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Ben Sasse And Kay Orr Throw Donald Trump Under The Bus

A few months ago I wrote a piece which correctly pointed out that no prominent Nebraska Republicans were willing to denounce or otherwise stand up to Donald Trump's racism and xenophobia.  At the time, the conventional wisdom was that it was just a matter of time until Donald Trump imploded and he dropped out of the race.  

As it has turned out, Trump has won twelve primaries and is the runaway GOP front runner for the Presidency.  Only Ted Cruz stands between Trump and the GOP nomination.  What we have on the GOP side this year is the spectacle of the most disliked man in America competing for the nomination against the most hated member of Congress. 

The GOP establishment has  become deeply alarmed at this state of affairs in their party.  Since Trump has emerged as the odds on favorite to win the nomination, the GOP establishment has begun to spend millions of dollars in negative ads attacking the reality show star.  Moreover, 2012 GOP nominee Mitt Romney gave a speech denouncing Trump as a "phony" and a "fraud."  (What Romney didn't mention was that in 2012, he was delighted to have Trump's endorsement.)

This growing sense of panic among the establishment GOP has recently found it's way to Nebraska.  Freshman Senator Ben Sasse was one of the first Republican members of Congress to declare that he won't support Trump if he is the GOP nominee this fall.  Sasse criticized Trump for not being a true conservative and for playing "race baiting games."  Sasse went so far as to say that he would potentially support a third party candidate if Trump should win the GOP nomination.  

In response to Sasse's threat to walk away from the GOP in the general election, an online group emerged aiming to draft Nebraska's junior Senator to make the third party bid against Trump.  Sasse quickly stated he had no intention of running for President this year.  However, Sasse has campaigned for other GOP Presidential candidates in Iowa and New Hampshire earlier this year.  There is speculation that Sasse may be setting himself up to run for President in 2020.  

Sasse was joined in his opposition to Trump by former Governor Kay Orr.  In an op-ed piece, Orr correctly pointed out that: "Donald Trump has repeatedly boasted about his infidelity. He has repeatedly disparaged numerous Americans for their looks, and he recently mocked a journalist with a disability. This vile behavior is unbecoming of any president — regardless of party affiliation."  Orr went on to contend that Trump isn't a real conservative and that he lacks the requisite character to serve as President.

Orr's decision to ditch Trump is a big deal for Nebraska Republicans.  The former Governor is highly respected in the Nebraska GOP and is revered as an elder stateswoman.  In 2014, Orr hit the trifecta in the GOP primary cycle when she endorsed Ben Sasse, Pete Ricketts and Doug Peterson.  

I fully expect other Republicans both in Nebraska and outside of our state to dump Trump if he should be the nominee.  The prominent Republicans who are refusing to support Trump aren't acting out of any sense of principle.  Instead, they can see that Trump isn't electable and has the potential to cost the GOP the White House and the U.S. Senate.  If Trump was leading Clinton and Sanders in the polls, Republicans would swallow their doubts about him and support him full stop.  

This deep split in the GOP portends well for our eventual Presidential nominee.  Parties that have deep divisions rarely win Presidential general elections.  This current cycle reminds me of 1964 when Barry Goldwater was routed by LBJ.  In 1964, Goldwater ran as an extremist and lost the support of many prominent moderate Republicans like then New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller.  

I'm feeling increasingly confident that the Democratic Party will have a successful cycle both here in Nebraska and nationally.  Nevertheless, we can take nothing for granted.  The prospect of a Trump Presidency and a GOP controlled Congress is frightening.  Despite Trump's differences on some issues with many in his party, he still supports a huge deficit financed tax cut for the wealthy and sending U.S. ground troops to Iraq and Syria.  We must do everything in our power to elect a Democrat the 45th President of the U.S.  

I want to use this space to thank everybody who participated in our recent Presidential caucuses.  It was a huge success.  Both Clinton and Sanders had paid staff in Nebraska for the last several weeks.  We also received campaign stops from Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, Bill Clinton and Chelsea Clinton.  It is a great time to be a Nebraska Democrat! 

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Why Does The GOP Have Any Credibility?

Over the last twenty five years, prominent Republicans have gotten into the habit of making predictions that turn out to be wildly erroneous and well off the mark.  If the Oval Office is occupied by a Democrat, the GOP predicts that President's policies will ruin the country. On the other hand, if a Republican is President, everything will turn out to be sunshine and roses without any costs to anybody, ever.  

I wrote a piece on June 25, 2013 titled: "The GOP And Their Cracked Crystal Ball" which covered the Republicans' erroneous predictions during the Clinton and Bush43 Administrations.  There were a lot of them.  You can find it here: 

I'm writing this piece to update that previous piece and to let our readers know that the habit of the GOP of making ludicrous doom and gloom predictions about a Democratic Presidents' policies has carried over to the Obama Administration.  

At the time he was inaugurated on January 20, 2009, President Obama inherited the worst economic situation since Franklin Roosevelt took office in 1933.  The economy was losing 800,000 jobs per month, GDP had shrunk nearly 9% in the last quarter of 2008, and the Dow Jones had slumped to around 6,500.  The U.S. domestic automobile industry was also on the verge of collapse when George W. Bush left office.

President Obama made the rescue of the U.S. economy his top priority when he took office.  He proposed and passed the 2009 Recovery Act which created or saved 1 to 3 million jobs.  It is the consensus of U.S. economists that the Recovery Act ended the deepest recession since the 1930s and ignited the current recovery which continues to this day.

The Obama Administration's rescue of the U.S. automobile industry was every bit as important as the Recovery Act.  At the time President Obama proposed to save the auto industry, every Republican predicted it would be a failure.  Then House GOP leader John Boehner prognosticated: “Does anyone really believe that politicians and bureaucrats in Washington can successfully steer a multi-national corporation to economic viability?”  Representative Trent Franks (R-AZ) contended that: "When government gets involved in a company, the disaster that follows is predictable.”  Not to be outdone in the ridiculous prediction department, Mitt Romney said we should: "Let Detroit go bankrupt" and we could “kiss the American automotive industry goodbye if the administration’s policy was implemented."

Once again, the Republican predictions of doom and gloom proved to be wrong.  President Obama's rescue of the auto industry has been a huge success.  The U.S. auto industry has been returned to profitability and experienced record breaking sales of cars by 2015.  If President Obama and the American people had listened to the likes of Boehner and Romney in 2009, we wouldn't have an auto industry and there would be Depression levels of unemployment in states like Michigan and Ohio.

In 2009, the Republicans weren't only wrong about the auto industry, they were equally wrong about the stock market.  In a now infamous editorial in the Washington Post on March 6, 2009, former George W. Bush economic adviser Michael Boskin argued that Obama's alleged "radicalism" was "killing the Dow" and that Obama's policies would cause a further stock market decline.  Only three days later, the Dow hit bottom and began to rise again. By  May 2015, the Dow reached an all time high of around 18,300.  Currently, the Dow is at 16,640.  It has been one of the greatest stock market rallies in U.S. history.  

The Republican pattern of apocalyptic predictions during Obama's first term probably reached it's peak during the Obama Care debate.   As we've discussed here before, John Boehner predicted that the health care law would cause "Armageddon" and "ruin the country."  Then candidate Ben Sasse fearlessly predicted in 2013 that the implementation of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) would cause America to "cease to exist."

As we should all know by now, those predictions of disaster for the ACA made by the Republicans couldn't have been more wrong.  Since the implementation of the ACA, 17 million Americans have been insured for the first time.  The uninsured rate has dropped from 18% to an all time low of 9%.  The economy has created jobs every month since the passage of the ACA in March 2010.  

During the 2012 election cycle, the Republicans once again made the mistake of getting into the prediction business.  Former House Speaker Newt Ginrich predicted that if President Obama were re-elected, gas prices would rise all the way to $10 per gallon.  GOP nominee Mitt Romney prognosticated that unemployment would remain stuck above 8%.  Current GOP Presidential front runner Donald Trump maintained that there would be a stock market crash and right wing entertainer Rush Limbaugh promised a general economic collapse if there was an Obama second term.  

The voters ignored those ridiculous GOP predictions about an Obama second term and the President was re-elected by a comfortable margin.  Shortly after his re-election, the Bush tax cuts of 2001 and 2003 were scheduled to expire.  Once again, just as in 1993, there was a raging debate about whether raising taxes on the wealthy would hurt the economy.   

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

As we've seen going back to 1993, these Republican predictions of doom and gloom about the consequences of Obama's re-election and raising taxes on the wealthy couldn't have been more silly.  Gasoline is now less than $2 per gallon over the U.S., unemployment has been cut in half to 4.9%, the Dow is now above 16,000 and the economy has creating over 200,000 jobs per month over the last three years.  It is the best economic performance since Bill Clinton's second term.  

It never ceases to amaze me that the press has never called the Republicans out on all of these ridiculous predictions of doom and gloom.  As Democrats, we need to remind the press and the voters that the GOP is invariably wrong.  The GOP is wrong because their policies simply don't work and the Republicans' belief in their policies is based entirely upon ideology. Recent, historical experience clearly proves that trickle down economics and pre-emptive ground wars in the Middle East inevitably fail.  

In 2016, the GOP is running on these same tired and failed policies.  They must be defeated or otherwise the country will be in serious trouble.  Let's hope the Republicans predict a landslide for their candidate this fall!  In any event, as Democrats we can't take anything for granted.  We must work hard to inform the voters and elect more Democrats.  I'm confident we will have a successful election cycle in 2016.  Now let's get it done!  


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Commit To Caucus On March 5

The national race between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders remains very competitive.  Thus far, Clinton has narrowly won contests in Iowa and Nevada, and Sanders won by a wide margin in New Hampshire.  I don't buy into the conventional wisdom that after Clinton's victory in Nevada that it's all over but the shouting.  Sanders has millions of dedicated supporters and he has been very successful in raising more than enough money to be competitive.  I anticipate this race will continue for longer than the conventional wisdom currently anticipates.

What that means is that the Nebraska caucuses on March 5 - like the inaugural 2008 caucuses - will have a significant impact on the overall direction of the race.  Already, both campaigns have had paid staff in Nebraska for the last few months.  Moreover, after the completion of the Iowa caucuses on February 1, the Clinton and Sanders campaigns reinforced the paid staffers that were already in Nebraska.  Both campaigns have opened offices in our state and their respective organizers are working hard to turn out the vote on March 5.  

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

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

At the present time, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders has posed a spirited and viable  challenge to Clinton's front runner status.  Sanders' populist message confronting the political and economic power of the top 1% has resonated with Democratic voters and attracted huge crowds to his rallies.  I would recommend to anybody who has a social media account to follow Senator Sanders.  On a daily basis, Sanders comes out with a powerful message regarding the trend of growing inequality in the U.S.  That message has allowed him to decisively defeat Clinton in New Hampshire and to come very close in Iowa and Nevada.

While our party has two excellent candidates, the GOP field is made up of a motley crew that resembles the cast of characters from the iconic bar room scene in the first Star Wars movie that came out in 1977.  The surprise front runner in the GOP field is businessman and reality TV show host Donald Trump.  The New York billionaire has had a checkered business career in which he has filed for bankruptcy at least four times.  On the campaign trail, Trump's demagoguery has set a new low in modern U.S. politics.   He has called Hispanics "rapists," said he would consider requiring Muslims in the U.S. to register in a database and would ban all Muslim travel to the U.S.

Trump represents what is currently wrong with the Republican Party.  The GOP has gone off the rails since the advent of the right wing media and the failure of the George W. Bush Administration.  Many of it's supporters are angry and have been radicalized by Fox News and AM radio.  The key to understanding Trump's appeal is that he sounds like a host on Fox or AM radio.  He is an obnoxious and opinionated individual with a penchant for name calling.  The GOP base has marinated in that kind of nonsense and hatred for the last quarter century.   

Trump's two major competitors - Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio - aren't any better than the GOP front runner.  Cruz is a one term Senator with no accomplishments and is hated by just about everybody in Washington, D.C.  Moreover, Cruz has proposed a 19% national sales tax that would partially finance a big tax cut for the wealthy.  Even with the new revenues from the regressive sales tax, Cruz's tax plan would add nearly $4 trillion to the national debt.

Florida U.S. Senator Marco Rubio is the other viable Republican Presidential contender.  Rubio is a callow young man with no accomplishments in public life who also has a history of personal financial problems and ethical issues.  In 2014, Rubio cashed out a 401K to purchase a speed boat and pay off some personal expenses.  While Rubio served in the Florida legislature, he put thousands of dollars of personal expenses on a Florida GOP Party credit card.  Like Cruz, Rubio's tax proposal would borrow trillions of dollars to provide the wealthy with a big tax cut.  

To put it bluntly, the Republican field of Presidential candidates is dangerous.  If a Republican President is elected along with a GOP majority Congress, the country will be in serious trouble.  Any one of these Republican candidates - if elected President - would blow up the deficit with huge tax cuts for the wealthy and send U.S. ground troops to Iraq and Syria.  What that means is that we must elect a Democratic President in 2016.  Whether the nominee is Clinton or Sanders, we Democrats must unite behind our nominee and work to hard to send them to the White House.  

A good start to electing a Democratic President in 2016 would be participate in the Nebraska caucuses on March 5.  Any person who is eligible to vote in the State of Nebraska and will be at least 18 years old on Election Day, November 8, 2016, may participate in the Nebraska Caucuses on March 5, 2016. You must be registered as a Democrat or register at the Caucus as a Democrat.

The Nebraska Democratic Presidential caucus will take place on March 5 between 10 AM CST, 9 AM MST and 8 PM CST, 7 PM MST.  Each county will set the time and place of their County Caucus.  You can find the time and location of your caucus site at this link:

If you can't attend the caucus in person, you can submit an absentee ballot by mail.  (Nebraska is the only caucus state with an absentee ballot procedure.) This Wednesday, February 24th, is the deadline to submit a request to caucus by absentee ballot to the Nebraska Democratic Party.  All requests must be delivered to the Nebraska Democratic Party office in Lincoln by close of business, 5:00PM on February 24th. 

We here at the Nebraska Democratic Party are committed to providing all participants with a rewarding experience.   We want to have a civil, open and transparent process.  We promise an accurate and speedy counting of the votes.  If you should have any questions or concerns, please feel free to contact our office in Lincoln or any of our party officers.  We hope to see you on March 5! 

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Supreme Court Vacancy Raises The Stakes

The unexpected death of long time Associate Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia has shocked the political and legal world.  All who knew Justice Scalia - notwithstanding their differences of opinion on legal and political issues - said he was a good man and good friend.  Liberal icon Ruth Bader Ginsburg was counted among Scalia's closest friends.  Dave Domina expressed those sentiments towards Scalia very well in a tweet: "Sincere condolences to family of Justice Scalia.  May fond memories replace the grief of loss."

While Scalia was a good family man and friend, he did leave behind a controversial and complex legacy at the Supreme Court.  Scalia was one of the leaders of the conservative bloc that has tilted the legal and political playing field in favor of the wealthy and the GOP over the last few years.

It was Scalia who was one of the five votes in favor of the stay in the Bush v. Gore case that stopped the recount in Florida and handed the Presidency to George W. Bush.  In his opinion justifying the stay, Scalia made it clear that the five Republican appointees were going to find for Bush when he wrote: "The counting of votes that are of questionable legality does in my view threaten irreparable harm to petitioner Bush, and to the country, by casting a cloud upon what he claims to be the legitimacy of his election. "

After Roberts and Alito were appointed to the Supreme Court in 2005, Scalia was a loyal ally of the other four GOP appointees who voted to gut the Voting Rights Act and to find that money is speech under the First Amendment in the infamous Citizens United case.   Scalia was also the author of the Supreme Court's holding in 2008 that overturned decades of settled law and found that the Second Amendment protects an individual's right to possess a gun for traditionally lawful purposes, such as self-defense within the home. 

Within hours of Scalia's death, Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell laid down the gauntlet and said that the vacancy should not be filled until a new President is elected.  Shortly thereafter, President Obama took the podium and announced that he would fulfill his Constitutional duties as President and would nominate a successor "in due time." 

McConnell's apparent refusal to even consider a Supreme Court nominee is unprecedented and in direct contradiction of what he stood for during the Bush Administration.  On May 19, 2005, the Kentucky Senator said: "The Constitution of the United States is at stake.  Article II, Section 2 clearly provides that the President, and the President alone, nominates judges.  The Senate is empowered to give advice and consent.  But my Democratic colleagues want to change the rules.  They want to reinterpret the Constitution to require a supermajority for confirmation.  In effect, they would take away the power to nominate from the President and grant it to a minority of 41 Senators... The Republican conference intends to restore the principle that, regardless of party, any President's judicial nominees, after full debate, deserve a simple up-or-down vote."

The Senate Republican leader's rejection of the the Senate's Constitutional duties isn't only hypocritical - it also runs contrary to modern history.  There is ample historical precedent to support the notion that the Senate should consider and even confirm a Supreme Court nomination during an election year.  In 1956, a Democratic majority in the U.S. Senate confirmed Dwight Eisenhower's nomination of William Brennan.  Both Lewis Powell and William Rehnquist were confirmed by a Democratic led Senate in the 1972 election cycle.  In 1988, a Democratic controlled Senate confirmed Reagan's choice of Anthony Kennedy with the support of McConnell.

The only exception to this precedent in the modern era was in 1968 when a Republican and Dixiecrat filibuster blocked LBJ's nomination of Abe Fortas as Chief Justice.  The obstruction worked out for the conservatives because Nixon won the election and a Democratic led U.S. Senate confirmed Warren Burger as Chief Justice in 1969. 

Two other modern precedents also provide more evidence that McConnell is engaging in raw partisanship in refusing to even consider a Supreme Court nominee.  In 1991, despite the controversy surrounding Anita Hill's allegations of sexual harassment, a Democratic majority Senate confirmed the nomination of Clarence Thomas by a 52-48 vote.  In 2005, Samuel Alito's nomination was confirmed by a 58-42 margin.  In both cases, these Republican nominees were granted an up or down vote.  If the Democrats had filibustered, Thomas and Alito wouldn't have been confirmed. 

Mitch McConnell wasn't the only Republican Senator who is currently serving that guaranteed an up or down vote to all judicial nominees, regardless of the party affiliation of the President making the nomination.  Anybody with a simple google search can find numerous quotes from GOP Senators similar in nature to McConnell's statement of May 19, 2005.

It is obvious that the Republicans have a double standard when it comes to judicial nominees.  Republican nominees get an up or down vote but the GOP seems to find "exceptions" with no historical precedent to deny an up or down vote to a qualified Democratic nominee.  As Nobel Prize winning economist Paul Krugman said in 2013: "The lesson here is never to take right-wing huffiness about the process of politics and political debate seriously. These guys don’t actually believe in any rules at all; whatever rule they may lay down in one case, they’ll break in an instant if they think they see an advantage."

This unexpected opening certainly raises the stakes immeasurably in this election cycle. Not only will control of the White House and the U.S. Senate be up for grabs, but control of the Supreme Court will be on the ballot. Since 2005, a five man "conservative" majority has tossed aside long standing and venerable precedents in an attempt to increase the power and influence of the wealthy and the Republican Party. It has been the first activist "conservative" majority since five justices on the Supreme Court invalidated most of FDR's New Deal between 1933 and 1936.

A Republican victory in the 2016 elections would give them control of the Supreme Court for a generation or more. We could see the return of the jurisprudence of the late 1800s and early 1900s that threw out child labor laws, minimum wage laws and maximum hour laws. A radical right wing majority would weaken the power of the federal government to protect the middle class and the poor.

I am growing increasingly confident that the Democratic nominee will win the Presidential election this year. Both Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders are in Sanders' words: "On our worst days ... we are 100 times better than any Republican candidate." Nevertheless, we can take nothing for granted. The super wealthy and the large corporations will spend whatever it takes to regain power and to increase their grip on the economy. We have no choice but to leave it all on the field this year. Now let's get it done!




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Ricketts' Reign Of Error Continues

Nebraska Governor Pete Ricketts got off to a poor start last year and it appears as though 2016 won't be any better. Ricketts kicked off the new year by initially refusing to meet with President Obama when he visited Omaha in January.  This was an obvious snub since then Governor Johanns met with President Clinton when he came to Nebraska in the closing days of his Presidency in late 2000.

The disrespect Ricketts demonstrated caused a firestorm of criticism.  The press demanded that he meet with the President and the Governor's office was inundated with critical emails.  Initially, Ricketts claimed he was too busy to meet with President Obama but he relented and rearranged his schedule.  Ricketts thanked his staff for working hard to shake up his allegedly busy schedule but as it turned out all they had to do was move a speech up by 20 minutes.  Obviously, Ricketts' staff didn't have to work very hard to make him available to meet with President Obama.  

Some of Ricketts' biggest mistakes and struggles last year involved his dealings with the Legislature.  His top priorities didn't even make it out of committee and three high profile bills - including a repeal of the death penalty - were passed over his veto.  Several Republicans speaking on background were critical of his lack of engagement with the State Senators.

In 2016, Ricketts is trying to raise his game and he testified last week in front of the Revenue Committee regarding his latest property tax legislation.  Ricketts' plan would limit property tax increases to agricultural land to 3% per year and place limits on local spending.  

The problem with Ricketts plan is that it isn't a tax cut - it is a tax shift.  According to the non-partisan Open Sky Institute, the Ricketts plan would cause large cuts to spending on education.  Local school districts would have to either sustain big program cuts or increase local taxes.  

In addition to potentially hurting Nebraska's schools, Ricketts' plan would finance this tax cut on agricultural land by raising taxes on both residential and business properties.  This tax increase on homeowners and small businesses could cause property taxes to skyrocket for many Nebraska residential, business and commercial property owners. 

This potential tax shift and program cuts encountered spirited opposition from cities, counties, school districts and other local government entities.   Lincoln Mayor Chris Beutler contended that the consequences of the Ricketts plan could be "devastating" to local governments and even jeopardize the City of Lincoln's coveted Triple A bond rating.  A representative of the Stothert Administration testified that the proposed limitations on local government spending could hurt Omaha if it annexes additional land. 

What appeared to be overlooked by Ricketts is that the state is not in a position to afford a large tax cut at the present time. Currently, commodity prices are down and this has caused a $110 million shortfall in state revenues.  In addition to the tax cut that he proposed, Ricketts also wants to spend an additional  $150 million on infrastructure improvements.  A tax cut and increased infrastructure spending would jeopardize the state's hard earned rainy day fund just when Nebraska's economy is experiencing slower economic growth.  

It must be emphasized here that Nebraska Democrats do favor responsible middle class property tax relief.  In 2007, then State Senators Tom White and Steve Lathrop played instrumental roles in helping pass legislation that created a property tax credit for all real estate owners. This tax credit saved the owner of a $150,000 house approximately $141 in 2015.  (This property tax cut was the subject of a controversial mailing that the state sent out late last year.) 

Well informed sources at the Capitol tell me that Ricketts probably lacks the votes to pass his tax shift plan.  In any event, we Nebraska Democrats must take nothing for granted.  I would urge each and every one of you to contact your State Senator and express your concerns about Ricketts' plan.

The ultimate solution to Ricketts' ongoing reign of error is to elect more Democrats to the Unicameral this year.  We have recruited an outstanding group of candidates and this should be a good election cycle for Democrats.  We can't let Pete Ricketts get a compliant Legislature and turn Nebraska into Kansas and Wisconsin.  Now let's get it done! 


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GOP Tax Plans Would Blow Up The Deficit And Give The Super Wealthy A Vast Windfall

Some of President Obama's most unsung accomplishments are in the areas of taxes and deficit reduction.  What appears to be little known is that the 2009 Recovery Act included a $275 billion tax cut for the middle class and working poor.  It was the largest middle class tax cut in U.S. history.

Another virtually unknown accomplishment is the progress President Obama has made reducing the deficit.  When President Obama took office, the deficit was $1.3 trillion and 9.8% of GDP.  By fiscal year 2015, the deficit had been reduced to $450 billion or 2.6% of GDP.  It is the fastest rate of deficit reduction since the late 1940s.  

The top three finishers in the Iowa GOP caucuses would destroy President Obama's progress on the deficit with multi-trillion tax cut schemes that would provide a huge windfall for large corporations and the super wealthy.   The rest of the country would be required to finance these regressive tax plans in the form of much higher deficits or even higher taxes for the poor and the middle class.

GOP front runner Ted Cruz's radical tax scheme contains a huge tax increase on senior citizens, the middle class and the poor.  This is because the Cruz plan has a 19% national sales tax that would apply to all purchases of goods and services made in the United States.  Under the Cruz plan, something that costs $1 today would start to cost $1.19.

Cruz uses this tax increase on the poor and middle class to (partially) finance a big tax cut for the super wealthy and the corporations.  Cruz would reduce the top individual rate from 39.6% to 10%.  Moreover, the GOP front runner's plan would eliminate all taxes on corporations and estates.  This radical plan would add $3.7 trillion to the deficit over the next ten years.  

The cost of the Cruz plan is relatively "cheap" when it is compared to Trump's plan.  The billionaire entertainer's plan would add $9.5 trillion to the deficit over the next ten years.  Trump would borrow trillions of dollars to finance a reduction in the top individual rate from 39.6% to 20%, reduce the top corporate rate from 35% to 20% and to completely eliminate the estate tax.  In order to keep his promise to balance the budget, Trump would need to cut spending by 20%.  

Rubio has been described by many in the mainstream press as a "moderate' but there is nothing moderate about his risky tax scheme.  Rubio would essentially exempt the super wealthy from all federal taxation by eliminating taxes on capital gains, dividends and estates.  The average top 1 percenter would receive an annual tax cut in the amount of $224,000.00.  These huge tax cuts for the wealthy would increase the deficit by $11.8 trillion over the next decade.  

All of these Republican tax plans contain provisions in which the middle class and the poor would get a small tax break.  Those modest tax cuts provide political cover for the windfall for the wealthy and was a tactic that George W. Bush used to market his tax cuts for the wealthy.  

Hillary Clinton's and Bernie Sanders' plans for taxes are very different from those proposed by the leading GOP Presidential contenders.  The Democratic tax plans would cut taxes for the middle class and the working poor.  At the same time, their plans would pay for themselves by increasing taxes on the super wealthy.

Modern history indicates that if the country has a Democratic President, we have lower deficits, middle class tax cuts and a stronger economy.  In contrast, GOP Presidents blow up the deficit with tax cuts for the wealthy and increased military spending.  Increased deficits is a feature of GOP Presidents due to their support for borrow and spend fiscal policies.

The choice in 2016 is clear.  We can have continued progress and prosperity with a Democratic President.  On the other hand, if the Republicans are returned to power, they will they blow up the deficit and destroy the economy - like they did in 2008.  We Democrats must work hard to elect a Democratic President.  The stakes couldn't be much higher.  Let's get it done! 

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Jean Stothert - Incompetence You Can Count On

Omaha Mayor Jean Stothert inherited a good situation when she was elected in 2013.  Jim Suttle had made the tough choices on the budget to once again place Omaha on a sound financial footing by raising the restaurant tax.  Thanks to Suttle's engineering background, he saved the City of Omaha from an epic flood in the spring and summer of 2011.

Suttle paid a heavy price for his tough decisions.  The entertainers on AM radio in Omaha launched a recall effort over the restaurant tax.  Those entertainers came up with the usual doom and gloom predictions we frequently hear from the radical right.  For example, they even predicted that people would go out to dinner in Council Bluffs to avoid paying the restaurant tax.

As usual, those right wing predictions of Armageddon turned out to be dead wrong.  The restaurant tax got Omaha out of it's financial hole and restored it's triple A credit rating.  The restaurant business is still thriving in Omaha.

Jean Stothert ran for Mayor claiming she could do better.  She promised to repeal the restaurant tax, cut property taxes and increase spending for services - all at the same time.  Obviously, her cynical promises were ludicrous and impossible to keep.  

Since Stothert was inaugurated, she has broken her promise to repeal the restaurant tax.  Despite this broken promise, the entertainers on AM radio haven't launched a recall of Stothert or demonized her for maintaining this tax.  Instead, it's been crickets from the entertainers and others in the radical right.  

The failure to repeal the restaurant tax is just one of many promises that Stothert has broken.  The pensions for the employees of the City of Omaha are still underfunded and in disarray.  At the end of 2013,  the pensions for the police and firefighters had about $620 million in unfunded liabilities.  In addition, the pensions for the civilian employees were $205 million in the red.

Stothert's lone "accomplishment" is a small property tax cut that she enacted.  The owner of $200,000 home would save all of $20 per year from this tax cut.

Tax cutting at the local level can have significant consequences due to the legal requirement to balance the budget.  This tax cut has forced Stothert to cut corners in areas like snow removal.  There have been numerous legitimate complaints about poor removal since Stothert took office in 2013.  As NDP chair Vince Powers said: “Because Mayor Stothert has cut so many corners, Omaha now even lacks funding to provide the basic service of removing snow."

Stothert's corner cutting on City finances turned out to be a disaster when a mere 4 inches of snow literally shut down Omaha on January 19.  Even though this storm had been forecast for several days in advance, Stothert was totally unprepared for it.  Morning commutes that usually take about 15 minutes turned into a one hour white knuckle run.  Omaha residents took to social media blasting Stothert's ineptitude.  

Stothert's failure to be prepared for a routine Nebraska snowstorm caused  a near disaster in the 90th and Dodge area around rush hour.  The Omaha Police Department had to shut down Dodge Street in that area because they were pursuing a a suspected criminal armed with an assault rifle who had committed a robbery.  Brave police officers were literally pushing cars up the hill to clear the street for snow plows that arrived too late.

Unfortunately, Stothert had the audacity to criticize the decision of the Omaha Police Department to temporarily close Dodge Street between 84th and 90th Streets.  “I can’t say the decision by that officer was something that was well thought out,” Stothert snapped.  

The Omaha Police Officers Association responded to Stothert unjustified second guessing by issuing the following statement:  "We stand by the officer's decision to temporarily close the roadway. The officer's decision was made ON-SCENE and in REAL-TIME while standing out in the cold, pushing vehicles on dangerous slick roads. It's unfortunate that city officials feel the need to criticize the decision that was made for public safety as they sit in their warm offices." 

After enduring a fire storm of criticism for her unfair potshot at the Omaha Police Department, Stothert backed off and blamed the fiasco on an alleged  “breakdown in communication between all departments regarding the choice to shut down the street."  

John Wells, the president of the Omaha Police Association, correctly stated that Stothert shouldn’t have made her initial critical remarks without all the facts. “She was pretty steadfast in her position, throwing the officer under the bus,” Wells said. “I’m glad she came around, but the whole exercise was unnecessary. It was misplaced blame.”

After Tuesday’s four inch snowfall, instead of looking within her own office to find the problem, Mayor Stothert blamed an Omaha Police Officer who made the right call.  Perhaps Mayor Stothert should have blamed one of the 18 contractors she hired in 2015 to better handle snow removal this season, listed on her website’s “2015 Strategic Plan Report Card” under “Optimize Delivery of City Services”.

Nebraska Democratic Party Chair, Vince Powers, made the following statement: “Mayor Stothert used an Omaha Police Officer as a scapegoat when in truth, it is the Mayor who was accountable for mismanaging 18 contractors she hired in 2015, solely to improve on the City’s basic service to remove snow. Mayor Stothert owes an apology to the police officer, who was only doing his job, keeping people safe from dangerous conditions which arose because Mayor Stothert failed to do hers.”

Unfortunately, Stothert is consistent for all of the wrong reasons.  The Omaha Mayor will not remove snow or the restaurant tax - of course she was elected on her promise to get rid of restaurant tax and her pledge that "Public Safety is my #1 Priority. "   The reality is that Stothert has fallen far short of her promises and her mismanagement of the City of Omaha has hurt the residents of this great city.

The Omaha voters will be ready for a change in 2017 and will turn Stothert out of office.  Well informed sources speaking on background have told me that Stothert will draw one or more high profile, well financed challengers when she faces the voters again.  In the meantime, we have to keep the pressure on Stothert and remind the voters in Omaha again and again that Stothert simply isn't up to the job of Mayor of Omaha.

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State Of The Union - We Are Better Off Now Than We Were 7 Years Ago

Last week was a big week for the Nebraska Democratic Party and Nebraska in general.  President Obama came to Omaha the day after his State of the Union Speech to discuss his accomplishments and the path ahead for the U.S.  The President gave an outstanding speech - punctuated with his usual soaring rhetoric - to a full capacity and appreciative crowd at UNO's Baxter Arena.  While President Obama was in Omaha, he also met with Kerrie Orozco's family and a school teacher who had written to him about her baby's future.  

President Obama had many significant accomplishments to talk about at his State of the Union Speech and at Baxter Arena.  One of his least known accomplishments is the progress he has made in reducing the deficit since he took office.  According to the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO), President Obama inherited an annual deficit of $1.3 trillion from then President George W. Bush.  Since he has taken office, the President has reduced the deficit by 75%.  This is the fastest rate of deficit reduction since the late 1940s.  According to Rupert Murdoch's Wall Street Journal: "The U.S. budget deficit ended last year at its lowest level since 2007, marking the sixth straight annual drop."   The deficit has been reduced from 9.8% of GDP when Obama took office to 2.6% of GDP.

The Republicans talk a good game on the deficit but the recent historical record indicates that the Democratic Party is the party of fiscal responsibility.  The last three Democratic Presidents starting with Jimmy Carter have all reduced the deficit.  In contrast, no Republican President has reduced the deficit or balanced the budget since Eisenhower did in 1960.  As a matter of fact, the last five Republican Presidents have all increased the deficit.  For example, Reagan and Bush41 quadrupled the national debt and Bush43 doubled the national debt.  The only time the GOP has been "serious" about the deficit in the last half century was when Clinton and Obama were President.  

One of the factors behind this dramatic reduction in the deficit is the Affordable Care Act (ACA).  In a recent report, the CBO indicated that the ACA  will lower the deficit by $118 billion by 2025.   This in part due to the fact that the ACA has reduced medical inflation to it's lowest level in 50 years.  Due to this reduction in medical inflation, the taxpayers will be saving billions of dollars in future Medicare and Medicaid costs.   

The ACA hasn't only reduced the deficit, it has also insured 18 million additional Americans, saved senior citizens thousands of dollars on prescription costs and done away with pre-existing condition clauses.   Thanks to the ACA, the rate of uninsured Americans has fallen from 18% of the population in 2008 to 9% in 2015.  That is the lowest uninsured rate in the history of the country.  

The GOP reaction to the successes of the ACA have been simply disgraceful.  The Republican in Congress - including the GOP members of the Nebraska delegation - have voted over 60 times to repeal - but not replace - the ACA.  These reckless votes have followed on the heels of decades of Republican in-action on health care.  During the Bush43 Presidency, the GOP did nothing when 8 million Americans lost their insurance policies.  The GOP hasn't made a good faith effort to expand coverage to the uninsured since the 1970s.  Simply stated, providing insurance to the uninsured isn't a priority for the GOP.  Philosophically, the GOP simply opposes spending tax payer dollars to insure the sick, the poor and working families.  

The dramatic successes we've seen in expanding insurance coverage is also mirrored by the explosive job growth we've had since 2010.  When President Obama took office, the economy was losing 800,000 jobs per month and the country was teetering on the brink of a Depression.  Since those dark days, the economy has made a remarkable turnaround.  As President Obama said in his State of the Union address: "In these past seven years, our businesses are now on a 70-month streak of job creation, with more than 14 million new jobs in all."  Over the last three months, the economy has created an extraordinary 284,000 new jobs per month.  This is the best job growth since President Clinton's second term.  

We have accomplished a lot since 2009 but there is still unfinished work to do.  Perhaps the most disappointing aspect of this economic recovery is that wages and income for most Americans have remained flat.  The GOP would like you to believe that this problem began on 1/20/09 but this is a long term trend that began during the Reagan Administration and has largely been caused by conservative economic policies.  The forced break up of the unions, lax anti-trust enforcement, deregulation of big business and tax cuts for the wealthy have created this problem.

Nevertheless, there is now good news on the earnings front.  According to  Sentier Research - which measures income - household income has grown at the rate of 3-4 percent a year since 2014.  This was a long time coming but the recovery really does seem to finally be showing up in higher earnings for many Americans.  

The Republicans told us none of these positive developments would ever happen.  Instead, John Boehner predicted that the ACA would cause "Armageddon" and "ruin our country. "  Candidate Sasse made the silly prognostication in 2013 that the ACA would cause America to "cease to exist."  Not to be outdone by Boehner and Sasse,  right wing entertainer Rush Limbaugh predicted that the the U.S. economy would "collapse" if Obama was re-elected.

What's even more bizarre than these wildly inaccurate predictions from prominent Republicans is that the GOP's leading presidential political candidates are so divorced from reality that they believe this dystopian "Armageddon" they predicted is actually happening!  For example, Jeb Bush recently said that: "The idea that somehow we're better off today than the day that Barack Obama was inaugurated president of the United States is totally an alternative universe."  Retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson contended that: "It's the evil government putting all these regulations on us so that we can't even survive."  Marco Rubio - who was once declared by the media to be the "savior" of the GOP - who went so far as to say: "If we don't get this election right, there may be no turning back for America."  

We must continue to build on President Obama's successes.  The best - and the only - way to build on those successes is to elect a Democratic President in 2016.  All of the GOP Presidential candidates have pledged to bring back the policies of George W. Bush that wrecked the economy and got the U.S. embroiled in two fruitless foreign wars.  A Republican President would destroy all of President Obama's progress and hurt the American people.   Why would we ever want to return to where we were less than eight years ago?

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We Need The Medicaid Expansion Now More Than Ever

Largely overlooked in the general relief when the U.S. Supreme Court narrowly found the Affordable Care Act to be constitutional in 2012, was the Court's holding that the Medicaid expansion wasn't mandatory for the states.  Instead, the 50 state legislatures and Governors would have to actually adopt the Medicaid expansion through the legislative process.  That was the price that Chief Justice John Roberts extracted for his necessary fifth vote which found most of the ACA to be constitutional. Since that ruling was handed down, 30 states - including several red states - have adopted the Medicaid expansion.  

Unfortunately, Nebraska is one of the 20 hold out states.  Despite three previous efforts to pass the Medicaid expansion through the Unicameral, a right wing Republican filibuster has blocked an up or down vote on the measure.  Moreover, both Governors Heineman and Ricketts have voiced their opposition to the Medicaid expansion.  This despite the fact that there has been a consistent majority in the Unicameral which supports this effort to insure 77,000 additional Nebraskans.  

Despite these setbacks, the backers of the Medicaid expansion haven't given up.  Senator Heath Mello has teamed up with two Republican State Senators to sponsor a bill that would create a private option for expanding Medicaid, similar to what has been done in some other red states.  Under Mello's bi-partisan bill, Nebraska would use Medicaid funds to purchase private health insurance for low income people instead of having them enroll in traditional Medicaid.  

Adoption of the Medicaid expansion would bring into Nebraska over $2 billion in federal money over the next five years, insure approximately 77,000 additional Nebraskans and provide a vital lifeline for many rural hospitals.   

What many people don't seem to realize is that the federal government would be paying the lion's share of the costs of the Medicaid expansion.  As Don Walton of the Lincoln Journal Star wrote: "The federal government would pay 100 percent of the costs through 2016; the federal share then would gradually begin to phase down to a 90 percent floor in 2020."

The proposed Medicaid expansion isn't some untested or novel idea.  It has actually worked very well in the states where it has been adopted.  For example, in Kentucky, the Medicaid expansion has injected more than $3 billion into the Blue Grass state's economy in the form of payments to Kentucky doctors, hospitals and other health care providers.  The bottom line result for Kentucky has been higher tax revenues, improved job creation, and overall better economic activity, in the amount of approximately $1 billion net benefit through 2021.

Despite the proven benefits of the Medicaid expansion in 30 other states, Governor Ricketts and his band of right wing supporters in the legislature have opposed the Medicaid expansion on cost grounds.  They are of the misguided belief that Nebraska can't afford the Medicaid expansion.  

Apparently, the right wing opposition to the Medicaid expansion is based upon the belief that the federal government will renege on it's obligation to finance most of the costs.  However, the bi-partisan bill being co-sponsored by Senator Mello has a trigger mechanism that would end the Medicaid expansion in the unlikely event the federal government broke it's promises.  However, that is a remote prospect since the federal government has paid it's promised 60% share of the costs of  traditional Medicaid since it's implementation in 1965.  

What Governor Ricketts and his followers fail to recognize is that uncompensated medical care is already costing the state's residents and health care providers.  All of us pay a hidden tax in higher health care costs and insurance premiums to cover the costs incurred by health care providers who provide uncompensated care to the uninsured.   According to a study by two University of Nebraska at Kearney professors, "expanding Medicaid would reduce the amount of uncompensated care for Nebraska hospitals by $483 million by 2020."  

What this is means is that refusing to adopt the Medicaid expansion won't save Nebraska citizens and health care providers any money.  Instead, all of us would continue to pay for the cost of uncompensated care through what I would term the "Ricketts tax."  Refusing to adopt the Medicaid expansion won't make the cost of uncompensated care go away.  It will still be with us and we will all be paying the price.  

The opponents of the Medicaid expansion aren't fiscal conservatives.  They are all big spenders.  Ricketts and his supporters have no problem with the hundreds of millions of dollars that the state's taxpayers have spent on ineffectual corporate welfare programs that didn't prevent Conagra from leaving Omaha and the millions of federal dollars spent on roads.  As then State Senator Steve Lathrop said in 2014: " We are being sidetracked by the discussion of bigger government.  It becomes a battle cry every time we want to spend money on a poor person or sick person or elderly person.  I have heard no one complain about the money we get and spend from the federal government on roads.  It's a lot. "
Ricketts and his right wing allies in the Unicameral haven't presented an alternative to the proposed Medicaid expansion. All they've done is obstruct and prevent 77,000 Nebraskans from being insured. They owe the voters a serious alternative.  
There is a new found optimism that the right wing obstruction of the Medicaid expansion can be overcome in this year's legislative session.  Leading Omaha business men Mike Yanney and Walter Scott have come out in support of Senator Mello's bi-partisan bill and they will be attempting to round up support for it among their fellow business owners.  Their advocacy for the bill may change some Republican votes in the Unicameral.  
As Nebraska Democrats, we must contact our State Senators and encourage them to back this Medicaid bill that will help all Nebraskans.  I know it will be tough because it takes 30 votes to override a gubernatorial veto and 33 votes to break a filibuster.  Nevertheless, we must be relentless in our support for the Medicaid expansion.
If we once again fall short in this session, we must all work hard to elect more Democrats to the legislature in the 2016 cycle.  Former State Senator Steve Lathrop and Executive Director Hadley Richters have worked hard to recruit an impressive slate of five star recruits to run for the legislature this year.  We have an excellent chance to add more to our numbers in the legislature.  Now let's get it done!  I know we can do it!  
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Republicans Want To Jeopardize The Economy By Putting Wall Street Back In Charge Again

When President Obama took office on January 20, 2009, the economy was in free fall largely due to a financial crisis caused by the greed and recklessness of the bankers on Wall Street.  The bankers precipitated this crisis by investing heavily in bond funds consisting largely of subprime home loans.  Once the housing bubble burst, it took down the entire economy with it.

By January 2009, the U.S. (and the world) were going through the most severe financial crisis and recession since the Great Depression in the 1930s.  The U.S. economy was losing 800,000 jobs per month and GDP shrunk nearly 9% in the last quarter of 2008.  This Wall Street engineered recession cost the United States nearly $13 trillion in household wealth. We also lost 5.5 million jobs and unemployment peaked at 10%.

President Obama's first act as President was to pass the Recovery Act of 2009 to stop the bleeding.  Nebraska Senator Ben Nelson played a big leadership role in the passage of this vital legislation.  The Recovery Act consisted of infrastructure projects, record investments in renewable energy and the largest middle class tax cut in history.  

The 2009 Recovery Act has been unfairly maligned by the GOP and the mainstream media.  Unfortunately, President Obama and the Democrats in Washington allowed this stimulus bill to be deemed a failure even though it was very successful.  

According to the non-partisan Congressional Budget Act, the 2009 Recovery Act created or saved 1 to 3 million jobs.  Furthermore, in a survey conducted by the University of Chicago, 80% of economists said that the Recovery Act was successful and that it ended the recession.  

Here in Nebraska, the state's budget was balanced in 2009-2010 with stimulus funds.  This injection of federal money into Nebraska prevented severe layoffs and program cuts that would have damaged an already ailing economy.

Once President Obama and the Democrats stabilized the economy with the Recovery Act, they took action to make sure another Wall Street induced economic crisis wouldn't bring down the economy again.  In 2010, the Dodd Frank Act passed the Congress with the support of Ben Nelson.  This was the toughest and most far reaching Wall Street reform legislation since the 1930s.  

The Dodd Frank Act - like the Recovery Act - has been falsely labeled a failure by the GOP and the mainstream press.  As it turned out - like the 2009 stimulus bill - the Wall Street reform bill has actually proven to be an unsung success.

The 2010 Wall Street reform law addresses the "too big to fail" problem by giving regulators the authority to subject the largest banks to extra regulation and to take control of the big banks if there is another financial crisis.  This additional authority to actually seize control of the big banks makes another bailout very unlikely.  The Dodd Frank law also requires Wall Street to keep more capital, thus reducing the prospect that excessive greed and speculation will lead to to bankruptcy.  

This same banking act also created the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB).  The idea for the CFPB originated with Elizabeth Warren and it has already substantially reduced abusive lending practices by the financial services industry.    As Nobel Prize Winning Economist Paul Krugman said: "Better consumer protection means fewer bad loans, and therefore a reduced risk of financial crisis."   Moreover, the CFPB has cracked down on billions in excessive overdraft fees and has secured over $10 billion in relief for consumers since it's inception in 2011.  

Wall Street's hostility to the Dodd-Frank Act is proof that it is working.  At the present time, Wall Street is spending millions of dollars in lobbying fees and campaign cash to either gut or completely repeal this needed reform of the Wall Street abuses that crashed the economy in 2008-09.  If a Republican President were to be elected this year, one of his top priorities would be repealing Dodd-Frank and putting Wall Street back in charge of the economy.

The four Republican members of Nebraska's Congressional delegation are all on record in favor of the repeal of Dodd-Frank and deregulating the big banks again.  Apparently, they have decided to prioritize the interests of Wall Street over Main Street here in Nebraska.  

The future of Wall Street reform will be on the ballot this year.  If a Democrat is elected President, Wall Street reform is here to stay and another financial crisis is very unlikely to happen.  However, if the Republicans manage to regain control of the White House and the Congress again, Dodd-Frank will be repealed and it will only be a matter of time until Wall Street destroys the economy again.  The history of the U.S. clearly demonstrates that if the big banks are deregulated, they will bring down the economy in an orgy of speculation and greed.  

We Nebraska Democrats must make it clear that we are on the side of Main Street and the GOP is on the side of Wall Street.  We must remind the voters that the last time the GOP held all of the levers of power in Washington, they allowed the big banks to destroy the economy and bring about the deepest recession since the 1930s.  The GOP can only win this year if the voters forget about the failures of the Bush Administration.  We must tell the voters we must not hand over our country once again to the people and policies that crashed our economy before and that will destroy the progress that we've made since 2009. 

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