The marquee race in Nebraska in 2013 is the Omaha Mayor's race where incumbent Mayor Jim Suttle is running for re-election. Suttle is currently matched up against Republican City Council Woman Jean Stothert. Just what are Mayor Suttle's accomplishments during his four years as mayor? What does Ms. Stothert stand for?
Mayor Suttle inherited a city facing a severe financial crisis. Omaha had lost it's prized Triple A credit rating because the City had no plans to resolve the $600 million police and fire pension shortfall, as well as no plan to pay down the debt on the Century Link Center.
In the first days of his Administration, Mayor Suttle stepped up to the plate and began to make the tough choices necessary to restore Omaha's finances. Suttle proposed and convinced the City Council to pass a 2.5 percent dining tax on all restaurants within city limits. The Republicans immediately went into their tiresome full outrage mode and predicted that the new tax wouldn't raise any money and that many Omahans would go to out to eat in Council Bluffs. Stothert opposed Mayor Suttle's tough choices and proposed no alternatives of her own.
The Omaha Republicans were so angered by the new restaurant tax that they launched an effort to recall Mayor Suttle and filed a lawsuit to block the tax. As it turned out, the voters of Omaha wisely refused to recall Mayor Suttle and the Nebraska Supreme Court threw out the Republicans' court challenge.
This recent history indicates that it's pretty obvious that the extreme Republicans in Omaha were deeply embittered by Mayor Suttle's 2009 election victory and wanted him to fail. They did everything they could to destroy his Administration and never game him a chance. The Omaha Republicans treated Mayor Suttle as poorly as the Washington, D.C. Republicans have treated President Obama. It was party over City (and Country) for Stothert and Omaha's radical Republicans.
The Republicans' dire predictions about the restaurant tax turned out about as well as the failed recall effort and court challenge. Omaha originally projected that the tax would bring in about $15 million a year. In its first full year, the tax beat beat expectations by collecting $23.8 million for the City. The 2012 figures surpassed that total and the figure for 2013 is expected to grow to $25.6 million.
In addition to the restaurant tax, Suttle took on the spending side of the equation and addressed the pension shortfall that he inherited. Mayor Suttle ended the controversial practice of "spiking" where those close to retirement added substantial overtime hours into the calculations for the pensions. As a result of Mayor Suttle's leadership, city revenue to expenses are in balance and Omaha has regained it's coveted Triple A rating.
Mayor Suttle didn't only face a fiscal crisis and hyper-partisan opposition, he also encountered the epic flood of 2011. Thanks to his engineering background, Suttle was the right person at the right time. The Mayor took charge of the crisis and ordered immediate efforts to sandbag vulnerable locations along the riverfront and brought in additonal pumps to redirect flood waters.
As a result of those efforts, there was limited damage to properties along the Missouri River. Major businesses like Conagra didn't lose any work days, and the airport and other river front businesses remained open during the flood. In addition, major events at or near the Century Link Center and T.D. Ameritrade Stadium, including the College World Series, continued uninterrupted and as planned.
It should be obvious to any objective observer that Jim Suttle has been a very effective Mayor and has an impressive list of significant accomplishments. But what about Ms. Stothert? What does she stand for? What are her campaign promises?
Lest we forget, Stothert endorsed Governor Heineman's regressive tax shift, which would tax prescription drugs, medical care, churches, private schools, room and board at colleges, agriculture, and manufacturing, all to finance tax cuts for the wealthy and the corporations. All things considered, Heineman's risky tax scheme is a tax shift that would increase taxes on the bottom 80 percent of wage earners. The fact that Stohert endorsed Heineman's failed tax plan should tell you Stothert shares the values of the extreme Tea Party faction of the GOP.
Stothert has taken an equally irresponsible position on the restaurant and the wheel tax. She has pledged to repeal them but she hasn't told the voters how she would make up for the revenue shortfall this would create and balance Omaha's books. In addition to that, Stothert has also promised to increase spending on roads and hire more police.
As we can see, Suttle's Republican opponent is promising to increase spending and cut taxes at the same time. In a recent debate, Stothert was asked what specific cuts she would make and she came back with a vauge response that "we have to find efficiencies." In that same debate, Stothert was asked at least 10 times to outline any specific cuts she would make to offset tax cuts and couldn't name one.
What we have here in the Omaha Mayoral election is a matchup between a real leader who has made the tough choices and a challenger who has made a series of incredible and cynical promises about the budget that can never be kept. At the present time, thanks to Mayor Suttle's leadership, the City of Omaha is in an enviable position. Currently, Omaha's unemployment rate is 3.7% - less than half the national average. In 2012 alone, hundreds of new and existing businesses created more than 12,000 new jobs in Omaha. Moreover, Omaha was recently ranked as the number one city in the country for economic performance during the recent recession.
The choice is clear this spring. The voters can select a leader who is a doer or elect a talker who lacks the courage to offer up real solutions. Mayor Jim Suttle deserves to be re-elected because his leadership is working. As John Ewing said: "You don't fire the coach when he is winning the game." The election of Stothert would put all of this progress and these reforms in jeopardy. We Democrats need to work hard to re-elect Suttle and the other Democrats on the ballot. In the end, I predict a majority of Omaha voters will will see through Stothert's unrealistic promises and give Mayor Suttle a well deserved second term.
Vice President Biden is fond of saying: "This isn't your father's Republican Party." Biden's statement accurately reflects the fact that the modern Republican Party is much different than it was a generation ago and well regarded historical figures who were Republicans like Lincoln and Eisenhower wouldn't even recognize today's party. Even Republican icon Ronald Reagan would be drummed out of the Republican party today as a RINO since he supported several tax increases, negotiated with the enemy without pre-conditions and signed into law an immigration bill that had a pathway to citizenship for aspiring citizens.
The radicalism of today's GOP was on display just this past week on both the national and the state level. In the U.S. Senate, 90% of the Republican Senators refused to grant an up or down vote to a measure that would have improved the background check system for the purchase of guns. This legislation enjoyed bi partisan support and the support of the overwhelming majority of the American people. According to a recent Fox News poll, a large 85-percent majority of voters favored requiring checks on all gun buyers, including at gun shows and private sales. That includes most Democrats (90 percent), Republicans (83 percent) and independents (82 percent), as well as most of those living in a gun-owner household (81 percent).
Despite this overwhelming support from the American people, 42 out of 45 Republican Senators - including Mike Johanns and Deb Fischer - refused to grant the background checks bill an up or down vote. (Remember when Republicans constantly demanded up or down votes for George W. Bush's legislative priorities and nominees?) In rejecting this bill, these 42 Republican Senators gave in to the paranoia and just outright lies from the NRA.
The radical Republicans and the NRA advanced the false argument that an improved background check system would be a violation of the 2nd Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. (Evidently, Johanns and Fischer must believe that the Constitution protects criminals and mentally ill people who buy AR-15s.) However, in the majority opinion in the seminal Heller decision which found a new right to keep and bear arms pursuant to the Second Amendment, ultra-conservative Justice Antonin Scalia held that like all other rights, the Second Amendment right is not unlimited. Scalia ruled that longstanding prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill, or laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms are indeed constitutional.
The NRA also falsely alleged that the background check bill would create a national gun registry even though the bill specifically said it would be illegal. As President Obama said: "This legislation, in fact, outlawed any registry. Plain and simple, right there in the text. But that didn't matter. And unfortunately, this pattern of spreading untruths about this legislation served a purpose, because those lies upset an intense minority of gun owners, and that in turn intimidated a lot of senators...So all in all, this was a pretty shameful day for Washington."
We had the misfortune to experience an equally shameful day in the Nebraska Legislature when a minority of extreme Republican Senators refused to grant an or down vote to the bill expanding the Medicaid program in the state. This bill has bi-partisan support and the proponents of the Medicaid expansion are confident they have the necessary 30 votes to override an expected veto from Governor Heinenman.
As I've discussed here earlier, the Medicaid expansion is a win-win proposition for Nebraska. According to the UNMC, this bill would both save lives and save money. The bill would insure 54,000 additional Nebraskans and would eliminate the annual "hidden tax" in the amount of approximately $1,100.00 that Nebraskans pay to cover the expenses for health care for the uninsured.
The Senators who opposed the Medicaid expansion claimed that the state couldn't afford to pay for it even though the federal government would pay 100% of the cost through 2016, and then 90% from 2020 on. Since Nebraska adopted the Medicaid program back in 1965, the federal government has paid around 57% of the state's Medicaid costs. Not once since the start of the Medicaid program has the federal government stepped away from its funding commitment.
What these right wing Senators fail to recognize is that this money will be spent regardless of whether or not Nebraska adopts the Medicaid expansion. If we reject the Medicaid expansion, that money will go to other states to finance the expansion of their Medicaid programs. In addition, uninsured people will still go to the doctor and the hospital emergency room. Those costs don't go away if we reject the Medicaid expansion. Instead, those costs will be shifted to people who already have insurance in the form of the "hidden tax" of higher premiums and health costs.
These same right wing Senators who say we can't afford the Medicaid expansion have never complained about the annual $40 million cost of the Nebraska Advantage Program. Two recent studies have indicated
that there is no evidence that this corporate welfare has created any jobs. Nonetheless, the right wing Senators in the Unicameral continue to appropriate money for this failed program.
This selective "fiscal conservatism" of the radical right exposes one of the core beliefs of many of those who call themselves conservatives. These so-called conservatives believe that government's role is to help the wealthy and the corporations but the middle class and the poor are on their own. Apparently, the radical right believes that the rich will work harder if we give them more, and the middle class and the poor will work harder if we give them less.
It's pretty obvious that today's Republican are extreme and out of the mainstream. They have no regard for public opinion and are only responsive to the wishes and needs of the wealthy and the radical interest groups that support them. The modern day Republican Party isn't conservative - they're radical. It's obvious that the GOP will blindly oppose any effort that will assist or otherwise improve the lives of the middle class and the least fortunate among us. Theodore Roosevelt's description of the conservative wing of the GOP a century ago is equally relevant today: "A blind and ignorant resistance to every effort for the reform of abuses and for the readjustment of society to modern industrial conditions represents not true conservatism, but an incitement to the wildest radicalism."
The GOP's resistance to majority rule tells us that they know their positions are unpopular and out of the mainstream. This creates a real opportunity for Democrats to win future battles on these issues. As we all know, demographic trends favor our party and put into question the ability of the GOP to be a national party. As Democrats, we can't give up on these fights. We need to continue to contact our
representatives and urge them to allow an up or down vote on common sense gun safety and the Medicaid expansion. If you are represented by one or more of these radical Republicans, you need to let them know that you are disappointed, and that if they don't act next time, you will remember come election time.
The city of Lincoln is currently on a roll thanks to the leadership of Mayor Chris Beutler and a Democratic majority on the City Council and has largely avoided the effects of the national recession. Construction cranes can be seen all over the city and unemployment is plunging.
This success has now been threatened by the Republicans and their extreme right wing allies in the city elections that will select three members of the City Council. Just what are the accomplishments of Mayor Beutler and the Democratic majority on the City Council? Who are the Democratic candidates? Just who is putting these accomplishments in jeopardy
The achievements of the Democrats in Lincoln are impressive and have improved the lives of Lincolnites:
- The lowest unemployment rate in the U.S. - Bureau of Labor Statistics
- Fourth best run city in the U.S. - 24/7 Wall Street
- Happiest city in America - Gallup
- Best city to find a job in 2012 - AOLjobs.com
- Healthiest city in America - Center For Disease Control
- Third best city to raise a baby - Parents Magazine
- Fifth best city for business and careers - Forbes Magazine
- Tenth best city to launch a business - Fortune Magazine
- Ninth most livable city in America - Forbes Magazine
Leirion Gaylor Baird worked equally hard and has put together a top drawer campaign. Gaylor Baird is eminently well qualified for the job since she has worked as a business analyst for Fortune 500 companies and as a city budget and policy analyst. She won't need any on the job training after she is elected.
The lone incumbent running for re-election is Gene Carroll. Councilman Carroll has been at the center of these successful reform efforts. Carroll made the tough decisions and fought to pass a budget in 2011 that protected funding for the things that make Lincoln great. His vote saved 90 parks, 7 pools, and 3 libraries from closing. His vote also saved police officers and firefighters from being cut.
Carroll's effectiveness on the City Council has alarmed the Republicans and their extreme allies in the Lincoln Independent Business Association ("LIBA".) LIBA used to be an organization that reflected the common sense views of Lincoln small business owners but this once responsible organization has been hijacked by Tea Party extremists who don't reflect the views and values of most Lincoln residents.
LIBA has formed up a Super PAC that has largely devoted itself to unfairly attacking Gene Carroll and is hoping that voters will forget about the accomplishments of Mayor Beutler and Gene Carroll. The propaganda of the extreme right depends upon the voters having bad memories. We here at the Nebraska Democratic Party will always work hard to refresh those memories.
The out of the mainstream views of LIBA are reflected by the Republicans running for City Council. The top vote getter in the primary - audiologist Roy Christensen - is on record in support of Governor Heineman's failed tax scheme that would've have financed a tax cut for the top 20% of Nebraska income earners by raising taxes on the other 80% of Nebraskans. Christensen even said that he would favor including hearing aids in the list of items subject to the sales tax. And that's not all. Christensen also forthrightly said that the City Council should cut spending for libraries and pools. (This is surprising since most Republicans try to hide their regressive views until after the election.)
The other two Republican City Council candidates also have views and career experiences that put them out of the mainstream in Lincoln. Mark Whitehead has contributed to the LIBA Super PAC that has largely devoted itself to denigrating Gene Carroll and the City's accomplishments. Moreover, Whitehead is the long time owner of Whitehead Oil Company - a company that plays an important role in setting the prices for gas in Lincoln. Over the years, the prices for gas in Lincoln have consistently been the highest in the state. Whitehead has yet to provide an explanation for those high gas prices that everybody in Lincoln has been paying for all of these years.
The third Republican running for City Council is Trent Fellers. His "claim to fame" - so to speak - was managing Jon Bruning's failed Senate campaign in 2011-12. The Bruning campaign largely failed because Bruning never provided an explanation to the voters how he became worth tens of millions of dollars on a government salary.
The stakes couldn't be higher in the Lincoln city elections. On May 7, the voters will decide whether we will continue to support the leadership that has made Lincoln the happiest city in America, or adopt the cynical and selfish vision of the most extreme elements in Lincoln. In the primary election, a mere 1,720 votes separated the top six candidates and the turnout was only 13%. Everybody expects a much higher turnout in the general election so this is a jump ball situation. We Democrats need to work hard to elect our candidates and continue to move Lincoln forward. This is no time for complacency - we can't takes these reforms and accomplishments for granted. Now let's get to work!
We are now into year fourteen of Lee Terry's tenure as the Congressman for Nebraska CD-02. It's as good as time as any to evaluate Terry's performance. Just what has he accomplished? What is his voting record all about? Can Terry be defeated in 2014?
Lee Terry is an undistinguished back bencher whose sole accomplishment to date is a bill renaming a post office in Omaha. That's all there is to Terry's legislative record. But wait, isn't Terry a bold deficit hawk?
Terry's record on spending is every bit as pathetic as his legislative record. When Terry took office in 1999, the country was running the largest surpluses in it's history. However, after George W. Bush took office in 2001, Terry voted along with just about every other Republican to turn those record annual surpluses into an annual deficit of $1.3 trillion by 2009. Between 2001 and 2008, Terry voted for two wars, two tax cuts, the Medicare Part D program and the Wall Street bailout bill. Terry's votes during those years added approximately $10 trillion to the national debt.
Once Terry helped plunge the country deeply into debt, he became a born again deficit hawk - but only after President Obama was elected President. Since 2009, Terry has been railing about the alleged runaway spending in Washington even though he never complained about the deficit during the Bush Administration. It's obvious that Terry - like all Republicans - only "cares" about the deficit when there is a Democratic President.
Terry's efforts to clean up the deficit mess he helped create has consisted entirely of voting for regressive budget plans that cut Medicare, Medicaid and other programs that benefit the poor and middle class to finance tax cuts for the wealthy.
As we've discussed here recently on this blog, Terry has voted for the Ryan plan which turns Medicare into a voucher program, takes health care coverage from millions of Americans, brings back pre-existing conditions clauses and cuts taxes for corporations and the wealthy. The only way the Ryan plan could result in a balanced budget would be if taxes were increased on the middle class and the poor since the tax cuts for the wealthy and the corporations are so immense.
Recently, Terry doubled down on his support for radical budget plans when he cast a vote for the Republican Study Commission budget which is the Ryan plan on steroids. As a starting point, the RSC budget would completely restore the failed Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans. The Fiscal Cliff bill allowed the tax cuts for people making over $450,000 a year to expire at the end of 2012. However, the RSC budget would bring back those ineffectual tax cuts, adding $950 billion to the deficit over ten years.
The Terry/RSC budget would help finance these tax cuts by eliminating the National Labor Relations Board, the National Endowment for the Arts, and Public Broadcasting. This extreme budget would also repeal Obamacare, kicking more than 30 million Americans off their insurance and once again allowing insurance companies to discriminate against people with pre-existing conditions.
The most radical features of the Terry/RSC budget are the changes it would make to Medicare and Social Security. The Terry/RSC budget would begin Ryan's voucher program for Medicare five years earlier, impacting people age 59 and younger. It would also increase the eligibility age for both Social Security and Medicare to 70.
Lee Terry voted for this extreme plan to raise the retirement age for Social Security to 70 even though it clearly broke solemn pledges he has repeatedly made during his re-election campaigns. For example, in 2010, Terry's pledge stated as follows: "We need to strengthen Social Security, not cut it. That is why I oppose any cuts to Social Security benefits, including increasing the retirement age."
The voters of Nebraska CD-02 have become increasingly aware of Terry's poor record and broken promises. Three of the last four elections in CD-02 have been very close. In 2012, Terry prevailed over a strong challenge from John Ewing by a mere 4,000 votes. What that means then is that Nebraska CD-02 is now a true swing district. The DCCC has recognized that by recently targeting Terry and sixteen other vulnerable Republican House members in a television ad regarding their votes for the Ryan Medicare privatization plan.
I firmly believe that once again we will field a strong challenger to take on Lee Terry in 2014. This is a very winnable race for a good Democratic candidate. Back in 1998 during his first run for the House, Terry promised that he would limit his time in that body to three terms or six years. Obviously, Terry has broken his original term limit, campaign promise. It's time for the voters in CD-02 to act as Terry's term limit and make him keep this promise by voting him out of office in 2014. As his record clearly demonstrates, Terry no longer represents the interests of the majority of the voters in his district and is badly out of touch with most of his constituents.
We just passed the third anniversary of President Obama signing Obama Care into law. Just how has Obama Care benefited the American people? Have the Republicans given up on stopping Obama Care? What new lies are they telling about Obama Care? What is the future for this landmark health care law?
The Republicans regularly denounce Obama Care but these Republicans seem to be ignorant of the fact that this law has already delivered benefits to millions of people since the law's passage a little over three years ago:
- Up to 17 million children with pre-existing health conditions can no longer be denied coverage by private health insurance companies.
- 6.6 million young adults have taken advantage of Obama Care to obtain insurance coverage through their parents' plans.
- 105 million Americans no longer have an arbitrary lifetime limit on their health insurance coverage.
- 6.1 million seniors have saved nearly $6 billion on their prescription drug costs.
- Consumers have received $1.1 billion in rebates from their health insurance companies.
- The small business tax credit has already been used by 360,000 businesses to insure 2 million people.
- For each year from 2009 to 2011, National Health Expenditure data show the real rate of annual growth in overall health spending was between 3.0 and 3.1 percent, the lowest rates since reporting began in 1960.
Those consumer friendly reforms are just the start. The main elements of the law will take effect on January 1, 2014, when approximately 30 million uninsured people will gain insurance coverage. As President Obama said on March 23: "Three years ago today, I signed into law the principle that in the wealthiest nation on Earth, no one should go broke just because they get sick. The Affordable Care Act will give hard-working, middle class families the health care security they deserve and protect every American from the worst insurance company abuses."
Notwithstanding their losses in the 2012 elections, the Republicans are still pursuing their quixotic quest to repeal Obama Care and take these benefits away from the American people. Apparently, the Republicans believe it would be better for the pharmaceutical and insurance industries to keep these benefits rather than the American people. Moreover, the GOP appears to be willing to strip health insurance coverage from tens of millions of people.
All five Nebraska Congressional Republicans - Johanns, Fischer, Fortenberry, Terry and Smith - recently voted to repeal Obama Care. The Ryan/GOP budget that I've discussed here recently would not only cut Medicare to finance tax cuts for the wealthy, it would also repeal the 2010 health care reform law. Within recent weeks, all five Nebraska Republicans have voted in favor of the Ryan/GOP budget and for the repeal of Obama Care.
The Nebraska Congressional delegations' vote in favor of the extreme Ryan plan shows that these members of Congress are badly out of touch with their constituents. If Nebraska voters were aware of the details of this budget, most of them would be horrified. It's pretty obvious that the Ryan plan doesn't reflect Nebraska values. Here in Nebraska, we believe in taking care of each other and a dignified retirement for our senior citizens. It's obvious that the Nebraska members of Congress who voted for this plan don't support our values anymore. Instead, their fealty is to the wealthy out of state special interest groups who finance their election campaigns.
In addition to voting to repeal Obama Care, the Republicans continue to spread disinformation about this law. The latest Republican talking point stems from a study that found that health insurance premiums will allegedly jump an average of 32% due to the health care reform law. What the Republicans and the media didn't tell you was that this study was conducted by a subsidiary of United Health Group - one the nation's largest private health insurance companies.
Moreover, this study conveniently ignored the law's cost cutting provisions. An actuary, who worked on the study, acknowledged it did not attempt to estimate the effect of subsidies, insurer competition and other factors that could mitigate cost increases.
I believe the future of Obama Care is bright and the law will be as successful as Social Security and Medicare. The best way to make a prognostication is to follow predictions made by leading Republicans because the history of the last 20 years indicates that they are always wrong. For example, the Republicans told us that the 1993 Clinton economic plan would cause a recession and that the Bush tax cuts would create an economic boom. Similarly, the GOP told us in 2003 that we would find lots of WMDs in Iraq, be greeted as liberators and the war would be over in a few weeks.
In 2010, John Boehner made the hyperbolic prediction that Obama Care would cause "Armageddon" and would "ruin our country." When you take into account other Republican predictions that tells me that Obama Care will be a huge success. I predict that in 10 to 20 years, the Republicans will begin to claim that they were always for health care reform. They will say the individual mandate was hatched at the Heritage Foundation and was first implemented in Massachusetts by Mitt Romney. The Republicans will claim they just had a few, minor technical objections to Obama Care in 2010 but they always backed the general concept of health care reform.
As Democrats, we need to get the message out to our families and friends that Obama Care is already working. We need to educate our fellow citizens about the benefits of the law when it is being implemented in 2014. We also need to contact our State Senators and urge them to vote for the Medicaid expansion. We can make a difference and help make a better world. That's why we're Democrats!
The U.S. is currently saddled with a broken immigration system despite a genuine bi-partisan effort to reform it during the Bush Administration. At the present time there are 11 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S. (Here at the Nebraska Democratic Party we refer to them as "aspiring citizens.") How did we get here? What efforts have been made to reform our immigration system in the recent past? Why did those efforts fail? Have Nebraska's Congressional Republicans been a part of the problem? Currently, what are the prospects for immigration reform?
One of the few things that George W. Bush did during his disastrous Presidency that could've actually benefited the country were his attempts between 2005 and 2007 to reform our nation's immigration system and create a pathway to citizenship for the aspiring citizens. Unfortunately, those efforts foundered due to the obstruction of the right wing of the Republican Party.
In 2005, the then Republican controlled House responded to a bi-partisan push for immigration reform by passing the so-called Sensenbrenner bill. This punitive legislation made it a felony to be an aspiring
citizen and also made it a felony to even assist an aspiring citizen. This misguided legislation would've turned millions of Americans into criminals who only wanted to be in America to create a better life for
themselves and their families. Both Representatives Jeff Fortenberry and Lee Terry voted for the Sensenbrenner bill.
Two years later, Bush made one last, big push for immigration reform. The key legislation was the bi-partisan Kennedy-McCain bill that would've created a pathway to citizenship for aspiring citizens. This
bill was backed by most Democrats and a handful of Republicans in the U.S. Senate. However, fierce attacks on the bill by the entertainers in the right wing media caused the most of the Republicans in the Senate to filibuster the bill and deny it an up or down vote.
Nebraska's Congressional Republicans have repeatedly buckled to the pressure created by these extreme voices in the right wing media and have pandered to the worst elements of the GOP base during the immigration debate. Johanns, Fischer, Fortenberry, Terry and Smith would all deny U.S. citizenship to aspiring citizens. For example, when Terry said that he opposed a pathway to citizenship in 2006, he derisively termed it as "blanket amnesty."
And that's not all. Congressman Terry said that he would deny driver's licenses to aspiring citizens. Fortenberry has been equally hostile to the Hispanic community. In 2010, Fortenberry - who likes to falsely position himself as a moderate - went so far as to say that he wanted to amend the Fourteenth Amendment to deny birthright citizenship to aspiring citizens.
This hostility hasn't gone unnoticed by Hispanic voters. As recently as 2004, Bush carried 40% of the Hispanic vote in the Presidential election. By 2008, the GOP's share of the Hispanic vote declined to 30%. In 2012, President Obama carried the Hispanic vote by an overwhelming 71% to 27% margin over Romney. The GOP nominee alienated Hispanic voters when he described his plan for immigration as reducing the number of aspiring citizens in the U.S. through what he termed "self-deportation."
The Republican Party has responded to this sharp decline in Hispanic support by making some halting moves to support immigration reform and a pathway to citizenship. Voices on the right as diverse as Rupert Murdoch, Sean Hannity and Marco Rubio have experienced a post-election conversion and now say they back immigration reform. However, the most extreme elements in the GOP haven't given up on blocking these important reforms. Both Rush Limbaugh and Laura Ingraham are rallying the radical Republicans to make one last ditch stand to stop immigration reform.
President Obama has made the cause of immigration reform one of the highest priorities of his second term. Since the election, the President has offered up the following principles that he backs:
- Continuing to Strengthen Border Security.
- Cracking Down on Employers Hiring Undocumented Workers.
- Streamlining Legal Immigration.
Earned Citizenship: The President's proposal provides aspiring citizens a legal way to earn citizenship that will encourage them to come out of the shadows so they can pay their taxes and play by the same rules as everyone else. There will be no uncertainty about their ability to become U.S. citizens if they meet certain eligibility criteria.
At the present time, prospects for immigration reform look good. A bi-partisan group of Senators led by Charles Schumer (D-NY) and Marco Rubio (R-FL) are close to a deal on immigration reform and are expected to introduce legislation in April. Lawmakers on both parties have said a deal needs to happen quickly so a bill can be introduced and worked through the Senate Judiciary Committee. The concern is that if legislation drags on for too long, some Republicans will become intimidated by the strident voices in the right wing media and the prospect of a primary challenge from the Tea Party will take precedence over getting something done.
The time is now for immigration reform. Probably the only thing that stands in the way of passage of meaningful legislation would be the refusal of the GOP leaders in the House and the Senate to grant this
vital legislation an up or down vote. We Democrats need to contact our representatives and demand that immigration reform legislation be granted an up or down vote. I'm confident that a majority in both Houses would vote to fix our broken immigration system. Only a Senator filibuster or the so-called "Hastert rule" in the House could stop this legislation.
We here at the Nebraska Democratic Party stand ready, willing and able to work with Nebraska's Hispanic community. Your concerns are our concerns. Your fight is our fight. Inscribed on the Statue of Liberty in New York harbor are these iconic lines: "Give me your tired, your poor/Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free." Nebraska Democrats still believe in those lines and we are willing to do whatever it takes to make them a reality again.
A Party's budget tells us a lot about their priorities and more importantly, their values. In the recent past, both Parties have introduced sharply contrasting budget plans that represent their plans for our country's future. How do those budget blueprints differ? Just whose values do those budgets most closely represent?
The Senate Democrats' budget plan consists of a responsible mix of both investments in our future and spending cuts that will gradually reduce the deficit without harming our economy with the all too premature Euro-style austerity favored by the GOP.
The Senate Democratic Budget includes the following:
It fully replaces the sequester's $1.2 trillion in automatic spending cuts over 10 years that kicked in March 1 with a 50/50 combination of spending cuts and new revenue.
A $100 billion stimulus package directed at building the nation's deteriorating roads and bridges, repairing public schools and paying for increased broadband access in schools.
An additional $1.85 trillion in deficit reduction, which encompasses the plan to replace the sequester and adds it to the $2.4 trillion in deficit reduction achieved in the past two years for a total of $4.25 trillion in deficit reduction over 10 years. This is the level of deficit reduction recommended by most economists and the Simpson-Bowles Commission.
Reduces the deficit to 2.4% of GDP by 2015 and keeps it below that level through the 10-year budget window. Most economists believe this is a sustainable deficit level that won't hurt the economy. When President Obama took office, the budget deficit was 10% of GDP. It has currently been reduced to 5.5% of GDP.
$975 billion in spending cuts, including $275 billion from health care programs Medicare and Medicaid, $240 billion from defense and $242 billion in estimated savings on interest payments. There will be no cuts in benefits for senior citizens.
$975 billion in new revenue from closing tax loopholes and eliminating tax expenditures that benefit the wealthy. It does not call for raising individual tax rates. Senate Democrats say that about half the money comes from limits on deductions similar to those suggested by President Obama, the rest from smaller changes including measures to claw back money from oil and gas interests, hedge fund operators and the owners of corporate jets, yachts and the like.
Senate Democratic Budget Chair Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) said that:
"That is a responsible approach. It's a balanced and fair approach. It's the one endorsed by bipartisan groups and experts, and it's the one supported by the vast majority of the American people." This is the sort of moderate, mainstream approach that one might expect from a responsible governing party. It accepts compromises, requires concessions from both parties, and will further nurture what appears to be a budding economic recovery that has the potential to help all Americans."
On the other hand, the Ryan/Republican budget radically transforms the economy and breaks the promises we've made to senior citizens and the poor. The centerpiece of the GOP budget is a huge tax cut for the wealthy and the corporations. It reduces the top individual rate from 39.6% to 25%. It also reduces the top corporate rate from 35% to 25%.
These big tax cuts in the GOP budget amount to $5.7 trillion over ten years. Ryan tells us that this portion of this budget will be revenue neutral because he will make up for the lost revenue by closing yet to be identified loopholes and deductions for the wealthy and corporations. However, the math doesn't work - if Ryan's plan is to be revenue neutral, he will also have to close deductions and loopholes that benefit the middle class.
The GOP budget won't just cause an increase in taxes for the middle class; it will also result in increased out of pocket medical expenses for senior citizens by transforming Medicare into a voucher program and make huge cuts in programs that benefit the poor. Approximately, 62% of the cuts in the Ryan plan come from cuts in programs like Medicaid that help the least fortunate among us. The GOP budget would result in a massive redistribution of income upwards.
The two competing budget plans couldn't tell us more about the differing values and priorities of the Democratic and Republican parties. The GOP/Ryan budget reflects the values of Wall Street and the moneyed elite. It contains a massive tax cut for the wealthy, oil companies, banks and insurance companies. At the same time, it would increase taxes on the middle class and cuts benefits for everybody but the wealthy. The GOP budget certainly embodies the modern GOP's belief that the wealthy are over taxed and the rest of the country is too lightly taxed.
In contrast, the Democratic budget reflects Nebraska values and American values. We keep our promises to senior citizens, ask the most fortunate among us to pay a little more and take care of the poor. These are the values shared by most Nebraskans and most Americans.
As Democrats, we need to keep pressure on our elected representatives to vote against the radical vision for the country encompassed in the Ryan/GOP budget. At the same time, we need to get our message out about what we stand for. I firmly believe that most Nebraskans would agree with us once they learn about our values.
The hallmark of the modern Republican party is it's hostility to the Progressive reforms of the 20th century and it's desire to privatize or otherwise abolish Social Security and Medicare. The center piece of the GOP's reactionary agenda is the budget plan hatched in 2011 by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) that would've transformed Medicare into a voucher program, cost senior citizens an additional $6,000 to $8,000 per year in annual out of pocket medicals expenses, and cut Medicaid and other programs that help out the poor. Johanns, Fortenberry, Terry and Smith voted for Paul Ryan's budget plan in both 2011 and 2012. (Ben Nelson voted no both times.)
If the Nebraska Republican Congressional Republicans had gotten their way, the Medicare guarantee for senior citizens would've ended and they would've been given a voucher and required to buy private health insurance in the dysfunctional market for insurance. The value of this voucher wouldn't have kept up with medical inflation and this new system would have increased costs by almost $60,000 for seniors reaching the age of 65 in 2023.
One of the key promises that Ryan and his supporters made was that anybody above the age of 55 would be unaffected by the privatization of the Medicare program and it's transformation into a voucher system. This was a cynical promise because the Republicans are counting on seniors to be selfish and be willing to throw their children and grandchildren under the bus. In my opinion, the GOP has badly underestimated our seniors when they made this promise.
Unfortunately, Ryan and the GOP have learned nothing from their stinging defeats in the 2012 elections. Ryan is now back with a new Medicare privatization plan that would retain most of the original elements of his first plan including the voucher feature and the $700 billion in Medicare "cuts" in Obama Care. Those were the very same "cuts" that Romney and Ryan disingenuously denounced during the 2012 campaign. (The so-called Medicare "cuts" in Obama Care simply represent a slowing in the growth of the program and savings from the elimination of the Medicare Advantage Program - that largely benefited the private health insurance industry.)
Where Ryan's new plan most differs from his first plan is that his new proposal would balance the budget in ten years rather than the twenty eight years in his original plan. This is a major difference because it would cause the GOP to break their promise that nobody above the age of 55 would be affected by these radical changes. Instead, people as old as 59 could be shoved into Ryan's voucher system.
Already, behind the scenes, some House Republicans are furious that GOP leaders are considering abandoning their pledge not to change Medicare retirement benefits for people 55 years and older. "I know a number of people who have real concerns about where this is going," said Rep. Peter T. King (R-N.Y.), who said Medicare cuts targeting people as old as 59 are under discussion. There is already talk in the House GOP caucus that the leaders might not be able to rely on the dwindling band of moderate Republicans to support this legislation. Due to the Democrats' gains in the House last year, Boehner and Ryan can't afford many defections.
The reaction of the Democrats to this latest version of the Ryan plan was equally scathing. "My first reaction [to the balanced-budget pledge] was the same as everybody else's: God, what is he going to do? I thought last year's budget was crazy and appalling," said Robert Greenstein, president of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.
Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD, the ranking Democrat on the House Budget Committee, said: "They are going to be doubling down on a budget that slashes investment in education and infrastructure, violates important commitments to our seniors and the middle class, and keeps tax breaks for the wealthiest people in the country. Doubling down on that is not just a mistake for the country but also bad politics."
Despite all of those doubts, the House Republican leadership remains unfazed and undeterred. Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan plans to present the new budget plan this week and put it to a vote in the House before the Easter break.
As we can see, the new Ryan plan is even more regressive and extreme than the original Ryan plan. Boehner and Ryan's determination to ram this budget through the House before Easter break sets up a real test for Nebraska's House Republicans. Will Fortenberry, Terry and Smith vote once again to end Medicare as we know it and cost seniors thousands of dollars in additional medical expenses?
The latest version of the Ryan plan also presents a big test for Senator Deb Fischer. Last year, Fischer surprised many Nebraskans when she came out against the original Ryan plan in the first debate with Bob Kerrey. Will Fischer keep this promise she made to senior citizens or will she will vote with her party's leadership and break this promise? Thus far, Fischer has shown no independent leadership and has voted with the right wing of her party. For example, she broke two promises not to filibuster the Chuck Hagel nomination and voted not to grant an up or down vote to a Secretary of Defense nominee during a time of war.
As Nebraska Democrats, we need to make calls to our elected representatives and request that they vote against this extreme plan that will gut Medicare and maintain tax breaks for the wealthy. We also need to request our relatives and friends to do the same. My educated guess is that if Nebraskans knew what was in this plan, most of them would oppose it. If we can succeed in even pealing off one vote, it may make the difference between the Ryan plan passing or being rejected. We can make a difference!
We now live in an era where disinformation is spewed out by the Right Wing Media 24/7. Millions of Americans get most (or all) of their news from the Right Wing Media and as a result, they are very poorly informed. For example, polling reveals that a much higher percentage of Fox viewers believe that we found WMDs in Iraq when we didn't find any.
The presence and influence of the Conservative Media has led to a number of very influential Right Wing Zombie lies. The GOP has also been complicit in spreading these lies because they know that their agenda is very unpopular with a majority of the American people. They know they have to cloak their genuine beliefs with Right Wing Zombie lies in order to win elections.
I'm going to take a swing at rebutting some of the more prominent lies but I must confess rebutting Right Wing Zombie lies is a full time job. Here we go.
1. Tax cuts pay for themselves.
Because most of the GOP tax cuts go to the wealthy, right wingers have to justify this by telling people that these tax cuts don't cost them anything and are a free lunch. However, the empirical evidence certainly doesn't back up this claim.
The GOP aligned Heritage Foundation (a source frequently relied upon by the GOP) in a 2006 analysis of extending the 2001 and 2003 Bush tax cuts estimated that only 30 percent of the gross revenue loss would be recouped through increased economic activity generated by the tax cuts.
Even the architects of the Bush tax cuts don't believe that they pay for themselves. Robert Carroll, a U.S. Treasury Department official during Bush's second term said: "As a matter of principle, we do not think tax cuts pay for themselves." On September 28, 2006, Stanford economist Edward Lazear, chairman of the CEA in Bush's second term, testified before the Senate Budget Committee: "Will the tax cuts pay for themselves? As a general rule, we do not think tax cuts pay for themselves. Certainly, the data...do not support this claim."
It should also be noted that federal tax revenues declined from 21% of GDP in 2000 to 15% of GDP by the time Bush left office in early 2009. At the same time, federal spending as a percentage of GDP increased from 18% to 24%. It's pretty obvious that Bush ushered in a new era of huge deficits.
2. Conservative Republicans support small or limited government.
The reality is that the GOP supports big government and isn't afraid to use the power of government to achieve its political and economic goals. The GOP has used big government to limit the most sacred right of all - the right to vote. In many of the battleground states like Florida and Pennsylvania, GOP controlled governments passed voter suppression laws that required government identification to vote, and placed severe limits on early voting and voter registration drives.
This tells us that the GOP knows that they can't win an election on the merits in swing states - they have to change the rules to make it harder for Democrats to vote. However, these voter suppression laws backfired on the GOP in 2012 and made minority voters impacted by these laws even more determined to vote. Millions of voters waited in lines for hours last year to cast their vote for President Obama and the Democratic ticket. This backlash probably caused Romney to lose Florida.
The Republicans have also used big government to break up voluntary organizations of citizens like public sector unions. This was an obvious political strategy by the GOP to make it harder for unions to turn out voters and contribute to Democratic candidates.
Imagine the outrage from the GOP if some Democratic controlled government in a blue state made it harder for corporations to contribute to GOP aligned Super PACs? We would be hearing all kinds of screaming from the GOP about an assault on "liberty, "freedom," or the "Constitution."
Conservatives also believe that government should make reproductive health care decisions for women and their doctors. Moreover, these same so-called "small government" conservatives support legislation that would make it so that employers would be free to decide whether to cover contraception for their employees. Apparently, the GOP's idea of freedom of choice doesn't extend to all Americans - just to those who do the hiring. The GOP doesn't believe in freedom for individuals - they only believe in freedom for businesses.
The only people in America who get the "benefit" of the conservatives' so-called "limited government" philosophy are the wealthy and the large corporations who receive tax breaks and deregulation.
3. Right Wingers are fiscal conservatives.
Dwight D. Eisenhower was the last Republican President to balance the budget back during the 1950s. Republican icon Ronald Reagan tripled the national debt during his Presidency due to tax cuts and a defense spending spree.
More recently, George W. Bush doubled the national debt during his Presidency. The nation's fiscal situation took the biggest turn for the worse in its history during the Bush Administration. Bush squandered President Clinton's hard won annual $238 billion surplus by turning it into a yearly $1.3 trillion deficit by the time he left office in early 2009.
The Republicans have been talking a good game on the deficit beginning as of high noon on January 20, 2009 but as we Democrats know, it's only credible if you have amnesia. The reality is that conservatives only "care" about the deficit when we have a Democratic President. In addition, Republicans use their faux concern about the deficit as a weapon in their attempt to reduce spending on programs they oppose like Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. Modern history demonstrates that then a Republican occupies the White House, it's "Katy bar the door" when it comes to spending.
4. President Obama blew up the deficit with a big spending spree.
One of the misleading claims you hear from the Right is that Obama blew up the deficit. They make the false claim that President Obama increased the annual deficit from $450 billion to $1.3 trillion. In reality, the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office said that Obama inherited an annual deficit of $1.3 trillion from the Bush Administration.
What they don't tell you that President Obama is the smallest government spender since Eisenhower. Since Obama took office, federal spending has grown at an annual rate of 1.4%. In contrast, federal spending grew 7.7% during the Presidency of George W. Bush and nearly 7% per year during the Reagan Presidency. Spending grew 3.5% during the Clinton Presidency.
Since Obama has taken office, the deficit has declined from the $1.3 trillion annual deficit he inherited from Bush in 2009 to $845 billion in 2013. The budget deficit has declined from 10% of GDP when Obama took office, to 5.5% of GDP in 2013. That is the biggest decline in the deficit since the country demobilized in the late 1940s after World War II.
There are so many Right Wing Zombie lies, I could write a Russian novel about them but I took the opportunity to rebut some of the most pernicious ones. The next time you are at a cocktail party and one of your Republican friends says "of course tax cuts pay for themselves," you will be ready with a quick and accurate rebuttal.
The major rationale for most of these Zombie Lies is to obscure the true agenda of the conservative movement and the Republican Party. The GOP and movement conservatives know that billionaires, oil companies, insurance companies and Wall Street aren't very popular. That requires them to cloak their platform in Zombie Lies.
Senator Mike Johanns shocked the political world when he recently announced that he wasn't going to seek re-election to his Senate seat in 2014. Once again, this was yet another surprise development on the Nebraska political scene. As we all know, Rick Sheehy recently resigned his position as Lieutenant Governor and pulled out of the Governor's race. To paraphrase State Party Chair Vince Powers: You know Nebraska, if you don't like the weather or the Republican candidates for governor or the Senate, just wait 24 hours.
All of these surprises occurred against the backdrop of Nebraskans continuing to suffer from the consequences of prolonged, one party rule by the Republicans. Governor Dave Heineman withdrew his risky and regressive tax scheme that would've raised taxes on 80% of Nebraskans by assessing new sales taxes on senior citizens, the ill, farmers and college students.
Nebraska State Auditor Mike Foley discovered that the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services wrote off $1.8 million in grants that could have been collected from the federal government. "For five whole years, the federal money was literally there for the asking," Foley said in a press release. "All the state needed to do was to file a timely request for reimbursement. As a result, the citizens of Nebraska paid the price for those glaring errors, this time to the tune of roughly $2 million."
New revelations about the center piece of Governor Heineman's economic program - the Nebraska Advantage Act - indicated that the cost of each job allegedly created by that law's economic development incentives in 2011 ranged from about $43,000.00 to nearly $235,000.00. At the same time, the Legislative Audit Office could not say whether the incentive programs are working because it's difficult to say whether investments and jobs would have occurred without incentives.
Due to the incompetence of Republican elected officials, the Nebraska Democratic party has a real opportunity to win some of the key races in next year's elections. We are blessed with a deep bench of well qualified candidates who have impressive records of accomplishment in public office.
Lincoln Mayor Chris Beutler has indicated he might be interested in running for Governor. Beutler has an enviable record of achievement. Lincoln is considered to be one of the best managed cities in the country and the Lincoln economy is doing well thanks to Mayor Beutler's leadership. The construction of the Pinnacle Bank Arena and other projects have contributed to Lincoln's low unemployment rate of
State Senator Steve Lathrop has an equally impressive record in the Unicameral. Since his election in 2006, Lathrop has crafted compromises on stem cell research and the Commission on Industrial Relations. Lathrop has also been instrumental in reviving the once dysfunctional Beatrice State Developmental Center as the chair of the committee tasked with overseeing that institution.
Former UNL Regent Chuck Hassebrook would also be a strong candidate and an excellent governor or U.S. Senator. Hassebrook is the head of the Center for Rural Affairs and he has shown an ability to win elections in rural and Republican leaning areas.
State Senator Annette Dubas also shown an ability to win elections in rural areas where the Democratic Party has had a hard time winning races. As a State Senator, Dubas was instrumental in re-routing the Keystone XL pipeline away from the environmentally sensitive Sandhills area. In addition, she would have a strong appeal to female voters.
This listing of potential Democratic candidates for Governor and the U.S. Senate is in no way exhaustive or comprehensive. I know that we have other good potential candidates who may want to compete for these elective offices.
On the other hand, the announced and potential Republican candidates are deeply flawed. State Senator Charlie Janssen has already announced he is running for governor. Unfortunately, Janssen is a bit of a kook who believes that the U.N. Agenda 21 threatens national and state sovereignty and private land rights - even though it's been supported by both Republican and Democratic administrations and does
not have the force of law in the United States. Incidentally, this Agenda 21 conspiracy theory originated from a Glenn Beck novel.
State Senator Beau McCoy has indicated an interest in running for governor. However, any McCoy candidacy will be hampered by his co-sponsorship of Heineman's tax scheme that would finance a tax cut for the top 20% of income earners by raising taxes on 80% of Nebraskans.
Long time 1st District Congressman Jeff Fortenberry has said that he may be interested in seeking the Senate seat being vacated by Johanns. However, one of the right wing PACs that supported Stenberg in 2012 and blasted Jon Bruning with millions of dollars in negative ads has said that they would oppose Fortenberry. This PAC has alleged that Fortenberry is too "liberal" and they will go after him if he should
throw his hat in the ring.
There has even been speculation that Bruning and Don Stenberg may run for the Senate. Bruning lost the 2012 primary due to all of the unanswered questions about the vast amount of wealth he accumulated in a very short time on a government salary. Those questions aren't going away. And Stenberg has already lost four bids for the U.S. Senate.
All things considered, 2014 shapes up to be a very good year for the Nebraska Democratic Party and its candidates. We have a potential field of candidates with a long record of accomplishments. In contrast, the Republicans have a record of incompetence caused by being in power too long and a flawed set of candidates.
The 2014 election cycle presents a real opportunity for our candidates to step up and win some important races. We may be outspent by the Republicans and their billionaire allies but we won't be out worked by
them. We need to tell the voters of Nebraska that's it time to vote Democratic for a change in 2014.