The current GOP led Congress is off to a horrendous start and things may get a lot worse before they get better. This awful performance wasn't what the Republicans promised during campaign 2014. Many Republicans ran on the platform that electing a GOP controlled Congress would end the gridlock. Shortly after the Republicans won the election, Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell said that: "I don't want the American people to think if they add a Republican president to a Republican Congress, that's going to be a scary outcome. I want the American people to be comfortable with the fact that the Republican House and Senate is a responsible, right of center, governing majority."
Unfortunately, the performance of the GOP-led Congress and the Nebraska Congressional Republicans could lead to a scary outcome as early as September if present trends continue. Since the new Congress took office in January, the American people have been subjected to the extraordinary level of dysfunction and gridlock that have characterized Republican members of Congress since 2009.
The gridlock and dysfunction in the current session of Congress began as early as February when the Republican members of Congress tried to shutdown the Department of Homeland Security when the Mall of America in Bloomington, Minnesota was threatened with a terrorist attack. Despite that threat to our neighboring state, Fischer, Sasse, Fortenberry and Smith all went on record in favor of a shutdown of the Department of Homeland Security. These were deeply irresponsible and reckless votes.
Nebraska's Congressional Republicans made a similarly reckless vote when all of them voted for the GOP budget which ends Medicare as we know it and turns it into a voucher program. This GOP Medicare scheme that would force senior citizens to purchase private health insurance would also bring back the pre-existing condition clauses that were banned in the Affordable Care Act. The GOP Medicare scheme would cost the average senior citizen thousands of dollars in additional out of pocket medical expenses and largely benefit the private health insurance industry.
Fischer, Sasse, Fortenberry and Smith voted for yet another gift for the special interests when they voted to repeal the estate tax. This tax cut would only benefit the top 0.2% of Americans and add $269 billion to the deficit. There has yet to be any evidence that any farm has ever been sold off to pay the estate tax in recent history.
When Nebraska's Congressional Republicans aren't voting to comfort the already comfortable, they are voting to support the latest fad from the Tea Party. Both Sasse and Fischer voted against re-authorizing the Export-Import Bank. This once obscure agency suddenly became a Tea Party target due to pressure from the Koch brothers. The Export-Import Bank provides necessary financing to agricultural exports and earned the Treasury Department $675 million in it's last fiscal year.
Senator Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND) - who spoke to the Douglas County Democrats earlier this year - responded to this effort to shut down the Export-Import Bank by simply saying: "Idiotic. Mind-boggyling idiotic." House SpeakerJohn Boehner thus far has refused to allow an up or down vote in the House on the Export-Import Bank. (As of the time of this writing, the Export-Import Bank hasn't been re-authorized.)
This abject failure of the GOP led Congress simply isn't confined to the irresponsible Republican leadership in the Senate and the House. This failure extends to all Republican members including Fischer, Sasse, Fortenberry and Smith. As Doug Muzzio, a political science professor from New York's Baruch College said: "The Republican Congress has shown itself to be, almost without exception, incapable of doing the people's business, at least when it it comes to important business. There is a real failure, not just of the party leaders, but of the membership."
Despite this disgraceful performance, the House began a vacation on July 31 and won't return to Washington until September 8. Representative Brad Ashford - the lone voice of reason in the Nebraska delegation - called on the House to cancel its undeserved vacation and to stay in Washington to work on a vast pile of unfinished business.
When the House goes back into session on September 8, they will only have twelve legislative days to fund the government and raise the debt ceiling. Already there has been a lot of loose talk about shutting down the government over an attempt to defund Planned Parenthood. In a recent conversation, Congressman Ashford told me that he was very concerned about the prospect of another government shutdown.
Nebraska's current set of Congressional Republicans all supported the deeply misguided government shutdown in 2013 which cost the economy $24 billion and 120,000 jobs. In order to avoid another unnecessary self inflicted wound to the economy, Nebraska's Congressional Republicans should publicly take a pledge to oppose any government shutdown or attempt to default on the national debt. Any attempt to sabotage the economy in order to gain policy concessions should be simply declared off limits by all members of Congress, regardless of party affiliation.
Congressman Brad Ashford ran against the government shutdown of 2013 and has been working hard to create bi-partisan solutions. He has been the lone responsible voice in the Nebraska Congressional delegation. Among other things, Representative Ashford has stood up to radical Republican efforts to gut Medicare and to kick 16 million off their insurance policies by repealing the Affordable Care Act. Moreover, Ashford has been the champion for America's veterans who have done so much for our country.
As Nebraska Democrats we can remedy this problem by working hard for the re-election of Brad Ashford. Nebraska CD-02 is one of the few true swing districts in the U.S. I'm confident that Ashford will be re-elected because he is popular in the district and there should be a strong Democratic turnout in the Presidential election year. A well placed Republican insider told me on background that it will be hard for the Republicans to take back Nebraska CD-02 next year.
We also can't neglect Nebraska CD-01 and CD-03. I realize these districts are pretty red but if the Republican Congress shuts down the government and/or defaults on the national debt, they could set off a wave election that would heavily benefit Democratic candidates across the nation. In every wave election, there are always a handful of under dog candidates who get swept into office against the odds.
I like our chances in the Congressional elections in 2016. Like I said, there will be a strong Democratic turnout due to the Presidential election. In addition, the GOP is likely to select a wounded Presidential nominee who will be well outside the mainstream. In order to win the GOP Presidential nomination, a candidate has to excessively pander to the Tea Party and the other extreme factions in the GOP.
The only way to end the gridlock and dysfunction in Washington is to elect a Democratic President and Congress in 2016. Our party is committed to ending the gridlock and putting the middle class first. Now let's get to work!
The U.S. is the only industrialized first world country that is plagued by a wave of gun violence. Our country's loose gun laws are truly exceptional among first world countries and they even allow deranged individuals to obtain military style assault weapons. Recently, there have been massing shootings by mentally disturbed individuals in Charleston, Chattanooga and Lafayette, Louisiana.
The Republican response to this spate of gun violence and killings is to simply refuse to discuss the issue. Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal's reaction to the recent Lafayette shootings is fairly common among Republicans. Shortly after those tragic shootings in his state, Jindal said that now was not the time to talk about guns. Instead, he said we should simply focus on mourning for the ones who lost their lives
Under Jindal's standard, the high frequency of mass shootings makes it virtually impossible to ever address the issue of common sense gun safety. As the Washington Post recently reported, there were 204 mass shootings in the U.S. in the first 204 days of 2015. When are we ever supposed to discuss common sense gun safety reforms when shootings happen on a daily basis?
The other Republican response to gun violence is what I would call the ostrich approach. The GOP simply puts their heads in the sand and denies any connection between our country's ludicrous gun laws and the wave of mass killings that we continue to endure.
Shortly after the Charleston shootings, the House Appropriations Committee perpetuated the GOP's strategy of ignorance by voting to bar the Centers for Disease Control from funding any research on gun violence and make recommendations. This ban was supported by Representative Jeff Fortenberry and passed on a straight party line vote. In response to this vote, Representative Nita Lowey ((D-NY) stated: “Preventing research because you worry about the outcome is cowardly. When it comes to gun violence, my friends, this committee won’t give one dime for the CDC to conduct research on something that is killing Americans by the thousands.”
Fortenberry's vote against basic research on gun violence provides a good example of how he operates when he is Washington, D.C. While he is out of Nebraska, his party bosses and the most extreme elements in the GOP can count on his support. In contrast, when he is in Nebraska he falsely portrays himself as some kind of thoughtful moderate.
The Republican Party hasn't always been this radical and ignorant regarding common sense gun safety. As recently as the early 1990s, conservative icon Ronald Reagan supported the Brady Bill which included a ban on military style assault weapons and a seven day waiting period for gun buyers. In a New York Times editorial piece in support of the Brady bill, Reagan wrote: ""Every year, an average of 9,200 Americans are murdered by handguns, according to Department of Justice statistics... If the passage of the Brady bill were to result in a reduction of only 10 or 15 percent of those numbers (and it could be a good deal greater), it would be well worth making it the law of the land."
More recently, shortly after the senseless murder of 26 people at an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut in 2012, Senate Republicans voted to deny an up or down vote to a bill with overwhelming public support that would have required background checks for all gun purchases. Both Mike Johanns and Deb Fischer prioritized the interests of gun manufacturers over Nebraskans when they voted with the most radical members of the GOP to reject an up or down vote on this life or death issue.
The so-called Republican "solution" to this epidemic of gun violence has been to demand more money for mental health care. However, those very same Republicans have voted to deny mental health care to millions of Americans by voting to repeal the Affordable Care Act over 50 times in Washington and to block the Medicaid expansion here in Nebraska (and other states.)
In a recent interview, President Obama pledged to continue to work on solutions to this mass wave of gun violence during the last 18 months of his Presidency. In that same interview, Obama correctly pointed out that: "If you look at the number of Americans killed since 9/11 by terrorism, it's less than 100. If you look at the number that have been killed by gun violence, it's in the tens of thousands."
I believe we Nebraska Democrats need to follow President Obama's lead and do everything we can to save lives by pressuring our elected representatives to pass common sense gun safety measures. Unfortunately, we probably won't get far trying to lobby the current Nebraska Republicans who serve in Congress. Instead, we need to work hard to elect new members of Congress who will pay attention to the public and reject the out of state special interests who profit from this needless and tragic wave of killings in our country.
When President Obama took office, the economy was on the verge of collapse and losing 800,000 jobs per month. By the time of the general election in 2012, the economy was creating 100,000 jobs per month and the unemployment rate dipped just below 8%. When that occurred, many prominent Republicans were in denial and alleged that the Obama Administration was "cooking the books."
During the 2012 campaign, Mitt Romney promised to reduce the unemployment rate to 6% by the end of his first term. Since his defeat, the unemployment rate has fallen below Romney's stated goal and is now 5.3%. In addition, the economy has been creating over 200,000 jobs per month over the last 1.5 years. If this kind of economic growth had occurred during a Romney Presidency, the GOP would be holding ticker tape parades for him.
Now that President Obama has met and exceeded Romney's goal of a 6% unemployment rate, the GOP has begun to disparage the clear economic progress this country has made since the dark days of 2008-09. The Republicans have cherry picked two obscure statistics never mentioned before January 20, 2009 in an attempt to convince the American people that the U.S. economy is still in poor shape.
As a starting point, the GOP has moved the goal posts on the unemployment rate. The 6% unemployment rate promised by Romney is the one measured by what is called U3. This measure - which has been in place since 1994- doesn't count so-called "discouraged workers" who have been out of the labor force for over 6 months.
Before Obama was elected, the GOP touted the U3 measure as the gold standard for measuring unemployment. During the Bush years, former Reagan Administration Treasury Department official Lawrence Kudlow wrote columns celebrating the so-called "Bush boom" and and would cite the U3 measure of unemployment in his columns. As we know, Romney relied upon the U3 measure when he promised to reduce unemployment to 6% by January 2017.
Now that the economy is creating the most jobs since the Clinton Administration, the GOP has suddenly begun to talk about the U6 measure of unemployment. This statistic includes so-called "discouraged workers" in it's calculation and the U6 unemployment rate is currently 10.5%. What the GOP doesn't mention is that U6 unemployment has steadily declined since it peaked at 17% in 2009.
The U6 unemployment measuring stick isn't the only obscure economic statistic that the GOP became obsessed with beginning at high noon on January 20, 2009. We've also been hearing from them about the labor participation rate (LPR.) The GOP likes to tell us that Obama is a failure and the economy is doing poorly because the LPR is at it's lowest rate since 1978.
The Republicans' talking point on the LPR is disingenuous because they don't give us any of the historical and demographic context regarding the LPR. The LPR steadily increased between the 1970s and 2000 due to the entry of women into the labor force.
The LPR peaked at 67% in 2000 and began to decline that year largely due to the retirement of the baby boom generation. By the time Bush left office in 2009, the LPR had been reduced to 65%.
Since Obama took office, the LPR has continued it's decline. At the present time, the LPR is around 63%. What this means is that the LPR has declined at the same rate during the Obama Administration as it did during the Bush Administration.
According to government economists at the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the LPR would have declined no matter who was president, and independent of the state of the economy. You won't hear about that on Fox News and AM radio!
The Republicans' discovery of these heretofore obscure economic statistics is part of a P.R. campaign aimed at winning the next election. The GOP wants to convince the American people that the economy is worse now than it was in 2009 so they can be returned to power.
Our opponents also don't want the American people to remember their own terrible record on the economy the last time they held all of the levers of power in Washington, D.C. The GOP is counting on collective amnesia - they hope the American people will forget that President Obama inherited the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression and had to pull us out of the ditch.
Our job as Democrats is to refresh those hazy memories because the propaganda of the GOP depends upon the voters having bad memories. We need to be proud of our record and run hard on it. If we don't mention it, nobody else will.
The stakes next year couldn't be any higher. Are we going to hand over the country once again to the GOP and its policies that ruined our economy before and that will destroy the hard earned progress that we've made since 2009? I'm confident that if we do our job, the voters will make the right choice and vote for continued progress by electing a Democratic President and Congress.
Governor Ricketts faced a difficult first legislative session in which most of his major policy priorities were simply ignored and where three high profile vetoes were overridden by bi-partisan majorities. Ricketts was criticized by members of his own party for failing to engage the Unicameral in the early stages of the session and for hiring an inexperienced legislative liaison staff.
The Governor's most visible and embarrassing defeat was when the Senators voted to repeal the death penalty over his veto by a 30-19 margin. This development provided further evidence that the death penalty is on it's way out in the U.S. and even garnered international attention. It's not every day that a red state legislature votes to abolish capital punishment.
The death penalty was abolished in Nebraska because it is an expensive and wasteful government program that simply doesn't work. The Lincoln Journal Star recent reported that the cost to prosecute a death penalty case in Kansas is more than three times as expensive to pursue as a non-capital case. This same article also found: "Between 1973 and 2007, Nebraska taxpayers paid for 103 cases in which the prosecution sought the death penalty. Thirty-one of those cases led to a death sentence, more than half of those were reversed, and three have ended in an execution, none since 1997."
Governor Ricketts responded to this embarrassing political defeat by heavily funding Nebraskans for the Death Penalty, which is pursuing a petition campaign to put capital punishment on the ballot next year and to restore this archaic and useless government program. Thus far, Ricketts and his billionaire father have contributed $200,000.00 out of the $244,000.00 this group has raised to date.
The lavish funding of this death penalty ballot campaign sets a troubling precedent because we have a situation where a billionaire Governor and his super wealthy father are funding a referendum to undo an historic vote in the Unicameral - including the votes of 16 Senators from his own party. Apparently, if Ricketts can't get what he wants out of the legislature, he and his father will drop hundreds of thousands of dollars into this campaign (or a future campaign.)
I fully expect the Ricketts family to spend whatever takes to restore the failed capital punishment system and attempt to win a political victory for the Governor. The television ads will be slickly produced and most likely deceptive in nature. I fully expect to see images of the likes of Nikko Jenkins and other heinous criminals in a shameless attempt to scare Nebraskans into bringing back the death penalty.
These huge donations from the Ricketts family are also troubling because they are not for middle class tax relief, a better health care system, better roads, and a better education system. Instead, the money is being spent to restore a failed and immoral government program.
What we need to do as Democrats is to volunteer for campaigns and if we can afford it, make some financial contributions. It's not enough anymore to simply show up and vote in every election cycle. Good government isn't free and doesn't come easy. That means we need to get involved in the political process or even step up our already existing activism.
Since the July 4 holiday is approaching, I've been reflecting on the Founding Fathers and their monumental contributions to this great country. That made me begin to think about the right wing Republican claim that the Founding Fathers would be Tea Party conservatives in the 21st century.
I can tell you from my historical research that claim is flatly wrong and is quite frankly an insult to the Founding Fathers. I don't think those great men would want to have anything to do with today's Republican party which in the words of prominent political scientist Norm Ornstein is “an insurgent outlier—ideologically extreme, contemptuous of the inherited and social and economic policy regime; scornful of compromise, unpersuaded by conventional understanding of facts, evidence, and science; and dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition.”
Just how accurate are the Republican claims about the Founding Fathers? Did they truly believe in limited or smaller government? Were they scornful of compromise and unpersuaded by empirical evidence? I think the answers will surprise our conservative Republican friends.
One of the greatest Americans - if not the greatest - was George Washington - our first President. Washington was very close to Alexander Hamilton and Hamilton was Washington's most influential adviser. Hamilton was a delegate to the Constitutional Convention, one of the authors of the Federalist Papers and the first Treasury Secretary.
The historical record indicates that Hamilton was no advocate of limited government and would be rejected with contempt by right wing Republicans if they were familiar with his actual record and views. As Treasury Secretary, Hamilton clashed with the small government conservatives of his day in advocating for a national bank, government assistance to manufacturers and the encouragement of immigration.
Washington's successor - John Adams - was certainly no advocate of small or limited government. While he was President, Adams signed into law the infamous Alien and Sedition Act which among other things restricted speech that was critical of the government. Under this act, the Adams Administration criminally prosecuted several journalists and a member of the U.S. House of Representatives.
During the Adams Administration, Jefferson and Madison were very critical of the Alien and Sedition Act and wrote several pieces in response to that law which extolled the virtues of small and limited government. That's where one will find many of the passages cited by present day conservatives when they make the case the Founding Fathers would be Tea Party Republicans today.
Once Jefferson and Madison took power, they were not hesitant to use the power of big government to achieve their ends. (Madison served all eight years of the Jefferson Administration as Secretary of State and was Jefferson's hand picked successor.)
During the debate over the Louisiana Purchase, the advocates of smaller government took the position that the federal government lacked the power to acquire land and demanded that the Constitution be amended to give the federal government that power. Jefferson and Madison liberally construed the Constitution and took the position that the Louisiana Purchase fell under the treaty powers of the Constitution and submitted the Louisiana Purchase for it's eventual ratification by the U.S. Senate.
Jefferson and Madison were responsible for one of the greatest power grabs in U.S. history during Jefferson's second term. At that time, the Napoleonic Wars were raging in Europe and both the British and the French navies were seizing U.S. ships in the Atlantic Ocean. Both the British and the French wanted to deprive each other of the benefits of trade with the U.S.
In response, Jefferson and Madison convinced the Congress to pass the Embargo Act of 1807 - which made illegal any and all exports from the U.S. In other words, during Jefferson's second term, the federal government banned businesses from selling goods to foreign countries. This exercise of federal power pales in comparison to any exercise of power by the federal government since President Obama was inaugurated. If today's conservatives had been around in 1807, they would have called Jefferson and Madison "communists" and "socialists."
The embargo on foreign trade ultimately proved to be a failure and did immense damage to the U.S. economy. It was eventually lifted in 1809 shortly after Madison became our nation's fourth President.
These episodes from early American history that I cite here aren't exhaustive. There are many other examples that would clearly indicate that the Founding Fathers wouldn't be right wing ideologues today. Instead, the Founding Fathers were intelligent, practical, realistic and willing to compromise to get things done. They wouldn't be right wing, Tea Party Republicans in the 21st century.
I think you can say the same things about modern day Democrats that I've said here about the Founding Fathers. We Democrats are willing to consider all practical measure to create a better country. We are more than willing to compromise to achieve our goals. For example, the ACA is based upon a Republican health care plan that was hatched by the Heritage Foundation and first implemented by Mitt Romney in Massachusetts.
As Democrats, we need to re-claim the Founding Fathers. We can't allow the Republicans to claim some kind of monopoly on the great men who founded and established our country against great odds. This attempt by the radical right to appropriate the Founding Fathers is merely a public relations attempt to give political cover and legitimacy to their extreme policies.
On a final note, we here at the Nebraska Democratic Party wish everybody a happy and safe 4th of July holiday as we celebrate the 239th anniversary of our great country's independence.
Currently pending before the U.S. Supreme Court (SCOTUS) is a case that could potentially blow up the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and cause more than 6 million people to lose their health insurance policies. A group of radical right wing libertarians have filed a challenge to the ACA based upon an alleged drafting error in the law. These radicals claim that subsidies for the purchase of health insurance are only legal in the 16 states that have set up their own exchanges. If the five Republican appointees on the SCOTUS - who enjoy the benefit of taxpayer financed health insurance - invalidate the subsidies being paid out to those who purchase insurance on the federally established exchanges in the other 34 states, the consequences for millions of newly insured people and the overall economy would be catastrophic in nature.
The radicals who have threatened to cripple the U.S. health care system by judicial fiat have advanced the novel theory that Congress deliberately agreed to withhold subsidies for the purchase of health insurance from people living in states that refused to set up a state-run health-insurance exchange and currently have a federally run insurance exchange. When Dave Heineman was Governor, he refused to set up an insurance exchange even though the stakeholders in Nebraska wanted a state based exchange As a result of Heineman's lack of leadership, Nebraska currently has a federal insurance exchange.
The lawyers for the plaintiffs in the King case argued that Senator Ben Nelson insisted that tax subsidies be withheld in states that refused to set up their own exchanges. The former Nebraska Senator rejected those claims in a letter filed with the Supreme Court which stated: "I always believed that tax credits should be available in all 50 states regardless of who built the exchange, and the final law also reflects that belief as well." In other words, one of the most important arguments made by the challengers to the ACA has been called incorrect by the very same senator relied upon by these litigants.
If the five most conservative members of the SCOTUS adopt a fraudulent reading of the legislative history of the ACA, the consequences for millions of Americans would be disastrous. Approximately 6.4 million people would lose their tax credits and could experience an average increase of 255% in their health insurance premiums. Most of those effected would have no choice but to drop their insurance coverage.
The damage from an adverse SCOTUS decision would not be limited to those losing their insurance policies - it would also cause serious damage to the health care industry and even the overall economy. According to experts at the non-partisan Kaiser Family Foundation: "A reasonable assumption is that (spending on) healthcare by people who lose their existing subsidies will drop by at least half. That would represent about $7.5 billion in spending on hospitalizations, doctor visits and prescriptions, depending on the baseline estimate." Some experts have even said that a decision withholding subsidies from millions of Americans could cause a death spiral in the health insurance industry and much higher premiums for all Americans.
A "victory" by the plaintiffs in the King case would have an equally harsh impact in Nebraska. According to the Kaiser Foundation, approximately 57,000 Nebraskans would see their premiums soar and most likely be forced to drop their coverage. Consumers in Nebraska who would lose their subsidies would see their premiums increase about 265% according to this report. As Brad Ashford chief of staff Jeremy Nordquist said: "If the Supreme Court does strike the insurance subsidies, it’s a significant loss for Nebraska families.”
Governor Pete Ricketts could avoid harming thousands of Nebraskans by committing to setting up a state based insurance exchange in the event the five Republicans on the SCOTUS gut the ACA. Unfortunately, Mr. Ricketts is showing his usual lack of leadership and has said that that it would be “premature” to discuss how the state might respond if health insurance tax credits for working families are struck down by the court.
Nebraska State Democratic Party Chair Vince Powers responded to Ricketts in a strongly worded statement that said: “That is a dereliction of his duty. It is the Governor who is “premature” in supporting the end to tax credits, without any plan in place for families to keep their insurance. It is the job of the Governor to lead with solutions, not jeopardize families by making them more vulnerable with no alternative plan.”
On the federal level, the Republicans in Congress - like Ricketts - lack an alternative plan in the event the SCOTUS destroys the American health care system. This is because the Republicans in Congress are are deeply divided on how to respond to an adverse SCOTUS decision. Many Republicans are being pressured by the Koch brothers to oppose any ACA fix and just allow the U.S. health care system to collapse. Other Republicans like Ben Sassehave proposed plans that would continue the subsidies through the 2016 elections and then would completely repeal the ACA in January 2017.
The reality is that a bad ruling by 5 unelected justices could be rectified with a one sentence bill that mandated that all qualified consumers could qualify for a subsidy regardless of whether insurance was purchased from a state or federal exchange.
The five Republicans on SCOTUS would be utterly reckless and irresponsible if they threw out the ACA after it has provided coverage to 17 million formerly uninsured Americans and reduced medical inflation to it's lowest level since the 1960s. The very legitimacy of the SCOTUS would be destroyed and it would go down as one of the most infamous judicial decisions in American history.
Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne said it best: "Here’s a hypothetical for you: First, the Supreme Court issues a ruling that installs a conservative president. Then, he appoints two conservative Supreme Court justices who then join with three of their colleagues to make mincemeat of the greatest achievement of a progressive president elected by a clear majority. If such a thing happened in any other country, would we still call it a democratic republic?"
New Nebraska Governor Pete Ricketts recently finished a legislative session that some Republican insiders (justifiably) termed an "embarrassing start." Two prominent Republican lobbyists who spoke to me on background were both highly critical of Ricketts' handling of the legislative session. One lobbyist said the Senators perceived Ricketts' approach as "heavy handed" and another told me that the Ricketts Administration only got engaged with the Unicameral very late in the session.
Ricketts' failed legislative session isn't the only thing that has called into question his competence and ability to serve as Governor. His recent attempt to purchase an execution drug not only creates concerns about his ability to govern - it even raises questions about his election year claim that he is an experienced and savvy businessman.
The Nebraska Governor recently authorized the purchase of execution drugs that have been deemed illegal by the FDA from a shady middleman in India. Ricketts purchased these drugs even though the FDA warned him that that the agency will seize Nebraska’s shipment. Moreover, Ricketts paid seven times more than what the drugs usually cost and purchased enough drugs for 300 executions - even though there are only ten people on death row. Ricketts was clearly taken to the cleaners by the seller of the drugs.
Ricketts' mishandling of the Unicameral and attempted purchase of illegal drugs aren't the only areas which have caused some to doubt his ability to effectively serve his constituents. Some of the Governor's hires have further called into question whether he is up to the job of Nebraska's chief executive.
As it turns out, Ricketts' new economic development director who came out of the Walker Administration in Wisconsin - Brenda Hicks-Sorensen - has become embroiled in a scandal in the Badger state. Apparently, Hicks-Sorenson was involved in Wisconsin's decision to award a $500,000 loan to a company that has since defaulted on that loan. It is probably no coincidence that the company involved in the scandal was a significant Walker donor.
What makes this controversy even more disturbing is that Hicks-Sorenson worked in the Walker Administration as vice president at the scandal ridden Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation before being appointed by Ricketts as director of the Nebraska Department of Economic Development. Unfortunately, Walker's economic development policies in Wisconsin have proven to be a failure. Currently, Wisconsin ranks dead last in business start up activity. Moreover, Walker’s Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation has handed out millions of dollars in uncollectible loans and tax breaks without requiring the recipients to create any jobs.
Ricketts made another ill considered hire when he appointed Courtney Phillips as CEO of the wasteful and grossly mismanaged Department of Health Human Services. This was another poor decision by the Nebraska Governor since Phillips had previously served as the Deputy Secretary of the Department of Health and Hospitals in the Jindal Administration in Louisiana.
Like the Walker Administration, the Jindal Administration is known for it's incompetence and fiscal irresponsibility. The Louisiana Governor financed a big tax cut for the wealthy by cutting spending for the poor and middle class - including an $800 million cut in Medicaid spending. The Louisiana legislature recently closed a $1.6 billion budget deficit with a controversial tax increase on the poor, middle class and small businesses.
Platte County Democratic Party Chair Tom Havelka said it best: "It is too bad the Navigator on the Titanic is dead. Otherwise Ricketts would have hired him. The same goes for the Air Defense Officer from Pearl Harbor. Two of the most inept agencies in State Government today are Wisconsin's Economic Development Council and the Louisiana Department of Health and guess where Pete Ricketts sought to find people to lead? In the Rickets Administration competency will not be tolerated at any level"
Ricketts' hire of officials from Wisconsin and Louisiana tells us what governors he admires and the direction he wants to take Nebraska if he gets a compliant legislature in next year's elections. The independence displayed by Democrats and moderate Republicans in the Unicameral have saved Nebraska from a self inflicted budget meltdown and a dysfunctional state government. We must work hard next year to preserve the independence of the Unicameral. Otherwise, Ricketts and the Radical Right will ruin our state and turn us into Wisconsin and Louisiana. We can't let that happen.
One of the common talking points on the right is that Barack Obama is the "worst President in history." (This talking point is rather ironic in light of the fact that many of the people saying it voted for George W. Bush two times.) Just who are the worst Presidents in American history? What made them so bad? How does President Obama's record compare to their records?
Franklin Pierce is widely considered to be one of the worst Presidents because he signed into law the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854. This law was highly controversial because it blew up the hard fought Missouri Compromise of 1820 which had barred the introduction of slavery into the territories. Because the Kansas-Nebraska Act made it possible for the southerners to take their slaves into the territories it significantly inflamed an already simmering controversy over slavery.
Pierce's successor - James Buchanan - is also considered to be one of our country's poorest Presidents. Buchanan further inflamed sectional tensions by maneuvering behind the scenes to help create a pro-southern majority in the infamous Dredd Scott case and by relentlessly pandering to the interests of the southern slave holders over the "Bleeding Kansas" debacle. The 15th President sided with a pro-slavery government in Topeka which had clearly stolen the election in which it was "elected." Once the southern states began to leave the union, Buchanan took the position that he lacked the power to stop them and stood idly by while his pro-Confederate War Secretary allowed the Confederates to loot federal military arsenals to arm themselves.
Historians also widely regard Herbert Hoover as one of our worst Presidents. Hoover stood by during the Great Depression and did nothing to aide the unemployed and to shore up the banking system. Instead, Hoover pursued an austerity policy of tax increases and budget cuts to balance the federal budget. Hoover's refusal to intervene to mitigate the worst effects of the Depression was based entirely upon his laissez-faire ideology. He believed it was the responsibility of the private sector and charity - not the federal government - to assist those who were unemployed and suffering.
The U.S. suffered it's most serious economic crisis since the Hoover Administration during the Presidency of George W. Bush. That's one of the reasons why a consensus is emerging that Bush was one of the worst Presidents in U.S. history. Bush inherited a projected 10 year surplus of $5.5 trillion from President Clinton and turned it into a record annual deficit of $1.4 trillion by the time he left office. Moreover, Bush mismanaged two wars and presided over an economic and stock market crash during his last year in office. The economy was in a state of free fall by the time he left the White House.
A significant portion of President Obama's tenure has been consumed with cleaning up the mess he inherited from Bush. Fortunately, the country is now much better off than it was 6.5 years ago thanks to President Obama's leadership.
The economy was losing 800,000 jobs per month in December 2008 and it has since been creating over 200,000 jobs per month over the last 1.5 years. In May alone, the economy created 280,000 jobs. This is the best job growth the U.S has experienced since President Clinton's second term. Obama has created more jobs in his first six and a half years in office than were created by the last two Republican Presidents combined.
George W. Bush also bequeathed to President Obama a health care system in shambles. During his two terms in office, Bush stood idly by and allowed 8 million Americans to lose their health insurance policies. Since the implementation of the ACA in late 2013, 17 million formerly uninsured Americans have gained health insurance coverage. In addition, medical inflation is seeing it's slowest rate of growth since the 1960s.
We've also seen a similar dramatic turn around on the fiscal front. Obama inherited from his predecessor an annual deficit of $1.4 trillion which was 9.8% of GDP. By 2014, the deficit had been reduced by nearly 2/3 to $484 billion or 2.8% of GDP. It is the fastest deficit reduction in U.S. history since the late 1940s.
President Obama's record on spending and taxes stacks up well when compared to his recent predecessors. In Obama's 7th year in office, federal taxes as a share of GDP equal 17.7% and are lower than year seven for Reagan (17.9%), Clinton (19.2%), and Bush43 (17.9%). Obama is projected to spend 20.9% of GDP in 2015 - less than Reagan's 21% in his 7th year.
The bottom line here is that President Obama has an impressive list of domestic accomplishments and has built a successful Presidency. Any allegation that he is the "worst President in history" coming from the right is nonsensical - at best. If a Republican President had compiled this list of accomplishments, the usual suspects on the Right would want to name everything after him and put his face on Mount Rushmore.
It is important that we Democrats message President Obama's impressive record. As Nobel prize winning economist Paul Krugman said: "Progressives are much too willing to cede history to the other side. Legends about the past matter. Really bad economics flourishes in part because Republicans constantly extol the Reagan record, while Democrats rarely mention how shabby that record was compared with the growth in jobs and incomes under Clinton. The combination of lies, incompetence, and corruption that made the Iraq venture the moral and policy disaster it was should not be allowed to slip into the mists.'..There’s a reason conservatives constantly publish books and articles glorifying Harding and Coolidge while sliming FDR; there’s a reason they’re still running against Jimmy Carter; and there’s a reason they’re doing their best to rehabilitate W. And progressives need to fight back."
If we are to win the 2016 elections, we Democrats need to run on our accomplishments - as well as talk about our vision for the future. If we don't mention our achievements, voters will believe that our elected officials haven't accomplished anything and will consider voting for the Republicans. We can't count on the media to point out our accomplishments. We have to do it ourselves.
The stakes in next year's elections are very high. We can either continue to make progress in moving our country forward or we can go back to the policies that wrecked the economy in 2008. Are we going to hand over our country once again to the people and policies that crashed our economy before and or are we going to build on the policies that have improved our country? That is the choice next year. Now let's get to work!
The conventional wisdom in January was that - due to Ricketts' election and GOP gains in the unicameral - right wing Republicans were going to dominate the 2015 legislative session and do to Nebraska what they did to Kansas. However, in that very same month, a well placed source at the Capitol told me that some of the Republicans elected in 2014 were more moderate than expected and we might be in for a pleasant surprise in the Unicameral.
As it turned out, my source was correct and the 2015 legislative session proved to be one of the more remarkable and historic legislative sessions in recent years. Time and again, measures advanced by the conservative wing of the GOP wing were rejected by a coalition of Democrats and moderate Republicans. Partisan legislation aimed at further cementing the GOP advantage in Nebraska - like the electoral vote and the voter I.D. bills - were rejected early in the session. Moreover, Governor Ricketts' signature property tax cut measure didn't even advance out of the Revenue Committee.
What made this session especially remarkable was that Progressive changes were enacted into law over the objections of the legislative chamber's most conservative members and the vetoes of Governor Ricketts. It was the triumph of moderate, bi-partisan ideas over rigid ideology.
The first setback for Ricketts and the radical right was the override of the Governor's veto of a gas tax increase that would annually fund $75 million worth of infrastructure repairs and maintenance. This is pro-business and pro-agriculture legislation because small business owners and farmers need good roads. That's why several senators from small towns and rural areas rejected the no new taxes orthodoxy of billionaire front groups like Americans For Prosperity.
Perhaps the most visible victory for the coalition of Democrats and enlightened Republicans was the repeal of the death penalty which was enacted over Ricketts' veto after the Governor put on a full court press to maintain the current law. Nebraska became the first conservative or red state in over 40 years to repeal it's death penalty. It is clearly an historic accomplishment.
The death penalty repeal is a victory for fiscal conservatism. Nebraska taxpayers squander millions of dollars on fruitless litigation every year aimed at the execution of the prisoners on death row. This litigation is wasteful and futile because the State hasn't executed anybody since 1997 and it is doubtful anybody else would ever be executed again if the law is restored.
The session ended with the override of Ricketts' veto of legislation that would authorize drivers licenses for the "Dreamers" – young people brought to this country illegally when they were children. The Governor vetoed this legislation even though it was supported by the Nebraska Chamber of Commerce, the Omaha Chamber of Commerce and the Lincoln Chamber of Commerce.
One can explain Ricketts' setbacks in the legislature by his unbending adherence to the orthodoxy of the Tea Party. A highly placed and reliable Republican insider once told me that Ricketts is no moderate and is a "true believer"conservative As Dave Domina aptly said: "Nebraska's new Governor marginalized himself with extreme positions this week. Governing requires consensus forming, not stubbornness."
Ricketts' surprising losses can also be chalked up to just inexperience and simple incompetence. Ricketts and his team have no prior governmental experience. Running a government is entirely different than running a business - it is a different breed of cat altogether.
The new Governor's struggles didn't go unnoticed among members of his own party. The right wing Leavenworth Street blog took several potshots at Ricketts' ineptitude and inexperience. Moreover, the GOP friendly Omaha World Herald reported that: "Several Republicans who have been around the State Capitol for years privately described it as an “embarrassing” start for the governor."
The results from the 2015 session of the Nebraska legislature clearly reflect Democratic values. However, as I've said before, no victory over the radical right is ever final in nature. These people are relentless and never give up.
Already, Ricketts and his band of supporters in the legislature are talking about financing a campaign to put the restoration of the death penalty on the ballot for a vote in 2016. Moreover, sources have been telling me for months that Ricketts plans to invest heavily in the 2016 legislative races in the hopes of creating a Tea Party legislature that would finance tax cuts for the wealthy by cutting education and assistance for the most vulnerable in our state.
My message to you my Democratic friends is to enjoy these victories while you can but be prepared to get back to work no later than the fall to elect more Democrats to the Unicameral in 2016. If we are to avoid the fiscal train wreck that occurred in Kansas, we will all need to work hard for our slate of legislative candidates. The future of our great state depends upon us.
In recent days, Ramadi has fallen to ISIS even though the so-called "elite" Iraqi army units defending this city greatly outnumbered the attacking forces. Needless to say, the GOP went into it's tired "full outrage" mode and blamed the recent setbacks and the rise of ISIS on President Obama. The message from the GOP appears to be that the U.S. should have maintained U.S. ground troops in Iraq on an indefinite basis and should even send American ground troops back to that faction ridden country.
What the GOP doesn't tell anybody is that U.S. troops withdrew from Iraq at the end of 2011 due to a Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) that then President Bush signed in the closing days of his Administration. This 2008 SOFA required all U.S. troops to pull out of Iraq by the end of 2011.
Republicans continue to argue that somehow President Obama could've convinced the Iraqis to re-negotiate the Bush SOFA to allow the continued presence of a so-called residual force of 10,000 U.S. troops. Once again, the GOP is not telling us the entire truth. The Iraqis would've allowed U.S. troops to stay in Iraq only if we had allowed them to be subject to the jurisdiction of the Iraqi courts. Can you imagine the outrage from the Right if a U.S. soldier was hauled into an Iraqi court?
Even to this day, the Iraqis don't want to see the return of U.S. troops. Iraqi Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi recently said that: " (F)oreign troops are out of the question....Not only is it not necessary," he said, "We don't want them. We won't allow them. Full stop."
The Republicans are engaged in a furious blame game over Iraq because they don't want the American people to remember how the Iraq war got started and the gross mismanagement of that conflict by then President Bush and a GOP controlled Congress. The reality is that the Iraq war was one of the greatest foreign policy blunders in U.S. history that according to Nobel Prize winning economist Joseph Stiglitz will ultimately cost the U.S. taxpayers $3 trillion.
As we all know, the Bush Administration's case for war was based upon Saddam Hussein's alleged fearsome arsenal of weapons of mass destruction. The GOP would like you to believe that we got into that war due to some kind of honest intelligence mistake or mix up. However, the reality is very different. A bi-partisan Senate Intelligence Committee investigation in 2008 found that: "The (Bush) Administration repeatedly presented intelligence as fact when in reality it was unsubstantiated, contradicted, or even non-existent."
The Iraq war cheerleaders also doesn't want anybody to recollect the Bush Administration's lack of a realistic plan to stabilize Iraq after the over throw of the Hussein regime and it's overall inept management of that conflict. Despite credible warnings that Iraq would be difficult to govern, the Bush Administration invaded Iraq with an insufficient force and was taken by surprise by the insurgency.
The tragic history of that conflict has taught us that the very idea of invading Iraq was terribly misguided because it risked creating all kinds of unintended consequences. As Daniel Larison of the American Conservative said: " More than decade of conflict in Iraq has claimed hundreds of thousands of lives, injured countless more, displaced millions, driven millions more into exile, and has brought about the complete ruination of an entire country. The war empowered sectarians and jihadists, and exposed the country’s religious minorities to an unending nightmare of persecution. Only a fanatic could look at the devastation wrought by the Iraq war and its aftermath and conclude that the world is better place because of it."
What we need to do as Democrats going forward is not to let the voters buy into the GOP revisionist history of the Iraq war. The propaganda and talking points of the modern conservative movement depends heavily upon people having poor memories of past events. As Democrats, we need to constantly refresh those memories and constantly remind the voters that the GOP national security legacy is disastrous. A failure to do so could result in the Republicans returning to power in 2016 and a repeat of the disastrous Iraq war. We can't afford to allow that to happen.