That was close. We barely escaped the fiscal cliff or austerity bomb when the Republican controlled House approved the Senate passed fiscal cliff bill on New Year's night. If the House had rejected the Senate's fiscal cliff bill, the economy would've gone into a recession and there would have been no farm bill for 2013.
Most of the pundits on the right - like Sean Hannity, Charles
Krauthammer, and Newt Gingrich - scored the legislation as a victory for President Obama and the Democrats. In my opinion, that was a fair assessment because the Democrats got most of what they wanted. In return for making some concessions on the top marginal tax rate for the very wealthy, Obama and the Democrats got an extension of unemployment compensation benefits, a five year extension of tax credits from the 2009 Recovery Act and a nine month farm bill extension.
Most important of all, the eleventh hour fiscal cliff legislation shattered 22 years of Republican dogma on taxes, undercutting a core part of the party identity that had been built around giving no quarter to any tax increase - ever. The passage of the fiscal cliff bill marked the first time any Republicans have voted en masse for a tax increase since President George H.W. Bush famously reneged on his "read my lips, no new taxes" promise back in 1990.
The Nebraska Congressional delegation was split on this fiscal cliff bill. Senator Nelson and Johanns voted in favor it. So did Jeff Fortenberry. However, both Lee Terry and Adrian Smith opposed this legislation.
Terry and Smith's votes are very disturbing and deeply irresponsible. By voting against the bill, Terry and Smith voted in favor of a $500 billion tax increase on the American people. Moreover, 98% of the tax increase backed by Terry and Smith would've been paid by the middle class. This vote also means that Terry and Smith voted against an extension of the farm bill. There is no doubt that if Terry and Smith had gotten their way, the economy would've gone into a tailspin and unemployment would have climbed back to over 9%.
We must not let voters forget these reckless votes by Terry and Smith. Mr. Terry voted with the radical right because he is spooked by a primary challenge from the Tea Party. Apparently, Terry prioritized the interests of this extreme faction of the GOP over the needs of the voters of the 2nd Congressional District.
As Democrats, we must constantly remind voters that Lee Terry voted in favor of a recession and a huge tax increase. The 2012 election cycle clearly demonstrated that Terry is vulnerable to a challenge from a strong Democratic candidate. We must make sure this district is in play again in 2014.
The clock is ticking down to the fiscal cliff or austerity bomb. In just a matter of days, the American people will get hit with a $500 billion tax increase and $100 billion in spending cuts. The consensus among economists is that the austerity bomb will cause a recession.
Just where are Nebraska's House Republicans right now? Are they in Washington D.C. busily working hard to prevent a recession?
No. Nebraska's House Republicans are currently in Nebraska on vacation because their ostensible leader John Boehner has not called the House of Representatives into session until December 30 even though President Obama and the Senate are in Washington ready to act. What John Boehner has proposed as a "solution" to the fiscal cliff is for the Senate and the President to sign off on a previously passed House bill that would implement the GOP economic agenda. In other words, despite the recent election results, Boehner wants a full extension of the Bush tax cuts and spending cuts aimed largely at the poor.
Just what do Fortenberry, Terry and Smith have to say about this situation? We don't know because they're on vacation. If they wanted to, they could be part of the solution and could prevent the Republican Recession of 2013. Currently, a majority of House members support legislation already passed by the Senate that would extend the Bush tax cuts for 98% of Americans or those making less than $250,000.00 per year. However, John Boehner has refused to grant an up or down vote on this legislation because he would need Democratic votes to pass it.
Nebraskans should demand that Fort, Terry and Smith immediately return to Washington and sign a discharge petition requiring an up or down vote on extending the Bush era tax cuts for 98% of Americans. That would constitute genuine leadership and be a big first towards preventing the Republican Recession of 2013.
If Nebraska's House Republicans refuse to yield to the wishes of the majority, the country will go over the fiscal cliff and plunge the country into an entirely unnecessary recession. After four long years, the economy is finally showing some signs of life. The housing market is making a comeback and businesses are hiring again. If Fort, Terry and Smith fail to show the necessary leadership, they will be responsible for what could be the Republican Recession of 2013. As their constituents, let's contact them and demand they immediately do everything they can to avoid this disastrous result.
Dennis Crawford is the 2nd Associate Chair of the Nebraska Democratic Party. Thank you to Dennis for his contribution to the NDP's blog.
President Obama: "We can't tolerate this anymore. These tragedies must end. And to end them, we must change."
Late last week, in what is a depressingly familiar trend, 26 innocent people - including 20 children - were killed in a shooting at Sandy Hook elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut. This tragedy was preceded recently by a mass murder at a movie theater in Colorado on July 20, another at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin on August 5, and another at a manufacturer in Minneapolis on September 27. And here closer to home, a troubled young man killed eight people at the Westroads Mall on December 5, 2007. This is all part of a horrific epidemic of gun violence over the last three decades in the U.S.
This is obviously a complex and multi-factoral problem but that doesn't take away from the fact the U.S. is the only country in the industrialized world that has suffered from an epidemic of mass killings. This rash of mass shootings stems from the fact that the U.S. has notoriously liberal gun control laws, and has the highest rate of gun ownership in the world. The second highest gun ownership rate in the world is Yemen - a country torn by political unrest, an insurgency and an Al-Qaeda branch. As a matter of fact, Americans have nearly twice as many guns per person as do Yemenis. And it should be noted that the U.S. is way, way ahead in the gun ownership per capita rate for the 1st world, developed countries.
If hundreds of Americans were being killed by terrorists in the U.S. every year, there would be a call to action and some kind of legislation would've been swiftly passed to deal with the situation. Instead, for years, our elected representatives have been held back by the extreme National Rifle Association, representatives of gun manufacturers, gun dealers and their very well-compensated defenders in the Right Wing Media.
President Obama's moving words at the memorial service in Newtown should act as a spur to action for our elected officials:
"We can't tolerate this anymore. These tragedies must end. And to end them, we must change.
We will be told that the causes of such violence are complex, and that is true. No single law, no set of laws can eliminate evil from the world or prevent every senseless act of violence in our society, but that can't be an excuse for inaction. Surely we can do better than this.
If there's even one step we can take to save another child or another parent or another town from the grief that's visited Tucson and Aurora and Oak Creek and Newtown and communities from Columbine to Blacksburg before that, then surely we have an obligation to try.
In the coming weeks, I'll use whatever power this office holds to engage my fellow citizens, from law enforcement, to mental health professionals, to parents and educators, in an effort aimed at preventing more tragedies like this, because what choice do we have? We can't accept events like this as routine.
Are we really prepared to say that we're powerless in the face of such carnage, that the politics are too hard?
Are we prepared to say that such violence visited on our children year after year after year is somehow the price of our freedom?"
And here in Nebraska, the elected Republican officials are once again pandering to the most extreme elements of the GOP and making more excuses for inaction. When contacted by the media, the members of
Nebraska's Congressional delegation contended that this was was not the time for "political debate" on gun law reform. Governor Heineman showed his usual lack of leadership when he issued a statement contending that the issue is complex and "after an appropriate time of reflection I think we ought to have a conversation."
This request by the Nebraska Republicans to put off a "political debate" is just an attempt to shut down a meaningful conversation and reforms in the area of gun law reform. They know that their views on guns are
outside of the mainstream, and they're kow towing to the radical fringe of the GOP and the entertainers in the Right Wing Media.
If we don't act now, who will act? Just when we will act? If not us, who? If not now, when? The time for excuses and inaction is over. These calls by Nebraska's elected Republican officials to put off a debate on gun law reform is simply an excuse to perpetuate an unacceptable status quo.
There are several common sense solutions that could garner bi-partisan support and reduce the mass killings: bans on high-capacity magazines and assault weapons; requiring background checks for all gun purchases; stricter laws to make sure that gun owners follow safety procedures; new steps to make it easier to trace guns used in crimes; and vastly ramped-up data collection and research on what works to prevent gun violence, both of which are regularly blocked by the gun lobby. We also need to improve our mental health system. We need to reverse a status quo where it's easier to buy a gun than it is to obtain decent medical treatment for mental illness.
Recent history demonstrates that gun law reform improves public safety and saves lives. In 1994, President Bill Clinton signed into law a measure that banned assault weapons and gun magazines that could shoot more than 10 bullets at one time. (This law would've banned the AK-47 and the 100 round magazine used by the perpetrator in the recent Aurora, Colorado theater massacre.)
A study conducted by the Brady Campaign To Prevent Violence compared the five year period before the 1994 Federal Assault Weapons Ban took effect and the ten year period that followed it. This study found a 66% drop in the number of assault weapons used in crimes and estimated that over 60,000 fewer assault weapons were sold between 1994-2004 than would have been sold in the absence of the law. Unfortunately, in 2004, George W. Bush and the GOP Congress failed to renew this life-saving law and allowed it to expire. As a result of that failure, killers like the Aurora, Colorado shooter could go into any gun store and buy assault weapons and magazines that can shoot 100 bullets without reloading.
I would recommend to my friends in the Democratic Party that we begin to contact our elected officials and demand that they take steps to reduce this epidemic of gun violence in the U.S. There are several areas of bi-partisan agreement that could become law. We Democrats believe - like most Americans - in responsible gun ownership and it is becoming increasingly evident that our point of view reflects the majority opinion in the U.S. Now let's get to work!
It's just a matter of weeks until the fiscal cliff commences unless the Republicans in the Congress can compromise on a tax increase on the wealthy and on spending. If there is no agreement, the American people will be hit with a $500 billion tax increase and $100 billion in automatic spending cuts. The consensus among economists is that if the fiscal cliff occurs, the economy will go back into recession.
Some commentators have more accurately labeled the fiscal cliff the "austerity bomb."
We are in this predicament right now due to the convergence of two laws passed within the last two years. The Bush tax cuts will expire at the end of the year unless they are extended. If the Bush tax cuts are allowed to expire, the average middle class family of four will be slapped with a $2,200.00 tax increase. In addition, the 2011 debt ceiling legislation mandates $100 billion in annual spending cuts beginning on January 1, 2013.
The solution to this problem seems fairly simple on the surface. The first thing that could be done is that the Bush tax cuts for 98% of Americans could be extended and the automatic spending cuts for 2013 could be canceled. There simply isn't enough time to negotiate and pass a complex and far reaching grand bargain on the deficit.
This solution seems to make perfect sense since the economy seems to finally be on the verge of a vigorous recovery and failure to do so would cause another recession. The economy has created around 150,000 new jobs per month this year and the housing market is making a strong comeback.
The obstacle to this common sense solution is the extreme Tea Party faction in the Congress. Earlier this year, the Senate passed a bill extending the Bush tax cuts for 98% of Americans - those who make less than $250,000 per year. (Senator Ben Nelson supported this legislation and Senator Mike Johanns voted against it.) The House could take a middle class tax increase off the table by simply passing the Senate bill.
The problem in the House is that Speaker John Boehner won't allow an up or down vote on extending the Bush tax cuts for the middle class because the Tea Party faction would rebel and install another Speaker who reflected their views. Some more moderate House Republicans have come out in favor of extending the Bush tax cuts for 98% of Americans and say that a majority of the House would pass this legislation.
However, the Tea Party would prefer to raise taxes on all Americans rather than slightly raise taxes on the wealthy.
Senator Ben Nelson said it best: the chief roadblocks to a fiscal agreement in Washington are "the extremists to the right" in the House of Representatives. "They are ideologically driven people who would rather bring this country to its knees than accept a balanced compromise that combines revenue increases with spending decreases. Obstructionism is a pathway to destruction."
What we need to do is contact our elected Representatives in Washington and demand that they oppose dropping the "austerity bomb" on the middle class next year. In recent days, Johanns and Representative Jeff Fortenberry have made some statements that indicate they would support tax increases on the wealthy if there are some spending cuts. I think it's time that we inundate Johanns and Fortenberry (and our other representatives) with telephone calls, letters and emails demanding that they do the right thing and support the immediate extension of the Bush tax cuts for 98% of Americans.
Our Republican elected representatives need to tell us whether they stand with the Tea Party or with their constituents. The middle class can't afford another recession when the economy is finally showing some signs of life. We can't allow the Tea Party to continue to sabotage the economy.
Dennis Crawford is the 2nd Associate Chair of the Nebraska Democratic Party. Thank you to Dennis for his contribution to the NDP's blog.
Recently, there have been some developments on the health care front that once again expose the incompetence and hyper-partisanship of Governor Dave Heineman and his administration. Heineman decided that the State of Nebraska wouldn't operate the health insurance exchange that is part of Obama Care and passed the buck to the federal government. On the Medicaid expansion front, Heineman refused to allow key members of the Department of Health and Human Services to attend an interim study hearing on Obama Care's Medicaid expansion.
On the issue of the health insurance exchange, Heineman decided to let the federal government operate it alleging that a state exchange would cost Nebraska taxpayers $470 million more over eight years than a federal exchange. I discussed this decision with some experienced health insurance agents and they told me that the relevant stakeholders in Nebraska were ready and willing to run the exchange. They also scoffed at the cost figure cited by Heineman. State Sen. Jeremy Nordquist of Omaha, who has worked extensively on the issue, expressed disappointment at the decision. He said the governor had "ceded power to federal bureaucrats."
Heineman's lack of leadership was also laid bare when he refused to allow the state's Medicaid director, Vivianne Chaumont, and Thomas Pristow, director of the Division of Children and Family Services to attend a hearing which which examined the costs and the benefits of Obama Care's Medicaid expansion. If Heineman had allowed members of his Administration to attend this hearing, they would've learned that the Medicaid expansion will save both money and lives.
Legislative staffers provided estimates at this hearing that pegged the cost of the expansion at $123.3 million over the next seven years.
But these estimates tell only part of the story. Numerous witnesses testified that the Medicaid expansion would allow states to cut spending on some programs and reap other economic benefits, including boosting economic activity in health care and improving the health of the workforce.
For example, the Medicaid expansion could pay for hospital stays by state prison inmates, many of whom are not currently eligible for coverage because they are single and have no dependent children. County governments could virtually eliminate their general assistance programs, which are required by state law to pay for the medical care of some very low-income people. Another expert testified that without Medicaid expansion, more than $1 billion in uncompensated care could be provided in Nebraska from 2014 to 2019. Medicaid expansion could reduce that amount to $419 million.
The Medicaid expansion would not only save money - it would improve the quality of life for thousands of Nebraskans. Jim Stimpson, director of the Health Policy Center at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, said that a recent study in the New England Journal of Medicine found that for every 176 adults covered under expanded Medicaid, one death per year could be prevented. That would mean about 500 prevented deaths per year in Nebraska.
Another study found that a 10 percent expansion of Medicaid eligibility has been shown to reduce bankruptcies by 8 percent -- about 1,200 fewer bankruptcies per year in Nebraska.
What this tells us is that Heineman and his Administration could've learned a lot if Chaumont and Pristow had been allowed to attend this hearing. How can Heineman competently serve the people of Nebraska if he willfully refuses to learn all of the facts before he makes an important decision? It's obvious that Heineman is following the troubling trend we've seen from the Radical Right where they rely primarily upon blind ideology and faith - rather than empirical evidence - in making public policy decisions.
It's evident that Heineman is once again playing partisan politics with health care decisions and pandering to the worst instincts of the extreme elements of his party. The Governor has never been serious about policy and he is more comfortable simply playing partisan political games. Perhaps Heineman should return to his former job as executive director of the Nebraska GOP once his term as Governor ends in two years.
Heineman's lack of leadership and lame duck status presents a real opportunity for the Democrats in the Legislature to take the lead and improve the lives of the citizens of our state. Thanks to the favorable results of the legislative elections this fall, our Senators are in a better position now to override Heineman's veto of a Medicaid expansion bill so that we can save both money and lives. We need to work with our Senators and provide them with the support they need to provide much needed leadership for our state and its citizens.
Fox News is a fascinating (and disturbing) phenomenon in contemporary U.S. politics because it has millions of devoted followers and has created a powerful alternative reality for one of America's major political parties. Fox's alternative reality was so powerful this year that it even convinced the Romney campaign and just about every Republican pollster that Romney was sure to win the Presidential election. As we all now know, President Obama rather handily defeated the GOP nominee.
One thing that Fox claims to be is "fair and balanced." This theme is constantly repeated during Fox's programming. Conservative friends of mine who watch Fox have conceded that the opinion shows are slanted but they claim that the straight news segments are truly fair and balanced. I took it up on myself as your Second Associate Chair to determine if Fox is truly fair and balanced. As a result, I watched Fox for nearly three hours on a weekend afternoon to test this proposition.
The first thing I discovered in reviewing Fox's programming schedule is that a majority of shows are indeed of the opinion variety. During the roughly three hours that I watched Fox (I chose the time at random), fully two hours of the shows I watched were opinion shows.
Even the one hour of so-called "straight" news was slanted towards the right.
The first hour of programming I watched was Fox News Sunday and the center piece of the show was an "exclusive interview" with Senator John McCain. Needless to say, McCain was very critical of the Obama Administration. He spent a lot of time talking about the Benghazi attacks and contended that President Obama was the "real problem."
McCain spent a considerable amount of time scare mongering about Iran's alleged threat to the Israel and the U.S. There was scary talk about "spinning centrifuges" that was reminiscent of the Bush Administration's rhetoric about Iraq in 2002-03. McCain also called for establishing so-called "redlines" on Iran.
McCain also towed the conservative party line on the fiscal cliff.
McCain (incorrectly contended) that higher tax rates on the wealthy would hurt the economy and said that entitlement cuts were the only way to control spending.
The McCain interview was followed by a discussion on the fiscal cliff from representatives of the National Retail Federation and Fidelity Investments. These guests contended that spending on entitlements drives the deficit and called for a cut in the corporate tax rate.
(There was no mention of the fact that the biggest drivers of the deficit are the Bush tax cuts and defense spending.)
A panel discussion consisting of three conservatives and Juan Williams (the lone Democrat) concluded the show. Obviously, the conservatives got most of the floor time since they outnumbered Williams 3-1. One of the so-called "highlights" of this discussion was when Liz Cheney contended that Susan Rice wasn't qualified to be Secretary of State and that the Republicans should filibuster her nomination. The conservative panelists also said that this wasn't a good time to raise taxes on the wealthy since it would hurt the economy.
The next show was "The Wall Street Journal Editorial Report," which was another opinion show. All of the guests - with the exception of Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker - were from the Wall Street Journal.
The longest segment concerned the alleged "army of regulators" from the Obama Administration who were going to stifle the economy with a blizzard of new regulations. The three panelists during this segment ridiculed the EPA and even questioned the constitutionality of the Dodd Frank Act. An uninformed viewer would come away from this segment convinced that the economy was heading straight into a recession due to all of the alleged impending regulations from the Obama Administration.
The next show was yet another opinion show entitled: "Fox News Watch."
This show is devoted to alleged liberal media bias. I watched very little of this show because I was getting burned out on Fox and the Big Ten Network was showing the second half of the Nebraska-Iowa game.
(A man has to have some priorities outside of politics.) I returned to the tail end of the show and they presented a day in history segment which marked the beginning of the Clinton impeachment proceedings. The Fox News host contended that coverage of this debate was plagued by so-called "liberal media bias."
After two hours of programming opinion shows, Fox finally came on with a straight news segment they called "America's News Headquarters." One of my takeaways was that the even the so-called straight news stories were interspersed with right wing talking points. For example, a short segment on the unclaimed $425 million power ball jackpot contained a snide remark from the female blonde host that this sum of money would finance the federal government for one hour and would only retire a tiny fraction of the national debt.
Some of the news stories during America's News Headquarters were designed to drive the neo-conservative foreign policy agenda. There was a segment discussing how the Gaza cease fire was in jeopardy because Iranian ships loaded with rockets were sailing for Gaza.
During the discussion of this story, the screen was filled with all kinds of scary shots of military rockets being launched. There was also mention of a church that was blown up in Nigeria by a car bomb. The hosts speculated that the bomb may have been planted by a radical Muslim sect.
The end of the one hour "news show" was marked by a debate on rising labor unrest since the election with a focus on Walmart. There were two guests with opposing viewpoints on union organizing efforts regarding Walmart. Interestingly enough, the moderator of this discussion took it upon himself to defend Walmart's labor practices and benefit packages. Needless to say, the anti-labor point of view got most of the air time.
My reaction to watching nearly three hours of Fox News on a quiet Sunday afternoon certainly confirmed that Fox's programming is heavily slanted in favor of the conservative Republican agenda. For example, there was no discussion of the fact that taxes in the U.S. are currently at their lowest level since the 1950s and that some level of government regulation can prevent kind of economic meltdown we experienced in 2008-09. Instead, all of the discussions on economic issues focused on cutting entitlements, avoiding tax increases on the wealthy and deregulation.
My takeaway from these three hours of Fox programming was that if I were a conservative who truly believed in all of this nonsense, I would be very afraid and pessimistic. Conservatives who watch a lot of Fox would be convinced that a recession is imminent that Iran (a country with a GDP the size of Peru's) is especially scary.
What is great about being a Democrat is that we are part of what has been called the "reality based community." We don't rely heavily upon propaganda masquerading as heavily slanted news to get our world view.
One thing I always like to say is that reality has a Progressive bias. That would account for the Democratic victories at the polls this fall.
Dennis Crawford is our newly elected 2nd Associate Chair. He will begin serving his term on the NDP's executive board at the first State Central Committee meeting following November's election. Thank you to Dennis for his contribution to the NDP's blog.
The most recent legislative session didn't end well for Governor Dave Heineman. The Unicameral significantly trimmed a large tax cut that favored the wealthy proposed by Heineman and overrode his vetoes of bills allowing the state to resume paying for prenatal care for pregnant women who are illegal immigrants, and allowing cities to increase their sales tax rates by a half-cent. It's not going to be any easier for Heineman in next year's session thanks to the fact that the Democrats picked up three seats in the 2012 elections and Ernie Chambers will be returning to the Unicameral.
Just what is Heineman's record as Governor? What are his accomplishments? What about his failures? I say it's time we explore that record and determine what successes - if any - Heineman has had during his seven years as Governor.
The Governor likes to claim credit for the reasonably good economy in Nebraska since he's been in office. It's true that Nebraska has been largely insulated from the economic malaise in other parts of the country and that our state has one of the lowest unemployment rates in the country. However, Heineman really has had nothing to do with the current state of Nebraska's economy. The major reason for Nebraska's economic success has been the rise in commodity prices and the increase in farm land values over the last four years. The major factors behind that are international economic trends that have nothing to do with the Heineman Administration.
What about the Nebraska Advantage Act? Heineman likes to tell us that Nebraska's tax environment has a lot to do with the state's economic success. What Heineman doesn't mention is that is that a recent report from the Nebraska Department of Revenue says that three of every four jobs subsidized by the Act would have been created without incentives that cost the state $42 million in revenue in 2010-2011. The previous year, only one out of 10 jobs were identified as truly new jobs created by the subsidies, which cost the state $42 million in revenue, according to the report.
Governor Heineman also likes to to take credit for the fact that the budget has been balanced every year he has been Governor - even during the dark days of 2009-2010 when the national economy nearly went into an economic depression. However, Heineman never says that in 2009 and 2010, Nebraska's budget was balanced with hundreds of millions of dollars in stimulus funds. This federal money prevented the layoff of Nebraska state employees and even more severe program cuts. The federal stimulus money tided Nebraska over until the economy began to improve in 2011-12. Despite that success, Heineman hypocritically claimed that he was opposed to the 2009 stimulus bill. However, the fact remains that Heineman took the stimulus money and ran - making the State's balanced budget the centerpiece of his 2010 re-election campaign. I would say to Governor Dave that actions speaker louder than words.
I would contend here that Heineman's chimerical "successes" have been outweighed (and should be overshadowed) by his miserable failures. The Heineman Administration badly neglected the Beatrice State Developmental Center and allowed this once model facility to fall into disarray. Some of our most helpless and powerless citizens were harmed by Heineman's gross incompetence. In addition, the state lost $25 million in federal funding in 2009 when the state institution lost its federal Medicaid certification. Finally, earlier this year, BSDC regained it's Medicaid certification and the federal funding was restored. We can largely thank State Senator Steve Lathrop for saving BSDC since he has been serving as the chairman of the special legislative committee created in 2008 to investigate issues at BSDC.
Another significant failure of the Heineman Administration was it's botched scheme to privatize child welfare services across the state. This failure was marked by 77 days of payments without any services provided, tens of millions of dollars spent for which DHHS could not provide a proper accounting of how it was spent or why, for-profit companies hiring unqualified workers from Taco Bell and Wal-Mart that they pay $10 an hour then bill the state almost five times as much, and no-bid contracts. Once again, some of our state's most vulnerable citizens were hurt and the Legislature had to step in to clean up Heineman's mess.
It is now growing increasingly evident that Heineman wants to double down on these failures in the next session of the Unicameral. He has begun talking about abolishing income taxes and inheritance taxes. The revenues lost from these tax cuts - that would largely favor the wealthy - would mainly come from increased sales taxes on necessities like food and increased property taxes. The passage of this risky tax scheme would redistribute income upward and further burden our already strapped middle class and the poor people of Nebraska.
I believe as Democrats that we have a real opportunity in the next legislative session. The reinforcements we received in the 2012 election cycle probably makes it likely that the Legislature will reject Heineman's regressive tax cuts. In addition, the override of the prenatal care bill bodes well for passing Obama Care's Medicaid expansion over Heineman's veto. It's evident that Senators in both parties have lost confidence in Heineman and are willing to stand up to him again. As Democrats, we need to stay in contact with our State
Senators and urge them to support an agenda for the middle class and our most vulnerable citizens. As it says on our beautiful State Capitol Building: "The salvation of the state is watchfullness in the citizen."
Shortly after the election, Senator Nelson was kind enough to grant me an interview to go over his eight years as Governor and twelve years as U.S. Senator. I was originally promised 15 minutes and Senator Nelson ended up spending 45 minutes answering my questions. We both enjoyed the interview. I want to thank Senator Nelson for his 20 years of distinguished public service and I wish him and his family all of the best in the future.
Q: What about your experience in McCook inspired you to run for Governor?
A: When I was 17, my high school superintendent - Ralph Brooks - was elected Governor in 1958. That same year, I was elected Governor of the Model Legislature at the State Capitol Building in Lincoln. As a result of that election, I was able to spend at day at the Governor's office. At that time, I pledged I would come back in the future and run for Governor. That was always in my future plans. I even told Diane at the time we got married that I eventually planned to run for Governor.
Q: Who are your political heroes:
A: My heroes are George W. Norris and Frank Morrison. Both of them were populists.
Q: What was the key to your victory in 1990?
A: Governor Kay Orr got in a situation where she had increased taxes but she denied it after the fact - perhaps unwittingly. When Orr ran for Governor in 1986, she promised she wouldn't raise taxes. Orr also said that if Helen Boosalis was elected Governor, the peoples' taxes would go up. What I said in 1990 was that I voted for Boosalis and my taxes went up even though Orr was Governor. The people of Nebraska were pretty disappointed that Governor Orr raised taxes and then subsequently denied it.
Q: What accomplishments are you most proud of as Governor:
A: I pushed hard for bi-partisanship. My theme was One Nebraska. I worked with both Republicans and Democrats. I felt an obligation to represent all Nebraskans. As Governor, I got spending under control.
I reversed the Orr tax increases. People were satisfied with the progress we made as a state. When I ran for re-election as Governor in 1994, I got more Republican votes than Gene Spence.
Q: What was the key to your victory over Don Stenberg in 2000?
A: Don Stenberg was clearly running as a partisan lap dog. He said he was a member of the Bush-Hagel-Stenberg team. My response was that I wanted to be a member of America's team, Nebraska's team and the people's team. I promised to be an independent minded Senator. Don Stenberg couldn't sell himself as being able to work across party lines. On the issue of the nuclear waste site, I said that we didn't make one move without the concurrence of the Attorney General when I was Governor. We kept the nuclear waste site out of Nebraska and Don Stenberg was the one who lost the lawsuit.
Q: What were the highlights of your time when George W. Bush was President?
A: George Bush was Governor during the time of my second term as Governor of Nebraska. I had a good personal relationship with George Bush. However, when he was President, he always pressured me to support his legislation. I always said I would support the President when he was right and oppose when he wasn't right. And I always look for alternatives. One thing I didn't want to do was obstruct. The U.S. can't succeed if the President fails. There is a need for bi-partisanship to pass legislation. I genuinely believe that Bush wanted to put partisanship aside for the good of the country.
However, Karl Rove and company had other plans. If the President is a lone wolf, or Congress goes rogue, the country can't progress. That's where we are now.
Q: Let's talk about the time Barack Obama was President. Why did you support the 2009 Recovery Act?
A: In early 2009, we were facing a depression cliff. If we didn't do something, it would have been worse than the Great Depression. I consulted with business leaders and they told me we had to do something. I worked with Senators Collins, Snowe and Specter to put together a Senate version of the bill. We originally had about 15 Republicans working with us. However, 12 of them dropped their support when they were threatened by the right wing of the Republican Party. They were threatened by people who later became the Tea Party.
Dave Heineman balanced the Nebraska budget with stimulus money.
Only Texas depended more upon stimulus money to balance it's budget.
When the stimulus bill came up for a vote, I was faced with two evils.
As Mae West once said, when I'm faced with two evils, I always pick the one I never tried before. One evil was a depression and the other evil was increasing the deficit. I believe that the alternative was a deep depression and that was the greater evil and so I came out in favor of the stimulus bill.
Q: Let's talk about your Obama Care vote. Why did you vote for the bill?
A: In 2009 and 2010, I received emails from a constituent who expressed passionate opposition to Obama Care. This person objected to the spending and mistakenly claimed that the bill was full of pork.
There wasn't any pork in the bill. Subsequently, that same person in 2012 contacted me and told me he was now disabled. He said he couldn't afford any medications and couldn't afford his oxygen. He asked me if there was any help available.
By the time I voted for Obama Care in 2009, $8 million had been spent in negative ads in Nebraska attacking it. They basically poisoned the water. When it came up for a vote, I faced the choice of doing what was right or being political. I believe I needed to vote to move the legislation forward.
One thing I did was save all of the states from all Medicaid mandates.
I have already been vindicated on the issue. The legislation required that the federal government pay for all of the Medicaid expansions for all 50 states. The Supreme Court has subsequently ruled that the states will not lose federal funding if they do decline the Medicaid expansion.
Q: What do you believe to be your most significant accomplishments as U.S. Senator?
A: It was the tone I set. I set the tone of One Nebraska. I wanted to reach out to all people and represent all people. I never wanted to ignore the rights of the minority. I wanted to try to get people to work together. Ed Zorinsky used to say that the biggest problem in Washington, D.C. is there are too many Democratic Senators and there are too many Republican Senators. There are not enough U.S. Senators.
Q: What do you make of election 2012?
A: It was positive for Democrats on a national level. I was glad to see the results in the U.S. Senate races in Indiana and Missouri. Two Tea Party party members lost those elections. I was also glad to see that some Tea Party members in the House lost their elections. The Tea Party will continue to be a problem for the Republican Senators in the primaries. However, that will help us because the Tea Party will nominate people who are too extreme to win the general election.
Q: What's next for you?
A: I don't have any specific plans. Generally, I plan to keep on working. I think I'll do some work in D.C. with a firm. I will probably work in Nebraska but I don't have anything specific lined up.
I'm working on my bucket list. I have gone on some vacations with my family and I've been pheasant hunting. I plan to write a 100 page legacy book on my 12 years in the U.S. Senate.
Election 2012 is now in the books and we can all say that it was a good year for Democrats nationwide. President Barack Obama defeated Mitt Romney and was the first Democrat to get reelected with an absolute majority of the popular vote since FDR. The Democratic Party also gained 2 seats in the U.S. Senate and 6 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives.
Here in Nebraska, we were disappointed that Senator Kerrey was defeated in his bid to be elected to the U.S. Senate. However, the Democrats picked up three seats in the Legislature and State Senator Ken Haar is withstanding a strong challenge from the right wing. We are also well positioned to win city elections in Omaha and Lincoln next year.
- When you look at the larger picture in election 2012, history will show that the voters endorsed our vision for the economy and society.
- When the election cycle began, the GOP presented a radical agenda centered on privatizing Medicare and cutting taxes for the wealthy.
- Mitt Romney appeared to welcome a robust debate on the future of the social safety net when he chose Paul Ryan to be his running mate.
We never had that debate because the GOP ran away from its platform which supported privatizing Social Security and Medicare. Suddenly, the likes of Romney and Ryan began to (falsely) posture as the protectors of these programs. Here in Nebraska, Deb Fischer surprised everybody when she came out against the Ryan plan in the first debate.
And as usual, Lee Terry did his usual election year conversion and came out against slashing the safety net programs.
The GOP ran away from its regressive platform because they know that the overwhelming majority of voters support Social Security and Medicare. It would be politically suicidal for the GOP to come out against these successful programs that have reduced poverty among the elderly from 50% to 10%.
This sudden flip flop by the GOP vindicates our vision of an economy and society in which we're all in it together. What this means is that in addition to our candidates triumphing, our core ideas also won. The American people agree with the Democratic Party that there should be a viable safety net and they will turn anybody out of office who threatens that safety net.
Many of the Republican candidates did a similar 180 degree turn on women's health issues. During the GOP primaries, Romney said he wanted to ban all abortions without any exceptions and that he favored allowing employers to make insurance and health care choices for their female employees. Beginning as late as October, Romney repudiated those previous extreme positions.
On the other hand, GOP Senate candidates Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock doubled down on their extremism and adhered to the position that rape victims shouldn't be allowed the option of having abortions. They paid for their extremism when the voters soundly rejected them on Election Day.
This support of the Democratic platform on Social Security, Medicare and women's health issues by the voters certainly lays the foundation for future victories by our Party. We are the Party of the people. Let's make sure the voters never forget that.
Before I close out this piece, I would like to thank all of our candidates who ran for office this year. We appreciate their sacrifices and devotion to public service. We also owe a debt of gratitude to their spouses and significant others. I also want to thank our volunteers and the staff at the NDP. Your hard work and dedication is appreciated by all of the leaders of the NDP.
One thing we should always keep in mind is that we can never rest on our laurels. There are always elections ahead to win. Beginning early next year, there will be campaigns for city offices in Omaha and Lincoln. In those elections, we will have a success story to tell.
Thanks to the hard work of our elected city officials, the cities of Lincoln and Omaha are among the best places in America to live and do business. I look forward to sharing those successes and our vision with the voters next year.
Former U.S. Senator Bob Kerrey grew up in Lincoln, and graduated from Lincoln Northeast High School and UNL. After he graduated from college, Kerrey volunteered for duty in Vietnam (when many people pulled strings to avoid military service) and won the Congressional Medal of Honor for his valiant service in that war. After he returned to Nebraska, Kerrey has owned a series of successful businesses in Omaha and Lincoln.
Kerrey first ran for office in 1982 when he upset Republican incumbent Governor Charles Thone. As Governor, Kerrey inherited a deficit and - with bi-partisan support - created a budget surplus by the time he left office in 1987.
After his service as Governor, Kerrey served two terms in the U.S. Senate between1989-2001. When Kerrey was sworn in as a Senator, the U.S. had then record budget deficits. In 1990 and 1993, Kerrey voted for balanced budget legislation which resulted in a budget surplus by the time he left office.
Since 2001, Kerrey has served as a University President and the member of the bi-partisan 9/11 Commission. The 9/11 Commission made many important findings including, but not limited to, the fact that then President Bush had ample warning of the attacks in the summer of 2001 and that Iraq didn't have an alliance with Osama Bin Laden and the Al Qaeda terrorist group.
In contrast, Fischer's qualifications for the U.S. Senate are rather thin. She served on her local school board and has been a State Senator since 2004. As a State Senator, Fischer voted to raise gas taxes and led a filibuster that cost Omaha area taxpayers $325 million.
Other parts of Fischer's background have come to light that are even less flattering. For the past 30 years, she has received an annual subsidy of $125,000.00 from the taxpayers to finance her ranching operation. Even more disturbing, she filed a frivolous lawsuit against her elderly neighbors in an attempt to steal some valuable land from them. After Fischer lost the lawsuit, she used her position as State Senator to prevent this scenic property from becoming a part of the Nebraska parks system where all Nebraskans could enjoy it.
The contrast between Kerrey and Fischer on the issues is equally stark. Senator Kerrey has announced detailed plans to balance the budget, and save Social Security and Medicare. On the other hand, Fischer has simply regurgitated the usual trite, tired talking points we get from the GOP about cutting spending. Even though Fischer has been campaigning for over a year now, she has yet to identify a single, specific spending cut that she supports. All Fischer has offered is a constitutional amendment to balance the budget which would cut Social Security and Medicare by 25% if it was ever implemented.
On health care, Senator Kerrey wants to maintain but improve Obama Care. Senator Kerrey knows that the landmark health care law is already doing some good. Approximately 6.6 million young people are on their parents' insurance policies. Seniors are saving $600 per year on their prescription expenses since Obama Care closed the Medicare doughnut hole. Earlier this year, millions of consumers received $1.3 billion in rebates from their health insurance companies.
State Senator Fischer is on record in favor of repealing Obama Care.
Apparently, she doesn't care if young people lose their insurance coverage and seniors pay more money for their prescription medication.
Fischer must also believe that it's better for the insurance industry to keep these rebates. The so-called "replacement plan" that Fischer put up on her website is the usual GOP claptrap about tort "reform" and allowing the sale of insurance across state lines. Her so-called "replacement plan" will do almost nothing to reform our dysfunctional health care system.
The choice in this election on women's health issues is also clear.
Bob Kerrey has always supported a woman's right to choose. In contrast, Fischer would like politicians to make health care choices for women. Moreover, Fischer agrees with Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock that there should be no exception to their proposed ban on abortions - even for victims of rape!
In my opinion, the choice in the U.S. Senate race is a no brainer. We can choose a seasoned statesman or a rank amateur. Bob Kerrey has offered up real solutions and Deb Fischer has only put forward the usual right wing slogans. Bob Kerrey has a history of reaching across party lines to find solutions and has been endorsed by several prominent Republicans. In contrast, Fischer would simply be a back bencher who could be counted on to simply and blindly vote the GOP party line in the U.S. Senate. That's why Nebraska (and America) need Bob Kerrey back in the U.S. Senate!