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Will The GOP Members Of The Nebraska Delegation Hurt The American People Again With Another Government Shutdown And Default Threat?

For the second time in just two years, the Republicans in Congress are prepared to shutdown the government and hurt the American people again.  The 2013 shutdown was over the Affordable Care Act and this year's shutdown will be over an effort to defund Plannet Parenthood.  This is approximately the 12th time the Congressional Republicans have threatened to shutdown the government or default on the national debt since they regained control of the House in the 2010 election cycle.  

This habit of Congressional Republicans to govern by threatening to sabotage the economy and creating phony crisises began in 2011 when they threatened to default on the national debt.  Both Jeff Fortenberry and Adrian Smith were behind this reckless strategy.  This debate over whether or not the U.S. would even pay it's bills resulted in the 2011 Sequester Act which according to the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office cost the economy 1.4 million jobs and caused a downgrade of the U.S. credit rating for the first time in our history.

Just the threat to default itself badly damaged the economy in 2011 and ended a promising economic recovery.  Due to the GOP's irresponsibility, the economy went from creating 200,000 jobs per month to creating only 100,000 jobs per month.  The economy only began creating 200,000 jobs per month (or more) in 2013.  Moreover, consumer confidence in 2011 fell to depths not seen since the economic crisis of 2008-09.  

Despite the serious harm inflicted on the economy by the phony debt ceiling crisis of 2011, the Congressional Republicans shutdown the government for 16 days in 2013.  Fischer, Fortenberry and Smith all voted for the government shutdown.  Candidate Ben Sasse also supported the shutdown and told the Omaha World Herald that he opposed the legislation that re-opened the government.

The 2013 shutdown was aimed at repealing the ACA , preventing millions of Americans from getting insurance and bringing back pre-existing condition clauses.  Like the 2011 default threat, the 2013 shutdown hurt the American people.  This ridiculous shutdown cost the economy $24 billion and 120,000 jobs.  

Despite the failures of those past attempts to hold the American people hostage in 2011 and 2013, the GOP wants to do it all over again this month.  There are only 6 legislative days left for the Congress to do the right thing and fund the government.  Moreover, the debt ceiling must be raised again at the end of October.  (Raising the debt ceiling doesn't authorize new spending.  Instead the Congress is paying for spending it has already authorized.  Refusing to raise the debt ceiling would be like buying a car and refusing to pay for the loan.)

The only member of the Nebraska delegation who has shown any leadership on this issue is Representative Brad Ashford.  Nebraska's House member from CD-02 has called for the Congress to end it's undeserved vacation and return to Washington to fund the government.  Moreover, Ashford has pledged to give up his paycheck in the event of another shutdown. 

At the time of the writing of this article, we've heard nothing from Fischer, Sasse, Fortenberry and Smith regarding the government shutdown.  We've heard nothing from them because they supported the last shutdown and can be counted on by the most extreme members of the GOP caucus to support another one.  

The really tragic thing about the latest sabotage threat from the GOP is that 2015 was supposed to be the "first time in four years that the federal government is actually boosting economic growth, rather than detracting from it,"  according to an analysis by Macroeconomic Advisers. If the government isn't funded and/or the U.S. stiffs it's creditors, the U.S. could be headed back into recession, the report found.  “A government shutdown would be one of the most ludicrous and self-inflicted wounds that I can imagine,” Labor Secretary Thomas E. Perez said in an interview, adding that lawmakers are “forming another circular firing squad.”

All Nebraskans should call on Fischer, Sasse, Fortenberry and Smith to join Representative Ashford in his pledge to go back to Washington to stop a destructive shutdown.  I would urge all of you to flood their offices with phone calls, letters and emails.  The continued prosperity of our country may depend upon those efforts.  Thank you for everything that you do.  

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Ricketts' Reign Of Error Includes Bad Appointments To Key Positions

The Nebraska press and political insiders were dismayed by Ricketts' failed first legislative session in which his agenda was largely ignored by the Unicameral due to his inexperience and weak staff.  As it turned out, several important measures such as the repeal of the death penalty and the granting of drivers licenses to the Dreamers were passed over his vetoes.  Insiders from both parties at the Capitol were harshly critical of Ricketts and some Republicans even (justifiably) contended that the session was an "embarrassing start" for the rookie Governor.  

Ricketts struggles have not only occurred over at the Capitol.  As it has turned out, Ricketts has made several executive appointments that have proved to be a further embarrassment to his Administration.  

When Ricketts ran for Governor last year, he touted his experience at AmeriTrade and contended that Nebraska would benefit from his business experience.  In furtherance of that end, Ricketts hired a private search firm to conduct a search for key appointments and financed that search with money from special interest groups like the Omaha Chamber of Commerce.

Unfortunately for the Nebraska taxpayers,  Ricketts' highly touted (and overrated) talent search has saddled them with several unsuitable people serving in important positions.  Moreover, Ricketts seems to have a tendency to select appointees from Wisconsin and Louisiana - which are GOP dominated states that have been plagued with corruption and fiscal irresponsibility.

A key appointment from Scott Walker's Wisconsin was the selection of Brenda Hicks-Sorensen as Nebraska's economic development director.  In Wisconsin, Hicks-Sorenson served as the  vice president at the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation.  While serving in that capacity, she played a major role in that department’s failure to scrutinize the the financial background of a company that received a $500,000 loan that is now in default.  The company that failed to pay off this loan from the Wisconsin taxpayers also happened to be a significant donor to Scott Walker's campaigns.  

At least two key Ricketts appointments have come from another state that is suffering from Republican misrule.  Courtney Phillips - who served in the number two post in the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals - was picked by Ricketts to head up the troubled Department of Health and Human Services. (HHS)  That agency was allowed to  disintegrate during the Heineman Administration and has been plagued by gross incompetence and mismanagement.

It is doubtful that things will improve at the Nebraska Department of HHS under Phillips' (so-called) leadership.  Senior officials in Governor Bobby Jindal's administration used private email accounts to craft a strategy for making cuts in the amount of $859 million in that state's Medicaid program.  (I'm still waiting for Fox and the GOP to condemn Jindal for this practice.)  Despite these deep cuts in Louisiana's Medicaid program, that state is currently suffering from a $1.6 billion deficit created by Jindal's tax cuts.

Another failed appointment from Louisiana has further tarnished Ricketts' already tattered reputation for executive competence.  The Governor's newly appointed state director of developmental disabilities - Yolanda Webb - suddenly resigned last week after only working in her new job for all of 5 days. Webb's resignation was bizarre and totally unexpected.  She told Ricketts in her resignation letter that "I have decided (and sometimes life decides) that it's best to go in a new direction." 

Ricketts hasn't had any better luck when making appointments of people who are from Nebraska.  Brad Rice - who was selected to head up the Nebraska State Patrol - was sued for denying a promotion to a woman and saying that women shouldn’t be in law enforcement.  The State of Nebraska was sued for discrimination in this case and lost in 2007.

The State of Nebraska probably lost this case because there was strong evidence that Rice committed perjury at the trial.  During the trial, Rice repeatedly testified under oath that he never said that women shouldn't be in law enforcement.  However, a State Patrol sergeant testified in that trial that Rice had indeed made that statement.  (It wasn't all that long ago that the GOP was of the belief that committing perjury in a civil trial was a firing offense.)  

The most disturbing and common thread in Ricketts' hires is that most of his top picks come from Wisconsin and Louisiana.  What this should tell us is that Ricketts admires the records of Walker and Jindal and would like to bring their policies here to Nebraska.  

Both Wisconsin and Louisiana are suffering from record budget deficits that were caused by reckless tax cuts for the wealthy.  (At the present time, Wisconsin has a $2 billion budget deficit.)  Moreover, both of these states suffer from corruption and cronyism.  

In the 2016 election cycle, Ricketts will recruit and lavishly finance a set of legislative candidates to do to Nebraska what has happened in Louisiana and Wisconsin.  As Nebraska Democrats, we can stop him by contributing to and working hard for our own slate of candidates.

In the last few months, Chuck Hassebrook, Steve Lathrop and Hadley Richters have recruited a bumper crop of 5 star recruits for the legislative races.  We have excellent candidates for the Unicameral in almost every part of Nebraska.  There is every reason to be optimistic about our chances in 2016.

Nevertheless, we can take nothing for granted.  Ricketts and his billionaire friends will do everything they can to turn Nebraska into a banana republic.  We can't let that happen.  Now let's get behind our great candidates and have a good election cycle.  We can do this! 

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GOP Platform For 2016 Is George W. Bush On Steroids

I believe that history will regard George W. Bush as one of the worst - if not the worst - Presidents in American history.  When Bush took office in 2001, he inherited a projected 10 year budget surplus of $5.5 trillion from President Clinton.  By the time he left office, the annual deficit was $1.3 trillion and 9.8% of GDP.  As Republican Presidential hopeful and Ohio Governor John Kasich said about Bush and the then GOP controlled Congress: “They blew a $5 trillion surplus.  The projected annual surpluses were quickly spent, unfortunately by Republicans.”

Bush's economic legacy was equally disastrous.  Once again, President Clinton left Bush with an excellent situation.  During the Clinton Administration, the economy created 22 million jobs, the rate of poverty declined and middle class incomes grew for the first time since the late 1970s.  When Obama took office on January 20, 2009, the economy was in a state of collapse and was shedding 800,000 jobs per month.  It was the gravest economic crisis since the Great Depression during the 1930s.

The Bush-Cheney Administration's mismanagement of national security affairs was every bit as reckless and incompetent as their handling of the federal budget and the economy.  This failed Administration got the U.S. involved in ground wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that resulted in the loss of over 4,400 American lives and according to Nobel Prize winning economist Joseph Stiglitz, those wars will ultimately cost the U.S. taxpayers $3 trillion.

One of the most troubling aspect of George W. Bush's legacy is that the Republican Party appeared to learn nothing from his myriad failures.  In the 2016 election cycle, we have an entire field of GOP candidates who would bring back Bush's failed policies and in some cases even double down on them.  Apparently, the GOP is counting on mass amnesia from the voters if they are to win the 2016 election.

Just about every Republican candidate is promising to bring back tax cuts for the wealthy - which was the keystone of Bush's economic strategy.  For example, Marco Rubio - who was labeled the "savior" of the Republican Party by Time magazine - has proposed to abolish all taxes on estates, capital gains and dividends.  He has also promised - like Bush did - to throw in a few tax cuts for the middle class to provide political cover for this massive giveaway to the wealthy.  Rubio's proposal would add $2.4 trillion to the deficit and essentially exempt Wall Street and the super wealthy from all federal taxation.

The GOP Presidential hopefuls don't just support Bush's failed economic policies - they also want to bring back his Social Security privatization scheme.  Back in 2005, the newly re-elected President made turning Social Security over to Wall Street his number one priority after he was inaugurated.  Fortunately, this ill considered proposal was soundly rejected that year by the Congress.  Just imagine the investment losses that our senior citizens would have suffered in 2008-09 if this extreme Social Security proposal had become law in 2005?  And yet today's GOP Presidential hopefuls have revived this proposal despite the recent volatility in the stock market.

The Republicans don't only want to privatize Social Security, they would also like to do the same to Medicare.  Bush tried (and failed) to privatize Medicare when the deficit financed Medicare Part D program was passed in 2003.  Today's GOP Presidential candidates (and members of Congress) have come out for ending Medicare as we know it and turning it into a voucher program.   Turning  Medicare over to the private health insurance industry would cost senior citizens thousands of dollars in additional out of pocket medical expenses and bring back the hated pre-existing condition clauses that were banned by the Affordable Care Act.  

The Republicans have not only failed to heed the Bush Administration's failures in economic and national security policy, they have also learned nothing from the history of the deregulation of the financial services industry.  History teaches us that if you deregulate the banks, it is just a matter of time until they wreck the economy in an orgy of speculation, greed and incompetence.  That's what brought about the collapse of the savings and loan industry during the Reagan Administration and the collapse of the banking system in 2008.

In response to the financial crisis of 2008-09, the Obama Administration and the then Democratic controlled Congress passed the Dodd-Frank Act in 2010.  Since the passage of this Wall Street reform law, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has returned nearly $11 billion to more than 26 million consumers who’ve been cheated and has authorized a crackdown on payday lenders who prey on our military servicemen and women.    As President Obama recently said: "Wall Street Reform now allows us to crack down on some of the worst types of recklessness that brought our economy to its knees, from big banks making huge, risky bets using borrowed money, to paying executives in a way that rewarded irresponsible behavior."

Despite this progress, just about every Republican Presidential candidate and member of Congress wants to repeal the Dodd-Frank Act and return us to the time when the big banks or bad actors were allowed to write their own rules.   If the Dodd-Frank Act isn't working well, why is Wall Street furiously lobbying to repeal it and providing huge amounts of campaign cash to Republican candidates for President and Congress?

The Republicans' ignorance of recent history extends to the Bush Administration's failed war in Iraq.  Leading GOP Presidential contenders such as Donald Trump, Scott Walker, Jeb Bush and John Kasich support the return of U.S. ground troops to Iraq. Bush even supports sending U.S. troops to Syria to overthrow Assad and to establish and prop up a new government in that country.  Moreover, many leading Republicans in the Congress such as John Boehner and John McCain support another Iraq War for the U.S.  What that means is that if a Republican President is elected along with a GOP controlled Congress, we can count on another ground war in Iraq - and maybe even in Syria!  

The Republicans can only win next year's elections if voters forget about the last time the GOP controlled the White House and the Congress.  As Democrats, we must constantly remind the voters about the failures of the last Republican President and how today's GOP would bring back - and expand on - those very same failed policies.  The propaganda of the GOP depends upon the voters having bad memories.  We as Democrats must constantly refresh those memories.  We can't count on the mainstream media to do it for us.  If we don't do it - nobody else will.  

The Republicans' ignorance of the failures of the Bush Administration does create a great opportunity for us as Democrats.  I'm confident that once the voters are reminded of Bush's failures, they won't hand over the country once again to the same people who destroyed the economy in 2008-09. Instead, they will return the Democrats to power who have turned around our economy and provided health insurance to 16 million Americans.  Now let's get to work and get that message out!

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The GOP Gins Up Phony Scandals To Distract From Its Bad Record And Extreme Agenda

Over the last 25 years, the GOP has tried to generate phony scandals about prominent Democrats to win elections and discredit Democratic Presidents.  The Republicans do this because they know that if the public becomes more aware of its record in office and extreme agenda, they are unlikely to win Presidential elections.  As it has turned out, the Democrats have won the popular vote in 5 out of the last 6 elections since the GOP has adopted this strategy.

Between 1968 and 1988, the general GOP election theme was that the Democratic Presidential nominee was too liberal and outside of the mainstream.  Since the advent of the right wing media in the early 1990s, the GOP has been pushed pretty far to the right and it's stands on economic, social and health care issues are simply toxic outside of the hardcore red states.  As a result, the GOP has to do everything it can to distract the voters from this difficult reality (for them) and attempt to convince the voters that the Democratic Presidential nominee and President - once elected - is some kind of a crook.

We saw the inception of this new GOP strategy in 1992 and during the Clinton Presidency.  The GOP and the mainstream media relentlessly pushed a narrative for over eight years that Bill and Hillary Clinton were unethical and potentially guilty of criminal behavior.  Even so-called bastions of the "liberal media" like the New York Times and the Washington Post fell hook, line and sinker for these bogus allegations.

During the Clinton Presidency, no less than three special prosecutors spent $80 million of the taxpayer's money investigating allegations regarding the travel office firings, Whitewater, the tragic suicide of Vince Foster, the Rose law firm files, the FBI files and Monica Lewinsky.  During these investigations we were treated to breathless allegations and speculation that the Clintons were going to be indicted.  However, we all learned when Ken Starr issued his salacious report in 1998 that virtually all of these allegations were groundless and Hillary Clinton was never charged with anything.  

The GOP has perpetuated this strategy of making false allegations of corruption during the Obama Presidency.  They don't want the voters to remember how they destroyed the economy during the Bush Presidency.  The movement conservatives would like the voters to forget that the economy was losing 800,000 jobs per month in December 2008 and that 8 million Americans lost their insurance coverage during the Bush Presidency.  They also don't want you to know that the economy has been creating over 200,000 jobs per month since 2013 and that 16 formerly uninsured Americans are now covered. 

Instead, the GOP would prefer that the voters focus on the phony scandals that they have ginned up around the so-called IRS "targeting" controversy and the tragic deaths of four American diplomats at the U.S. consulate in Benghazi in 2012.  These allegations are reminiscent of what occurred during the Clinton Administration since they are equally groundless.  

A recent report by the GOP led Senate Finance committee recently concluded after a two year investigation that there was no wrongdoing in connection with the so-called IRS "targeting" controversy.   The report by this committee did not suggest or otherwise prove that any laws were broken by the I.R.S.  Moreover, as Senator Ron Wyden (D-Oregon) said: "(T)he inquiry had found pure bureaucratic mismanagement without any evidence of political interference. Groups on both sides of the political spectrum were treated equally in their efforts to secure tax-exempt status.” 

Another unanimous finding by a GOP controlled Committee concluded that the GOP's allegations about the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi in 2012 were largely phony.  Shortly after election day 2014, the House Intelligence Committee quietly released a little noticed report that contradicted just about all of the GOP conspiracy theories about Benghazi.  This investigation concluded that there was no "stand down" order and no intimidation of witnesses by superiors.  Perhaps the most significant finding was that then National Security Adviser Susan Rice's "talking points" about the cause of  the attack were not part of an Obama  Administration cover up.  Instead, the Committee reported that that: "(T)he process that produced Rice's s talking points was flawed, resulting in errors rather than deliberate lies. "

One of the many reasons for the GOP and right wing media's obsession with Benghazi is that is also part of an effort to discredit former Secretary of State and current Presidential front runner Hillary Clinton.  One of the things that isn't mentioned by the GOP or the mainstream media is that the House Republicans voted to cut funding for embassy security after they regained control of the House in the 2010 elections.  Well before the attack in Benghazi, then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton criticized the Republican cuts to the State Department budget, warning they "will be detrimental to America's national security."  

The effort to diminish Clinton's front runner status by the GOP has now extended into a bogus controversy about Clinton's decision to use a private email server while she was Secretary of State.  Clinton's use of a private email server as Secretary of State was legal and permissible under the State Department regulations during President Obama's first term. (Moreover, Colin Powell used a private email account when he served as Secretary of State during George W. Bush's first term.)

Clinton chose to use a private email server because the State Department email account outside the building involved what one State Department official termed:  “incredibly unreliable software.” As one former senior official told the New York Times:  “If you had to write a priority message that was more than a paragraph long, it could leave you streaming sweat and screaming at the screen. And that’s when people would turn to their private accounts out of desperation.”

Currently, this controversy regarding Clinton's use of a private email server is proving to be every bit as groundless as all of the other phony "scandals" ginned up by the GOP over the last 25 years.  At  this point in time, any security breaches are pure speculation.  In any event, even if this controversy comes down to a a security issue, and the concern that Clinton put classified information in jeopardy by going outside the State Department’s classified email system, the Associated Press recently reported that there was no real difference between the department’s system and her home server: “Neither would have been secure from hackers or foreign intelligence agencies, so it would be equally problematic whether classified information was carried over the government system or a private server, experts say.”

Despite all of the scary headlines coming out of both the mainstream and right wing media,  law enforcement officials speaking on background to the New York Times have said that the former Secretary of State  is not a target of any investigations, and there is no proof that her private email  account was hacked.  There has also been no evidence that she broke any laws, and many experts are of the opinion that  the occasional appearance of classified information in her account was probably of marginal consequence.  In addition, several knowledgeable attorneys have contended that this “scandal” is over blown.  These lawyers told David Ignatius of the Washington Post that this is not something a prosecutor would take to court.

Despite all of these groundless allegations regarding Clinton's use of a private email server, she still  holds a lead outside of the margin of error over her Republican opponents.  Depending upon what poll you look at and what candidate you look at, Clinton's lead over any potential Republican nominee is anywhere from four to eight percentage points.  In other words, if the election were today, Clinton would win by a marginal similar to President Obama's in the Presidential elections of 2008 and 2012.

The Republicans will continue to pursue this phony scandal narrative until Election Day 2016 and even after that - if a Democrat is elected President.  The GOP doesn't want an election comparing the visions and platforms of the respective parties.  Just about every Republican candidate has come out in favor of largely exempting the wealthy from all federal taxation, Social Security privatization, turning Medicare into a voucher program and sending U.S. troops back to the Middle East.  The last thing the GOP wants is for the election to be about real issues.  

As Democrats, we can't be fooled or alarmed by these GOP allegations.  We've been seeing this game plan since 1992 and it has always turned out to be false and not grounded in reality.  We need to keep the focus on the issues and the GOP's record in office.  If we can do that, we will win the 2016 elections.

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The Nebraska Democratic Presidential Caucus Will Make A Difference In 2016

We keep hearing from the mainstream media about the Republican party's alleged "deep bench" of contenders who are vying for the Presidency in the 2016. In reality, the GOP Presidential field resembles the motley crew found in the bar room scene in the original Star Wars movie that was shot in 1977.  One can find a deep bench of Presidential contenders over on the Democratic side.  All of our candidates are serious people with very genuine accomplishments.  Anyone of them could be a successful nominee and President.

The front runner and prohibitive 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.  

Due to Clinton's accomplishments and front runner status in head to head matchups with all of the GOP candidates, the Republicans (and the mainstream press) have cooked up a bogus scandal relying upon on all kinds of speculation and innuendo regarding the private email server that Clinton used as Secretary of State.   What we do know for sure is that there is no evidence that Clinton violated any law or State Department regulation in her use of a private email server. Moreover, there is no proof that she knowingly sent any previously classified information to anyone at any time. There is also no evidence whatsoever that any national security breach occurred in her private email server.

What hasn't been discussed by the GOP and the mainstream press is that Colin Powell used a private email account to conduct official business when he was Secretary of State in the Bush Administration.  In addition, there has been almost no mention of the fact that Jeb Bush, Scott Walker, Marco Rubio, Bobby Jindal and Mike Huckabee all used private email accounts to conduct government business when they were in public service.  Where is the outrage from the press and the GOP about this?  Why the double standard?   

At the present time, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders has posed the most serious 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 close the gap with Clinton in New Hampshire and to actually lead her in one poll in the Granite state.

Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley has also come out with a strong message.  For example, he recently came out with an innovative proposal to expand Social Security benefits.  Governor O'Malley is no stranger to Nebraska Democrats.  He addressed the Nebraska Democratic Party's Morrison-Exon dinner in 2014 and he will be returning to Omaha in October to headline our Omaha's Finest fundraiser.  He will be the first Democratic Presidential candidate to campaign in Nebraska.  We will provide the details once they are available.

O'Malley isn't the only Democratic Presidential candidate who has come to Nebraska. In 2012, former Virginia Senator Jim Webb was the featured speaker at the Morrison-Exon dinner.   Senator Webb is a distinguished American who served in combat in Vietnam and is a prolific author of both fiction and non-fiction books.  Webb's 2008 book "A Time To Fight" was one of the first works that recognized the troubling trends of rising inequality and mass incarceration in America.  Despite his strong record as a combat veteran, Secretary of the Navy and U.S. Senator, Webb is a long shot contender.

Former Rhode Island Governor and U.S. Senator Lincoln Chafee is also a heavy underdog who is given little chance to win the nomination.   Chafee was the only Republican who voted against the Iraq war resolution in 2002.  (Since then, Chafee has switched his party registration.  We Democrats are accepting converts.  In contrast, the GOP is purging heretics.)  As Governor of Rhode Island, Chafee pushed through measures legalizing marriage equality and allowing aspiring Americans to pay in-state tuition rates at Rhode Island's public colleges.

There may soon be a prominent addition to the already deep field of Democratic Presidential contenders.  At the present time, Vice President Joe Biden is seriously considering throwing his hat in the ring.  If he were to jump in the race, Biden would immediately be a top tier contender.  As Vice-President, Biden has been a major contributor to the successes of the Obama Administration.   He was instrumental in passing several pieces of crucial legislation through the Congress due to his long standing ties with members of Congress in both parties.  Biden is a genuinely warm person as well as a very good public speaker.  

All of these developments in the Democratic nominating process means that there will be most likely be a contested race by the time the Nebraska Democratic Party holds it caucuses on March 5, 2016.  Like we did in 2008, Nebraska will be going relatively early in the nominating process.  We urge every Nebraska Democrat to participate in our caucus and make history again - just like we did in 2008.

Already efforts are being made by our party officers and activists to prepare for the caucuses.  A website has already been set up at:  The Nebraska Democratic Party is also working to establish a speakers bureau to appear before groups and other events as needed to provide information regarding the delegate selection process.   We will also be contacting constituency organizations and holding outreach seminars and workshops.   Please continue to consult this website for more information and developments regarding our Presidential caucuses. 

We look forward to working with all registered Democrats to make our caucuses a big success.  If you aren't registered to vote, you can still fully participate in our caucuses by registering to vote as a Democrat at the caucus in your county or precinct.   We here at the Nebraska Democratic Party look forward to working with you in selecting the next President of the U.S.! 

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The Affordable Care Is Working - Ben Sasse Can Come Out Of His Survivalist Bunker

When he announced his candidacy for the U.S. Senate in October 2013, Ben Sasse made the ridiculous prediction that: "If the Affordable Care Act (ACA) survives, America will cease to exist."  Sasse's prognostication followed upon the heels of a whole string of apocalyptic predictions from his fellow Republicans - mostly notable John Boehner's prediction that the ACA will cause "Armageddon" and "ruin our country."  

I have good news for Sasse and Boehner.  New evidence has further confirmed that the ACA is working and improving the lives of millions of Americans.  It's now safe for Senator Sasse to emerge from his survivalist bunker because it looks like the U.S. will not only survive - it will continue to thrive and be the greatest country in the world.

An important piece of that evidence came from a report from Journal of the American Medical Association which indicates that the ACA has improved access to health care.  This study shows that the ACA's open enrollment periods - when millions of Americans signed up for health insurance for the first time - were "associated with significantly improved trends in self-reported coverage, access to primary care and medications, affordability, and health."  This study flies in the face of all of the GOP allegations that the ACA has reduced access to care due to high out of pocket health care costs and the difficulty in finding doctors who can provide timely consultations.  

Yet another new report - this one from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) - proves that the ACA has delivered on it's primary goal of reducing the number of uninsured Americans.  This CDC report indicates that the number of uninsured Americans has been reduced to 9.2% - the lowest level in American history.  Until now, no reputable study had ever found that the uninsured rate in the U.S. dropped below 10% into the single digits.  What this means is that the level of the uninsured has been cut in half since 2008 - that rate has been reduced from 18% in 2008 to 9.2% in 2015.  That is a monumental accomplishment.  

Since the implementation of the ACA in late 2013, approximately 16 million additional Americans have become insured.  Moreover, if current trends should continue,  the uninsured rate will continue to decline as enrollment in the ACA exchanges and Medicaid keeps going up.

In addition to evidence showing that the ACA is helping millions of Americans, there are also new studies which have rebutted the tired and inaccurate GOP contentions that Obama Care is a job killer and that insurance premiums are rising at an excessive rate.  

For years, the detractors of health care reform have been telling us that the ACA is a "job killer" and that the employer mandate would cause employers to lay people off or give employees fewer hours to work.  However, no less than three recent reports indicate that businesses have not changed how they hire and schedule their employees in response to the ACA.  According to Chris Ryan, a vice president at the payroll-management firm ADP: "Shifts in scheduling were trivial in every sector of the economy, even in industries that rely heavily on part-time work, such as leisure and hospitality."

ADP's findings were confirmed in another study by two professors at George Mason University and Michael Strain of the right wing American Enterprise Institute (AEI.) The paper from the AEI concluded that: "There was no statistically significant change in the proportion of part-time workers in the sectors most likely to be affected by Obamacare, such as janitorial and restaurant work."

Another dog that didn't bark was the Obama Care premium "rate shock" allegation that is breathlessly reported by Fox News on a regular basis. (Remember how cheap insurance was during the Bush Administration? I don't.)  According to a report from the non-partisan Commonwealth Fund, employer-sponsored health insurance premiums grew more slowly in 31 states and the District of Columbia after the passage of the ACA in 2010.  

Insurance premiums have risen more slowly in the states that have cooperated in the implementation of Obama Care as opposed to the ones - like Nebraska - that have resisted it.  For example, insurance premiums will only increase 4% in California in 2016 because they have passed the Medicaid expansion and have a Department of Insurance that protects consumers rather than insurance companies.  

The totality of the evidence proves that the ACA has been a big success.  Many more Americans have become insured and health care costs have grown at their slowest rate since the 1960s.  Moreover, the ACA has resulted in the greatest expansion of insurance coverage since the passage of Medicare and Medicaid in 1965.  All of the predictions of doom and gloom from the likes of Ben Sasse and John Boehner have proven to be wildly inaccurate. 

We can't take these accomplishments for granted.  All of the Republican running for President and Congress are committed to the total repeal of the ACA.  Moreover, the GOP after more than six years still hasn't come up with a consensus replacement plan.  Perhaps the "best" plan they have come up with is Donald Trump's promise to replace the ACA with "something terrific."  

If we are to preserve the ACA and allow it to continue insure more Americans, we must work hard to elect a Democratic President and Congress in 2016.  Only by winning next year's election can we guarantee continued progress.  The last thing we can afford to let occur would be to allow the Republicans to return to power.  The last time the GOP was in charge in Washington, they did nothing when 8 million Americans lost their insurance coverage and ruined the economy.  

We Democrats have a good record to run on in 2016  Like I said, we have succeeded in insuring 16 million Americans and reducing the uninsured rate to the lowest level in U.S. history.  Moreover, the economy is now creating more jobs than at anytime since the late 1990s.  We need to remind the American people about our accomplishments and the GOP failures again and again.  If we don't do it, nobody else will. 

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Is Ben Sasse A Radical?

Nebraska's Congressional Republicans have long been very conservative and responsive to the demands of their party bosses and the out of state special interests who fund their campaigns.  Moreover, since the rise of the Tea Party in 2009, those same Nebraska Republicans have generally given into the demands of this group and done things such as vote for the misguided 2013 government shutdown.  

What is truly new and different is Ben Sasse's descent into sheer radicalism.  Some of the positions he took during campaign 2014 and some of the votes he has made this year can certainly lead a fair observer to draw the conclusion that Sasse isn't just an ordinary, garden variety right wing Republican.  He is a radical and an extremist.

We began to see some hints of Sasse's radicalism during the 2013-14 campaign cycle.   When Sasse announced his Senate bid in early October 2013, he made the silly prediction that: "If the Affordable Care Act survives, America will cease to exist."  Since Mr. Sasse made that ridiculous prognostication, the U.S. economy has created an average of 237,000 new jobs every month.  This is the best job growth in the U.S. since the economic boom during the second term of the Clinton Administration.

Sasse doubled down on his fierce opposition to the Affordable Care Act (ACA), when he came out against ending the harmful government shutdown aimed at repealing the ACA and cancelling millions of insurance policies.  (The GOP government shutdown cost the economy $24 billion and 120,000 jobs.)  Sasse told the Omaha World Herald that he would have voted against the compromise funding bill that reopened the government.  In other words, if Sasse had gotten his way, the government would still be shutdown or 17 million Americans would have been deprived of health insurance coverage.  

During the 2014 primary cycle, Sasse was endorsed by some of the most extreme and contentious Republicans.  Former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin and Senator Ted Cruz both provided Sasse with crucial endorsements before the primary.  Palin is known for - among other things - perpetrating the lie that the ACA contained death panels.  This allegation by Palin was deemed by the non-partisan fact checker to be the "lie of the year" in 2009.

Cruz's support of Sasse's Senate bid was equally troubling.  It was Senator Cruz who convinced the radicals in the House of Representatives to shut down the government in 2013 over the ACA.  Moreover, Cruz once said: "I don’t think what Washington needs is more compromise."  

Shortly after his inauguration as a U.S. Senator, Sasse began to demonstrate that he shares Cruz's disdain for compromise.  As early as March, Sasse joined his fellow Nebraska Republicans in voting to shutdown the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) during a time of war and when the U.S. was being threatened by terrorist attacks.  This was a deeply irresponsible vote because counter-terrorism experts contended that a shutdown of DHS would result in a slower and weaker response to a terrorist attack - if one were to occur.

Shortly upon the heels of Sasse's vote to weaken the U.S. response to terrorism, Nebraska's junior Senator joined Deb Fischer and 45 other Senate Republicans in writing a letter directly to Iran's Mullahs in an attempt to sabotage the efforts of the U.S. and five other world powers to negotiate an agreement placing limits on Iran's nuclear program.  If Sasse had succeeded in this attempt, the international sanctions regime against Iran would have collapsed and it would have accelerated Iran's quest to develop a nuclear weapon.  Moreover, this kind of result would've made war with Iran all but inevitable.  

Sasse isn't just a threat to stability in the Middle East, he also poses a threat to the ability of Nebraska's senior citizens to see their doctors.  This is because in April Sasse voted against the Medicare doctor fix - which passed the Senate by a 92-8 margin.  This bill passed less than three hours before federal officials would have reduced payments to health-care providers by 21%.  If that had occurred, many doctors and health care providers would've refused to treat senior citizens.  Moreover, the passage of this legislation was hailed by members of Congress in both parties as a bi-partisan triumph.  Yet Sasse rejected this important compromise and sided with some of the most extreme members of the U.S. Senate including Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio.

Sasse hasn't only opposed health care for senior citizens, he has even voted against health care for our veterans.  Just last month, Sasse voted with 3 other extreme Senators against a bill that would have kept Veterans' hospitals open.  The bill to provide health care to our veterans passed by a 91-4 margin.  Even Senator Fischer voted for it. The Veterans Administration had indicated that it might have to start closing hospitals if Congress had refused to pass this bill.  Despite the high stakes involved in this legislation, Sasse voted to close down Veterans' hospitals.   The Omaha World Herald reported that a "Sasse spokesman declined comment on what the senator would have preferred Congress to do."

It is evident that Ben Sasse is a radical and doesn't share Nebraska values.  He has rejected compromise and aligned himself with the most extreme members of the Republican Party.  These extremists that Sasse associates with reject the Progressive accomplishments of the 20th century.   These radicals are willing to blow up Washington, D.C,  to achieve their goals of repealing Social Security, Medicare and even veterans' health programs.  

We as Democrats need to spread the word that Ben Sasse simply isn't one of us.  He is a dangerous extremist who will resort to just about any tactic to achieve his ends.  What makes him especially dangerous is that he comes across as a pleasant and reasonable person.  Don't be fooled.  And don't let your friends and neighbors be fooled either.  Sasse is a very different kind of Republican.   And that's not good. 

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Is This The Worst Congress Ever?

The current GOP led Congress is off to a horrendous start and things may get a lot worse before they get better.   This awful performance wasn't what the Republicans promised during campaign 2014.  Many Republicans ran on the platform that electing a GOP controlled Congress would end the gridlock.  Shortly after the Republicans won the election, Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell said that: "I don't want the American people to think if they add a Republican president to a Republican Congress, that's going to be a scary outcome.  I want the American people to be comfortable with the fact that the Republican House and Senate is a responsible, right of center, governing majority." 

Unfortunately, the performance of the GOP-led Congress and the Nebraska Congressional Republicans could lead to a scary outcome as early as September if present trends continue.  Since the new Congress took office in January, the American people have been subjected to the extraordinary level of dysfunction and gridlock that have characterized Republican members of Congress since 2009.  

The gridlock and dysfunction in the current session of Congress began as early as February when the Republican members of Congress tried to shutdown the Department of Homeland Security when the Mall of America in Bloomington, Minnesota was threatened with a terrorist attack.  Despite that threat to our neighboring state, Fischer, Sasse, Fortenberry and Smith all went on record in favor of a shutdown of the Department of Homeland Security.  These were deeply irresponsible and reckless votes.

Nebraska's Congressional Republicans made a similarly reckless vote when all of them voted for the GOP budget which ends Medicare as we know it and turns it into a voucher program.  This GOP Medicare scheme that would force senior citizens to purchase private health insurance would also bring back the pre-existing condition clauses that were banned in the Affordable Care Act.  The GOP Medicare scheme would cost the average senior citizen thousands of dollars in additional out of pocket medical expenses and largely benefit the private health insurance industry.

Fischer, Sasse, Fortenberry and Smith voted for yet another gift for the special interests when they voted to repeal the estate tax.  This tax cut would only benefit the top 0.2% of Americans and add $269 billion to the deficit.  There has yet to be any evidence that any farm has ever been sold off to pay the estate tax in recent history.

When Nebraska's Congressional Republicans aren't voting to comfort the already comfortable, they are voting to support the latest fad from the Tea Party.  Both Sasse and Fischer voted against re-authorizing the Export-Import Bank.  This once obscure agency suddenly became a Tea Party target due to pressure from the Koch brothers.  The Export-Import Bank provides necessary financing to agricultural exports and earned the Treasury Department $675 million in it's last fiscal year. 

Senator Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND) - who spoke to the Douglas County Democrats earlier this year - responded to this effort to shut down the Export-Import Bank by simply saying: "Idiotic.  Mind-boggyling idiotic."  House SpeakerJohn Boehner thus far has refused to allow an up or down vote in the House on the Export-Import Bank.  (As of the time of this writing, the Export-Import Bank hasn't been re-authorized.)

This abject failure of the GOP led Congress simply isn't confined to the irresponsible Republican leadership in the Senate and the House.  This failure extends to all Republican members including Fischer, Sasse, Fortenberry and Smith.  As Doug Muzzio, a political science professor from New York's Baruch College said: "The Republican Congress has shown itself to be, almost without exception, incapable of doing the people's business, at least when it it comes to important business.  There is a real failure, not just of the party leaders, but of the membership."

Despite this disgraceful performance, the House began a vacation on July 31 and won't return to Washington until September 8.  Representative Brad Ashford - the lone voice of reason in the Nebraska delegation - called on the House to cancel its undeserved vacation and to stay in Washington to work on a vast pile of unfinished business.

When the House goes back into session on September 8, they will only have twelve legislative days to fund the government and raise the debt ceiling.   Already there has been a lot of loose talk about shutting down the government over an attempt to defund Planned Parenthood.  In a recent conversation, Congressman Ashford told me that he was very concerned about the prospect of another government shutdown.

Nebraska's current set of Congressional Republicans all supported the deeply misguided government shutdown in 2013 which cost the economy $24 billion and 120,000 jobs.  In order to avoid another unnecessary self inflicted wound to the economy, Nebraska's Congressional Republicans should publicly take a pledge to oppose any government shutdown or attempt to default on the national debt.  Any attempt to sabotage the economy in order to gain policy concessions should be simply declared off limits by all members of Congress, regardless of party affiliation.

Congressman Brad Ashford ran against the government shutdown of 2013 and has been working hard to create bi-partisan solutions.  He has been the lone responsible voice in the Nebraska Congressional delegation.  Among other things, Representative Ashford has stood up to radical Republican efforts to gut Medicare and to kick 16 million off their insurance policies by repealing the Affordable Care Act.  Moreover, Ashford has been the champion for America's veterans who have done so much for our country.  

As Nebraska Democrats we can remedy this problem by working hard for the re-election of Brad Ashford.  Nebraska CD-02 is one of the few true swing districts in the U.S.  I'm confident that Ashford will be re-elected because he is popular in the district and there should be a strong Democratic turnout in the Presidential election year.  A well placed Republican insider told me on background that it will be hard for the Republicans to take back Nebraska CD-02 next year.

We also can't neglect Nebraska CD-01 and CD-03.  I realize these districts are pretty red but if the Republican Congress shuts down the government and/or defaults on the national debt, they could set off a wave election that would heavily benefit Democratic candidates across the nation.  In every wave election, there are always a handful of under dog candidates who get swept into office against the odds. 

I like our chances in the Congressional elections in 2016.  Like I said, there will be a strong Democratic turnout due to the Presidential election.  In addition, the GOP is likely to select a wounded Presidential nominee who will be well outside the mainstream.   In order to win the GOP Presidential nomination, a candidate has to excessively pander to the Tea Party and the other extreme factions in the GOP.  

The only way to end the gridlock and dysfunction in Washington is to elect a Democratic President and Congress in 2016.  Our party is committed to ending the gridlock and putting the middle class first.  Now let's get to work! 

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We Need Common Sense Gun Safety Reform Now More Than Ever

The U.S. is the only industrialized first world country that is plagued by a wave of gun violence.   Our country's loose gun laws are truly exceptional among first world countries and they even allow deranged individuals to obtain military style assault weapons.  Recently, there have been massing shootings by mentally disturbed individuals in Charleston, Chattanooga and Lafayette, Louisiana.  

The Republican response to this spate of gun violence and killings is to simply refuse to discuss the issue.  Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal's reaction to the recent Lafayette shootings is fairly common among Republicans.  Shortly after those tragic shootings in his state, Jindal said that now was not the time to talk about guns.  Instead, he said we should simply focus on mourning for the ones who lost their lives

Under Jindal's standard, the high frequency of mass shootings makes it virtually impossible to ever address the issue of common sense gun safety.  As the Washington Post recently reported, there were 204 mass shootings in the U.S. in the first 204 days of 2015.   When are we ever supposed to discuss common sense gun safety reforms when shootings happen on a daily basis?  

The other Republican response to gun violence is what I would call the ostrich approach.  The GOP simply puts their heads in the sand and denies any connection between our country's ludicrous gun laws and the wave of mass killings that we continue to endure.

Shortly after the Charleston shootings,  the House Appropriations Committee perpetuated the GOP's strategy of ignorance by voting to bar the Centers for Disease Control from funding any research on gun violence and make recommendations. This ban was supported by Representative Jeff Fortenberry and passed on a straight party line vote. In response to this vote, Representative Nita Lowey ((D-NY) stated: “Preventing research because you worry about the outcome is cowardly. When it comes to gun violence, my friends, this committee won’t give one dime for the CDC to conduct research on something that is killing Americans by the thousands.”

Fortenberry's vote against basic research on gun violence provides a good example of how he operates when he is Washington, D.C. While he is out of Nebraska, his party bosses and the most extreme elements in the GOP can count on his support. In contrast, when he is in Nebraska he falsely portrays himself as some kind of thoughtful moderate.

The Republican Party hasn't always been this radical and ignorant regarding common sense gun safety. As recently as the early 1990s, conservative icon Ronald Reagan supported the Brady Bill which included a ban on military style assault weapons and a seven day waiting period for gun buyers. In a New York Times editorial piece in support of the Brady bill, Reagan wrote: ""Every year, an average of 9,200 Americans are murdered by handguns, according to Department of Justice statistics... If the passage of the Brady bill were to result in a reduction of only 10 or 15 percent of those numbers (and it could be a good deal greater), it would be well worth making it the law of the land."

More recently, shortly after the senseless murder of 26 people at an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut in 2012, Senate Republicans voted to deny an up or down vote to a bill with overwhelming public support that would have required background checks for all gun purchases. Both Mike Johanns and Deb Fischer prioritized the interests of gun manufacturers over Nebraskans when they voted with the most radical members of the GOP to reject an up or down vote on this life or death issue.  

The so-called Republican "solution" to this epidemic of gun violence has been to demand more money for mental health care. However, those very same Republicans have voted to deny mental health care to millions of Americans by voting to repeal the Affordable Care Act over 50 times in Washington and to block the Medicaid expansion here in Nebraska (and other states.)

In a recent interview, President Obama pledged to continue to work on solutions to this mass wave of gun violence during the last 18 months of his Presidency. In that same interview, Obama correctly pointed out that: "If you look at the number of Americans killed since 9/11 by terrorism, it's less than 100. If you look at the number that have been killed by gun violence, it's in the tens of thousands."

I believe we Nebraska Democrats need to follow President Obama's lead and do everything we can to save lives by pressuring our elected representatives to pass common sense gun safety measures. Unfortunately, we probably won't get far trying to lobby the current Nebraska Republicans who serve in Congress. Instead, we need to work hard to elect new members of Congress who will pay attention to the public and reject the out of state special interests who profit from this needless and tragic wave of killings in our country.

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Don't Let The GOP Disparage Our Economic Achievements

When President Obama took office, the economy was on the verge of collapse and losing 800,000 jobs per month.  By the time of the general election in 2012, the economy was creating 100,000 jobs per month and the unemployment rate dipped just below 8%.  When that occurred, many prominent Republicans were in denial and alleged that the Obama Administration was "cooking the books." 

During the 2012 campaign, Mitt Romney promised to reduce the unemployment rate to 6% by the end of his first term.  Since his defeat, the unemployment rate has fallen below Romney's stated goal and is now 5.3%.  In addition, the economy has been creating over 200,000 jobs per month over the last 1.5 years.  If this kind of economic growth had occurred during a Romney Presidency, the GOP would be holding ticker tape parades for him.  

Now that President Obama has met and exceeded Romney's goal of a 6% unemployment rate, the GOP has begun to disparage the clear economic progress this country has made since the dark days of 2008-09.  The Republicans have cherry picked two obscure statistics never mentioned before January 20, 2009 in an attempt to convince the American people that the U.S. economy is still in poor shape.

As a starting point, the GOP has moved the goal posts on the unemployment rate.  The 6% unemployment rate promised by Romney is the one measured by what is called U3.  This measure - which has been in place since 1994- doesn't count so-called "discouraged workers" who have been out of the labor force for over 6 months.

Before Obama was elected, the GOP touted the U3 measure as the gold standard for measuring unemployment.  During the Bush years, former Reagan Administration Treasury Department official Lawrence Kudlow wrote columns celebrating the so-called "Bush boom" and and would cite the U3 measure of unemployment in his columns.  As we know, Romney relied upon the U3 measure when he promised to reduce unemployment to 6% by January 2017. 

Now that the economy is creating the most jobs since the Clinton Administration, the GOP has suddenly begun to talk about the U6 measure of unemployment.   This statistic includes so-called "discouraged workers" in it's calculation and the U6 unemployment rate is currently 10.5%.  What the GOP doesn't mention is that U6 unemployment has steadily declined since it peaked at 17% in 2009.  

The U6 unemployment measuring stick isn't the only obscure economic statistic that the GOP  became obsessed with beginning at high noon on January 20, 2009.  We've also been hearing from them about the labor participation rate (LPR.)  The GOP likes to tell us that Obama is a failure and the economy is doing poorly because the LPR is at it's lowest rate since 1978.

The Republicans' talking point on the LPR is disingenuous because they don't give us any of the historical and demographic context regarding the LPR.  The LPR steadily increased between the 1970s and 2000 due to the entry of women into the labor force.  

The LPR peaked at 67% in 2000 and began to decline that year largely due to the retirement of the baby boom generation.  By the time Bush left office in 2009, the LPR had been reduced to 65%.

Since Obama took office, the LPR has continued it's decline.  At the present time, the LPR is around 63%.  What this means is that the LPR has declined at the same rate during the Obama Administration as it did during the Bush Administration.  

According to government economists at the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the LPR would have declined  no matter who was president, and independent of the state of the economy.  You won't hear about that on Fox News and AM radio!

The Republicans' discovery of these heretofore obscure economic statistics is part of a P.R. campaign aimed at winning the next election.  The GOP wants to convince the American people that the economy is worse now than it was in 2009 so they can be returned to power.

Our opponents also don't want the American people to remember their own terrible record on the economy the last time they held all of the levers of power in Washington, D.C.  The GOP is counting on collective amnesia - they hope the American people will forget that President Obama inherited the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression and had to pull us out of the ditch. 

Our job as Democrats is to refresh those hazy memories because the propaganda of the GOP depends upon the voters having bad memories.  We need to be proud of our record and run hard on it. If we don't mention it, nobody else will.

The stakes next year couldn't be any higher.  Are we going to hand over the country  once again to the GOP and its policies that ruined our economy before and that will destroy the hard earned progress that we've made since 2009?  I'm confident that if we do our job, the voters will make the right choice and vote for continued progress by electing a Democratic President and Congress.  

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