When the Republicans asked voters for control of the Congress in the 2014 campaign, they claimed they would keep America safe and end the gridlock in Washington. Mitch McConnell told the voters that if the GOP were to obtain control of Congress: “There is no possibility of a government shutdown.” Shortly after the election the incoming Senate Majority Leader laid out the prime goal of the new GOP led Congress: “I don’t want the American people to think that if they add a Republican president to a Republican Congress, that’s going to be a scary outcome."
Unfortunately, recent events clearly indicate that the new GOP controlled Congress is a failure and has fallen far short of its promises and goals. Last week, the American people were treated to a spectacle where the GOP majority in the U.S. House of Representatives simply refused to finance the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) when the U.S. is being threatened by terrorists hell bent on killing Americans. Finally, after several days of chaos and dysfunction in the House, the Democrats bailed out House Speaker John Boehner and voted with some of the Republicans to extend the funding of DHS until March 6.
The failure of the GOP House to fund DHS for more than seven days sets up another showdown in the House this week that could leave the U.S. more vulnerable to a terrorist attack. In the event of shutdown, experts have indicated that if a terrorist attack or natural disaster occurred, the effect would be magnified and the government’s response would be slowed.
If the Congressional Republicans fail in their primary duty of keeping the country safe and shutdown DHS, 80% of that department's employees would still have to go to work but they would be working without a paycheck. Moreover, a DHS shutdown would have no effect on President Obama's executive order granting deportation relief to 5 million aspiring Americans.
The only Nebraska Congressional member who wasn't part of the risky dysfunction that endangered the lives of their constituents was Representative Brad Ashford. He took the position that it was "critically important that we pass a clean Homeland Security Funding bill." Ashford stated: "The safety of our citizens is our first priority." Congressman Ashford was only member of the Nebraska delegation who consistently supported funding DHS during last week's drama.
In addition to prioritizing the safety of the American people, Ashford introduced a bill that would would withhold Congressional members' pay if DHS is shut down. The Omaha lawmaker said: "All across the country, folks live by the idea that if you don't do your job, you shouldn't get paid. The same should hold true for members of Congress, and this bill simply codifies that belief."
In sharp contrast to Ashford's leadership, Senators Fischer and Sasse caved to the extreme Tea Party faction of the GOP and voted to deny funding to DHS. They took this reckless and irresponsible action even though Bush Administration DHS head Tom Ridge recently said that the U.S. currently faces a greater threat to its national security today than when he served as the first Director of DHS in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks.
The actions of Fischer and Sasse are simply unacceptable since a DHS shutdown would make the country less safe at a time where terrorists - among other things - have recently released a video threatening to attack The Mall of America in Minneapolis. This reckless vote by Nebraska's Republican Senators follows on the heels of Fischer's promise in 2012 that: "In the Senate, I will not play politics with our security. " There is simply no excuse for this risky vote that hurts the country.
The actions of the GOP led Congress doesn't bode well for the immediate future. Congress faces several crucial deadlines before the end of the year. Funding for DHS runs out on March 6 and the nation's debt ceiling must be raised sometime this summer. A failure to act on these crucial deadlines could literally have catastrophic consequences for this country.
It is obvious that the House Republican majority can't govern and keep the country safe. As Harry Reid said: "Two months into the Republican Congress, we are already staring a Homeland Security shutdown square in the face, even as terrorists around the world threaten to strike America." The cold, hard reality is that the GOP controlled Congress is bad for the country and must be replaced.
We can begin working on our goal of replacing the dangerous and dysfunctional Republican majority in Congress by re-electing Representative Brad Ashford in Nebraska CD-2. Alone among Nebraska's Congressional representatives, Ashford has shown independence and leadership. His thoughtful and mature approach to legislating is just what the country need right now.
Returning The GOP TO Power To Reduce Inequality Would Be Like Bringing Back Bill Callahan To Coach The Nebraska Football Team
For years, the Republicans have been predicting that President Obama's policies will cause "Armageddon" and even make the U.S. "cease to exist." However, the economy took off in 2014 and had it's best performance since 1999. Over 3 million jobs were created and the economy seems poised for even better gains in 2015 and 2016.
The Republicans initially responded to this good news by trying to claim credit for the improved economic performance. Those claims were laughable since the GOP did everything they could to obstruct Obama's economic policies and even tried to sabotage the economy with a reckless default threat in 2011 and a harmful government shutdown in 2013.
After the GOP's attempt to claim credit for the economic recovery fell flat, they shifted gears and began to complain that President Obama is to blame for the increased economic inequality in America. This apparent concern for inequality from the GOP came as a shock to most people. As recently as 2012, Mitt Romney contended that voters' concerns about inequality were all about "envy" and "class warfare," and should only be discussed in "quiet rooms."
The GOP's new found "concern" about inequality strains credulity when you take into account the economic policies that the GOP has pursued since the Reagan Administration. Once again, the GOP doesn't think we have discovered google and that history begins when they take the podium.
Since 1981, the GOP has steadfastly pursued policies that have exacerbated - if not created - the greatest disparity in wealth in America since the Hoover Administration. The GOP's economic doctrine has consisted of a combination of tax cuts for the wealthy, cuts in programs that benefit the poor and middle class, the deregulation of big business and an all out assault on unions. Thanks to those regressive policies, most of the economic gains since the early 1980s have gone to the top 1% of income earners.
Despite their recent rhetoric, the GOP's current economic policies have not changed. The centerpiece of the GOP economic platform since 2009 has been the regressive budget plan authored by Representative Paul Ryan. The GOP budget plan would reduce the top marginal tax rate on the wealthy to it's lowest level since the Coolidge Administration. At the same time, this plan would drastically slash spending for programs that benefit the poor - approximately 69% of the budget cuts in the GOP budget plan would come from programs for the poor.
At the same time the GOP has pushed for regressive policies, they have bitterly opposed President Obama's policies which have had the effect of reducing inequality. The 2009 Recovery Act - which according to most economists ended the recession - contained the largest middle class tax cut in history. The Affordable Care Act increased taxes on the wealthiest Americans to finance an expansion of health care for middle class and poor Americans. That feature of the ACA would account (in part) for the GOP's virulent opposition to the ACA.
All of this time, Nebraska's Congressional Republicans have stood shoulder to shoulder with their party bosses on issues of inequality. Fischer, Fortenberry and Smith have all voted for the Ryan plan. During his campaign, Sasse came out in favor of the Ryan budget plan. These same Republican members of Congress also support the complete repeal of the ACA - while at the same time they enjoy the benefits of taxpayer subsidized health insurance.
At the state level, Governor Pete Ricketts also favors policies that would further increase the already wide gap between the wealthy and everybody else. Ricketts opposes the ACA Medicaid expansion which would provide needed insurance coverage to approximately 54,000 Nebraskans.
Similarly, Ricketts has said he will take no action to help those who lose insurance coverage if the five Republican appointees on the U.S. Supreme Court gut the ACA and ends subsidies for those purchasing insurance policies on the federal insurance exchanges. A refusal by Ricketts to set up a state insurance exchange in the event of an adverse decision by the Supreme Court would cause 74,000 Nebraskans to lose insurance coverage.
It's pretty obvious to anybody who is paying attention that the GOP's recent "concern" for the middle class and the poor is just spin. As President Obama said: “You can’t just talk the talk. You’ve got to do what? You’ve got to walk the walk. We’ve been walking the walk.” There is nothing in the GOP's modern history to suggest that they will propose anything that will help anybody but their wealthy donors.
Returning the Republicans to power to help the middle class and the poor would be like Nebraska hiring Bill Callahan to coach it's football team. Callahan was the worst Nebraska football coach since the late 1950s and early 1960s. There is nothing in Callahan's coaching record that would lead anybody to believe that he could be a successful college head football coach.
We as Democrats must constantly remind the voters that we are the party of the people. We are the party of Social Security, Medicare and expanded health insurance. The GOP is the party of the wealthy and the well connected. The GOP stands for pessimism, fear and failure. We stand for optimism, hope and progress. That must be our message as we go forward.
At the time the Affordable Care Act passed in 2010, John Boehner contended that passage of health reform was "Armageddon" because the law will “ruin our country.” More recently and closer to home, Ben Sasse in his campaign announcement in 2013 predicted that: "If the Affordable Care Act survives, America will cease to exist." How have those apocalyptic predictions of doom held up? Has the Affordable Care Act ruined our great country or is it actually working?
The verdict is in and the Affordable Care is actually working very well - contrary to what you might hear on Fox News and AM radio. When you look at every relevant metric, the ACA is meeting it's most important goals and improving the quality of life for millions of Americans.
The ACA is doing a very good job of achieving it's primary goal of insuring more Americans. Since the implementation of the ACA in 2013, 10 million people who used to be uninsured now have coverage. According to the Gallup organization, the percentage of Americans who are uninsured has declined from 18% of the population to 13% - the lowest level since 2008. In contrast, 8 million Americans lost their insurance coverage during the Bush Administration.
The actual quality of health insurance policies sold to consumers has significantly improved thanks to the ACA. Pre-existing condtion clauses and life time limits on policies have been banned. In addition, the insurance industry is no longer allowed to sell skimpy, junk policies that don't cover major illnesses and injuries. What that means is that the health insurance industry's control over our health care choices has been greatly diminished.
Senior citizens have benefited from the ACA. The landmark 2010 health care law has extended the life of the Medicare trust fund through 2030, four more years than the last projection in 2013. Just a few years ago, the Medicare Trust Fund was projected to run out of money by 2017.
The ACA also helped senior citizens by closing the Medicare Part D doughnut hole. Thanks to the closure of this coverage gap, more than 7.3 million seniors and people with disabilities have saved nearly $9 billion on their prescription drugs - an average of $1,200 per person since 2010.
In addition to helping millions of Americans, the ACA is putting a significant dent in the federal budget deficit. The ACA will reduce the deficit by over $200 billion during the first 10 years after passage of the law, and more than $1 trillion in the second decade.
The ACA is also a factor in the encouraging trend of reduced health care spending. According to a recent study from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the growth in health care spending was 3.6% in 2013 — the lowest yearly increase since 1960.
This dramatic reduction in medical inflation will save taxpayers billions of dollars in future Medicare and Medicaid costs. As a matter of fact, these health care cost savings will reduce the deficit more than any potential "grand bargain" on the federal budget.
The reduced growth in medical spending has also had the salutary effect of slowing the growth in health insurance premiums for consumers. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, premiums have grown at a much slower rate since the passage of the ACA: "Premiums increased more slowly over the past five years than the preceding five years (26 percent vs. 34 percent) and well below the annual double-digit increases recorded in the late 1990s and early 2000s. "
Unfortunately, Nebraska consumers haven't benefited from the trend in slower health insurance premium inflation due to the partisan obstruction of Nebraska Republicans. States that have adopted the Medicaid expansion and have set up their own insurance exchanges have cheaper health insurance than the states - like Nebraska - that have refused to cooperate with the implementation of the ACA.
The Nebraska GOP's partisan resistance to the ACA mirrors the actions of the GOP in Washington. The Republicans in Congress have voted no less than 56 times to repeal the ACA. In addition to that, those same Republicans have voted several times for the regressive Ryan budget plan which repeals but doesn't replace Obama Care.
The GOP has promised 20 times since 2009 to come up with a consensus GOP health care replacement plan. On June 17, 2009, then-Rep. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) promised that: “I guarantee you we will provide you with a bill.” Subsequently, on October 27, 2009, then-Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.) told reporters that the official Republican version of Obama Care was just "weeks away."
Even though prominent Republicans made these bold promises, the GOP still didn't have an ACA replacement plan over four years later which prompted Cantor to make another promise on January 30, 2014: "This year, we will rally around an alternative to Obama Care and pass it on the floor of the House.”
The Republicans began to make promises to come up with a GOP plan nearly six years ago and they still haven't come up with a plan. What that means is that the GOP wants to repeal the ACA and return to the dysfunctional, pre-ACA status quo where insurance companies could discriminate against sick people and cancel policies after you got sick or hurt. The GOP has made no effort to expand health care since the Nixon Administration in the early 1970s. Actions speak louder than words.
The success of the ACA tells voters something important about our values. The Democratic Party is ready to govern and to improve the lives of all Americans. We are the party of the people because the wealthy are already represented by the GOP and the conservative movement.
President Obama has been subject to an unprecedented torrent of abuse from his detractors since he emerged on the national scene. His enemies have called him every name in the book and they (at times) have even stooped to attack his children. One of the most misleading (and ignorant) epithets that has been hurled at Obama is that he is a "socialist." Just what is socialism? What do real socialists make of President Obama? And what do the President's own policies say about this line of attack?
Socialism is a system where the government actually controls many of the major industries. For example, in Britain between 1945-1979, the government acquired control (total or partial) of the following industries: auto manufacturing, coal mining, shipbuilding, freight rail lines, airlines and the health industry. (Most of these industries were sold off to private investors during the Thatcher Administration in the 1980s.)
Unlike the radical right, the Socialist Party USA is familiar with genuine socialism and they have firmly rejected the notion that Obama is one of them. Burt Wharton - the co-chair of the Socialist Party USA - stated that: "We didn't see a great victory with the election of Barack Obama, and we certainly didn't see our agenda move from the streets to the White House...(T)he assertion that Obama is a socialist is absurd...It makes no rational sense. It clearly means that people don't understand what socialism is."
President Obama's policies certainly rebut the notion that he is some kind of socialist. In the fall of 2008, the Congress passed the TARP bill which partially nationalized the banking, insurance and auto industries in an effort to stave off a total economic collapse. At the time, the right wing detractors of this legislation derisively labeled General Motors "Government Motors" and issued apocalyptic predictions that the auto industry was doomed to fail. Mitt Romney even wrote an editorial at that time titled: "Let Detroit Go Bankrupt."
As it turned out, the government rescue of these industries turned out to be a success and these companies returned to profitability. Once these companies became viable again, the Obama Administration sold off the government owned stock to private investors and earned the taxpayers a tidy sum of $53 billion. If Obama had been a socialist, these stock shares would still be in government hands.
Perhaps the most most dishonest lies told about Obama's alleged socialist leanings have been in connection with the Affordable Care Act or Obama Care. In 2009, long time GOP spin doctor Frank Luntz advised Republicans to falsely describe Obama Care as a "government takeover" of the health care system. As Luntz said: "'Takeovers are like coups. They both lead to dictators and a loss of freedom." And GOP members of Congress repeatedly used that false buzz phrase and were rarely called on it by the so-called "liberal mainstream media."
As it turned out, Luntz's phony "government takeover" allegation was named the 2010 "Lie of the Year" award by the non-partisan site Politifact.com. Luntz's allegation was clearly false since the ACA largely relies upon the private health insurance industry to provide most of the new coverage. In addition, the law doesn't nationalize the hospital industry or make doctors government employees.
The dishonesty of the charge that Obama is a socialist can be found in the performance of the economy since he took office in early 2009. When President Obama took office, the economy was losing 800,000 jobs per month. In 2014, the economy created 250,000 new jobs per month and approximately 1 million jobs have been created in the last 3 months alone! That is the best jobs growth since 1999.
The improvement in the stock market has been equally dramatic. In early 2009, the Dow Jones Industrial average reached a low of 6,500. At that time, the entertainers in the right wing media blamed Obama for the deep decline in the stock market. Currently, the Dow is hovering around 18,000.
The conventional wisdom is that socialism is bad for business and will tank the economy. That's why the Republicans combined their disingenuous charges of socialism with apocalyptic predictions that Obama's economic and health care policies would bring about "Armageddon" or cause America to "cease to exist." Obviously, the strong performance of the economy should put to rest any notion that President Obama is a socialist.
The big picture here is that President Obama is a successful and effective President who is well within the mainstream of contemporary American political thought. It is his opponents who are the extremists.
The Republican Party is the party of pessimism and fear. The Democratic Party stands for optimism and hope. Let's not let the voters forget that in 2016!
While many State Senators in both parties are praising Governor Ricketts' out reach and interpersonal skills, there have been many disturbing developments that call into question his very competence to do his job. Already, Ricketts has provided misleading information regarding state taxes in his State of the State speech, blown up the budget for his own office and is paying a senior adviser out of his own pocket to avoid the open records law.
Ricketts got off to an early, poor start with his State of the State speech. In that address, he cited an obscure website nobody had ever heard of to make the unfounded claim that Nebraska has the third heaviest tax load out of all 50 states. For years the consensus has been that Nebraska's tax load is squarely in the middle of the pack.
This grossly erroneous misstatement in Ricketts' speech to the State Senators indicates that he doesn't understand the magnitude of his new job and it also undermines his credibility with the Senators. He wasn't addressing a meeting of the party faithful or the Platte Institute. In addition, Ricketts' remarks hurt Nebraska's good reputation as a place to live and do business. Any CEO would be fired if he ran down and trashed his company shortly after he was hired.
The new Governor doubled down on this blunder by increasing the budget for the Governor's office by 22% - while proposing a spending increase of only 3% for the rest of the state government. This huge increase in the budget for the Governor's office is intended to pay for two new positions that Ricketts created - a personnel director and a chief operating officer. Apparently, Ricketts is hiring two people to do his own job for him after he spent over $7 million campaigning for the job in the first place.
The person Ricketts hired to serve as chief operating officer - Felix Davidson - worked for the Governor at TD Ameritrade. When Ricketts and Davidson worked together at that Omaha company, they oversaw a massive layoff of employees and outsourced the jobs to India. If this past experience is any indication, don't be surprised if state jobs are out sourced to India or some other third world country.
Ricketts then further compounded these mistakes when he hired long time GOP political operative and lobbyist Jessica Moenning as a senior adviser. Ricketts' plan is to pay Moenning's salary out of his own pocket and not have her be a state employee. This radical arrangement raises many troubling legal and ethical issues.
Ricketts' & Moenning's scheme will shield Moenning from the state's open record laws. As state party chair Vince Powers said: ""Nebraska has a very strong history of open records and transparency in government. What the governor has done goes against the entire history of this state."
The need for transparency in government was neatly summed up by the Omaha World Herald in connection with the attempted secret hiring of a CEO by OPPD: “It’s always unfortunate when a public agency shirks its duty to operate in public,” said Mike Reilly, executive editor of The World-Herald and president of Media of Nebraska, a coalition of Nebraska newspapers and broadcasters.
Because this bizarre deal allows Moenning to operate in secret, the taxpayers will never know for certain what is occurring behind closed doors. This sets up a potentially explosive conflict of interest that will hurt Nebraska's citizens.
The Governor could eliminate this grotesque conflict of interest by having Moenning go on the state payroll and serve as a public servant. Ricketts could then make a donation to the State Treasury to make up the added cost of her salary. Apparently, Ms. Moenning wants to have it both ways. She wants to serve as a senior adviser to the Governor but she has forgotten why it is called public service.
It's unfortunate that Mr. Ricketts is off to such a poor state. Nebraska's economy and budget are in good shape but there are still many challenges that need to be met. Heineman left the behind to his successor a government in a state of disarray. His ineptitude caused the disintegration of the Departments of Corrections and HHS.
We now need a competent Governor who can step up to the plate and clean up these messes. Unfortunately, Ricketts' early mistakes call into question his very competence to do the job he campaigned so hard for.
So-Called "Small Government" Conservative Republicans Propose To Use Big Government To Take Away Peoples' Freedom And Liberty
One thing we commonly hear from conservative Republicans are claims that they support freedom, liberty and smaller government. As usual, there is a vast gap between the claims made by conservatives and reality. A good example of this vast gap can be found in several bills in the Unicameral that have been proposed by so-called "small government" conservatives that would actually take away freedom from thousands of Nebraskans.
One of the most egregious big government bills being proposed by extreme Republicans is one requiring voters to show a driver's license or a valid state ID card before voting at a polling place. This bill is being sponsored by several Senators who have (falsely) postured as advocates of freedom and liberty: Lydia Brasch, Laura Ebke, Bill Kintner, and Ken Schilz. Apparently, what they haven't told the voters is that they favor using the power of big government to infringe upon the peoples' sacred right to vote.
The reality is that voter ID laws reduce turnout and make it harder for minorities, the poor, young people and senior citizens to exercise their right to vote. For example in Texas, in 2014, approximately 600,000 voters statewide were denied the right to vote because they lacked the required documents. In neighboring Kansas, no less than 22,000 people were stopped from registering to vote because they lacked proof of citizenship. The strict voter ID law in the Sunflower state altogether reduced turnout there by about 2 percent in 2014.
The rationale given by sponsors of voter ID laws is that in person voter fraud is rampant in the U.S. The reality is that voter fraud is extremely rare - almost to the point of being non-existent. According to a Loyola University law school professor, there have been about 31 credible allegations of voter fraud in the entire U.S. since 2000. The Bush Administration conducted a 5 year investigation of alleged voter fraud and charged only about 120 people and of those, only 86 were actually convicted.
The real (as opposed to the stated) rationale for voter ID laws is deeply partisan - the GOP simply wants to make it harder for Democrats to win elections. For example, in 2012, a Republican legislator in Pennsylvania candidly explained why he wanted a voter ID law in that state: "Voter ID, which is gonna allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania, done.” After the 2012 election cycle, Florida GOP Party Chair Jim Greer admitted that the goal of the state's voter ID law was to suppress Democratic voters.
The voter ID bill isn't the only legislation being introduced by radical Republicans that would take away peoples' freedom. Senator Ebke has sponsored legislation that would make it so that public employers couldn't deduct union dues from employees’ paychecks. In addition, Ebke's bill would prohibit collective bargaining agreements that call for such deductions.
Ebke's intrusive, anti-union bill would greatly impair what Ronald Reagan once called "one of the most elemental human rights - the right to belong to a trade union." Thousands of middle class voters exercise their right to participate in the political process in Nebraska by being a union member. Unions turn out voters and contribute to candidates who support working families. This bill - if passed - would cause a big decline in union budgets and membership.
If it were to become law, Ebke's anti-union legislation would reduce the influence of the middle class in elections and cause a further erosion in middle class earning power. Unions are the only remaining check and balance to corporate influence in elections.
When it comes to freedom, former Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm correctly stated that: "The Republican Party has a major credibility gap on that issue. Why? The Republicans are for free enterprise, but not free people. And that is their fundamental problem....(T)heir freedom only applies to businesses, not individuals."
Granholm's perceptive statement tells us a lot about what many contemporary conservative Republicans believe about freedom and liberty. (I would submit that these so-called conservatives aren't conservative - they're radical.) As Democrats, we need to let the voters know that we are the true party of freedom and liberty. We can't surrender this issue to the Republicans. That is because we are the party of the people - not the powerful. We can begin by calling our State Senators and urging them to oppose these bills that would violate our sacred rights to vote and belong to a trade union.
National security is back in the news in light of the recent and tragic terrorist attack in Paris. Once again, the Republicans are playing their rancid, hyper-partisan blame games by attempting to convince the voters that somehow President Obama is responsible for these attacks. (Imagine the outrage from the right if the Democrats had tried to turn the 13 embassy attacks during the Bush Administration into a political football?) This pathetic attempt by the GOP to blame Obama for everything that goes wrong in the world is a desperate effort by the GOP to reclaim it's former reputation for competence in the area of national security.
The GOP lost it's reputation for being the party best suited to keep America safe during the Bush Administration. This shift in perception occurred in the wake of the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. Shortly after these terrorist attacks, Bush publicly boasted that he wanted Bin Laden "dead or alive." Unfortunately, the next seven and half years demonstrated that there was a huge gap between Bush's cowboy like bluster and his Administration's actual performance.
The Bush Administration got off on the wrong foot when its incompetence allowed OBL to escape from Tora Bora in December 2001. After that blunder, Bush no longer made the killing or capture of OBL a high priority. Instead, on March 13, 2002, George W. Bush said of bin Laden, "I truly am not that concerned about him." Subsequently, in July 2006, the Bush administration closed its unit that had been hunting bin Laden. In September 2006, Bush told Fred Barnes of Fox News that an "emphasis on bin Laden doesn't fit with the administration's strategy for combating terrorism."
Another factor that contributed to the Bush's Administration's failed search to find Bin Laden was it's disastrous decision to invade Iraq and conduct a multi-year nation building project in that country. In the run up to the Iraq war in 2002-03, the Bush Administration assured the American people that U.S. forces would be greeted as liberators, the war would only last a few weeks, Iraqi oil would finance the reconstruction of that country and U.S. forces would find a vast weapons of mass destruction arsenal.
As it turned out, just about every pre-war prediction made by the Bush Administration turned out to be very wrong. No weapons of mass destruction were ever found. In addition the war ground on for over eight years and according to Nobel Prize winning economist Joseph Stiglitz, will eventually cost U.S. taxpayers $3 trillion.
After his inauguration, President Obama took a very different and much more effective approach to national security issues. As a starting point, in early 2009, Obama directed the CIA to make the killing or capture of bin Laden the top priority. It was, in other words, a major shift from the previous administration. Thanks to that change in priorities, Obama did in two and a half years what George W. Bush, despite all of his "dead or alive" big talk and swagger, couldn't do in over seven years.
Another big change from the previous Administration was that President Obama ended America's large ground troop presence in Iraq and Afghanistan. What is seldom discussed is that the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) that mandated the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq was signed in late 2008 by the Bush Administration. The Iraqis refused to allow a permanent U.S. troop presence in their country unless the U.S. agreed to have our troops subject to the jurisdiction of the Iraqi courts. The Bush Administration (correctly) rejected that condition.
I have mentioned the 2008 SOFA with Iraq for the reason that many Republicans have contended that the U.S. should have maintained an indefinite U.S. troop presence in Iraq. What these same Republicans don't tell you is that they apparently want to allow our troops to be hauled into Iraqi courts in the event of alleged wrongdoing.
As we all know, conditions in Iraq began to deteriorate in 2014. ISIS forces invaded and conquered portions of Iraq. In response to that offensive, prominent Republicans like John McCain, Lindsey Graham and Mitt Romney blamed Obama for the ISIS offensive and demanded that U.S. ground troops return to Iraq. McCain and Romney even went so far as to call for a U.S. ground invasion of Syria aimed at the overthrow of the Assad regime.
To his credit, President Obama resisted the overwhelming pressure from the GOP, much of the foreign policy establishment and many in the mainstream media to get the U.S. involved in another ground war in the Middle East. American surgical strikes and advisers have stemmed the ISIS advance and rolled it back. That's why you don't hear the Republicans talking about Iraq anymore.
President Obama's advisers have accurately distilled his foreign policy approach to a single, pithy phrase: "Don't do stupid stuff." That approach is similar to the ones followed by Presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton. The forty first and forty second Presidents' foreign policies were marked by an emphasis on diplomacy, a limited and cautious use of American military power and a realistic exit strategy when military force was applied.
The U.S. is now much safer thanks to President Obama's more realistic and cautious approach. (It would be fair to say that George W. Bush's national security policy was reckless and irresponsible.) Unfortunately, the U.S. won't be able to prevent every terrorist attack - foreign policy experts all agree that the world can't be completely safe from terrorism. However, we can diminish the threat by not doing "stupid stuff" like inflaming the Middle East with reckless and ineffectual military action. President Obama has been very successful in that endeavor and the American people should be thankful for it.
One of the most misleading and pernicious myths in American politics today is that the Republicans are fiscal conservatives and the Democrats are fiscally irresponsible. That false perception originated with a statement made in the 1930s by FDR adviser and confidant Harry Hopkins who said that Democrats were going to: "Tax and tax, spend and spend, elect and elect." There has been a lot of water under the bridge since Hopkins made that statement and modern history clearly demonstrates that it is the Democratic Party that is the fiscally responsible party - not the GOP.
The last fiscally responsible Republican President was Dwight D. Eisenhower during the 1950s. Eisenhower was the last Republican President to balance the budget - way back in 1957. Ike was also the last Republican President to leave behind to his successor a smaller budget deficit. Every other Republican President starting with Nixon has left behind a larger deficit to his successor than the one he inherited. In contrast, every Democratic President since Carter has reduced the deficit and bequeathed a smaller deficit to his successor.
Republican fiscal irresponsibility and even recklessness escalated during the Reagan Presidency due to his adoption of supply side economics or what George H.W. Bush aptly labeled "voodoo economics." Reagan's borrow and spend policies tripled the national debt. Contrary to the contentions of his Republican apologists, Reagan never submitted a balanced budget and the Congress during his Administration spent less money than he originally proposed.
It took a Democratic President and Congress to clean up the fiscal mess left behind by Reagan and H.W. Bush. In 1993, Clinton proposed both tax increases and spending restraints to reduce the deficit. Every prominent Republican opposed Clinton's budget and claimed it would cause a recession and an increased budget deficit.
All of the Republican predictions of doom and gloom made in 1993 proved to be dead wrong. When President Clinton left office, the budget enjoyed a record $238 billion surplus and the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office projected a ten year surplus of $5.5 trillion.
Unfortunately, the hard earned surplus built up during the Clinton Presidency was squandered during the Administration of George W. Bush - who doubled the national debt during his disastrous Presidency. Between 2001 and 2006, a Republican Congress rubber stamped Bush's two wars, two tax cuts for the wealthy and the budget busting Medicare Part D program. By the time Bush left office, the annual deficit was $1.3 trillion and 10% of GDP.
Since he has taken office, President Obama has succeeded - over bitter and hyper-partisan GOP opposition - in reducing the deficit to $450 billion and 2.8% of GDP. In fact, the deficits during Obama's Presidency have been lower than the ones during the Reagan Presidency. By the time President Obama leaves office, the deficit will be 2% of GDP - a level considered to be very manageable by most economists.
Closer to home, Kansas Governor Sam Brownback and a Tea Party dominated legislature racked up a $435 million deficit out of a $5.9 billion budget after passing a large cut tax for the wealthy in 2012. Brownback and his extreme allies in the Kansas legislature have scrambled to make up this shortfall by raising sales taxes, raiding teacher pensions and cutting funding for education and roads.
Brownback's failed experiment in Kansas should provide an object lesson to Governor Pete Ricketts and the newly elected Republican members of the Unicameral who call themselves "Rickett's Crickets." They would be wise to heed the promise made by Ricketts last fall when he said he wanted to: "gradually reduce income tax rates for all Nebraskans and bring down the rate of growth in state spending a step at a time." Ricketts essentially rejected Brownback's policies when he promised that: "Reform is not a one-and-done thing."
The overwhelming majority of Nebraskans who voted last fall didn't support or expect radical changes to Nebraska's budget. They expect Ricketts and the legislature to keep the new Governor's promise to continue the steady, moderate fiscal policies that have made the Nebraska economy and budget the envy of the nation. Radical changes aren't needed here because Nebraska is doing well thanks to the responsible, bi-partisan fiscal policies that have proven to be so successful.
In a recent interview, outgoing Senator Mike Johanns contended that President Obama: "Never developed the art of working across the aisle." Johanns further alleged that after the 2010 election cycle - when the Republicans regained control of the House - the President "was not prepared, tested or experienced in how to operate successfully in that new environment ... and never developed the ability to work with Congress in a bipartisan way."
Is Johanns right? Is President Obama incapable of working across party lines in a bi-partisan fashion? A more important question would be whether the Republicans in the Congress were ever prepared to work with President Obama in the first place?
In looking at Obama's first two years in office, it is pretty evident to all but the most bitterly partisan Republican, that the Republicans in Congress had no intention of working with the President and cooperating with him when the country faced it's gravest economic crisis since the Great Depression.
It all started out when influential right wing entertainer Rush Limbaugh said even before the inauguration that he hoped that Obama "failed" and that he wanted the stimulus blll to "prolong the recession."
On the evening of President Obama's inauguration on January 20, 2009, the Republican House leaders met at an upscale restaurant in Washington, D.C. and began to plot their strategy of all out obstruction. At that meeting, then House GOP Whip Kevin McCarthy said that Republicans had to "challenge Obama on every bill" and show "united and unyielding opposition to the president's economic policies."
It wasn't any different on the Senate side in the early days of the Obama Administration. Mitch McConnell schemed to prevent any Republican Senators from entering into any deals with the Democrats. In early 2009, several Republican Senators revealed McConnell's cynical strategy to Vice President Biden: “The way it was characterized to me was: `For the next two years, we can’t let you succeed in anything. That’s our ticket to coming back." Biden said.
As it turned out, President Obama's major legislative achievements in his first two years contained many Republican ideas and amendments. For example, the Affordable Care Act was based upon Mitt Romney's successful health care reforms in Massachusetts that insured 98% of the population in that state. As a matter of fact, Romney even wrote an op ed piece in U.S.A. Today on July 30, 2009, advising President Obama to adopt the individual mandate on a nationwide basis.
As we all know, the 2010 mid-term elections went poorly for the Democrats and the Republicans regained control of the House of Representatives. Just two days after that election, Mitch McConnell was asked by the press what the Republicans' top priority would be now that the GOP was once again a player in Washington. Was it to create more jobs during what was then a very slow recovery? Was it to improve the health care system to insure more Americans and reduce health care costs? No. Instead, McConnell stated: "The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one term President."
Since the 2010 election cycle, President Obama has tried to reach out to the Republicans on the deficit - an issue in which the Republicans have claimed they are deeply concerned about. (They're not but that is a topic for another column.) In 2011 - when the GOP threatened a default that would've caused another recession - Obama offered to raise the Medicare eligibility age if the GOP would agree to tax increases on the wealthy. In response, the GOP sabotaged a so-called "grand bargain" on the budget because they thought a bi-partisan agreement reducing the deficit would help President Obama get re-elected in 2012.
Shortly after his re-election in early 2013, Obama once again reached out to the Republicans on the budget deficit issue. In his fiscal year 2014 budget, President Obama proposed to reduce annual increases in Social Security benefits for senior citizens. In response to that offer, the Republicans cynically attacked the proposal and accused the President of wanting to "balance the budget on the backs of seniors."
As we can see from this review of recent history, Johanns' remarks about Obama and partisanship is revisionist history at it's worst. The reality is that Johanns and the Republican members of Nebraska's Congressional delegation were part of this unprecedented partisan wall of obstruction. They refused to cooperate with the President during one of the greatest crises in American history.
Despite the fact that Obama is the first President in modern history to lack bi-partisan support for his economic policies, they have proven to be a success. We have gone from losing 800,000 jobs per month in 2008 to creating 244,000 jobs per month in 2014. The Dow Jones has risen from a low of 6,500 in early 2009 and is now in excess of 18,000. The deficit has been reduced from 10% of GDP when Obama took office to less than 3% of GDP in fiscal year 2014. Since the implementation of the ACA in 2013, the rate of uninsured Americans has fallen to it's lowest level since 2008. If a Republican President had this kind of record, the GOP would be lobbying to put his visage on Mount Rushmore.
These successes give us a great record to run on in 2016. Let's make the voters aware of this record. I'm confident that once the voters understand the progress we've made as a country since 2009, we will have a very good election cycle in 2016.
One thing we can always count on from Republicans is a great sense of over confidence and hubris in the event they win an election. After a successful election cycle, the GOP invariably believes that the voters have given them a mandate for their entire agenda and even their toxic tactics. We are now beginning to see this kind of arrogance from the Nebraska GOP even though Governor-elect Ricketts promised that any changes in spending and taxation would be phased in over several years and would be very gradual in nature.
The all but inevitable GOP over reach is beginning to manifest itself in the Unicameral. A group of newly elected Republican State Senators have labeled themselves "Ricketts' Crickets" and are now ready to blow up the venerable tradition of non-partisanship in the Unicameral in order to aggressively pursue a partisan and divisive agenda. (Apparently, these newly elected Senators fail to realize that they don't work for the executive branch and that the legislative branch is an independent and co-equal branch of the government.)
Nebraska GOP Party Chairman J.L. Spray is now exhorting Republican voters in Nebraska to demand so-called "open votes" when State Senators select fourteen committee chairs when the Unicameral convenes in January. Apparently, the GOP is still smarting from the fact that 9 out of 14 committees were chaired by Democrats in the last legislative session. (This sour result for the GOP occurred in early 2013 after then GOP Party Chair Mark Fahleson made a similar attempt to change this long standing rule in the Unicameral and it badly backfired on the Nebraska GOP.)
Democratic State Party Chair Vince Powers correctly pointed out that: “It is shameful that the Nebraska Republican Party wants to replace the USA’s best legislative system, comprised of hard-working independent senators, with a party-boss system based solely on loyalty to partisanship.”
What this means is that Spray and the Nebraska GOP want to bring to Nebraska the poisonous and destructive partisanship of Washington, D.C. The last thing Nebraska needs to do is to import to our state the dysfunctional system and mores of the broken U.S. Congress.
If Spray and the freshman GOP Senators are successful in this effort, they will blow up the best legislative system in the U.S. Nebraska's unique non-partisan legislature is a model for the entire nation - and even the world. Elected representatives from other states marvel at our system and wish they could operate in a similar, non-partisan system in their own states.
If the extreme Republicans in the Unicameral manage to change the rules, it will be done in an effort to enact a partisan and radical agenda that most voters in Nebraska didn't vote for and aren't expecting. We could see a big push for large, budget busting tax cuts that favor the wealthy. As recently as this weekend, the lead Omaha World Herald editorial warned against the kind of reckless tax cuts that blew up budgets in Kansas and North Carolina.
Things are going very well for the State of Nebraska at the present time. Nebraska was recently designated as one of the best run states in the country and our economy is the envy of the nation. We don't need radical changes right now and the voters certainly didn't vote for radical changes in November.
We need to contact our State Senators and urge them to maintain the long standing non-partisan feature of our legislature. The future of the state is on the line and our State Senators need to stand up to the excessive partisanship and extreme agenda of a cabal of radicals within the Nebraska GOP.