) claimed that Medicare would be broke and unable to pay medical bills no later than 1991. The so-called "liberal mainstream media" has even got into act. For example, the New York Times predicted in 1989 that Medicare would "become insolvent in the next decade or so." Despite this long history of erroneous predictions about Medicare, the GOP persists in making them. Just last year, Senator Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) told Fox News, "We know that Medicare is going broke by 2024."
What Senator Ayotte and other Republicans probably don't know is that the future viability of Medicare is improving largely thanks to ObamaCare. The annual Medicare trustees report indicated that the viability of Medicare has been extended by two years, projected to remain fully solvent until 2026. (Last year's projection was 2024.) According to Marilyn Tavenner, who runs the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, the extension is attributable to ObamaCare. Tavenner said that: "Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, we are taking important steps to improve the delivery of care for seniors with Medicare. These reforms aim to reduce spending while improving the quality of care, and are an important down payment on solving Medicare's long term financial issues."
The positive effect that ObamaCare has been having on the future solvency of Medicare was confirmed by a recent report from the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office which indicated that hundreds of billions of dollars in federal spending for Medicare (and Medicaid) are being removed from government projections as federal healthcare spending is now expected to be a full 15 percent less than what had been initially budgeted for 2013. The surprisingly low spending projections come as the growth in healthcare spending has hit a new low for the fourth consecutive year. A continuation of this trend has the potential to reduce future budget projections by trillions of dollars. Healthcare experts are now beginning to recognize that ObamaCare may, in fact, be contributing to the good news on the slowdown in healthcare spending - an important development since bending the cost curve was a primary goal of Obama Care.
The future prospects for Social Security are equally bright. At the present time, Social Security is in a position to pay all benefits owed until 2033. In the unlikely event no changes are made to Social Security in the next twenty years, this program will still be in a position to pay around 78% of all promised benefits. However, one modest change could keep Social Security viable for the next 75 years. If the Social Security earnings cap of $113,700.00 was lifted and all earnings were subject to the payroll tax, the Social Security Trust Fund would remain solvent until 2088.
For decades, the Republicans have falsely predicted the demise of Social Security and Medicare because these programs have been so successful. Thanks to these programs, the poverty rate for Americans over age 65 has been reduced from over 50% to 9%. Due to Social Security and Medicare, most of our country's senior citizens now enjoy a middle class standard of living or better. The Republicans oppose these programs because they prove that government can work.
The right wing likes to claim that we can't afford these retirement security programs and we have to cut them to solve our budget problems. (As I discussed in a recent article, our budget problems have been largely solved.) When conservatives talk about the "need" to cut spending, they're really talking about cutting spending they simply don't agree with. These same so-called "fiscal conservatives" continue to support huge tax cuts for the wealthy and run away defense spending.
The radical right's "solutions" for Social Security and Medicare consist of privatizing them and turning them over to Wall Street and the health insurance industry, respectively. All five of Nebraska's Congressional Republicans have voted to turn Medicare into a voucher program, bring back pre-existing condition clauses and require senior citizens to buy private health insurance. This so-called "solution" would cost the average senior citizen an additional $6,000.00 to $8,000.00 out of pocket medical expenses on an annual basis.
We Democrats need to constantly remind the voters that Social Security and Medicare are safe in our hands. Our party is committed to maintaining these programs, and protecting the middle class and the least fortunate among us. The biggest threat to our safety net for senior citizens is the radicalized Republican Party. In the 2014 election cycle, our Senate and Congressional candidates need to campaign hard against Medicare and Social Security privatization, and remind the voters that these vital programs will only go "broke" if the GOP is returned to power.
In a recent interview with Nebraska Watchdog, Nebraska GOP Chairman J.L. Spray asserted that the Nebraska "economy is doing great" largely due to the leadership of Governor Dave Heineman and "not because of anything the national government has done." This surprising statement from Spray indicates that he needs to do his homework and become better acquainted with economic issues. Just what (if anything) has Heineman done for the Nebraska economy? Has the federal government truly had nothing to do with Nebraska's good economy?
Heineman likes to claim credit for the good economy in Nebraska since he's been in office. It's true that Nebraska has been largely insulated from the economic malaise in other parts of the country and that our state has one of the lowest unemployment rates in the country. However, Heineman really has had nothing to do with the current state of Nebraska's economy. The major reason for Nebraska's economic success has been the rise in commodity prices and the increase in farmland values over the last four years. The major factors behind that are international economic trends that have nothing to do with the Heineman Administration.
What about the Nebraska Advantage Act? Heineman likes to tell us that Nebraska's tax environment has a lot to do with the state's economic success. What Heineman doesn't mention is that a recent report from the Nebraska Department of Revenue says that three of every four jobs subsidized by the Act would have been created without incentives that cost the state $42 million in revenue in 2010-2011. The previous year, only one out of 10 jobs were identified as truly new jobs created by the subsidies, which cost the state $42 million in revenue, according to the report.
Another thing that Heineman likes to take credit for is the fact that Nebraska has balanced its budget every year he has been governor. What he doesn't mention is that he had no choice but to balance the budget, since Nebraska's Constitution requires a balanced budget. Moreover, the federal government made it possible for Heineman and the Unicameral to balance the budget during the dark days of 2009-10 when the national economy was undergoing the deepest downturn since the Great Depression during the 1930s. What Heineman doesn't want you to know is that in 2009 and 2010, Nebraska's budget was balanced with hundreds of millions of federal dollars from the 2009 Recovery Act. This massive infusion of federal money prevented the layoff of Nebraska state employees and even more severe program cuts. The federal stimulus money tided Nebraska over until the economy began to improve in 2011-12. Only Texas was more dependent upon stimulus funds in 2009-10 than Nebraska.
The funds from the 2009 Recovery Act didn't only go to help balance the state budget. That money also helped pay for the Pinnacle Bank Arena in Lincoln, the UNL Innovation Campus, the expansion at Strat Comm and improvements at many rural hospitals. Many Nebraskans would probably be surprised at how much the stimulus funds helped the state. All in all, approximately $380 million in stimulus funds were spent in Nebraska in 2009-10.
We should all thank Senator Ben Nelson for supporting the 2009 Recovery Act. At the time of the vote on the stimulus bill, there were 58 Democratic Senators. The Democrats didn't have a 60-vote filibuster proof majority. That means that every vote counted. It is evident that Senator Nelson recognized the gravity of the economic crisis and made the wise decision to support this vital legislation that helped end the national recession and has continued to benefit the economy to this very day. Ben Nelson's vote in favor of the 2009 stimulus bill will be an important part of his positive legacy as our U.S. Senator.
The federal government also provides significant assistance to the Nebraska economy through its various agricultural subsidy programs. Nebraska's farmers and ranchers have collected $16.4 billion in subsidies since 1995. Those payments have consisted of: $10.8 billion in commodity subsidies, $3.19 billion in crop insurance subsidies, $1.54 billion in conservation subsidies, and $817 million in disaster subsidies. As a matter of fact, Nebraska ranks 5th out of 50 States in the collection of agriculture subsidies.
Never mentioned by the Nebraska GOP is that U.S. Senator Deb Fischer has been the recipient of a lucrative grazing subsidy for over 30 years. Senator Fischer is among a handful of Nebraska ranchers whose cattle graze on federal land at prices some say amounts to a significant federal giveaway. Deb Fischer and her husband lease 11,724 acres of federal land in Nebraska for about $4,700 for seven months - paying about $110,000 less than the market rate for private land in Cherry County. The Fischer’s have benefited from this federal program for approximately 30 years and only around 2% of the cattle raised in this country feed on federal lands. What this means is that Fischer and her husband have been receiving a subsidy worth over $100,000.00 per year for three decades.
The 2009 Recovery Act and agricultural payments aren't the only federal programs that help Nebraska's economy. Social Security and Medicare also provide a big boost to our state's economy. Approximately 13.5% of Nebraska's population - or 243,000 Nebraskans - are senior citizens. Due to the relatively large number of senior citizens in Nebraska, the Census Bureau has deemed that Nebraska has a "high level of senior citizens" in our population.
Social Security and Medicare are the most successful government programs in U.S. history. At the time, the Social Security Act was signed into law by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1935, poverty among the elderly exceeded 50%. Subsequently, Medicare was passed in 1965 so that senior citizens could have access to affordable insurance and good medical care. Thanks to these programs, the poverty rate for Americans over age 65 has been reduced to 9%. Due to Social Security and Medicare, most of Nebraska's senior citizens enjoy a middle class standard of living or better. That senior citizen spending power has created thousands of jobs in Nebraska.
It is obvious that the Nebraska GOP is out of touch with many of Nebraska's voters. They would lead you to believe that the federal government is the enemy. Instead, the federal government is a partner in progress for the people of Nebraska. Contrary to what they say on Fox News, we Democrats don't believe that the government is the solution to all of our problems. There are some things the private sector does very well like creating jobs and wealth. However, there are some things the private sector does very poorly - or not at all. The free market does a poor job of providing retirement and health care security for all of our citizens. That's why we have Social Security, Medicare and Obama Care.
In contrast, Republicans have this mystical belief that the free market is some kind of panacea for all of our problems. For example, the Republicans believe we should privatize Medicare and turn it into a voucher program. Ever since the time of Ronald Reagan, Republicans have regarded the government as the source of all our problems even though millions of them receive some kind of government assistance. Unfortunately, the GOP stance on the role of the free market and government simply isn't reality based.
We Democrats are the reality-based party. The Nebraska GOP is badly mistaken in its apparent belief that the federal government hasn't done Nebraska any good. We Democrats understand that life is more complex than that and believe that a mix of private and public solutions is what's needed to move our economy forward and to protect the least fortunate among us. A complete reliance upon the private sector to solve all of our problems will only result in more poverty, more people without insurance and an economic system that greatly favors the wealthy. As I frequently like to say, reality has a Progressive bias.
Shortly before President Obama took office, influential right wing entertainer Rush Limbaugh said that he hoped that President Obama would fail. The GOP followed Limbaugh's lead and settled on a strategy of all out obstruction that they have pursued ever since Obama took office. As Vice President Joe Biden said in early 2009: "I spoke to seven different Republican Senators, who said, "Joe, I'm not going to be able to help you on anything." His informants said that Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell had demanded unified resistance. "The way it was characterized to me was: `For the next two years, we can't let you succeed in anything. That's our ticket to coming back," Biden said.
Unfortunately, the GOP's rancid partisanship has escalated from all out obstruction to the outright sabotage of Obama Care. As we all know, Obama Care has already been helping millions of Americans. For example, 6.6 million young people are now on their parent's insurance policies and 17 million children with pre-existing conditions now have insurance coverage. The main elements of the law will take effect on January 1, 2014, when approximately 30 million uninsured people will gain insurance coverage. However, the GOP has begun to do everything they can to obstruct the law of the land and has been taking actions that would deprive millions of Americans of insurance coverage. Is there any precedent in recent history of the sabotage of the implementation of a new law? Just what actions have the GOP taken to undermine the 2010 health care law? What can we Democrats do about it?
The Republican effort to sabotage Obama Care is unprecedented in modern U.S. history. The most recent example of the implementation of a complex new health care law was the Medicare Part D program during the Bush Administration. When Medicare Part D was considered in Congress, the Bush White House lied about its cost and the Congressional Republicans used ugly tactics to force through this legislation in the middle of the night. Most Democrats opposed the bill because it provided unnecessary taxpayer subsidies to the already very profitable insurance and drug companies, and it was financed on the national credit card.
The Republicans controlled the White House and the Congress when the Medicare Part D program passed in 2003 and the Democrats lost the fight. As Congressional expert Norman Ornstein said about this legislative battle: "Democrats were furious with how the Medicare prescription drug bill passed. But once it was law, they weren't going to punish needy seniors to sabotage Bush's accomplishment." The Democrats didn't unnecessarily hurt millions of senior citizens in the hopes of making Bush look bad. That would've been cruel and outrageous.
In contrast, today's Congressional Republicans have been making efforts to punish millions of uninsured Americans in order to gain some perceived partisan political advantage over President Obama and the Democrats. In Washington, the Republican members of Congress have starved the implementation of Obama Care of funds. According to the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office, the health care reform law will require between $5 billion and $10 billion to get the law up and running over the next decade. The Administration has repeatedly requested additional funds from Congress to assist in the implementation but has been turned down by the Republicans in the House.
The Republicans' attempt to sabotage Obama Care has extended to the intimidation of the NFL, MLB, NBA, NHL, PGA, and NASCAR. The Obama Administration contacted these sports leagues and asked them to help spread the word about the new law so that people would sign up for the health insurance exchanges. In contacting these sports leagues, the Obama Administration was following the precedent set by then Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney who partnered up with the Boston Red Sox to inform Massachusetts residents about the benefits of Romney Care. (In 2005, the Bush Administration ran a similar campaign to let seniors know about the Medicare drug benefit.) However, the Senate Republican leaders have now thwarted a similar campaign from the Obama Administration and have bullied the sports leagues into not cooperating with HHS in informing people about Obama Care. (http://maddowblog.msnbc.com/_news/2013/07/02/19250594-unsportsmanlike-conduct-on-health-care-policy?lite)
This ongoing GOP effort to ruin the new health care law sank to a new low when several Republican members of Congress indicated that they will not assist constituents in understanding the law and obtaining benefits. Instead, these churlish Republicans will tell their constituents to call the Obama Administration for help. "Given that we come from Kansas, it's much easier to say, 'Call your former governor,'" said Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R-KS), referring to HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. "You say, 'She's the one. She's responsible. She was your governor, elected twice, and now you reelected the president, but he picked her.'" Huelskamp stated. Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) even said: "We know how to forward a phone call." This marks a new low even for the Republicans since members of Congress regularly help their constituents with other federal programs like Social Security and Medicare. (http://thehill.com/blogs/healthwatch/health-reform-implementation/305777-gop-to-constituents-questions-on-obamacare-call-obama)
The Republicans' attempt to deprive millions of Americans of health insurance coverage guaranteed by Obama Care has even extended into the states. The battle we saw earlier this year in Nebraska over the Medicaid expansion has played out in many other states. Currently twenty-three states and the District of Columbia have decided to accept the expansion, which is fully financed by Washington for the first three years and phases down gradually to a 90 percent federal share. However, a number of Republican controlled states – including Texas, Florida and Georgia - have rejected the Medicaid expansion. What that means is that approximately 2 in 3 uninsured low-income people who would qualify for subsidized coverage under Obama Care may be out of luck next year because the Republicans in their states have blocked the Medicaid expansion. An Associated Press analysis of figures from the Urban Institute finds a big coverage gap developing, with 9.7 million out of 15 million potentially eligible adults living in states that are refusing the expansion or are still undecided. (http://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/federal_government/states-rejection-of-expanded-medicaid-could-leave-2-of-3-eligible-low-income-people-in-a-fix/2013/07/01/1df2aed0-e272-11e2-8657-fdff0c195a79_story.html)
The Republicans attempt to undermine Obama Care and hurt millions of people who lack insurance is unpatriotic. What we can do as Democrats to push back is to encourage the churches and civic organizations in which we're involved to publicize the benefits of the health care law. We can also encourage elected officials in local governments to issue public service announcements about how to sign up for the health insurance exchanges. (The Obama Administration has already begun to enlist sympathetic local government officials in the cause.)
During next year's legislative session, we need to once again contact our State Senators and encourage them to vote for the Medicaid expansion. My contacts in the Unicameral in both parties indicate to me that there is a better than even chance next year that the legislature will pass a version of the Medicaid expansion that has private insurance companies administering the coverage. This version of the Medicaid expansion would probably be more costly but it would provide better reimbursement rates to health care providers and would provide them with real incentives to take on more Medicaid patients.
We are the party of the people and genuine patriotism. The Democratic Party is all that stands between most Americans and a radically altered social and economic system that only serves the ultra-wealthy and the big corporations. We will do everything we can to ensure that the implementation of Obama Care is a success that improves the lives of millions of Americans.
Immigration Reform Will Reduce The Deficit, Help The Economy And Strengthen Social Security And Medicare
Last week a comprehensive immigration reform bill passed the Senate by a 68-32 margin. Fourteen Republican Senators crossed party lines to join all 54 Democratic Senators in
voting for passage of this landmark
legislation. (Johanns and Fischer both voted no.) However, the hard part lies ahead. Immigration reform
must now pass a Republican controlled
House in which the extreme Tea Party faction holds sway over many Republican House members. Just what is in
this bill? How will immigration reform help the country? What
obstacles lie ahead in the House of Representatives?
The basic elements in the Senate's comprehensive immigration reform legislation consists of the following:
Significantly enhanced border security, including doubling the number of agents patrolling the southern border.
Granting legal status to many of the 11 million aspiring citizens, who meet certain requirements, along with a path to citizenship.
Expanded immigrant visa programs, and expanded programs for nonimmigrant visas including for H-1B (high-skilled) workers and for agricultural guest workers.
This watershed immigration legislation would also provide a significant boost to the U.S. economy in several important ways. As a starting point, the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office has found that immigration reform would reduce the deficit by $197 billion over 10 years and $700 billion over 20 years - savings produced by an influx of new workers and taxpayers in the U.S. economy. The C.B.O report also indicated that the bill would increase the size of the economy by 3.3 percent in 2023 and 5.4 percent by 2033. (http://www.cbo.gov/publication/44225) President Obama said the CBO report "definitively showed that this bipartisan, common-sense bill will help the middle class grow our economy and shrink our deficits by making sure that every worker in America plays by the same set of rules and pays taxes like everyone else."
The influx of new taxpayers that immigration reform would bring to the U.S. would further shore up the financial solvency of Social Security and Medicare. According to Treasury Secretary Jack Lew: "As we bring millions of immigrants onto the payroll, that means hundreds of billions of dollars into the Social Security Trust Fund over the next 10 years. It means tens of billions of dollars into the Medicare Trust Fund."
Unfortunately, this wasn't good enough for the always difficult to please right wing Republicans in the Congress. As usual, the list of complaints from right wing Republicans opposing the bill was long, but the most-cited was what they falsely described as weak border security provisions. Senator Deb Fischer contended that: "Without a fully secure border, the United States will repeat the mistakes of the past and there will be no lasting solution."
Apparently, what Fischer and other right wingers don't know is that a bi-partisan amendment to the Senate's immigration bill would spend an additional $46 billion on border security by stationing an additional 20,000 border patrol agents on the southern border in addition to the 18,500 agents already deployed there. What this means is that there will be an agent every 1,000 feet along the southern border. Moreover, another 350 miles of fencing would be constructed (in addition to the 350 miles of fencing already on the ground).
Senator John McCain excoriated Fischer's profound ignorance of the contents of this legislation when he took the Senate floor last week and said the following: "I would just say to the senator from Nebraska, she is so ill-informed, the statement that I just saw, I don't know where to begin, except to say that if you don't think this legislation secures the border you haven't spent any time on the border, certainly not any meaningful time," McCain said. "And I can't express my disappointment in the series of false statements that the senator just made." Obviously, Senator Fischer hasn't read the bill.
The immigration reform bill now goes over to the House where the big question there is whether or not House Speaker Boehner will grant an up or down vote to this important legislation. The House of Representatives has an informal rule they call the "Hastert rule" which forbids an up or down vote on a bill unless it enjoys the support of a majority of Republicans. What this rule does is give veto power to the radical, nihilistic Tea Party faction in the GOP. Earlier this year, Boehner waived the Hastert rule and allowed up or down votes on the Fiscal Cliff Bill, Hurricane Sandy relief, and the Violence Against Women Act. Will Boehner do the same on immigration reform?
Boehner will be under tremendous pressure from the Tea Party faction in the House and the entertainers in the right wing media to refuse to grant an up or down vote. (Anybody remember during the Bush Administration when Republicans incessantly demanded up or down votes for his legislation and nominees?) As Representative Steve King (R-IA) said: "My position is don't bring anything to the floor. Nothing good can come from that." King told the Omaha World Herald that dozens - " even scores" - of House Republicans share his position. He said he will be looking to increase those numbers in the weeks ahead.
What we can do as Democrats is to call our House representatives and request that they sign a discharge petition that would allow an up or down vote on immigration reform. It is evident that a bi-partisan majority in the House supports this legislation that would reduce the deficit, boost the economy, and strengthen the finances of Social Security and Medicare. Only a technical, procedural rule stands between landmark legislation that would greatly help our country and continued dysfunction in the House GOP majority. In the longer term, we will have to work hard to elect more Democrats to Congress so we have a majority there that will heed the will of a majority of the American people.
One of the most interesting phenomena in contemporary American politics is the wildly erroneous predictions that have been made by Republican leaders over the last twenty years. Recent history makes it apparent that just about all of the GOP's predictions have proven to be wildly off the mark. Just what predictions has the GOP made? How did they turn out? What does that portend for the future?
Perhaps the most egregious GOP prediction was its bold and confident forecast in 1993 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." 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.
The Republicans' predictions about how the economy would respond to Bush's 2001 and 2003 tax cuts were equally wrong. During the Bush Administration, the GOP promised us that the Bush tax cuts would create an economic boom and pay for themselves. Unfortunately for our country, these 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. At the same time, the $238 billion surplus created by President Clinton exploded into a $1.3 trillion deficit by the time President Obama took office in 2009.
The predictions coming from the GOP in the run up to the Iraq war in 2002-03 were tragically wrong. In an effort to convince the American people to back the invasion of Iraq, the Republicans told us that we would be greeted as liberators, the war would be over in a few weeks, it would only cost $50 billion, Iraqi oil would pay for the reconstruction of the country and we would find lots of weapons of mass destruction. As it turned out, the war lasted eleven years, cost $3 trillion and we didn't find any weapons of mass destruction.
The Republicans' forecasts haven't gotten any better since President Obama took office. In the last few months, the GOP has alleged that the Obama White House and re-election campaign unlawfully targeted conservative political groups applying for tax exempt status in 2010-11. We were hearing the GOP compare President Obama to Richard Nixon and there was even dark talk of impeachment from several prominent Republican members of Congress.
We have now recently learned that the Rupert Murdoch owned Wall St. Journal has reported: "It appears so far that no IRS employee committed intentional wrongdoing, and there's no evidence that anyone outside the IRS steered its actions. That counters some GOP lawmakers' charges that the operation was directed by the White House." We have also learned that the Internal Revenue Service targeted liberal groups as well as conservatives seeking tax-exempt status. Rep. Sander Levin (D-MI) said the terms "progressives" and "occupy" were included on IRS screening lists of applicants for tax-exempt status made available to Congress earlier this week.
These recent revelations essentially mark the end of this entire overheated IRS controversy. What this also means is that the GOP and its allies in the right wing media have been lying to the American people and the so-called "liberal mainstream media" for months about what occurred at the IRS. The so-called "mainstream media" should take a close look at itself and ask why they allowed themselves to be so badly played by the GOP.
The Republican Party's eternally cloudy crystal ball makes me very optimistic about the future of President Obama's signature domestic achievement. This time, the GOP is giving us all of their doom and gloom predictions about the implementation of Obama Care. What is really happening is that the implementation of Obama Care is going very well in the states that are committed to the program's success. For example, the proposed health insurance premium rates for the California exchange were just released, and it turns out there's plenty of competition among the insurers who are in the exchange, and that they will make insurance affordable for most customers. These predictions from the GOP and the recent developments in California (and some other states) should give us all great confidence that Obama Care will be a success.
I would tell anybody who will listen not to take any GOP prediction seriously. (One could get rich by making investment decisions by betting against the economic predictions of the right wing.) This interesting trend in American politics makes me very optimistic about the future of our country and the Democratic Party. We can bring about this bright future by continuing to work hard to elect our candidates in the 2014 elections. Let's also hope the right wing predicts a Republican landslide next year!
Beginning as of noon on January 20, 2009, the GOP has been incessantly lecturing us on an alleged deficit crisis. We've heard all kinds of predictions of doom and gloom, and contentions that that the U.S. will inevitably suffer a Greek like economic collapse. As usual, reality greatly differs from the right wing's pronouncements and predictions. What has been really happening is that we're seeing the fastest deficit reduction in several generations. Just what is the extent of this dramatic deficit reduction? How does it compare to other recent Republican Presidents? What could reverse this amazing progress in our nation's fiscal fortunes?
The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office said that President Obama inherited an annual deficit of $1.3 trillion from the Bush Administration. Since Obama has taken office, the deficit has declined from the $1.3 trillion annual deficit he inherited from Bush in 2009 to $642 billion in 2013. (What this means is that Obama has kept his campaign promise to cut the deficit in half.) The budget deficit has declined from 10% of GDP when Obama took office, to 4% of GDP in 2013. That is the biggest decline in the deficit since the country demobilized in the late 1940s after World War II. The CBO is projecting that the deficit will further decline to 2% of GDP by 2015. Most economists say that a deficit amounting to 2% of GDP is sustainable.
Unfortunately, very few Americans are aware of this dramatic upturn in our nation's finances. According to a recent Bloomberg poll, a 62% majority believe the deficit is getting bigger, 28% believe the deficit is staying roughly the same, and only 6% believe the deficit is shrinking. In other words, over 90% of Americans don't believe the incontrovertible and entirely objective truth that the deficit is sinking like a stone. It's worth pondering why.
Public ignorance of President Obama's great success in reducing the deficit is understandable given the political conversation in both the so-called "liberal" mainstream media and the right wing media. Hardly a day goes by without somebody in the GOP alleging that the deficit is spiraling out of control and that we're going the way of Greece. The so-called "liberal" mainstream media has virtually ignored this success and seems to prefer to report on the latest allegations of faux scandals coming out of the GOP.
Many Americans would be surprised to know that President Obama's sterling record on the deficit compares very well to that of previous Republican Presidents. Unfortunately, the Bush Administration and the then Republican controlled Congress went on a tax cutting and spending orgy squandering a projected ten year surplus of $5.5 trillion in 2001 and turning it into the largest deficits in U.S. history. During the Bush Administration, the GOP put two wars, two tax cuts and the Medicare Part D program on the national credit card.
President Obama's record on the deficit is even superior to that of Ronald Reagan - whose Presidency is regarded as the gold standard by the GOP. "Ronaldus Magnus" inherited an annual deficit of 2.6% of GDP from President Carter and boosted the deficit to a peacetime record of 6% of GDP by 1983. In 1984 - the year the GOP told us it was "Morning in America" - the deficit was 4.8% of GDP. (Apparently, there were no sky is falling predictions from the GOP about the deficit in 1984.) By the time Reagan left office in 1989, the deficit was 2.8% of GDP.
The biggest obstacle to our nation's finances (and continued job growth) is the radicalized faction that currently controls today's Congressional Republicans. The Republicans are already talking darkly about refusing to raise the nation's debt ceiling when our nation runs out of borrowing authority in September. (Raising the debt ceiling is paying for spending we've already run up.) Failure to raise the debt ceiling would mark the U.S. as a dead beat nation, raise interest rates and cause a new recession. Obviously, such a self-inflicted wound would cause the deficit to increase.
As Democrats, the best way to preserve our nation's fiscal future and economy is to elect more Democrats to Congress. Unfortunately, today's Congressional Republicans are radical and they are ready to tank the nation's economy if President Obama and the Democrats in Congress don't capitulate to their regressive agenda of tax cuts for the wealthy financed by cuts to Medicare, Medicaid, student loans and education. We need to continue to get our message out and work hard to elect more Democrats in 2014. Our nation's future depends upon it.
The Nebraska Gubernatorial race just got a lot more interesting last week. The most significant development was that former three-term UNL Regent Chuck Hassebrook made a formal announcement of his candidacy. Hassebrook is a serious candidate with the background necessary to be a good candidate as well as a good governor. After his announcement, Hassebrook launched a vigorous campaign across the state meeting with voters and the media.
One of the reasons why Hassebrook is a strong candidate is because his agricultural roots run deep - he is a native of Platte Center, Nebraska where his family has been engaged in farming for more than one hundred years. Hassebrook's agricultural background has also extended to his work at the Center For Rural Affairs where he is currently the executive director. In all, Hassebrook has served on the staff at the Center for nearly 35 years. At the Center, Hassebrook has been instrumental in the passage of numerous state and federal policy reforms. Hassebrook was also elected to the UNL Board of Regents three times in a heavily Republican district and served for almost 18 years as a Regent, including two terms as chair.
At his formal announcement, Hassebrook outlined the themes of his campaign. Hassebrook said: "My faith tells me that we have a responsibility to help everyone across this state - everyone deserves an opportunity... We must invest in creating a future where every Nebraskan has the chance to participate in the state's prosperity and where every community has a chance to thrive, that is why I'm running for governor."
In an interview with the Lincoln Journal Star, Hassebrook spelled out his top priorities: educational opportunity and quality at all levels; providing community colleges with the resources to teach skills that meet workforce needs; development of wind energy in the state; and increased support for small business owners, especially in rural Nebraska. Hassebrook told the Lincoln Journal Star: "We need to create greater economic opportunity for people. Every person should have a chance for a better future. I believe it is really important to care about those who are struggling. That's what my life has been about."
Former Regent Hassebrook would be a formidable nominee due to his agricultural background and his demonstrated ability to win elections in Republican leaning areas. Hassebrook could combine his strength in the rural areas with votes from the Democratic leaning urban areas in Lincoln and Omaha. "The only way a Democrat can win statewide is do much better in the other 90 counties" beyond the urban concentration of voters in Lancaster, Douglas and Sarpy counties, he said. Hassebrook contended that he could do a lot better in the Third Congressional District and other rural areas while still holding on to the Democratic base in metropolitan areas.
It appears as though Hassebrook will be joined in the race for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination by Omaha State Senator Steve Lathrop. Lathrop has won two elections in a Republican leaning district in Omaha and has an impressive record of accomplishment in the Unicameral. The Omaha Senator has begun a statewide listening tour and will soon formally announce his candidacy.
The entry of two top tier Democratic candidates into the gubernatorial race sends a strong signal that the eventual Democratic nominee has an excellent chance to win the general election. Our party's nominee has a genuine opportunity to regain the State House since many Nebraska voters have grown tired of long time, one party Republican rule. That one party rule has led to a culture of arrogance, entitlement and incompetence in the Heineman Administration. For example, tens of millions of dollars have been squandered at the Department of Health Human Services due to the incompetence of the Heineman Administration.
We here at the Nebraska Democratic Party are very excited to have a gubernatorial primary featuring two outstanding candidates. The Nebraska Democratic Party and its officers will be taking a neutral stance in the gubernatorial primary race. We will offer equal amounts of resources and support to both candidates. Once we have a gubernatorial nominee in May 2014, we will strongly support that nominee since both Hassebrook or Lathrop would make an excellent governor.
Over the last four years, the GOP has constantly postured as the party that supposedly respects and defends the Constitution. It's part of their P.R. strategy to attempt to marginalize President Obama and his policies. It's also a back handed way to question our patriotism. In my opinion, it's about time that we Democrats push back and expose the Republicans' genuine views on the Constitution. I would submit that once the American people become more familiar with the GOP's views on the Constitution, a majority of them will conclude that the Democratic Party is the one that genuinely believes in the Constitution.
The Republicans' position on the First Amendment is directly related to their core economic view that rich people don't have enough money. In states like Wisconsin and Ohio, Republican controlled legislatures have passed laws gutting public employee unions and limiting their ability to participate in the political process. The aim of these regressive laws isn't to save the taxpayers money - instead the true objective is to make it harder for unions to make political contributions and turn out voters. In contrast, the GOP supports the Supreme Court's activist decision in Citizens United that removed all limits on campaign spending by the wealthy and the corporations. What that should tell the American people is that the GOP believes that the First Amendment only protects the rights of the top 1% to participate in the political process.
The GOP's views on the Second Amendment are equally bizarre and out of the mainstream. Conservatives believe that there are no limits whatsoever to the Second Amendment's guarantee of the right to keep and bear arms. That misguided belief has caused the GOP to oppose an expanded system of background checks for gun purchases. Apparently, the GOP believes that criminals and mentally ill people have an unlimited right to purchase semi-automatic weapons.
What the GOP doesn't know (or won't tell you) is that in the majority opinion in the seminal Heller decision which found a new right to keep and bear arms pursuant to the Second Amendment, ultra-conservative Justice Antonin Scalia held that like all other rights, the Second Amendment right is not absolute. Scalia ruled that longstanding prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill, or laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms are indeed constitutional. Apparently, the GOP is well to the right of one of the most conservative Justices on the U.S. Supreme Court.
The GOP is equally out of the mainstream in its views on the Fourth, Fifth and Sixth Amendments. These are the portions of the Bill of Rights that guarantee a fair trial for those who are charged with crimes. For example, beginning on January 20, 2009, the GOP adopted a new position when they began to demand military tribunals to try suspected terrorists. What they don't seem to realize is that the Clinton, Bush and Obama Administrations have successfully prosecuted some of the most notorious Al Qaeda terrorists in the civilian federal court system. Numerous terrorist who have been convicted in the federal courts are now doing hard time in super max prisons in the U.S.
Today's movement conservatives are equally contemptuous of the American people serving on juries in civil cases involving injury claims. The so-called tort "reform" laws supported by the GOP would gut the American people's right to a jury trial guaranteed by the Seventh Amendment. The enactment of caps on damages in medical malpractice cases in states like Texas have closed the courtroom door to senior citizens, stay at home mothers and children. These caps on damages have done almost nothing to reduce medical costs or malpractice premiums. All these tort "reform" laws have done is increase the bottom line of the already very profitable insurance industry.
The position of the GOP on the Eighth Amendment directly contradicts their so-called belief in "limited government." This is because the GOP believes that the Eighth Amendment's ban on cruel and unusual
punishment doesn't bar the death penalty. What that means is that the GOP believes the government should possess the power to put people to death and will make correct decisions on this weighty issue. This is an especially odd position for the GOP because they believe government can't do anything right. (In contrast, the GOP doesn't trust the government to save lives by establishing a system guaranteeing health coverage to all Americans.)
The GOP's position on the Tenth Amendment is similarly grounded in an intellectually bankrupt theory. The Tenth Amendment provides that powers not granted to the federal government by the Constitution, nor prohibited to the States, are reserved to the States or the people. The radical right has long interpreted the Tenth Amendment as giving the states the power to nullify federal laws with which they disagree. However, this theory of nullification was rejected by the U.S. Supreme Court as early as 1824. In addition, this interpretation of the Tenth Amendment was the core Constitutional belief of the Southern slaveholders in the run up to the American Civil War.
This tortured history of the Tenth Amendment hasn't deterred the radical right and they continue to adhere to these long discredited views. Earlier this year, gubernatorial hopeful and State Senator Charlie Janssen introduced a bill which would make any federal law passed which places new restrictions on firearm or magazine ownership unenforceable in Nebraska. Senator Janssen exposed his profound ignorance of Constitutional history when he said: "Some people will say there's a supremacy clause, the federal government reigns supreme. I would disagree with that."
The radical right's views on the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment are equally ignorant and discredited. In several of the Presidential battleground states, GOP controlled legislatures
passed voter identification or voter suppression bills that make it harder for minorities, senior citizens and young people to vote. These so-called "limited government" conservatives used the power of
big government to suppress the most sacred right of all - the right to vote.
Movement conservatives' views on the Commerce Clause are as reactionary as their views on the Tenth and the Fourteenth Amendment. The Commerce Clause isn't well known but it is one of the most important provisions in the Constitution because it gives the federal government the authority to regulate interstate commerce. Today's radical right supports a theory called the "Constitution in Exile." If a majority of the Supreme Court were to once again adopt this theory, the federal government would lack the power to enact most economic legislation.
It isn't well known but there was long history of "conservative" judicial activism on the U.S. Supreme Court during the Gilded Age. Between 1871 and 1936, a majority on the Supreme Court struck down
minimum wage laws, maximum hour laws, legislation banning child labor and civil rights laws. During Franklin Roosevelt's first term, most of his New Deal legislation was declared to be unconstitutional by a
majority of the Supreme Court. The justices who made these infamous rulings were of the belief that laissez-faire capitalism was enshrined in the U.S. Constitution.
Unfortunately, this outmoded theory of constitutional interpretation has made a strong comeback in today's radicalized Republican Party. As we all know, Obama Care was held to be constitutional in a 5-4 vote last year. What should give everyone pause is that the four dissenters - Alito, Kennedy, Scalia, and Thomas - demanded that the Supreme Court throw out the entirety of the health care reform law. To reach this conclusion, these four had to reject the Supreme Court's precedents on the Commerce Clause dating all the way back to 1937. The significance of this dissenting opinion tells us that there are now four justices on the Supreme Court who effectively want to overturn the Progressive reforms of 20th century and early 21st century. What this means for us is that it is vitally important that we Democrats continue to win Presidential elections in order to prevent the return of a radical majority to the U.S. Supreme Court.
It is obvious that the Republicans' views on the Constitution are dangerous, radical and well out of the mainstream of opinion in the U.S. Most Americans would be appalled to learn about what the GOP really believes about the Constitution. It is apparent that the GOP believes that the Constitution only protects the rights of the wealthy, corporations and gun owners. In contrast, we Democrats believe that the Constitution protects all Americans. I believe it is time that we push back against this attempt by the GOP to claim the Constitution for themselves and tell the American people that it is the Democratic Party believes in and respects the U.S. Constitution.
As the current session of the Legislature winds down, it is obvious that the Democratic Senators have been leading the way since it began. What we have seen in this session is the the Unicameral standing up to Governor Dave Heineman's regressive agenda and the Senators setting their own very independent path. Just what brought about this remarkable result in a Republican leaning state? How have Democratic Senators led the way? What does this portend for the future
This all began in the 2012 election cycle in which the Democrats picked up three legislative seats. Voters elected Kate Bolz, Rick Kolowski and Sue Crawford to the body. These pick ups made for a very interesting opening phase of the session. The Senators chose Democratic Senators to chair 8 out of the 14 committees, and selected Senator Heath Mello to chair the crucial Appropriations Committee.
Once the body was organized, the session started with Heineman making the abolition of state income and corporate taxes his top priority. Heineman would have replaced the lost revenue with the repeal of numerous sales tax exemptions that are on the books. This proposal would have increased taxes on 80% of Nebraskans to finance a big tax cut for the top 20% of income earners and the corporations.
Heineman's regressive tax scheme set off a firestorm of opposition because it would've eliminated sales tax exemptions on the following: prescription drugs, dorm rooms, purchases by exempt organizations including churches, aviation fuel, data centers, groomers, hospital rooms, medical equipment, agricultural machinery, agricultural chemicals, energy used in industry and seeds for commercial use. As Senator Steve Lathrop said: "We knew that (the governor's) list was coming. And now that it's here, we see that this plan is picking winners and losers. And the losers include the ag industry, manufacturing, students and the sick."
As it turned out, Heineman was forced to withdraw his regressive tax scheme early in the legislative session and had to settle for the establishment of a tax modernization commission to study Nebraska's tax system. Things could've turned out a lot differently but for the leadership shown by the likes of Senators Lathrop, Nordquist and Conrad. For example, Kansas recently passed a tax plan similar to the one proposed by Heineman and now the Kansas legislature is struggling to fill in a huge revenue gap created by tax cuts for the wealthy and the corporations.
Governor Heineman and his dwindling band of right wing supporters in the Unicameral suffered another stinging defeat when the Legislature voted to override his veto of a bill shoring up retirement plans for school employees, judges and State Patrol troopers. This was Heineman's first veto of the session and it stood for less than 24 hours.
In overriding Heineman's veto by a 32-1 margin, the legislative majority stood with Senator Nordquist, chairman of the Nebraska Retirement Systems Committee. Norquist said: "The governor's veto would've pushed the problem into the future. Skipping out on the bill is what got cities like Omaha in trouble," Nordquist said. "This is an obligation we have to meet."
Heineman's lame duck status was further confirmed by the passage by an overwhelming margin of the final $7.8 billion, two-year state budget package. The governor had originally pushed for inclusion of $2.2 million in the budget for the purchase of a state airplane contending it was necessary for him to continue visiting rural parts of the state. Instead, the Senators rejected Heineman's request, removed funds to buy the plane and instead set up an independent study of the best way to provide air transportation for Heineman and other state officials.
The state budget would provide for, among other things: more spending for University of Nebraska and state colleges so they can freeze tuition for two years; serve more people with intellectual disabilities who are on the state waiting list; increase payment rates for child welfare, child care and health care providers; and put more money into early childhood education.
Governor Heineman falsely maintained that the the budget didn't contain any tax cuts and alleged it was "unfortunate" that lawmakers didn't find a way to come up with tax cuts. What Heineman didn't tell us was that the budget also includes $230 million in continued funding for the Property Tax Credit Act, providing Nebraska taxpayers with significant local property tax relief. (I suppose Heineman was lamenting the lack of tax cuts for wealthy individuals and corporations.)
Mello called the final budget a "moderate, centrist approach" and said that the strong vote in support of the budget shows that lawmakers can work in a "bipartisan, consensus" fashion. Mello also said: "I believe our budget provides a good map for the state to follow." As it turned out, Heineman's line item vetoes only amounted to 1/10 of 1% of the entire budget.
Heineman and his band of right wing Senators were only able to avoid defeats on the Medicaid expansion and the repeal of the death penalty by resorting to the rare use of the filibuster. The right wing Senators' refusal to grant these bills an up or down vote indicates that there was more than majority support for them. (Remember back during the Bush Administration when the Republicans constantly demanded up or down votes for his priorities?)
Despite these victories (and near victories), the fight isn't over. In the 2014 cycle there will be 17 open legislative seats due to term limits. There will also be a competitive gubernatorial race. I fully expect our party to nominate an outstanding candidate for governor. What that means is that if we want to continue to be on the offensive and maintain our momentum, we must continue to work hard to elect our candidates. I'm confident about our future since the 2012 election cycle and the legislative session indicates that a majority of Nebraska voters support our vision.