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.
In a recent editorial, the Lincoln Journal Star evaluated Ricketts' use of special interest funds to finance a talent search for key department heads and asserted that Ricketts showed "executive savvy" and that it's "clear that he's off to a good start." Unfortunately, it is way too early to tell if Ricketts is off to a good start and there are tell tale signs that should concern all Nebraskans. Just what are those signs? Why should the voters be concerned?
Nebraskans should be troubled by the fact that Ricketts has solicited funds from a special interest group with a stake in his Administration's decisions - the Omaha Chamber of Commerce - to finance an executive search firm to find candidates to head up the agencies that have fallen into disarray during the Heineman Administration. The retention of a private search firm isn't the problem - it's about who is paying the bill. The better practice would have been (as State Senator Jeremy Nordquist said) for Ricketts to go "through a community foundation rather than an interest group.”
This decision to solicit to special interest funding certainly creates the unfortunate impression that the Omaha Chamber is buying influence with the prospective Ricketts Administration. Just what will the Omaha Chamber want in return for these donations? Will they expect support for a narrow agenda that favors the interests of corporations and the wealthy at the expense of most Nebraskans? The voters deserve answers. Unfortunately, Governor-elect Ricketts hasn't told anybody what the Omaha Chamber expects.
Similarly, Mr. Ricketts has't provided any real answers to the unfolding prison scandal. As we have learned, the Heineman Administration has dealt with the thorny problem of prison overcrowding by running a secret program in which it has expedited the parole of prisoners - even ones who have committed violent crimes. This premature release of many dangerous criminals has endangered the safety of the public.
What makes the prison scandal so crucial is that we now have some explosive evidence that this (formerly) secret policy of early paroles has reached as far as Heineman's chief of staff, Larry Bare. However, sometime before these revelations about his office's involvement in this scandal, Heineman denied he exerted any pressure on the Parole Board to prematurely free dangerous criminals.
This was the following exchange from a recent Judiciary Committee hearing: State Senator Steve Lathrop: "And so your testimony today is, I was not exerting pressure to have these people parole more folks?" Heineman: "Yeah, I don't feel like. I mean it was a casual conversation like we're having, and so I didn't feel like I was exerting pressure."
As it turns out, Heineman's sworn testimony was directly contradicted by two members of the Nebraska Parole Board. Esther Casmer testified under oath that "she felt intense pressure from both Houston and the Governor’s Office to increase the number of furloughed and paroled inmates." Casmer also testified that "her job was threatened by the governor’s chief of staff unless she increased the number of paroles."
Fellow Parole Board Member James Pearson corroborated Casmer's testimony when he stated: “I was in that meeting. I heard the same words she heard, and I support Esther’s testimony 100 percent. There was no doubt in my mind what came out of that man’s mouth.”
This contradictory evidence on the early release of dangerous criminals demonstrates the urgent need for a special prosecutor. What did Heineman know and when did he know it? Ricketts could get off to a fresh start and prove he will not be part of a cover up by appointing a Special Prosecutor to review this burgeoning corrections scandal. The appointment of a special prosecutor would potentially vindicate the Journal Star's assertion that Ricketts is off to a "good start."
Ricketts will soon be facing a bigger challenge than the burgeoning prison scandal. He will need to decide if he is going to keep his campaign promise to make any changes in spending and taxation very gradual in nature or if he is going to pursue the extreme agenda of the Platte Institute. Once again, Ricketts hasn't told the voters anything about his plans or agenda.
We still have a lot of unanswered questions about the incoming Ricketts' Administration. The former Ameritrade Executive can have a successful administration if he maintains the moderate, bi-partisan fiscal policies that have made Nebraska one of the country's economic success stories. In contrast, Ricketts will doom his governorship to failure if he attempts to emulate Kansas Governor Sam Brownback by pursuing extreme tax and spending policies. It's about time that the voters get some answers from Ricketts on all of these issues. The time for campaigning is over.
Last month, President Obama issued an executive order on immigration that will shield 5 million undocumented workers - also known as "aspiring citizens" - from deportation from the U.S. This order will keep families together and allow many aspiring citizens an opportunity to come out of the shadows.
In response to Obama's order, the Republicans - as usual - went on the attack. Instead of acting on the immigration bill that passed in the Senate last year or offering up a legislative solution, the GOP resorted to their usual, tired hyper-partisan attacks. House Speaker John Boehner alleged that President Obama was acting like a "king" and an "emperor." Influential conservative commentator Charles Krauthammer went so far as to label the immigration order an "impeachable offense." After six prominent right wing Senators contended that Obama's order created "a constitutional crisis that demands action by Congress," they left Washington and took yet another lengthy, taxpayer financed vacation.
Does President Obama's executive order really create a "constitutional crisis?" Is he really acting like a "monarch?" How does it compare to executive orders from previous Republican Presidents or what was contemplated by Mitt Romney in 2012?
If President Obama's executive order on immigration creates a "constitutional crisis," then Presidents Reagan and Bush41 created constitutional crises of their own. As a matter of fact, both Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush issued similar executive orders that granted deportation relief to family members who were not covered by the immigration reform bill that passed the Congress with bi-partisan support in 1986. After those executive orders, no Republicans accused them of violating the Constitution or threatened them with impeachment.
Reagan and Bush41's executive orders were fairly modest in nature compared to the ones issued by George W. Bush in the wake of the terrorist attacks of 9/11/01. During his first term, Bush43 issued executive orders in secret allowing the torture of captured terrorists and to monitor, without a search warrant, just about all communcations between any party outside the U.S., even if the other end of the communication was within the U.S. Both of these sweeping executive orders were in clear violation of the Constitution, federal statutes and international treaty obligations. Yet the GOP fiercely defended Bush's executive orders.
If he had been elected in 2012, Mitt Romney promised to be as aggressive as George W. Bush in exercising executive power. On his first day in office, Romney promised to halt or even reverse the Affordable Care Act (ACA) with a series of executive orders. Romney would have issued an executive order halting the establishment of the ACA insurance exchanges, ending financing for the implementation of the law, and creating various exemptions from the individual mandate. As political science professor Norm Ornstein said about the GOP reaction (or lack thereof) to this proposal: "I have searched to find cases of conservative lawmakers like Ted Cruz, or constitutional scholars, much less columnists like Charles Krauthammer, raising alarm bells about this brazen plan to short-circuit the policy process, give the middle finger to the Senate, and thwart a duly enacted law, or raising questions about an imperial president-to-be shredding the Constitution. Strangely enough, I can’t find any."
As we discussed, the Republicans' response to Obama's executive order on immigration is dramatically different than their response to those from previous Republican Presidents and Presidential candidates. The Republicans are now reacting with their usual fits of rage and anger, and vowing to do something to stop it. It has even reached the point where many Republican members of Congress are demanding another government shutdown.
This Tea Party temper tantrum has caused the hapless GOP Congressional leaders to engage in a mad scramble to create a process that will allow right wingers to express their outrage but prevent a shutdown. (Good luck with that.) Why don't these Republican "leaders" show some real leadership for a change and suggest legislating? What a concept!
The last thing our economy needs is another government shutdown. One of the reasons why the economy has made a strong comeback in 2014 is because the GOP hasn't shutdown the government or threatened another default. Another government shutdown could bring this economic progress to a halt and send us back into another recession.
We need to demand that our Congressional delegation make a pledge to take another government shutdown off the table. In 2013, Senator Johanns correctly termed the government shutdown a "fool's errand." As recently as October, Representative Fortenberry - who voted for the shutdown - admitted that: “The consequence of shutting down the government was not healthy.”
I urge everybody to contact our Congressional delegation and remind them of what Johanns and Fortenberry said about the last government shutdown. If our Congressional delegation once again joins the Tea Party in another destructive shutdown, we must redouble our efforts to throw the rascals out in 2016!
One of the things you can count on from Republicans are apocalyptic predictions of what will supposedly occur if some measure supported by a Democratic President should be enacted into law by the Congress. We certainly got one of the most apocalyptic predictions of our time when Ben Sasse predicted last year that: "If the Affordable Care Act survives, America will cease to exist. " This follows on the heels of John Boehner's over heated 2010 prediction that passage of health reform would be “Armageddon" and would “ruin our country.”
Now let's unpack those predictions for a moment. Apparently, according to Sasse, the passage of the ACA is a greater threat to the U.S. than the British Empire, Nazi Germany, the Soviet Union and Osama Bin Laden. For example, if Sasse is right, Hitler could've brought down America at a much lower cost and risk than waging World War II by providing affordable health care to millions of uninsured Americans.
Since the passage of the Affordable Care Act in early 2010, has the U.S. experienced Armageddon? Just what has happened in the U.S. since Sasse predicted about 13 months ago that the ACA would bring about the end of the world's strongest and greatest nation?
We certainly haven't experienced any kind of "Armageddon" on the jobs front. In early 2009, when President Obama took office, the economy was losing 800,000 jobs per month. It was the worst performance since the Great Depression. In 2014, the economy has been creating over 220,000 new jobs per month. This is the best jobs performance since 1999 during the Clinton Administration.
The news on the stock market has been equally encouraging. Back in early 2009, when the Dow Jones was as low as 6,500, the Republicans blamed Obama for the stock market decline. College dropout and right wing entertainer Sean Hannity said on March 10, 2009: “Obama, since he's elected, has tanked the markets." You don't hear Hannity or other right entertainers on AM radio talk about the stock market anymore since the Dow Jones has reached record levels time and time again. As of the writing of this article, the Dow Jones is at 17,810. Right wingers used to blame Obama for the decling stock market. Will they now give him credit for its big comeback?
One thing you routinely hear is Fox News blaming Obama for an alleged runaway federal deficit. Let's stop for a minute and look at the record. According to the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office, President Obama inherited an annual deficit of $1.3 trillion and 10% of GDP from George W. Bush. Since then, we've had the greatest decline in the federal deficit since the late 1940s. The federal deficit for fiscal year 2014 is 2.8% of GDP and $506 billion. The deficit is now smaller than its average over the past 40 years of 3.1 %.
The turn around on the health insurance front since 2008 has been every bit as impressive as the reduction in the federal budget deficit. It is seldom discussed that when Bush was President, eight million Americans lost their health insurance policies. Since the implementation of the ACA a little over a year ago, 10 million Americans who used to be uninsured now have coverage. In addition, the percentage of the population that is uninsured has fallen from 18% in 2008 to 13% in 2014.
All of these reforms were accomplished in the face of all out GOP obstruction and gridlock. Even before President Obama was inaugurated, the GOP settled on it's policy of all out opposition in the hopes of making President Obama look bad and to regain power. As Mitch McConnell candidly admitted to the press, the key to pushing down Obama's approval ratings was to deny him the aura of bipartisanship, and that meant keeping Republicans united in total opposition even while the U.S. was in it's deepest economic crisis since 1933.
President Obama and the Democrats didn't only overcome the most hyper-partisan and bitter opposition in U.S. history since 1860, they also over came efforts at outright sabotage of the economy and the ACA. The GOP's threat to default on the obligations of the U.S. in 2011 crushed consumer confidence and snuffed out a promising economic recovery. In 2013, the GOP's government shutdown cost the national economy $24 billion and 120,000 jobs. Just imagine how much better the economy would be doing today in the absence of the obstruction and sabotage of the GOP!
We Democrats should be proud of President Obama and the records of our members of Congress who supported these reforms during the dark days of 2009-2010. In my estimation, the national Democratic Party made a mistake in the recent election cycle by running away from President Obama's record. If a Republican President had a record similar to that of President Obama, the GOP would have not only campaigned on it, they would have lobbied for him to be put on Mount Rushmore. If only the American people were aware of this record, the election could have turned out much differently.
A majority of the American people (and even Nebraska voters) prefer Democratic policies over Republican ones. What this means is that we Democrats have to get out our message again, again and again. I'm convinced that once the American people (and the people of Nebraska) become familiar with our message and accomplishments, we will win the elections in 2015 and 2016!
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.