The conventional wisdom regarding election 2014 is that the Republicans won big and the Democrats were trounced. The top line numbers certainly support that facile analysis. The Republicans did regain control of the Senate and increased their majority in the U.S. House of Representatives. Here in Nebraska, the Republicans did win many of the contested races - winning the Governor's mansion, winning an open U.S. Senate seat and picking up 5 legislative seats.
What that conventional wisdom leaves out is that most Republicans ran as moderates in election year 2014. In most of the hotly contested and highly watched Senate races, the Republican candidates repeated their usual tired talking point about the complete repeal of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) but those same Republicans were quick to point out that they favored the policy objectives of the ACA. Just about every Republican Senate candidate talked about covering more Americans and maintaining the ban on pre-existing condition clauses. These Republicans running in competitive races didn't want to come out in favor of kicking millions of Americans off of their insurance policies.
It should also be mentioned that several Republican Governors up for re-election signed into law the ACA's Medicaid expansion. Most of the Republicans Governors who came out in favor of the Medicaid expansion were safely re-elected.
And let's also not forget that just about every Republican who ran for the Congress talked about their (alleged) support for maintaining Social Security and Medicare. In fact, many Republicans ran false ads accusing their Democratic opponents of supporting measures to cut Social Security and Medicare.
Closer to home, both Ben Sasse and Pete Ricketts ran as moderates in the general election and smoothed down or otherwise ran away from the hard edged conservatism of their primary campaigns.
In the primary cycle, Sasse campaigned with the most extreme members of the GOP including Ted Cruz and Sarah Palin. Cruz once went so far as to say: "I don’t think what Washington needs is more compromise."
The Ben Sasse of the general election campaign took a completely different tack than the primary version of Sasse. In the general election cycle, Sasse said he wanted to be a problem solver and help those who have "dirt under their fingernails." He even claimed he supported: "tax reform that spends far less rhetorical energy on the marginal tax rate of the top 1 percent and instead begins with a goal of maximum economic growth and more opportunities for the poor and the middle class."
Similarly, Ricketts ran as a moderate during the general election cycle. The Omaha billionaire ran away from the radical ideas proposed by the Platte Institute that he founded and funded. Ricketts even went so far as to claim that Chuck Hassebrook was being dishonest when he (correctly) claimed that Ricketts paid a lobbyist to push for an extreme tax agenda in the Unicameral that would fund a tax cut for the wealthy by increasing taxes on 80% of Nebraskans.
During the campaign, Ricketts went out of his way to reassure the voters that he was no extremist. He sat down with Don Walton of the Lincoln Journal Star and told the voters that any changes in taxes and spending would be very gradual. Ricketts essentially repudiated the radicalism of Kansas Governor Brownback's fiscal policies when he told Walton: "Reform is not a one-and-done thing."
The only Republican in Nebraska who ran as an out and out hard line conservative was (soon to be former) Representative Lee Terry. In his re-election campaign, Terry doubled down on his extremism when he ran a series of dishonest and vile ads blaming Brad Ashford for a crime spree in Omaha. The voters of Nebraska CD2 wisely rejected Terry's 21st century version of the infamous Willie Horton ad from the 1988 Presidential campaign.
Brad Ashford's victory over Terry indicates that the Nebraska Democratic Party did have some successes in a difficult election cycle for Democrats. Representative-elect Ashford is the first Democrat to knock off an incumbent Republican Congressman in Nebraska and is also the first Democrat to win that seat since 1992.
Another victory for the Nebraska Democratic Party (and all Nebraskans) was the resounding success of Initiative 425 which will raise the state's minimum wage to $9 per hour by January 1, 2016. This ballot measure passed by an overwhelming margin of 59% to 41%.
What we need to do going forward is hold Sasse, Ricketts and other Republicans accountable for these promises of moderation. In many instances, Nebraska Republican candidates almost sounded like Democrats during the fall campaign. If Sasse and Ricketts (and other Republicans) take hard right positions beginning in January, we need to point out that they lack a mandate for an extreme, conservative agenda. Instead, we need to remind the voters and the press that they ran on Democratic issues and values.
As a postscript, I would like to thank each and every member of the Democratic ticket (and their families) for placing their names on the ballot this year. As a member of that ticket, I saw first hand how hard our candidates worked. These are good people who were eminently well qualified for the offices they sought. We all owe them a debt of gratitude.
Nebraska Democratic Party,
I would like to take a moment and thank the Democrats of Nebraska. It has been an honor to serve this party.
I was welcomed with open arms as a person who had never really been active or involved. From my first day at a party function to the last day of the state convention this year, I have seen the best that Nebraska has to offer.
This party represents all people. We stand up for the rights of all people. I will forever be proud to be a Democrat. It was not an easy decision to not run for another term. I was overwhelmed by the support that I recieved by the 3rd district and the entire state party. While I appreciate all of those who felt that I should have stayed, for many reasons, I could not.
It is important to me that all of you know that it is not the fault of any person or persons in the NDP. Actually it is the opposite.
This party is stronger now that it has been at any time since I have been involved. I feel absolutely sure that the new officers will find the support that they need in our staff and state executive committee.
I stand behind Vince Powers. I wish Maureen Monahan continued success and I know that Andy Holland will continue to be an incredible finance director. I encourage all of you to reach out to Dan Marvin, Kevin Cass, Chauncey Brown, Hadley Richters, Juan Gallegos and Paige Hutchinson--not just for help, though they are brilliant resources, but also to let them know what you are doing in your area and what ideas you have for the party.
To the 3rd district, please welcome Frank LaMere and Deb Quirk and thank them for stepping up. This was not a job that they were seeking, as it was not a job that I had been seeking. It is a big and difficult job. Ask them for help, yes, but don't forget to do your part and ask them what you can do to help.
Deb and Frank at one time were state chair and associate chair, so you are in good hands!
We have the best candidates in the state. They can all win, but not without your support. You have a talent--use it! Give a few hours. Stuff envelopes, make calls, knock doors, talk to your neighbors, host a house party, donate, ask the party what they need and follow through. For the next 85 days give it every thing you have to turn Nebraska blue. THIS IS THE YEAR.
We can do it!
Feel free to contact me.
This weeked I traveled to Lincoln for the NDP state convention.
The Lincoln Journal Star editorial board recently alleged that Jeff Fortenberry is a "compassionate conservative" and found his alleged independence from the more extreme elements of the GOP to be "inspiring." The Lincoln Journal Star waxed almost poetic about Fortenberry because he was one of the few Republicans who voted against a bill that would cut food stamp spending by $40 billion. Is Fortenberry really independent and a compassionate conservative? Does compassionate conservatism even exist?
Fortenberry has shown no independence and compassion in connection with the GOP government shutdown and default threat. Even though the incumbent 1st District Congressman said that he "did not think coupling [proposed repeal or delay of Obama Care] to a government shutdown was a good idea," he still voted for a bill that did that very same thing. This entirely unnecessary and harmful government shutdown began last month when Fortenberry voted with just about every House Republican for a continuing resolution that defunded the ACA and locked in spending at sequester levels. Moreover, Fortenberry isn't on the list of House Republicans who favor a clean continuing resolution and hasn't called for an up or down vote on this legislation that would re-open the government.
This government shutdown began as a deeply misguided effort by Fortenberry and his fellow radical Republicans to defund Obama Care and deprive 30 million Americans of health insurance coverage. What makes this entire effort so hypocritical is that Fortenberry is currently provided with taxpayer financed health care as one of the perks of his job as Congressman. As Fortenberry recently said: "I'm thankful that as a federal worker I have had access to good health care and a subsidy, and I pay a certain amount for it. Those have been very beneficial to me. I recognize that not everybody has that out there." However, Fortenberry initiated the shutdown to deprive millions of poor and sick Americans of the health care that he admits has been "very beneficial" to him.
Congressional District 1's representative in the U.S. House of Representatives is also on board with the House Republican's threat to default on U.S. obligations unless the Obama Administration agrees to cut Social Security and Medicare. While Senator Johanns has spoken out against the reckless actions of the House Republicans and has warned that default would be catastrophic, Fortenberry has been silent. Needless to say, Fortenberry's silence has been deafening.
Fortenberry's government shutdown and default threat has already been very bad for the economy. Small business owners in fields as diverse as law, auto sales and real estate have said that their phones stopped ringing about three weeks ago. The threat to the economy posed by Fortenberry and his fellow extreme House Republicans is strangling small businesses and destroying consumer confidence.
Those aren't the only negative consequences of the government shutdown. The Capitol Police who are protecting Fortenberry are currently going without pay. The shutdown has impaired food, product and air safety. The shutdown is also causing havoc for farmers at harvest time. Daily reports from the Department of Agriculture, which help farmers read the markets for corn and livestock prices, have been suspended. One farmer said, "We don't know the value of a hog in the market place. It starts out as an annoyance. It goes to frustration. Then a headache. And then it becomes a big deal because just because the government's shut down doesn't mean agriculture stops."
Similarly, Nebraska's representative from CD1 has blindly followed the party line on the Ryan budget plan which privatizes Medicare and turns it into a voucher. Fortenberry has voted for this regressive bill on at least three occasions. As I've discussed here before, the Fortenberry/Ryan budget requires senior citizens to purchase private health insurance. What is seldom mentioned is that the Fortenberry/Ryan plan repeals the ACA and brings back pre-existing condition clauses. Mr. Fortenberry has yet to explain how senior citizens will be able to purchase affordable and comprehensive insurance once the health insurance industry is put back in charge of the insurance market for senior citizens.
Fortenberry has demonstrated a similar lack of compassion and independence in connection with his 2011 vote for the sequester budget cuts and his continuing support for this harmful policy. In CD 1, meat inspectors and air traffic controllers have been furloughed. Some Saturday mail deliveries in rural areas have been canceled. Some of his constituents have been deprived access to homeless shelters and Head Start.
In the area of immigration, Fortenberry has also shown no independence and compassion. Earlier this year, Fortenberry voted with Steve King and every other House Republican to deport the DREAM Act children. This vote could potentially impact children who were brought to the U.S. by their parents and have built up a life in our country. Fortunately, the chances are good that the Fortenberry/King amendment will be rejected in the U.S. Senate.
The reality is that Fortenberry-with certain rare exceptions-is a party line House Republican who can be counted on by the leadership in that body to vote with the Tea Party and the other extreme members of the GOP. Fortenberry's votes and actions have already done harm to his constituents in CD1 and things could get a lot worse if Fortenberry and his colleagues continue the shutdown and allow the U.S. to default on our obligations for the first time in our country's history.
Fortenberry is no "compassionate conservative." In reality, compassionate conservatism never really existed. It was just a clever marketing slogan from the 2000 Bush campaign to differentiate himself from the group of unpopular House Republicans who shut down the government in 1995-96 in a failed attempt to finance tax cuts for the wealthy by cutting Medicare. Mr. Fortenberry would fit in very well with that bunch.
Representative Adrian Smith has now served in the House of Representatives since 2007 and we are in a good position to evaluate his record and determine if he is worthy of re-election. Any objective and careful review of his record indicates that he has consistently voted with the most extreme members of his party in ways that are contrary to the interests of the residents of Nebraska CD3.
Smith is fully behind the Tea Party government shutdown and phony debt-ceiling crisis. While Senator Mike Johanns has spoken out against refusing to fund the government and threatening a default on our nation's debts, Smith has voted several times in favor of the shutdown. In addition, Smith has been complicit in the GOP's strategy to cause harm to the American people by threatening to default on America's obligations. According to most economists and even the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, a refusal to raise the debt ceiling and a default would cause world wide economic chaos.
What that means is that Smith (and most of his Republican Congressional colleagues) will cause a recession unless the Democrats agree to defund the Affordable Care Act, cut Social Security and cut Medicare. It isn't a Nebraska value to threaten harm in order to get your demands met. We Nebraskans believe in honesty and fair play in our dealings with others.
Already, the Smith/GOP shutdown and default threat has hurt the American people. The Dow Jones average has already tumbled around 500 points and consumer confidence is now 14 points lower than it was the week before the shutdown. This means consumers haven’t been this pessimistic since December of 2011. Approximately 800,000 federal workers have been furloughed without pay. Children are unable to participate in programs like Head Start. Cancer patients have been forced to delay treatments. Apparently, Smith believes that if he and his allies in the Tea Party can inflict enough damage, the Democrats will cave and give him what he wants.
Smith's actions in connection with the farm bill have also hurt the people of his district. In the past, the farm bill consisted of both the payments of subsidies to farmers and the extension of the food stamp program. For decades, this combining of issues created a bi-partisan, rural/urban coalition to pass the farm bill.
The Third District Congressman and his cohorts broke up this long time tradition and coalition when they voted to separate the two parts of the bill and voted for a food stamp bill that cut benefits by $40 billion. This food stamp bill was so extreme that even Jeff Fortenberry voted against it. (Fortenberry is no moderate.) These actions have now made it much harder to pass a farm bill and as a result, we still don't have one.
Smith's votes on Social Security and Medicare could hurt senior citizens as well. In 2011, Smith voted to cut Social Security benefits when he voted to raise the Social Security retirement age to 70. Smith has also voted for the Ryan budget, which privatizes Medicare and turns it into a voucher program. The Smith/Ryan Medicare plan would cost the average senior citizen an additional $6,000.00 to $8,000.00 in annual out of pocket medical expenses.
On the other hand, Smith has been an ardent supporter of the nation's wealthiest citizens and largest corporations. The Smith/Ryan budget would reduce the top marginal rate from 39.6% to 25% and cut the top corporate rate from 35% to 25%. What this means is that Smith has voted to cut taxes for oil companies, banks and insurance companies.
Fortunately, Smith has a strong challenger in Mark Sullivan who shares the values of Nebraska CD3. Sullivan is a life long farmer and cattle feeder. Sullivan is a good, common sense Nebraskan who is willing to reach across party lines and come up with solutions that will help the residents of CD3 and the country.
Sullivan's common sense solutions include improving infrastructure to create jobs, and developing an energy program involving sustainable energy sources such as solar, wind, hydro and geothermal. Unlike his opponent, Sullivan has pledged to fight to preserve Social Security, Medicare and the family farm.
It is obvious that Smith has been in Washington for too long and has grown out of touch with his constituents. Evidently, Smith has adopted the values of his D.C. political contributors. It's time that we elect a true Nebraskan in Mark Sullivan. We all need to work hard for Mark Sullivan because he is one of us.
Last weekend was very eventful for Democrats in Nebraska. we had our State Central Committee (SCC) meeting in Fremont that was hosted by the Dodge County Democrats. We had more than 100 folks turnout to attend different caucus meetings and also to go to trainings dealing with Votebuilder and Social Media. One of our gubernatorial candidates, Senator Annette Dubas, also attended the SCC meeting and attended several different caucuses including the Veteran's and Women's Caucses respectively.
Nebraska Watchdog recently posted an article in which they indicated that Blue Cross/Blue Shield will raise insurance premiums for numerous Nebraskans who are required to purchase coverage in the health insurance exchanges beginning on October 1. Moreover, the piece quoted a so-called "expert" from the extremely conservative Manhattan Institute who linked those increases to ObamaCare. (The article did indicate that several thousand Nebraskans will see a rate decrease.) Just what is causing the rate increases? Is the new federal health law really to blame? Just how widespread is the problem?
One of the flaws in Nebraska Watchdog's piece was that it largely relied upon an "expert" from the Manhattan Institute in an attempt to connect these rate increases to ObamaCare. The article didn't consult any experts from any consumer friendly or Progressive think tanks. Moreover, the Nebraska Watchdog piece neglected to mention that the Manhattan Institute is very conservative and has received funding from some of the most bitter opponents of the Obama Administration. For example, this right wing think tank has received financial assistance from the Koch Brothers, Cigna Insurance, Lincoln Financial Group (an insurance holding company), and Merrill Lynch. The Koch Brothers, the insurance industry and Wall Street have all contributed millions of dollars to finance deceptive advertising blitzes opposing the landmark 2010 health care reform law.
In light of Nebraska Watchdog's reliance upon a vitriolic opponent of Obama Care, it is speculative - at best - to blame Obama Care for Blue Cross/Blue Shield's recent rate increases. It is Blue Cross/Blue Shield - not the federal government - that established those rates. Moreover, Blue Cross has quoted lower rates in many other states. It is evident here in Nebraska that Blue Cross has decided to take advantage of a situation to jack up their rates and are now trying to deflect criticism for a decision they were probably planning to make anyway.
Another factor behind the rate increases is the refusal of Governor Dave Heineman and his supporters in the Unicameral to adopt the Medicaid expansion. According to a study by the non-partisan RAND corporation, Governor Rick Perry's rejection of the Medicaid expansion will cause private health insurance premiums to rise by an average of 9.3% for Texans purchasing coverage on their own in the health care exchanges. Over 300,000 Texan residents just above the poverty line will take advantage of ObamaCare’s subsidies and purchase coverage in the individual insurance market, the researchers found. Those are people who would have been enrolled in Medicaid, if the Medicaid expansion had not been rejected by Perry and the Texas Legislature. The RAND experts said that because lower income people generally are not as healthy as people with higher incomes, their inclusion in the private health insurance exchange will change the claims experience of insurance companies selling coverage in the individual market. “When exchange subsidies become available to lower-income individuals, the average health of the exchange population declines slightly, and premiums increase,” they wrote. There is no reason to think Nebraska's experience isn't any different than that of Texas.
The number of Nebraskans experiencing insurance rate increases is far less widespread than the Nebraska Watchdog article would lead you to believe. This is because only 15% of Nebraskans will be required to purchase insurance in the health care exchanges. The other 85% don't have to do anything because they are already insured by their employer, Medicare, Medicaid or through the Veterans Administration. For 85% of Nebraskans, the much hyped launch of the ObamaCare exchanges will mean very little. In any event, those Nebraskans insured by their employers will have better insurance policies beginning on January 1, 2014. As of that date, pre-existing conditions clauses will be abolished, there will be no more lifetime limits on policies and an insurance company will no longer be able to cancel your policy after you get sick or injured.
We here at the Nebraska Democratic Party are very confident that ObamaCare will be a success. The same people who said that the Clinton economic program would fail, Iraq had lots of WMDs, and that the Bush tax cuts would create an economic boom are now predicting that ObamaCare will be a catastrophic failure. (I would be very concerned if these conservatives were predicting that ObamaCare would be a success!) The predecessors of today's conservatives also predicted that Social Security and Medicare would fail, and these programs would mean the end of our freedom. That is why we Democrats are confident that it is only a matter of time until ObamaCare is as popular and successful as Social Security and Medicare.
Fellow Nebraska Democrat,
When the Affordable Care Act (ACA) was signed into law in 2010, it carried with it a promise of expanding access to quality, affordable health coverage for millions of American families and small businesses. In less than 10 days, we have a historic opportunity to make private health insurance more accessible and affordable for hundreds of thousands of Nebraskans through the new Health Insurance Marketplace, turning the ACA's promise into a reality.
As a result of the ACA, important pro-consumer changes have already been made to our health care system: children with pre-existing conditions can no longer be denied coverage; young adults can stay on their parents' private insurance until age 26; insurers are now required to spend at least 80 percent of our premium dollars on medical care and are required to rebate funds to consumers if they don’t; health insurance companies can no longer arbitrarily cancel your coverage just because you get sick; and lifetime limits are a thing of the past, with annual limits going away in 2014. The most significant change is that discrimination based on pre-existing conditions will be banned starting Jan. 1.
Beginning Oct. 1, Nebraskans will have a new way to shop for private health insurance on the Health Insurance Marketplace. For the first time in the history of the private insurance market, consumers will be able to go to one place to check out their coverage options, get accurate information and make apples-to-apples comparisons of plans before they make their decisions.
All plans in the Marketplace will be required to cover a comprehensive set of benefits, including physician visits, preventive care, hospital stays, and prescriptions. Most Nebraska families will qualify for financial help with their monthly premiums. The Nebraska Department of Insurance estimates that over 90 percent of people who enroll in coverage in the Marketplace will receive some sort of financial assistance to make their coverage more affordable.
The promise of the ACA is within our grasp. To make this promise a reality, we need everyone who cares about getting more people covered to do their part. Elected officials at all levels, community organizations, churches, human service providers, neighborhood associations, friends, family and neighbors can all play a role in sharing information about the Marketplace.
Healthcare.gov will be the online source for information about the Marketplace and where plans will be sold starting Oct. 1. You can reach the toll-free Marketplace Call Center 24/7 by calling 1-800-318-2596 and local support is also available through Community Action agencies (402-471-3714) and the Ponca Tribe of Nebraska (402-738-3158).
As Washington continues to divide along partisan lines, we need to come together in our communities across Nebraska to ensure that no one who is eligible for coverage is left on the sidelines.
Let’s get to work!
Senator Jeremy Nordquist
P.S. Here is a handout with more information about the Marketplace that I encourage you to share with your family, friends, and neighbors: http://www.jeremynordquist.com/Marketplace.pdf
For decades, the GOP has been demonizing people who are on welfare and have attempted to tie them to the Democratic Party. This is all part of the GOP's fealty to Ayn Rand's nihilistic philosophy of the makers v. takers. This effort to demonize poor people reached its apogee when Ronald Reagan went after a fictitious welfare queen who allegedly had "eighty names, thirty addresses, twelve Social Security cards" and was collecting government benefits in excess of $150,000.00 per year. Closer to home, Nebraska Attorney General Jon Bruning compared poor people to "raccoons" and Auditor Mike Foley was forced to apologize when he claimed poor people lacked proper money management skills. Just who are the real welfare queens? How much money are they taking from the taxpayers?
Many voters would be surprised to learn that the government spends much more money on corporate welfare subsidies than on social welfare programs. According to a 2006 study by a Progressive think tank, about $59 billion was spent on welfare programs for the poor while $92 billion was spent on corporate subsidies. In other words, the government was spending 50% more on corporate welfare than it did on programs like food stamps in 2006. For example, $4 billion of the taxpayer's money is spent every year on subsidies for the already incredibly lucrative oil industry. In addition, a study by Good Jobs First revealed that various Wal-Mart stores around the U.S. have received over $1 billion in taxpayer dollars.
Here in Nebraska, the taxpayers are providing lavish subsidies to corporations that don't need the money. According to the New York Times, Nebraska spends $1.4 billion per year on business incentives - making it the third largest spender in the country. A special report from Nebraska Watchdog found that most of the jobs being subsidized by the Nebraska Advantage Act would have been created in the absence of the taxpayer money doled out to already very profitable corporations.
Nebraska's corporations aren't the only ones here in our state who are on the government payroll. U.S. Senator Deb Fischer has been receiving a lucrative grazing subsidy for over 30 years that the Libertarian Cato Institute has labeled "cowboy socialism." Fischer is among a handful of Nebraska ranchers whose cattle graze on federal land at prices that amount to a significant federal give away. Deb Fischer and her husband lease 11,724 acres of federal land in Nebraska for about $4,700 for seven months - paying about $110,000 less than the market rate for private land in Cherry County. The Fischers have benefited from this federal program for nearly 30 years and only around 2% of the cattle raised in this country feed on federal lands. When Fischer was asked about this hand out two years ago, she said she would "have to research the matter." We haven't heard from her about this subsidy ever since.
New GOP gubernatorial hopeful and Ameritrade Executive Pete Ricketts is no stranger to government handouts. Even though Ricketts claims that he is for limited government and less spending, his family's various businesses have lobbied for and received lucrative taxpayer handouts. Last year, the Ricketts family lobbied for a $150 million subsidy from the taxpayers of Chicago & Cook County Illinois to aide a business his family owns in Chicago. The Ricketts family also asked for a chunk of tax revenue from the city of Chicago in perpetuity. (The city of Chicago wisely denied the request when Joe Ricketts considered funding $10 million in ads last year linking President Obama to Reverend Jeremiah Wright.) It also hasn't gone unnoticed that Ricketts received a large tax subsidy from the city of Omaha to build a new, gleaming 12 story headquarters building for Ameritrade.
The Republicans always like to tell us that they don't believe in government and that they hate spending. The reality is that so-called "conservatives" believe in government so long as the government helps themselves and their wealthy friends. They also believe in spending so long as they are ones who are pocketing the checks. All of this so-called "concern" about the deficit we hear from Republicans is only a political weapon they are using in an attempt to cut spending they don't agree with like Social Security and Medicare.
The debate in America today isn't about the size of government - it's really about who government is for - the middle class and the least fortunate among us or the wealthy and the corporations. We Democrats must constantly remind the voters that we are the party of middle class and that we are the party of those with modest economic means. The Democratic Party is ready to govern and to improve the lives of all Americans. We are the party of the people because the wealthy are already well represented by the GOP and the conservative movement.