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We Need Immigration Reform Now More Than Ever

The U.S. is currently saddled with a broken immigration system despite a genuine bi-partisan effort to reform it during the Bush Administration. At the present time there are 11 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S. (Here at the Nebraska Democratic Party we refer to them as "aspiring citizens.") How did we get here? What efforts have been made to reform our immigration system in the recent past? Why did those efforts fail? Have Nebraska's Congressional Republicans been a part of the problem? Currently, what are the prospects for immigration reform?

One of the few things that George W. Bush did during his disastrous Presidency that could've actually benefited the country were his attempts between 2005 and 2007 to reform our nation's immigration system and create a pathway to citizenship for the aspiring citizens. Unfortunately, those efforts foundered due to the obstruction of the right wing of the Republican Party.

In 2005, the then Republican controlled House responded to a bi-partisan push for immigration reform by passing the so-called Sensenbrenner bill. This punitive legislation made it a felony to be an aspiring
citizen and also made it a felony to even assist an aspiring citizen. This misguided legislation would've turned millions of Americans into criminals who only wanted to be in America to create a better life for
themselves and their families. Both Representatives Jeff Fortenberry and Lee Terry voted for the Sensenbrenner bill.

Two years later, Bush made one last, big push for immigration reform. The key legislation was the bi-partisan Kennedy-McCain bill that would've created a pathway to citizenship for aspiring citizens. This
bill was backed by most Democrats and a handful of Republicans in the U.S. Senate. However, fierce attacks on the bill by the entertainers in the right wing media caused the most of the Republicans in the Senate to filibuster the bill and deny it an up or down vote.

Nebraska's Congressional Republicans have repeatedly buckled to the pressure created by these extreme voices in the right wing media and have pandered to the worst elements of the GOP base during the immigration debate. Johanns, Fischer, Fortenberry, Terry and Smith would all deny U.S. citizenship to aspiring citizens. For example, when Terry said that he opposed a pathway to citizenship in 2006, he derisively termed it as "blanket amnesty."

And that's not all. Congressman Terry said that he would deny driver's licenses to aspiring citizens. Fortenberry has been equally hostile to the Hispanic community. In 2010, Fortenberry - who likes to falsely position himself as a moderate - went so far as to say that he wanted to amend the Fourteenth Amendment to deny birthright citizenship to aspiring citizens.

This hostility hasn't gone unnoticed by Hispanic voters. As recently as 2004, Bush carried 40% of the Hispanic vote in the Presidential election. By 2008, the GOP's share of the Hispanic vote declined to 30%. In 2012, President Obama carried the Hispanic vote by an overwhelming 71% to 27% margin over Romney. The GOP nominee alienated Hispanic voters when he described his plan for immigration as reducing the number of aspiring citizens in the U.S. through what he termed "self-deportation."

The Republican Party has responded to this sharp decline in Hispanic support by making some halting moves to support immigration reform and a pathway to citizenship. Voices on the right as diverse as Rupert Murdoch, Sean Hannity and Marco Rubio have experienced a post-election conversion and now say they back immigration reform. However, the most extreme elements in the GOP haven't given up on blocking these important reforms. Both Rush Limbaugh and Laura Ingraham are rallying the radical Republicans to make one last ditch stand to stop immigration reform.

President Obama has made the cause of immigration reform one of the highest priorities of his second term. Since the election, the President has offered up the following principles that he backs:

  • Continuing to Strengthen Border Security.
  • Cracking Down on Employers Hiring Undocumented Workers.
  • Streamlining Legal Immigration.

Earned Citizenship: The President's proposal provides aspiring citizens a legal way to earn citizenship that will encourage them to come out of the shadows so they can pay their taxes and play by the same rules as everyone else. There will be no uncertainty about their ability to become U.S. citizens if they meet certain eligibility criteria.

At the present time, prospects for immigration reform look good. A bi-partisan group of Senators led by Charles Schumer (D-NY) and Marco Rubio (R-FL) are close to a deal on immigration reform and are expected to introduce legislation in April. Lawmakers on both parties have said a deal needs to happen quickly so a bill can be introduced and worked through the Senate Judiciary Committee. The concern is that if legislation drags on for too long, some Republicans will become intimidated by the strident voices in the right wing media and the prospect of a primary challenge from the Tea Party will take precedence over getting something done.

The time is now for immigration reform. Probably the only thing that stands in the way of passage of meaningful legislation would be the refusal of the GOP leaders in the House and the Senate to grant this
vital legislation an up or down vote. We Democrats need to contact our representatives and demand that immigration reform legislation be granted an up or down vote. I'm confident that a majority in both Houses would vote to fix our broken immigration system. Only a Senator filibuster or the so-called "Hastert rule" in the House could stop this legislation.

We here at the Nebraska Democratic Party stand ready, willing and able to work with Nebraska's Hispanic community. Your concerns are our concerns. Your fight is our fight. Inscribed on the Statue of Liberty in New York harbor are these iconic lines: "Give me your tired, your poor/Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free." Nebraska Democrats still believe in those lines and we are willing to do whatever it takes to make them a reality again.



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Senate Democratic Budget Reflects Nebraska Values

A Party's budget tells us a lot about their priorities and more importantly, their values. In the recent past, both Parties have introduced sharply contrasting budget plans that represent their plans for our country's future. How do those budget blueprints differ? Just whose values do those budgets most closely represent?

The Senate Democrats' budget plan consists of a responsible mix of both investments in our future and spending cuts that will gradually reduce the deficit without harming our economy with the all too premature Euro-style austerity favored by the GOP.

The Senate Democratic Budget includes the following:

It fully replaces the sequester's $1.2 trillion in automatic spending cuts over 10 years that kicked in March 1 with a 50/50 combination of spending cuts and new revenue.

A $100 billion stimulus package directed at building the nation's deteriorating roads and bridges, repairing public schools and paying for increased broadband access in schools.

An additional $1.85 trillion in deficit reduction, which encompasses the plan to replace the sequester and adds it to the $2.4 trillion in deficit reduction achieved in the past two years for a total of $4.25 trillion in deficit reduction over 10 years. This is the level of deficit reduction recommended by most economists and the Simpson-Bowles Commission.

Reduces the deficit to 2.4% of GDP by 2015 and keeps it below that level through the 10-year budget window. Most economists believe this is a sustainable deficit level that won't hurt the economy. When President Obama took office, the budget deficit was 10% of GDP. It has currently been reduced to 5.5% of GDP.

$975 billion in spending cuts, including $275 billion from health care programs Medicare and Medicaid, $240 billion from defense and $242 billion in estimated savings on interest payments. There will be no cuts in benefits for senior citizens.

$975 billion in new revenue from closing tax loopholes and eliminating tax expenditures that benefit the wealthy. It does not call for raising individual tax rates. Senate Democrats say that about half the money comes from limits on deductions similar to those suggested by President Obama, the rest from smaller changes including measures to claw back money from oil and gas interests, hedge fund operators and the owners of corporate jets, yachts and the like.

Senate Democratic Budget Chair Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) said that:

"That is a responsible approach. It's a balanced and fair approach. It's the one endorsed by bipartisan groups and experts, and it's the one supported by the vast majority of the American people." This is the sort of moderate, mainstream approach that one might expect from a responsible governing party. It accepts compromises, requires concessions from both parties, and will further nurture what appears to be a budding economic recovery that has the potential to help all Americans."

On the other hand, the Ryan/Republican budget radically transforms the economy and breaks the promises we've made to senior citizens and the poor. The centerpiece of the GOP budget is a huge tax cut for the wealthy and the corporations. It reduces the top individual rate from 39.6% to 25%. It also reduces the top corporate rate from 35% to 25%.

These big tax cuts in the GOP budget amount to $5.7 trillion over ten years. Ryan tells us that this portion of this budget will be revenue neutral because he will make up for the lost revenue by closing yet to be identified loopholes and deductions for the wealthy and corporations. However, the math doesn't work - if Ryan's plan is to be revenue neutral, he will also have to close deductions and loopholes that benefit the middle class.

The GOP budget won't just cause an increase in taxes for the middle class; it will also result in increased out of pocket medical expenses for senior citizens by transforming Medicare into a voucher program and make huge cuts in programs that benefit the poor. Approximately, 62% of the cuts in the Ryan plan come from cuts in programs like Medicaid that help the least fortunate among us. The GOP budget would result in a massive redistribution of income upwards.

The two competing budget plans couldn't tell us more about the differing values and priorities of the Democratic and Republican parties. The GOP/Ryan budget reflects the values of Wall Street and the moneyed elite. It contains a massive tax cut for the wealthy, oil companies, banks and insurance companies. At the same time, it would increase taxes on the middle class and cuts benefits for everybody but the wealthy. The GOP budget certainly embodies the modern GOP's belief that the wealthy are over taxed and the rest of the country is too lightly taxed.

In contrast, the Democratic budget reflects Nebraska values and American values. We keep our promises to senior citizens, ask the most fortunate among us to pay a little more and take care of the poor. These are the values shared by most Nebraskans and most Americans.

As Democrats, we need to keep pressure on our elected representatives to vote against the radical vision for the country encompassed in the Ryan/GOP budget. At the same time, we need to get our message out about what we stand for. I firmly believe that most Nebraskans would agree with us once they learn about our values.


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New Ryan Plan Even More Extreme Than First Ryan Plan

The hallmark of the modern Republican party is it's hostility to the Progressive reforms of the 20th century and it's desire to privatize or otherwise abolish Social Security and Medicare. The center piece of the GOP's reactionary agenda is the budget plan hatched in 2011 by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) that would've transformed Medicare into a voucher program, cost senior citizens an additional $6,000 to $8,000 per year in annual out of pocket medicals expenses, and cut Medicaid and other programs that help out the poor. Johanns, Fortenberry, Terry and Smith voted for Paul Ryan's budget plan in both 2011 and 2012. (Ben Nelson voted no both times.)

If the Nebraska Republican Congressional Republicans had gotten their way, the Medicare guarantee for senior citizens would've ended and they would've been given a voucher and required to buy private health insurance in the dysfunctional market for insurance. The value of this voucher wouldn't have kept up with medical inflation and this new system would have increased costs by almost $60,000 for seniors reaching the age of 65 in 2023.

One of the key promises that Ryan and his supporters made was that anybody above the age of 55 would be unaffected by the privatization of the Medicare program and it's transformation into a voucher system. This was a cynical promise because the Republicans are counting on seniors to be selfish and be willing to throw their children and grandchildren under the bus. In my opinion, the GOP has badly underestimated our seniors when they made this promise.

Unfortunately, Ryan and the GOP have learned nothing from their stinging defeats in the 2012 elections. Ryan is now back with a new Medicare privatization plan that would retain most of the original elements of his first plan including the voucher feature and the $700 billion in Medicare "cuts" in Obama Care. Those were the very same "cuts" that Romney and Ryan disingenuously denounced during the 2012 campaign. (The so-called Medicare "cuts" in Obama Care simply represent a slowing in the growth of the program and savings from the elimination of the Medicare Advantage Program - that largely benefited the private health insurance industry.)

Where Ryan's new plan most differs from his first plan is that his new proposal would balance the budget in ten years rather than the twenty eight years in his original plan. This is a major difference because it would cause the GOP to break their promise that nobody above the age of 55 would be affected by these radical changes. Instead, people as old as 59 could be shoved into Ryan's voucher system.

Already, behind the scenes, some House Republicans are furious that GOP leaders are considering abandoning their pledge not to change Medicare retirement benefits for people 55 years and older. "I know a number of people who have real concerns about where this is going," said Rep. Peter T. King (R-N.Y.), who said Medicare cuts targeting people as old as 59 are under discussion. There is already talk in the House GOP caucus that the leaders might not be able to rely on the dwindling band of moderate Republicans to support this legislation. Due to the Democrats' gains in the House last year, Boehner and Ryan can't afford many defections.

The reaction of the Democrats to this latest version of the Ryan plan was equally scathing. "My first reaction [to the balanced-budget pledge] was the same as everybody else's: God, what is he going to do? I thought last year's budget was crazy and appalling," said Robert Greenstein, president of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD, the ranking Democrat on the House Budget Committee, said: "They are going to be doubling down on a budget that slashes investment in education and infrastructure, violates important commitments to our seniors and the middle class, and keeps tax breaks for the wealthiest people in the country. Doubling down on that is not just a mistake for the country but also bad politics."

Despite all of those doubts, the House Republican leadership remains unfazed and undeterred. Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan plans to present the new budget plan this week and put it to a vote in the House before the Easter break.

As we can see, the new Ryan plan is even more regressive and extreme than the original Ryan plan. Boehner and Ryan's determination to ram this budget through the House before Easter break sets up a real test for Nebraska's House Republicans. Will Fortenberry, Terry and Smith vote once again to end Medicare as we know it and cost seniors thousands of dollars in additional medical expenses?

The latest version of the Ryan plan also presents a big test for Senator Deb Fischer. Last year, Fischer surprised many Nebraskans when she came out against the original Ryan plan in the first debate with Bob Kerrey. Will Fischer keep this promise she made to senior citizens or will she will vote with her party's leadership and break this promise? Thus far, Fischer has shown no independent leadership and has voted with the right wing of her party. For example, she broke two promises not to filibuster the Chuck Hagel nomination and voted not to grant an up or down vote to a Secretary of Defense nominee during a time of war.

As Nebraska Democrats, we need to make calls to our elected representatives and request that they vote against this extreme plan that will gut Medicare and maintain tax breaks for the wealthy. We also need to request our relatives and friends to do the same. My educated guess is that if Nebraskans knew what was in this plan, most of them would oppose it. If we can succeed in even pealing off one vote, it may make the difference between the Ryan plan passing or being rejected. We can make a difference!


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Rebutting Right Wing Zombie Lies

We now live in an era where disinformation is spewed out by the Right Wing Media 24/7. Millions of Americans get most (or all) of their news from the Right Wing Media and as a result, they are very poorly informed. For example, polling reveals that a much higher percentage of Fox viewers believe that we found WMDs in Iraq when we didn't find any.

The presence and influence of the Conservative Media has led to a number of very influential Right Wing Zombie lies. The GOP has also been complicit in spreading these lies because they know that their agenda is very unpopular with a majority of the American people. They know they have to cloak their genuine beliefs with Right Wing Zombie lies in order to win elections.

I'm going to take a swing at rebutting some of the more prominent lies but I must confess rebutting Right Wing Zombie lies is a full time job. Here we go.

1. Tax cuts pay for themselves.

Because most of the GOP tax cuts go to the wealthy, right wingers have to justify this by telling people that these tax cuts don't cost them anything and are a free lunch. However, the empirical evidence certainly doesn't back up this claim.

The GOP aligned Heritage Foundation (a source frequently relied upon by the GOP) in a 2006 analysis of extending the 2001 and 2003 Bush tax cuts estimated that only 30 percent of the gross revenue loss would be recouped through increased economic activity generated by the tax cuts.

Even the architects of the Bush tax cuts don't believe that they pay for themselves. Robert Carroll, a U.S. Treasury Department official during Bush's second term said: "As a matter of principle, we do not think tax cuts pay for themselves." On September 28, 2006, Stanford economist Edward Lazear, chairman of the CEA in Bush's second term, testified before the Senate Budget Committee: "Will the tax cuts pay for themselves? As a general rule, we do not think tax cuts pay for themselves. Certainly, the not support this claim."

It should also be noted that federal tax revenues declined from 21% of GDP in 2000 to 15% of GDP by the time Bush left office in early 2009. At the same time, federal spending as a percentage of GDP increased from 18% to 24%. It's pretty obvious that Bush ushered in a new era of huge deficits.

2. Conservative Republicans support small or limited government.

The reality is that the GOP supports big government and isn't afraid to use the power of government to achieve its political and economic goals. The GOP has used big government to limit the most sacred right of all - the right to vote. In many of the battleground states like Florida and Pennsylvania, GOP controlled governments passed voter suppression laws that required government identification to vote, and placed severe limits on early voting and voter registration drives.

This tells us that the GOP knows that they can't win an election on the merits in swing states - they have to change the rules to make it harder for Democrats to vote. However, these voter suppression laws backfired on the GOP in 2012 and made minority voters impacted by these laws even more determined to vote. Millions of voters waited in lines for hours last year to cast their vote for President Obama and the Democratic ticket. This backlash probably caused Romney to lose Florida.

The Republicans have also used big government to break up voluntary organizations of citizens like public sector unions. This was an obvious political strategy by the GOP to make it harder for unions to turn out voters and contribute to Democratic candidates.

Imagine the outrage from the GOP if some Democratic controlled government in a blue state made it harder for corporations to contribute to GOP aligned Super PACs? We would be hearing all kinds of screaming from the GOP about an assault on "liberty, "freedom," or the "Constitution."

Conservatives also believe that government should make reproductive health care decisions for women and their doctors. Moreover, these same so-called "small government" conservatives support legislation that would make it so that employers would be free to decide whether to cover contraception for their employees. Apparently, the GOP's idea of freedom of choice doesn't extend to all Americans - just to those who do the hiring. The GOP doesn't believe in freedom for individuals - they only believe in freedom for businesses.

The only people in America who get the "benefit" of the conservatives' so-called "limited government" philosophy are the wealthy and the large corporations who receive tax breaks and deregulation.

3. Right Wingers are fiscal conservatives.

Dwight D. Eisenhower was the last Republican President to balance the budget back during the 1950s. Republican icon Ronald Reagan tripled the national debt during his Presidency due to tax cuts and a defense spending spree.

More recently, George W. Bush doubled the national debt during his Presidency. The nation's fiscal situation took the biggest turn for the worse in its history during the Bush Administration. Bush squandered President Clinton's hard won annual $238 billion surplus by turning it into a yearly $1.3 trillion deficit by the time he left office in early 2009.

The Republicans have been talking a good game on the deficit beginning as of high noon on January 20, 2009 but as we Democrats know, it's only credible if you have amnesia. The reality is that conservatives only "care" about the deficit when we have a Democratic President. In addition, Republicans use their faux concern about the deficit as a weapon in their attempt to reduce spending on programs they oppose like Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. Modern history demonstrates that then a Republican occupies the White House, it's "Katy bar the door" when it comes to spending.

4. President Obama blew up the deficit with a big spending spree.

One of the misleading claims you hear from the Right is that Obama blew up the deficit. They make the false claim that President Obama increased the annual deficit from $450 billion to $1.3 trillion. In reality, the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office said that Obama inherited an annual deficit of $1.3 trillion from the Bush Administration.

What they don't tell you that President Obama is the smallest government spender since Eisenhower. Since Obama took office, federal spending has grown at an annual rate of 1.4%. In contrast, federal spending grew 7.7% during the Presidency of George W. Bush and nearly 7% per year during the Reagan Presidency. Spending grew 3.5% during the Clinton Presidency.

Since Obama has taken office, the deficit has declined from the $1.3 trillion annual deficit he inherited from Bush in 2009 to $845 billion in 2013. The budget deficit has declined from 10% of GDP when Obama took office, to 5.5% of GDP in 2013. That is the biggest decline in the deficit since the country demobilized in the late 1940s after World War II.

There are so many Right Wing Zombie lies, I could write a Russian novel about them but I took the opportunity to rebut some of the most pernicious ones. The next time you are at a cocktail party and one of your Republican friends says "of course tax cuts pay for themselves," you will be ready with a quick and accurate rebuttal.

The major rationale for most of these Zombie Lies is to obscure the true agenda of the conservative movement and the Republican Party. The GOP and movement conservatives know that billionaires, oil companies, insurance companies and Wall Street aren't very popular. That requires them to cloak their platform in Zombie Lies.



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Nebraska Democrats Well Positioned To Win Key Races in 2014

Senator Mike Johanns shocked the political world when he recently announced that he wasn't going to seek re-election to his Senate seat in 2014. Once again, this was yet another surprise development on the Nebraska political scene. As we all know, Rick Sheehy recently resigned his position as Lieutenant Governor and pulled out of the Governor's race. To paraphrase State Party Chair Vince Powers: You know Nebraska, if you don't like the weather or the Republican candidates for governor or the Senate, just wait 24 hours.

All of these surprises occurred against the backdrop of Nebraskans continuing to suffer from the consequences of prolonged, one party rule by the Republicans. Governor Dave Heineman withdrew his risky and regressive tax scheme that would've raised taxes on 80% of Nebraskans by assessing new sales taxes on senior citizens, the ill, farmers and college students.

Nebraska State Auditor Mike Foley discovered that the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services wrote off $1.8 million in grants that could have been collected from the federal government. "For five whole years, the federal money was literally there for the asking," Foley said in a press release. "All the state needed to do was to file a timely request for reimbursement. As a result, the citizens of Nebraska paid the price for those glaring errors, this time to the tune of roughly $2 million."

New revelations about the center piece of Governor Heineman's economic program - the Nebraska Advantage Act - indicated that the cost of each job allegedly created by that law's economic development incentives in 2011 ranged from about $43,000.00 to nearly $235,000.00. At the same time, the Legislative Audit Office could not say whether the incentive programs are working because it's difficult to say whether investments and jobs would have occurred without incentives.
Due to the incompetence of Republican elected officials, the Nebraska Democratic party has a real opportunity to win some of the key races in next year's elections. We are blessed with a deep bench of well qualified candidates who have impressive records of accomplishment in public office.

Lincoln Mayor Chris Beutler has indicated he might be interested in running for Governor. Beutler has an enviable record of achievement. Lincoln is considered to be one of the best managed cities in the country and the Lincoln economy is doing well thanks to Mayor Beutler's leadership. The construction of the Pinnacle Bank Arena and other projects have contributed to Lincoln's low unemployment rate of

State Senator Steve Lathrop has an equally impressive record in the Unicameral. Since his election in 2006, Lathrop has crafted compromises on stem cell research and the Commission on Industrial Relations. Lathrop has also been instrumental in reviving the once dysfunctional Beatrice State Developmental Center as the chair of the committee tasked with overseeing that institution.

Former UNL Regent Chuck Hassebrook would also be a strong candidate and an excellent governor or U.S. Senator. Hassebrook is the head of the Center for Rural Affairs and he has shown an ability to win elections in rural and Republican leaning areas.

State Senator Annette Dubas also shown an ability to win elections in rural areas where the Democratic Party has had a hard time winning races. As a State Senator, Dubas was instrumental in re-routing the Keystone XL pipeline away from the environmentally sensitive Sandhills area. In addition, she would have a strong appeal to female voters.

This listing of potential Democratic candidates for Governor and the U.S. Senate is in no way exhaustive or comprehensive. I know that we have other good potential candidates who may want to compete for these elective offices.

On the other hand, the announced and potential Republican candidates are deeply flawed. State Senator Charlie Janssen has already announced he is running for governor. Unfortunately, Janssen is a bit of a kook who believes that the U.N. Agenda 21 threatens national and state sovereignty and private land rights - even though it's been supported by both Republican and Democratic administrations and does
not have the force of law in the United States. Incidentally, this Agenda 21 conspiracy theory originated from a Glenn Beck novel.

State Senator Beau McCoy has indicated an interest in running for governor. However, any McCoy candidacy will be hampered by his co-sponsorship of Heineman's tax scheme that would finance a tax cut for the top 20% of income earners by raising taxes on 80% of Nebraskans.

Long time 1st District Congressman Jeff Fortenberry has said that he may be interested in seeking the Senate seat being vacated by Johanns. However, one of the right wing PACs that supported Stenberg in 2012 and blasted Jon Bruning with millions of dollars in negative ads has said that they would oppose Fortenberry. This PAC has alleged that Fortenberry is too "liberal" and they will go after him if he should
throw his hat in the ring.

There has even been speculation that Bruning and Don Stenberg may run for the Senate. Bruning lost the 2012 primary due to all of the unanswered questions about the vast amount of wealth he accumulated in a very short time on a government salary. Those questions aren't going away. And Stenberg has already lost four bids for the U.S. Senate.

All things considered, 2014 shapes up to be a very good year for the Nebraska Democratic Party and its candidates. We have a potential field of candidates with a long record of accomplishments. In contrast, the Republicans have a record of incompetence caused by being in power too long and a flawed set of candidates.

The 2014 election cycle presents a real opportunity for our candidates to step up and win some important races. We may be outspent by the Republicans and their billionaire allies but we won't be out worked by
them. We need to tell the voters of Nebraska that's it time to vote Democratic for a change in 2014.


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Republicans Have Threatened To Hurt The Economy Unless There Are Huge Cuts To Social Security And Medicare.

We are now on the verge of yet another manufactured crisis. We barely avoided two previous manufactured crises when the Republicans made a deal on the fiscal cliff and agreed to a short term extension of the debt limit. The latest manufactured crisis is the sequester or automatic spending cuts that will take effect on March 1, 2013. How did we get here? What would be the impact of the cuts? Who has offered a plan to deal with the sequester?

The origin of the sequester was the 2011 debt ceiling bill. In early 2011, the GOP threatened to hurt the economy and default on the country's obligations unless President Obama agreed to deep spending cuts. The GOP's threats hurt consumer confidence and caused the U.S. to lose its prized triple A credit rating for the first time in its history.

The 2011 debt ceiling bill contains $1 trillion in automatic spending cuts over the next 10 years. Half of the spending cuts will be in domestic spending and half of the cuts will be to the defense budget. Social Security and Medicare were exempted from the automatic cuts.

Recently, the Republicans have been trying to blame Obama for these automatic spending cuts. Once again, the GOP is counting on amnesia from the press and the voters. The reality is that McConnell, Boehner, Cantor and Ryan all voted for the automatic spending cuts in 2011. At the time, Boehner bragged he got 98% of what he wanted and that he was happy with the result.

All four Republican members of Nebraska's Congressional delegation voted for the sequester in 2011. Johanns, Fortenberry, Terry and Smith are all on record as voting in favor of the automatic spending cuts. Senator Ben Nelson was the only member of the Nebraska Congressional delegation to vote no. (I miss Ben Nelson.)

If the sequester were to take place, there would be $85 billion in automatic spending cuts during the rest of the year. Unfortunately, those automatic spending cuts would hurt the economy and possibly cause a double dip recession.

According to a 2012 study by George Mason University Professor Stephen Fuller, the automatic spending cuts affecting Department of Defense and non-Department of Defense discretionary spending would: reduce the nation's GDP by $215 billion, increase national unemployment by 1.5 percent, and cost the U.S. economy 2.14 million jobs. The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office indicated that growth would be about 1.5 percentage points faster in 2013 if not for fiscal tightening including the sequester.

President Obama and the Senate Democrat have both offered responsible plans to shut off the sequester and prevent another recession. In the fall of 2011, the President put forward a proposal to resolve the sequester and reduce our deficit by over $4 trillion dollars in a balanced way - by cutting spending, finding savings in entitlement programs and asking the wealthiest to pay their fair share. That proposal would have completely turned off the sequester while further reducing our deficit and ensuring we could still invest in the things we need to grow our economy and create jobs. That same approach was presented to Congress in the President's budget last year. And the President's last offer to Speaker Boehner in December remains on the table - an offer that meets the Republicans halfway on spending and on revenues, and would permanently turn off the sequester and put us on a fiscally sustainable path.

Senate Democrats recently proposed a plan to put off dramatic cuts to the Defense Department and a host of popular government programs until next January. Democrats agreed on an approximately $110 billion package - half tax increases and half spending cuts. Unfortunately, in its current form, the Democrats' plan is likely a nonstarter. Before the details were even announced, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell dismissed it as "a total waste of time."

Late last week, House Speaker John Boehner announced the GOP's "plan" for the sequester: "The sequester will be in effect until there are cuts and reforms that put us on a path to balance the budget in the next 10 years." So, Boehner says House Republicans are not only willing to let the sequester hit, but that the only acceptable replacement for it will be a plan that eliminates the deficit in 10 years - all without revenues.

The House plan to wipe out the deficit in ten years without any new revenues would result in large cuts to Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and defense. The reality is that after we pay the interest
on the national debt, approximately 66% of federal spending goes for Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and defense. We can't simultaneously balance the budget in ten years without any new revenues and not make big cuts to these programs. The math simply doesn't work.

The House Republicans added insult to injury by voting to adjourn for 9 day recess, leaving only 4 legislative days left to avert the sequester. All of the House Democrats voted against going on vacation. What that means then is that the Republicans will allow the economy to go into a recession unless the Democrats agree to big cuts in Social Security, Medicare and defense during the four day time frame before March 1, 2013.

The Republican position on the sequester is reckless and deeply irresponsible. Unlike President Obama and the Democrats, the GOP hasn't offered up a realistic plan and then they left town to go on another vacation.

We Nebraska Democrats need to get the message out that our party has the only responsible plan to avoid another recession. The Republican plan would hurt senior citizens and the middle class, as well as weaken our national security posture during a time of war. We should demand that our Congressional representatives cut short their vacations and return to Washington to do their job.



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Spotlight on the State Senators - Senator Annette Dubas & LB530

By Melissa West

Senator Annette Dubas, who is originally from the town of Fullerton, NE, currently represents the people of 34th legislative district. Before serving in our legislature, Senator Dubas served on the Fullerton Public School Board for ten years and chaired the Nance County Planning and Zoning Commission for six years.  Being a mother of four, Senator Dubas understands the need for children to be raised in a loving family structure and a good home, even when their own parents cannot provide this for them, so she has created Legislative Bill 530.

LB530  addresses foster care reimbursement rates, and Senator Dubas has been working on this issue for several years. In Nebraska, we are currently paying our foster parents among the lowest rates in the nation; our average is around ten dollars per day. Last year, our legislature formed a committee (as a part of the package of child welfare bills that were passed) that researched and studied a variety of reports about childcare and foster homes in our nation. The committee came back with the information that in order for foster parents to adequately provide for their foster children, they should receive around $20 per day if their foster child is 0-5 years old, $23 per day if the child is 6-11 years old, and $25 per day if the child is 12-18 years old. The current rates indicate that the foster parents of Nebraska are short around $10-15 per day in their budget, and must draw this extra care money from their own budgets. As wonderful as it is that these parents are willing to do so, the rates may be a reason we don’t have more families willing to help foster children. If it is too costly for most families on an average budget,  do the children in our state lose out?.

Children with special needs often require more care and therefore have a hard time finding families to help raise them and care for them. LB530 will also create a statewide assessment tool to evaluate the children who have special needs and then pay the foster parents not based on the child’s needs but on what the foster parents’ abilities are in addressing those needs.  Hopefully that will help place children with higher needs in homes that have the capabilities to take care of the children.

No parent wants to worry that his or her child, or any child for that matter, is not getting the care or love they need to grow and be successful in the future. If we can help families properly care for the children they want to foster, or better yet make it more affordable for parents to take in foster children, then more kids in Nebraska would get the family structure and home that they deserve.

To help ensure that every child in Nebraska has a better chance of ending up in a loving home, surrounded by people who will support them and raise them, contact your representative and tell them about your support for LB530.





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We Are The Party Of The People

I have had the pleasure of reading "Big Jim Exon," by Chuck Pallesen and Sam Van Pelt. A prescient quote from Senator Exon back in 1981 really caught my attention: "The intent of the Republican hierarchy in Nebraska is that being a Democrat in Nebraska is akin to having an unacceptable social disease. It is political quackery of the first order but it sells well in some quarters in Nebraska, and some politicians have turned such tactics into a successful political career. It is based, of course, on the theory of Darth Vader, that if you hate enough to send the very best to do your self-serving power goals, reason and thoughtfulness are of little importance."

The problem that Exon identified over thirty years ago, has only been amplified in the last fifteen years. We now have a very lucrative industry that is devoted to demonizing Democrats 24 hours a day and 7 days a week. The Right Wing Media isn't really a legitimate source of news. Instead, it's a bunch of entertainers whose goal is drive up ratings by keeping the GOP base in a constant state of outrage.

Obviously, the right wing media is a real problem for us Democrats - especially in the rural areas. It's time that we get our message out and let the voters know about our accomplishments and what we truly stand for.

We Democrats have every reason to be proud of our party and what we have accomplished over the years. We are the party of Social Security and Medicare. These successful programs have reduced poverty among the elderly from 50% to 10% since their inception.

The conservative wing of the GOP has always hated Social Security and Medicare because these programs rebut their core ideological belief that government is always a failure. Johanns, Fortenberry, Terry and Smith are all on record in favor of privatizing Medicare and turning it into a voucher program. The extreme changes these Nebraska Republicans favor would cost senior citizens an additional $6,000.00 per year in out of pocket medical expenses.

Congressman Lee Terry has been a consistent supporter of Social Security privatization. Terry would like to turn over senior citizens' retirement money to Wall Street and have them invest it in the stock market. If Mr. Terry and then President Bush had gotten their way back in 2005, America's senior citizens would've been devastated by the stock market crash of 2008.

We are the party of Obama Care. Beginning in 2014, an additional 30 million Americans will have health insurance and access to affordable, decent health care.

Obama Care is already working. Older Americans and people with disabilities are now paying less for their prescription drugs under Medicare. According to a report issued Thursday by the Obama administration, Obama Care has saved 6.1 million people more than $5.7 billion. In addition, 6.6 million young people are now covered by health insurance since they have signed up for coverage through their parents' health insurance plans.

The Nebraska Congressional delegation would like to repeal Obama Care in it's entirety. Apparently, they would prefer to see the pharmaceutical industry keep the $5.7 billion and strip over 6 million young people of their health insurance coverage.

The Democrats are the party of fiscal responsibility. President Bill Clinton's 1993 budget package converted what was then the largest budget deficit in American history to the largest surplus. Under President Obama, the deficit has declined from the $1.4 trillion he inherited from Bush in 2009 to $845 billion in 2013. The budget deficit has declined from 10% of GDP when Obama took office, to 6% of GDP in 2013.

On the other hand, Republican icon Ronald Reagan tripled the national debt during his Presidency and George W. Bush doubled the national debt during his eight years in office. The last Republican President to balance the budget was Dwight Eisenhower during the 1950s.

We are the party of prosperity. A report last year from Bloomberg News Services shows that since John F. Kennedy took office in January 1961, non-government payrolls in the U.S. increased by almost 42 million jobs under Democrats, compared with 24 million for Republican presidents, according to Labor Department figures. Democrats hold the edge even though they occupied the Oval Office for 23 years since Kennedy's inauguration, compared with 28 for the Republicans. Through April 2012, Democratic presidents accounted for an average of 150,000 additional private-sector paychecks per month over that period, more than double the 71,000 average for Republicans.

The Democrats are the party of national security. President Obama was the President who finally brought Osama Bin Laden to justice. Shortly after he took office, President Obama directed the CIA to make the killing or capture of Bin Laden a top priority.

The entertainers in the Right Wing Media would lead you to believe that somehow former President Bush should take credit for taking out Osama Bin Laden. I would remind these entertainers that history doesn't begin when they take the podium. In December 2001, the Bush Administration's failed strategy allowed Bin Laden to escape from the battle of Tora Bora.

After the failure at Tora Bora, George W. Bush didn't make the killing of OBL a high priority. On March 13, 2002, George W. Bush said of bin Laden, "I truly am not that concerned about him." Subsequently, in July 2006, the Bush administration closed its unit that had been hunting bin Laden. In September 2006, Bush told Fred Barnes that an "emphasis on bin Laden doesn't fit with the administration's strategy for combating terrorism."

The Democratic Party is best suited to govern America and Nebraska because our ideas are superior to those of the GOP. We believe that government isn't the solution to all of our problems. We also believe that the free market isn't the solution to all of our problems. The free market does a lot of things well but it does a poor job of providing retirement and health care security. We believe in a combination of government and free market solutions to our problems.

Conservative ideology is intellectually bankrupt and doomed to fail because it's hard to craft a governing agenda when your ideology is based on hostility to government. Over the last thirty years, the GOP has embraced an ideology which sees government as wasteful, inefficient, and incapable of doing anything for ordinary Americans.

If the Republican Party has left itself any space for embracing constructive governing solutions, it's hard to find.

We need to get our message out loud and clear. The Democratic Party is ready to govern and to improve the lives of all Americans. We are the party of the people because the wealthy are already represented by the GOP and the conservative movement.

"Big Jim Exon," by Chuck Pallesen and Sam Van Pelt may be purchased at the Landmark Store at the Nebraska State Capitol at 1-800-833-6747 or 402-471-3447.



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Spotlight on the State Senators - Senator Ken Haar & LB583

By Melissa West

Ken Haar is a state senator from District 21, elected in both 2008 and 2012. Ken Haar has been a teacher in our community, a consultant for the National Arbor Day Foundation, and has been a part of the Natural Resources Legislative Committee. Haar is well known for his work on helping protect the Nebraska Sandhills and Ogallala Aquifer by rerouting the proposed pipeline, and is also known for his passion to keep our state clean and our standard of living at a high level. This is why Ken Haar has introduced Legistlative Bill 583.

As Nebraskans, we need to be able to not only prepare for extreme weather conditions, but we also need to have a plan for assessing and handling issues if they were to arise.  Senator Ken Haar has created Legislative Bill 583 in order to form a Climate Assessment Response Committee for the state of Nebraska, which would help ensure that our state does not suffer in the ways that it did last year.

In 2012, Nebraska was hit by an extreme drought that was labeled one of the worst droughts in our nations history. By August, our rivers were easily described as “sand volleyball courts” more than they could be described as sources of water. Extreme conditions led to the loss of agricultural output, the deterioration of livestock supply, and the deaths of many deer and a huge number of endangered fish that survive off Nebraska waters. In August, during the middle of our extreme crisis, congress left for a five-week break without first agreeing on aid to help Nebraska ranchers.

If another drought falls on Nebraska we need to be prepared to act, not to wait for congress to make an untimely decision for us. The Climate Assessment Response Committee will meet at least twice a year, more often if called upon by the members, or during a period of drought or other severe climate situations. The committee will collect data about drought and other severe climate conditions, and provide information relevant to requests for federal disaster declarations in order to gain faster access to federal funds in cases of emergency. It will also provide an organizational structure for the flow of information, funds, and duties of the state and its agencies to respond to such climate disasters.

To ensure that the ranchers in our state never again have to make calls for help that go unanswered, contact your representative and tell them you support LB583.

Image design courtesy of Phil Montag




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The Nebraska GOP's one party rule has created a culture of incompetence, corruption & entitlement in the GOP's officeholders

The Nebraska political world was shocked by Lieutenant Governor Rick Sheehy's resignation on February 2, 2013. Up until then, Sheehy was the prohibitive favorite to win the GOP gubernatorial nomination in 2014. Instead, Sheehy was felled by a scandal in which he made about 2,000 late-night telephone calls to some women on his state-issued cell phone. Unfortunately, Sheehy's indiscretion wasn't some isolated incident. It is all part of a pattern of incompetence and corruption within today's Nebraska Republican Party.

The scandal surrounding Lt. Gov Rick Sheehy is just the tip of the iceberg. It provides more evidence that we've had one party rule in Nebraska for too long. It has created a culture of incompetence, corruption & entitlement in the Nebraska GOP's officeholders. As Nebraska Democratic Party Chair Vince Powers said about Sheehy's resignation: "This doesn't change anything, other than it really demonstrates that when you have one party in power for too long, arrogance and corruption and scandal follow it. It doesn't matter if it's Democrats in power or Republicans in power."

This culture of corruption, sense of entitlement and incompetence has manifested itself in many ways over the last ten years. Of course, we have the myriad of policy failures of the Heineman Administration. The Heineman Administration badly neglected the Beatrice State Developmental Center and allowed this once model facility to fall into disarray. Due to Heineman's incompetence, our most helpless and powerless citizens were harmed and the state lost $25 million in federal funding in 2009. Another significant failure of the Heineman Administration was its botched scheme to privatize child welfare services across the state. These are the kinds of things that happen if one party controls the Governor's Mansion and Legislature for too long.

Nebraska Attorney General and failed U.S. Senate candidate Jon Bruning is the poster child for the Nebraska GOP's culture of corruption.

Even though Mr. Bruning has been on a government salary nearly his entire professional life, he has somehow amassed a net worth in the tens of millions of dollars. It's pretty obvious that Bruning has exploited his office for vast private financial gain.

Because Bruning has been A.G. for around 10 years and has faced little opposition, he has developed an entitlement mentality that led him to believe that he could get away with exploiting his public office to make a lot of money for himself. In contrast to most of the Nebraska Republicans, Bruning actually faced an accountability moment in May 2012 and lost the U.S. Senate primary to Deb Fischer.

The Nebraska GOP's arrogance can also be found in Heineman's risky tax scheme that would eliminate all income and corporate taxes and replace the lost revenue by increasing sales taxes on senior citizens, the ill, college students, small business owners and farmers. Only a sense of over confidence and complacency instigated by ten years of one party rule would compel Heineman and his allies in the Legislature to come up with such an extreme and regressive tax scheme.

According to the Open Sky Policy Institute, Heineman's tax plan would result in tax increases for the lower 80 percent of wage earners.

At the same time, taxes for people in the top 20 percent would go down. For example, under the Governor's plan, taxes would go up by an average of $631 a year for people earning less than $21,000 per year. In contrast, taxes would go down by an average of $4,851 under the Heineman plan for people earning $91,000 and more.

The only real solution to the problems created by one party rule is elect a Democrat as Governor to act as a check and balance on the Republicans in the Legislature. We potentially have a field of strong and accomplished candidates who are considering entering the gubernatorial race. Former UNL Regent Chuck Hassebrook and State Senator Steve Lathrop are both considering throwing their hat in the ring. Party activists are trying to convince State Senator Annette Dubas to enter the race.

The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. If the Republicans are returned to power in Nebraska in 2014, this cycle of corruption and incompetence will only continue to the detriment of most of Nebraska's citizens.

The only way to break this cycle of abuse of power by the Nebraska Republican party is to elect a Democratic Governor and more Democratic State Senators. Our message needs to be: Vote Democratic in 2014 for a change.


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